We devote a lot of entries in this blog to the graduate school admission process, and how to navigate it successfully. Today, we’d like to focus on those lucky folks who have gotten their acceptance letters, but who have one final hurdle to face before beginning school: The process of relocating.
U.S. News’s Education section recently published an article containing a series of tips to help make the transition to a new city smoother. The key takeaways for anyone moving this spring or summer area:
-Plan as far ahead as possible (like, as soon as a final decision about which school to attend has been made). The first decision to make is whether one wants to live on or off campus, and many schools’ on campus housing is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Even for those who decide to live off campus, plenty of time (and often a local visit or two) is necessary to find the most suitable housing option. For people who are starting an intensive new period of their lives, shortchanging the residence search will make their first year less than ideal.
-Know how to pay for the move. Relocation costs can vary, but the constant factor is that the student is generally responsible to pay the full costs out-of-pocket. Most financial aid does not become available until the start of the academic term, and moving costs are not part of the student budget that is set by schools (which affects how much money can be borrowed).
The full list of moving tips can be found here. It is part of U.S. News’s recent series on common questions for people heading to graduate school, which has other valuable resources for anyone beginning his or her degree this fall.
Today I got an email from a student who was perplexed that his GRE quantitative score was dropping on his tests. Toward the end of the email the student said:
I have been doing all the homework and a lot of practice problems [that] I’m doing fairly well on. I have been getting 70-90% correct in the quiz bank and on homework.
Many of you do exactly what this student does: when you do your GRE homework, you keep tallies of your right/wrong answers, then compare your homework performance to your MST performance. And then you get discouraged because your MST performance is worse.
But hang on a sec. Your homework problems are untimed, non-adaptive, and done in small chunks. Your MST problems are timed, adaptive, and done in the context of a grueling 4-hour exam. Of course you’ll do worse on the MST! That’s not a sign you’re doing something wrong. That’s not surprising. It’s downright commonplace.
When you finish a problem set, review it thoroughly to reinforce what you did right, and identify and squelch what you did wrong. But don’t keep score. “I got X questions right” is a thoroughly useless piece of information; all it can do is discourage you. Keep score when it counts: on Test Day.
A friend of mine works as a product leader at a medical software company. He gets to design software and make strategic decisions about its development — which features to include, which not to, that kind of stuff. That seems like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, because he’s a high-level dude, he has to deal with some unpleasant stuff as well, such as disciplining (and sometimes firing) bad employees.
One of the things he learned in his role is that people are surprisingly bad at articulating solutions to problem behaviors. For example, one of his employees missed a lot of deadlines because he kept getting distracted, and the reason for his persistent distraction was email: whenever a “new message” notification popped up in Outlook, the employee would drop whatever he was doing to read the email.
My friend asked him, “What are you going to do to stop getting distracted from your work?”
And the employee said, “I’m not going to read my emails as they come in from now on.”
Sound like a sensible thing to say to your boss? I thought so. My friend didn’t. He pointed out that “not getting distracted by email” is the goal. Saying “I won’t read incoming emails” is essentially a restatement of the goal; it doesn’t say how that goal will be achieved. A better answer would have been, “I will turn off my email when I’m coding and only answer it at designated points in the day,” or, “I’m going to turn off popup email notifications.”
I don’t think I know a single person — myself included — who doesn’t waste unholy amounts of time reading Facebook, texting, watching Netflix, or whatever. Everybody talks about how “busy” they are, yet it seems to be an open secret that no matter how busy someone claims to be, they still find ways to kill half their week doodling around Pinterest. Think about your own life: have I just described it, or haven’t I?
Our tendency to distract ourselves may be okay in general, but it’s a bit tragic where the GRE is concerned, because it means that many of you are effectively impeding yourselves from getting the score that you deserve. The hours you spend re-watching Game of Thrones instead of studying knock points off your Test Day score, and as awesome as that TV show is, you’ll surely agree it’s not as awesome as your dreams.
And so I find myself asking my students, “What are you going to do to stop getting distracted from your work?”
And they say to me, “I’m not going to get distracted from now on! I’m going to study so hard!”
And I’m here today to tell you: that doesn’t work. Saying, “I will work! I won’t get distracted!” is a restatement of your goal. It doesn’t say how you will achieve that goal. Once you identify behaviors that are actively reducing your future GRE score, you have to devise concrete, specific solutions. You have to figure out how you’re going to stop those behaviors.
Say, “I’m going to cancel my Netflix account for the next three months,” or, “I’m going to turn my phone off when I study,” or, “I’m going to download ‘self control‘ programs and block my favorite websites when I study,” or, “I’m going to tell my roommate/girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/parents/some hobo I just met to hide my Game of Thrones DVDs and only give them back after the GRE is over.”
Then you can confidently say you’ve solved your problem are on the path to the GRE score you deserve.
- During the peak testing period from August through December, the greatest increase in test administrations was in international markets – China and India saw a 30% increase in test volume over the same period in 2011. The article speculates that “This trend may impact upcoming admissions cycles as the globally diverse GRE test-taker population applies to graduate and business schools in 2013.”
- More schools outside of the United States are using GRE scores. According to the press release, 2012 brought a 14% increase in the number of schools that use the GRE, and “[m]any of these new score users were Asian and European institutions”. What does this mean for you? If you’re considering attending graduate school abroad, there’s never been a better time to take the plunge, as this piece of the admissions process becomes increasingly standardized.
- As more and more business schools accept GRE scores, they like what they’re seeing. Says an admissions officer at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, “The candidates who take the [GRE] are extremely diverse which provides the opportunity for us, as an institution, to work with candidates from a wide array of backgrounds and undergraduate focus areas”. Clearly, the GRE is continuing to grow in prominence as an alternative to the GMAT for b-school admissions.
- Overall test administrations decreased from 2011, and are at their lowest point since 2008. The number of GRE administrations dropped from more than 800,000 in 2011 to about 655,000, in 2012. The article does note, though, that the 2012 peak testing period of August through December was the second-heaviest in the GRE’s history, which could potentially signal a surge in grad school applications this year.
What does this last data point mean? Well, everything and nothing, depending on how you look at it. Given the overarching changes made to the GRE in 2011, many people naturally decided to take advantage of the last opportunity to take the old version of the test and have those scores available for use for 5 years from Test Day. However, overall testing volume isn’t nearly as important to you as are the numbers of applicants in your target field and programs.
While for some programs, the drop in GRE takers may lead to a less competitive applicant pool, what we’ve heard from admissions officers from top Graduate programs is that they expect this admissions cycle to be as competitive as ever, with more highly qualified international applicants.
To begin researching the stats of schools in your field, check out our recent entry on U.S. News’s Graduate School Road Map. And, of course, check back here regularly for updates on how to best tackle your GRE prep!
Earlier this week, my manager sent a “last 30 days” report to the blogging team. The report featured data about this blog‘s page views, visit lengths, and other interesting statistics. The one that made me giggle was the list of the most common search keywords by which people found our blog. While the list was 25 items long, well over half of them were some variation on, “What is a good GRE score?”
Indeed, the top search result for that phrase is this entry, which has over 400 Facebook shares and nearly 13 thousand tweets. Heck, it’s possible that you’re only here because you just searched for the phrase yourself. And I can’t fault you. If you know nothing or very little about the GRE, then “What’s a good score?” is a reasonable first question to ask.
But to us GRE teachers, man is it a silly question. I laughed and laughed. The entry I linked earlier provides a very serious, very professional answer to the question. Here’s a more colorful version.
For starters, there’s no such thing as a “good GRE score,” because there’s no such thing as a “GRE score,” period. When you take the GRE, you get three different scores: an essay score from 0-6, a quant score from 130-170, and a verbal score from 130-170. These scores are not added. If you get a 4, a 150, and 150, that is not a 304. It’s a 4, a 150, and a 150.
“Oh, come on, Boris. Clearly people use the phrase ‘GRE Score’ as a convenient linguistic shortcut for ‘The set of your three individual scores.’ Quit being a prat,” you might say. Very well. Even then, we’ve got several problems if you want an answer to the question “What’s a good GRE score?” Here, I’ll tell you: a 6, a 170, and a 170. That’s a good GRE score. It’s the maximum possible score, and surely the maximum is good! Ooo, how about this one: a 6, a 170, and a 169. Not quite the maximum, but hey, it’s close. Or how about this: a 5, a 168, and a 169. Or how about…
See the problem? “What’s a good GRE score?” is not an honest question. Nobody literally wants to know what “a” good GRE score is. The singular article “a” doesn’t make any sense. It makes the question trivial — you can look at the official scoring scale and see what ALL the good scores are. Hardly a mystery, that.
Be honest with me. You’re not asking “What’s a good GRE score,” are you? What you — and everyone — really want to know is, “What’s the rock-bottom minimum score I can get while still looking good to the grad schools I wanna get into?” There’s no shame in that question! It’s a good, strategic question. If a 160 on the verbal section does you no more good than a 145, then exerting extra effort to overkill the GRE is inefficient.
But even that question is impossible to answer. As you probably know, lots of people take the GRE — from medieval poetry critics to theoretical physicists. For a chemical engineer, a “good” quant score is probably much higher than for someone who wants to study Japanese history. And a scholar of Italian theater probably needs a higher verbal score to look “good” than a number theorist does.
You can’t answer, “What’s a good GRE score?” Thankfully, you can answer, “What’s my good GRE score?” Google doesn’t have that answer (as, having found and read this entry, you might have just been disappointed to discover), but your target grad programs do. Contact them and ask what scores they’re looking for and what the benefits (if any!) of an ultra-high GRE score are. Once you have those numbers, you’ll be able to put forward an efficient study plan without wasting effort seeking unproductive score increases.