The sooner you figure out exactly what it is you want to do, the better. Then, you can start marketing yourself as a budding chemist (for example). And that is exactly how to perk up a grad school admissions counselor.
Graduate schools don’t want students who are still trying to figure out what they want to do. They want students who are set on a field, and are now doing everything they can to get there.
There’s one simple way to show you’re one of those students: take a GRE subject test.
A GRE subject test measures your knowledge/analytical thinking skills in a specific field and is much more specialized than the standard sections of the GRE (Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing). Students can take subject tests in the field they majored in during undergraduate school.
The GRE offers subject tests in these following areas (click each for additional information):
- Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
- Computer Science
- Literature in English
Click here for preparation materials from the Educational Testing Service (the creator and administrator of the GRE) for each subject test. The ETS will mail additional materials to you once you apply for the test.
Doing well in a GRE may even help you pick up some lost ground in a section you did poorly on. Say you’re a wiz psychologist, but you’re vocab is incredibly poor. So, you score very low on the Verbal Reasoning section, but very high on Psychology Subject Test. Your chances of getting into a grad school psychology department may even be better than someone who slightly outperformed you on the three standard tests but opted not take the Psychology Subject Test.
Remember, at most grad schools, admissions decisions are made by the individual departments you would be applying to, comprised mostly of faculty members and sometimes even students. So, what section do you think those admissions groups are going to look at first? Most are placing more weight to your subject test than your standard score – but not all of them.
When you apply to a specific GRE program, it looks at your transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, interview, etc., all to answer one question: will this student be successful in the field they are applying for? If yes, you’re in. If no, you’re not. At some schools, it really is that simple.
Performing well on a subject test may answer that question better than any other factor in your application. But, before you take the GRE, contact your prospective schools and ask them if they require a subject test and how they consider it.
Total subject test time is about 2 hours and 50 minutes. Every question is worth equal value, and for every four questions you answer incorrectly, you will lose one correct answer (or each incorrect answer subtracts 1/4th of what a correct answer is worth). Only guess if you can eliminate one or more of the choices.