Average GRE Scores by Major: What Scores Do You Need?

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You’ve probably heard of GRE percentiles, and perhaps you’re familiar with what the current average GRE scores are. But what about average GRE scores by major? Do engineering majors really score higher on Quant than arts and humanities majors? More importantly, what are the average GRE scores for the schools and majors you’re interested in?

Follow along as we analyze the average GRE scores by major. We’ll also show you how to figure out the average GRE scores for your programs and explain what these scores mean for you.

 

Average GRE Scores by Overarching Discipline

Instead of jumping straight into specific majors, let’s first take a look at the average GRE scores by overarching discipline. By doing so, we’ll get a rough idea as to how (and possibly why) different fields produce different averages on the GRE.

But first, a brief refresher. The GRE is divided into three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing (AW). Both the Verbal and Quant sections are scored in 1-point increments on a scale of 130-170, while the AW section is scored in half-point increments on a scale of 0-6.

According to ETS data, the current average GRE scores for each section are as follows:

  • Verbal: 149.97
  • Quant: 152.57
  • AW: 3.48

Now, onto disciplines. Below is a chart depicting the average Verbal, Quant, and AW scores by overarching discipline:

Intended Discipline Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score*
Life Sciences 151 151 3.8
Physical Sciences 150 158 3.4
Engineering 149 159 3.3
Social and Behavioral Sciences 153 151 3.9
Arts and Humanities 156 150 4.1
Education 151 149 3.8
Business 150 153 3.5

Source: ETS GRE Distribution Table 4

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*Remember, the AW section is scored on a half-point basis, so the exact numbers in the AW column are just a result of averaging. You can’t actually score 3.3, 3.8, 4.1, etc.

 

According to this table, the average score ranges for each section are as follows:

  • Verbal: 149-156
  • Quant: 149-159
  • AW: 3.3-4.1

These averages noticeably differ from the overall averages for Verbal, Quant, and AW (as described above). Looking at the table again, we see that some of these GRE averages by discipline are below the overall averages, some are the same, and some are higher. For example, the Verbal average for social and behavioral sciences majors is 153, or about 3 points higher than the overall Verbal average, whereas the Quant average for education majors is only 149.

Ultimately, however, these averages illustrate how even if your GRE score is below the overall average, such a score might be sufficient for your specific discipline (and therefore for your specific program, too — but we’ll get more into that later).

So what other patterns are there? Using this table, we can see that applicants tend to score higher on the GRE sections more relevant to their disciplines. Because arts and humanities majors focus mostly on reading and writing, these applicants scored the highest Verbal (156) and AW (4.1) averages. Similarly, those entering the math-heavy fields of engineering and the physical sciences produced the highest Quant averages (159 and 158, respectively).

On the opposite side, applicants also tend to score lower on the GRE sections less relevant to their disciplines. So, naturally, engineering majors scored significantly lower on AW (3.3) than arts and humanities majors (4.1) did, whereas arts and humanities majors scored significantly lower on Quant (150) than engineering majors (159) did.

Furthermore, this data emphasizes how certain GRE scores — i.e., those on the section more relevant to your discipline — are considerably more important than the scores on your less relevant section. Say you’re interested in the arts and humanities for your graduate major. Because the average Verbal and AW scores for the arts and humanities are quite high and the Quant score is somewhat low, it’s OK to focus more on Verbal and AW than on Quant.

Let’s look at a real-life example. The English literature Ph.D. program at UC Davis states, “Most of our successful applicants have verbal and analytic GRE scores in the upper 90th percentiles.” As you can see, the program doesn’t even bother to mention Quant but expects fairly high Verbal and AW scores, which are clearly more relevant to the program’s field. Basically, if you’re applying to this English Ph.D. program, focus on Verbal and AW, and a lower Quant score likely won’t affect your chance of admission.

These are some of the important patterns of average GRE scores by overarching discipline. Now, let’s break up this data into even smaller pieces and look at average GRE scores by major.

 

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Average GRE Scores by Major

The following tables showcase each of the above discipline’s most common majors and their average Verbal, Quant, and AW GRE scoresFind your intended graduate major to see how its average GRE scores stack up against both the averages for its overarching discipline and the overall GRE averages.

A couple of things to note, though. The following GRE scores are the average scores of all test takers, not admitted applicants. In other words, we don’t know if these scores were in fact high enough for test takers to get into the programs of their choice. So while it can be helpful to compare the average GRE scores of test takers in your discipline, these scores ultimately can’t tell you what scores are good enough for the specific programs you’re applying to.

All of the following data is taken from ETS.

 

Life Sciences

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Conservation 151 152 3.6
Biological and Biomedical Sciences 153 154 3.8
Health and Medical Sciences 150 149 3.8
All Life Sciences 151 151 3.8

 

Physical Sciences

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Chemistry 153 158 3.7
Computer and Information Sciences 146 156 3.1
Earth, Atmospheric, and Marine Sciences 154 155 3.8
Mathematical Sciences 153 163 3.6
Physics and Astronomy 156 162 3.8
Natural Sciences — Other 150 153 3.5
All Physical Sciences 150 158 3.4

 

Engineering

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Chemical 152 161 3.6
Civil 148 158 3.3
Electrical and Electronics 147 158 3.1
Industrial 149 159 3.3
Materials 153 163 3.6
Mechanical 148 158 3.3
Other 153 160 3.7
All Engineering 149 159 3.3

 

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Anthropology and Archaeology 156 149 4.0
Economics 154 160 3.8
Political Science 156 152 4.1
Psychology 152 149 3.9
Sociology 152 149 3.8
Other 150 148 3.7
All Social Sciences 153 151 3.9

 

Arts and Humanities

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Arts — History, Theory, and Criticism 157 150 4.1
Arts — Performance and Studio 153 151 3.7
English Language and Literature 157 149 4.2
Foreign Languages and Literatures 156 151 4.0
History 156 148 4.1
Philosophy 160 154 4.3
Other 157 152 4.1
All Arts and Humanities 156 150 4.1

 

Education

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Administration 149 148 3.6
Curriculum and Instruction 151 149 3.8
Early Childhood 148 146 3.6
Elementary 150 148 3.7
Evaluation and Research 151 148 3.8
Higher 151 149 3.9
Secondary 154 151 4.0
Special 149 147 3.7
Student Counseling and Personnel Services 148 146 3.6
Other 152 152 3.7
All Education 151 149 3.8

 

Business

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Accounting 149 152 3.4
Banking and Finance 151 161 3.4
Business Administration and Management 150 151 3.6
Other 149 153 3.5
All Business 150 153 3.5

 

Other Fields

Intended Graduate Major Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score Average AW Score
Architecture and Environmental Design 150 155 3.4
Communications and Journalism 150 149 3.7
Family and Consumer Sciences 149 147 3.7
Library and Archival Sciences 156 149 4.0
Public Administration 151 149 3.7
Religion and Theology 157 151 4.2
Social Work 148 144 3.6

 

As I previously mentioned, although these tables are useful, we can’t use this data to determine the exact GRE scores or score ranges specific programs are looking for. When it comes down to it, is average really good enough to get into a grad program? Or is it way too low?

Let’s take a look at the types of GRE scores various programs look for in applicants.

 

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Are Average GRE Scores Good Enough?

The short answer is, yes and no. What GRE scores you aim for depends not only on your intended graduate major but also on the programs you’re applying to.

Depending on the program and field, the average GRE scores of incoming students for a particular program might be higher than, the same as, or lower than the field’s averages. Generally, more competitive programs expect higher GRE scores — that is, scores above whatever the field’s averages are. Similarly, average GRE scores for a less competitive program are usually the same as or lower than its corresponding field’s averages.

For instance, Columbia’s sequential M.A./M.Phil./Ph.D. program in English and comparative literature has “no fixed minimum GRE score, but successful applicants trained in the U.S. will almost always have a GRE verbal score in the 95th percentile or better.” As expected, the program, being in the arts and humanities field, doesn’t focus on Quant scores. But its average Verbal score is extremely competitive — at least 164-165 — which is significantly higher than the English language and literature average of 157.

Another example is UCLA’s Ph.D. program in economics, whose incoming class averaged Verbal, Quant, and AW scores of 158, 168, and 5.0. All of these scores are markedly higher than the average GRE scores for economics majors (which are 154, 160, and 3.8, respectively).

Likewise, less competitive programs are more likely to welcome applicants with average or below-average GRE scores for their fields of study. Take the University of Georgia’s Master of Social Work program, which suggests a Verbal score of 146 and an AW score of 3.5, both of which are lower than the averages for social work majors.

As you can see, the average (or target) GRE scores for a single program can differ just a little or a lot from the averages of its field.

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But how do you find the average GRE scores for the programs you’re applying to? And how can this info help you personally?

 

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How to Find Average GRE Scores by Program

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far. Looking at GRE score averages by major can give you a rough idea of a baseline score to aim for on each section of the test. But your programs’ average GRE scores clarify more precisely the exact scores you’ll need in order to be a competitive applicant.

So how do you look for average GRE scores by school and major? Follow the steps below.

 

#1: Search for Average GRE Scores Online

One of the simplest ways to search for GRE score info online is by Googling “[Your School] [Your Program] average GRE scores.” Another option is to browse your programs’ official webpages while using the search function on your computer (ctrl + F) to look for anything along the lines of “GRE” or “score.” It’s best to peruse FAQ and admission requirements pages.

Some schools lay out average GRE scores very clearly. The Penn Graduate School of Education, for example, offers a chart listing the average GRE scores of incoming students for its master’s, Ed.D, and Ph.D. programs.

But other schools might report GRE score info in a slightly different format. The University of Washington doctoral program in immunology provides average GRE score ranges instead of individual scores. Similarly, NYU’s M.A. program in cultural reporting and criticism advises applicants to get a minimum 160 Verbal score. This isn’t an average score, but we can assume that the average is close to 160 — probably a little higher.

Which brings me to my next point: if only a single section’s average score is reported, concentrate on that section more than on any other. Remember, some programs won’t even cast a glance at your Verbal or Quant scores if they’re totally irrelevant to your field. Still, don’t think it’s OK to bomb your less relevant section. If you can’t find the other section’s average score, use the discipline’s average score as a baseline (just refer to the tables above).

If you manage to find average GRE scores for all of your programs, congrats! You’re all set. Now, add 2 points to your programs’ averages to get your goal scores (round up and add a half-point to get your AW goal score). Hitting your goal scores increases your chance of admission because your scores will be better than your programs’ averages. Read our guide to learn more about how to set a goal score based on your program’s average GRE scores.

But what if you can’t find average GRE score info online? Read on for what to do next.

 

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#2: Call Your Programs

Not all programs publish average GRE scores online, and many are hesitant to divulge any GRE score info whatsoever. The next step, then, is to call your programs. Ask directly for the average GRE scores of incoming students (or even of students from previous years). If they can’t or won’t answer your question, see whether they’re willing to tell you what constitutes a low or high GRE score for the program.

Couldn’t get any info out of them over the phone? Or hate making calls (like me)? Then move on to step 3.

 

#3: Gauge the Competitiveness of Your Programs

You couldn’t find any GRE info online and the phone call just didn’t work out. Bummer. Your last and final step is to get back online and familiarize yourself with the overall competitiveness of your programs and see how they compare to similar programs at other schools. A good website to use for rankings is U.S. News.

Here’s what you should know as you search: the more competitive a program is, the higher GRE scores it’ll expect, especially in the section more relevant to its field. For less competitive programs, a score equivalent to, or a couple of points above, your field’s average is usually sufficient.

Generally, incoming students to the most competitive programs average GRE scores in or higher than the 90th percentile for relevant GRE sections. Note that you should still score fairly high for less relevant sections — at least in the 75th or 80th percentiles, depending on the program.

If you discover a different program you’re not applying to that’s just about as competitive as the program you are applying to, try searching for that other program’s average GRE scores instead. Most likely, they’ll be similar to the ones for the program you’re applying to.

 

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Summary: Understanding GRE Score Averages by Major

Average GRE scores for Verbal, Quant, and AW vary considerably depending on the major and program. Here are the overall GRE average scores:

  • Verbal: 149.97
  • Quant: 152.57
  • AW: 3.48

And here are the average GRE score ranges by discipline:

  • Verbal: 149-156
  • Quant: 149-159
  • AW: 3.3-4.1

Generally, applicants score higher on the sections more relevant to their intended field of study. For example, arts and humanities majors scored the highest averages for Verbal and AW, whereas engineering majors scored the highest average for Quant.

But a field’s average isn’t usually identical to a program’s average GRE scores. To figure out average GRE scores by major and school (and to help you determine the scores you should be aiming for), follow these three steps:

  1. Search online for your programs’ average GRE scores. Pay attention to admission requirements and FAQ pages in particular.
  2. Call your programs if you couldn’t find anything online.
  3. Research the competitiveness of your programs if steps 1 and 2 don’t work out.

Once you find your programs’ averages, add 2 points to the highest average Verbal and Quant scores (round up and add a half-point to the highest average AW score) to get your goal scores for all three GRE sections.

 

What’s Next?

You know the average GRE scores by major — but what about the average GRE scores by school? Our guide shows you how to find average GRE scores for specific grad programs.

Want to learn more about average GRE scores in general? Get info on current GRE score data to find out what your GRE score means for you.

Wondering what a good GRE score is overall? Read our guide to learn what constitutes a good GRE score. You can also check out our guides on how to get a good Verbal score and a good Quant score.


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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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