Who Takes the GRE? Should You Take It?

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Are you thinking about taking the GRE but aren’t exactly sure what it is? Who takes the GRE? What is it used for?

For anyone wondering “should I take the GRE?”, read this guide to learn exactly why people take the GRE, who takes the test, and how to decide if you should take the exam.

 

Why Do People Take the GRE?

The GRE is a standardized test for people planning on attending grad school. You can think of it as similar to an ACT or SAT for graduate admissions. It tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. The GRE is the most commonly required and most commonly taken test for graduate school. If you apply to grad school, your GRE scores will likely be used as one of the pieces of information admissions officers use to determine if you’d be a good fit for their school and program.

 

Who Takes the GRE?

As mentioned above, the GRE is taken by people who are applying to or thinking of applying to a graduate program. But who are these people? Check out some demographic stats on them below. All data comes from ETS (the organization that creates and administers the GRE) in their Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE, and it’s based on all the people who took the GRE between 2012 and 2015 (a total of 576,220 people).

 

Age

The average GRE test-taker is 24 years old, and the vast majority are under 30.

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% Men % Women % Total
Under 23 Years Old 43 46 44
23-25 29 27 28
26-30 17 15 16
31-40 9 8 9
Over 40 3 4 3
  • 44% of test-takers are younger than 23 when they take the GRE, meaning they likely take the exam while in college.
  • 36% had less than a year of full-time work experience.
  • 88% of people who take the GRE are 30 years old or younger.
  • Only 3% are older than 40.

 

Current Education Level

Current Education Level % of Total
Sophomore <1
Junior 4
Senior 33
Unenrolled College Graduate 33
First-Year Graduate Student 3
Second-Year Graduate Student 3
Unenrolled Master’s Degree 16
Other 8
No Response <1
  • This data shows that people at numerous different points in their education take the GRE.
  • About a third are seniors in college while another third are college graduates not currently in school.
  • People who already have a Master’s degree but currently aren’t enrolled in school make up another 16% of the total. These are people who are likely going back for another advanced degree, such as a PhD or a second Master’s.

 

Gender

  • 46% of all GRE test-takers are male.
  • 50% are female.
  • 4% didn’t indicate a gender on the exam.
  • For United States citizens who take the GRE, 59% are women and 35% are men.
  • Among international test-takers, it’s mostly men who take the exam (60% male, 39% women).

 

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Location

57% of test-takers are US citizens, 43% are non-US citizens. The chart below shows the number and percent of test-takers from the five countries where the test is most popular.

Number of Test-Takers % of Total
United States 325,431 57%
India 96,178 17%
People’s Republic of China 42,816 7%
South Korea 5,728 0.1%
Saudi Arabia 5,407 0.1%
  • After the United States, the most common country for test takers to be citizens of is India, which accounts for the nationality about 17% of people taking the GRE. Mainland China is the third most common country of citizenship (about 7% of all test-takers are Chinese citizens).
  • Only 3% of test-takers are European citizens.

 

Future Studies

This chart shows the percent of test-takers interested in each field of study.

 Intended Graduate Major % of Total
Business 6
Education 5
Engineering 15
Humanities and Arts 4
Life Sciences 21
Physical Sciences 13
Social Sciences 12
Other Fields 5
Undecided 5
No Major Provided 13
  • Most people who take the GRE are planning to pursue graduate studies in a STEM field. Life Sciences was the most common intended graduate field indicated, (21% of test takers). Engineering and physical sciences were second and third, respectively.
  • 6% of test-takers indicated they planned on pursuing a graduate degree in business.
  • In terms of what type of degree they planned on pursuing, 41% planned on getting a Master’s, 26% a PhD, and 2% an MBA (29% had no response).

 

Graduate Degree Objective

Next, let’s look at the type of degree people who took the GRE are planning on getting.

Graduate Degree Objective % of Total
Master’s (M.A., M.S., M.Ed.) 41
Intermediate (such as Specialist) <1
M.B.A. 2
Doctorate (Ph.D., Ed.D.) 26
Postdoctoral Study 1
Non-Degree Graduate Study <1
Not Currently Planning Graduate Study <1
No Response 29
  • A Master’s is, by far, the most popular degree people who take the GRE plan to pursue; almost half of all test-takers plan to get that degree.
  • A Ph.D. is also popular, with over a quarter of respondents planning on that degree.
  • It’s also interesting to look at the MBA data. While only 2% of respondents plan on using their GRE scores to apply to MBA programs, this number has been growing in recent years. A few decades ago, most MBA programs only took GMAT scores and wouldn’t accept GRE scores. As more and more business schools begin to accept GRE scores, expect this number to continue to rise.

 

So What Does All This Information Tell Us About Who Takes the GRE?

Women and men take the GRE in fairly even numbers. Most test-takers live in the United States, although a sizable amount reside in Asia. The majority are either in college or have recently graduated, and they most likely plan on pursuing a Master’s degree or PhD in a STEM field.

However, it’s important to note that GRE test-takers comprise a wide variety of people from different places who plan on pursuing a wide range of future studies. If you’d like to take a deeper look at who takes the GRE, the Snapshot study linked above contains a wealth of information.

 

Should You Take the GRE?

Now you know the types of people who are most likely to take the GRE. But you might still be wondering, “should I take the GRE?” That can be a tricky question to answer, but to figure it out, ask yourself the following three questions.

 

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What Types of Programs Are You Interested In?

As you read above, most people who take the GRE plan on pursuing a Master’s or PhD. If you plan on applying to either of these programs, you’ll likely need to submit GRE scores as part of your application since most Master’s and PhD programs require GRE scores.

If you’re planning on getting a professional degree, such as an MBA or a law degree, it’ much less likely that you’ll need to take the GRE since these programs have their own tests they prefer to accept scores from. However, this is starting to change a bit among business schools. People planning on getting an MBA make up only a small percentage of GRE test-takers, but this number has been growing in recent years. In fact, more and more business schools are accepting GRE scores in place of the GMAT. To learn more about which exam business students should take, check out our guide comparing the GRE and the GMAT. When making your decision, think about the type of program you want to attend and what their policies are. This leads into our next point:

 

What Are the Policies of the Programs You’re Looking At?

Probably the most important consideration when deciding if you should take the GRE is the policies of the programs you’re looking at. Do any of the programs you’re thinking of applying to require the GRE? If yes, that makes your decision pretty easy. Even if the programs only recommend taking the GRE, you should still consider taking the GRE since strong scores can give your application a boost.

If the programs you’re looking at accept either GRE scores or scores from another test, you should learn about both tests (taking a practice test for each one is also recommended) to see which one you feel more comfortable with and think you can score higher on. To find out whether a program requires the GRE, check the program’s admission page online or contact someone in admissions directly. Make sure you’re getting this information for the specific program you’re interested in since different programs at the same school can often have varying score policies.

 

When Are You Considering Applying?

Is graduate school something you definitely want to do in a year or two or just something you’re considering down the road? This will also be an important factor to consider. GRE scores are valid for five years after you take the exam, so you don’t have to wait until right before you want to attend grad school to take the test.

However, you don’t want to take it too far out in advance either. Say, for example, you take the GRE as a freshman and plan to attend grad school immediately after you finish college, four years from now. Your scores would still be valid with that plan, but you may end up getting a great job you want to work at for a year or extending your studies and decide to delay grad school for a year. That puts you at risk of your scores becoming invalid. Additionally, waiting until you’ve had more school can help you gain more skills you need to do well on the GRE. Check out our guide for more information on when to take the GRE.

 

How Sure Are You That You Want to Attend Graduate School?

If you’re positive grad school is in your future and you’ll need to take it for the programs you’re interested in, you can continue full-steam ahead with your GRE plans. But what if grad school is just an option you’re considering and not something you’re certain about?

In this case, you’ll probably want to think carefully about the pros and cons of grad school before you sign up. Taking the GRE requires time and money, and, to do well, you’ll likely need to put in dozens of hours of studying. To devote those resources to the GRE when you’re not sure about grad school can be a frustrating waste. You don’t need to be absolutely positive about attending grad school before you take the GRE, but you should have done some careful thinking and be seriously considering graduate school before you register for the exam.

 

Summary: Who Takes the GRE?

The GRE is a standardized test taken by many people who plan on attending graduate school. The typical GRE test-taker is a woman, in the United States, aged 23 or younger, who wants to pursue a Master’s in a STEM field. However, the GRE is taken by many types of people interested in many types of grad programs.

If you’re still asking,”should I take the GRE?”, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What Types of Programs Are You Interested In?
  • What Are the Policies of the Programs You’re Looking At?
  • When Are You Considering Applying?
  • How Sure Are You That You Want to Attend Graduate School?

 

What’s Next?

After you decide to take the GRE, you’ll need to register for an exam date. Check out our step-by-step guide to GRE registration to learn exactly how and when to do this.

Still trying to decide if you should take the GRE? Learn how hard the test really is and get an estimate of how challenging it’ll be for you.

If you want to take the GRE, you’ll need to develop a study plan. Learn how many hours you’ll need to study for the GRE and how to efficiently use your study time.

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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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