Students should take GRE earlier, experts say

  • As the economy gets worse, more students apply for grad school
  • Graduate students earn more money out of school
  • Marquette graduate departments all have different strategies
  • Students are never more prepared for the test than they are when they are in college

As Wall Street reaches record lows, students are turning to graduate school to help better their chances on the job market.

As a result, more people are taking the Graduate Record Examination, the graduate school equivalent of the SAT.

Tom Ewing, spokesman for Educational Testing Services, which administers the GRE, explained how this works.

"It has always been a fact that as the economy worsens, many students decide to pursue graduate education," Ewing said. "It might be because they can't find a job. It might be because they believe if they have a grad degree they are more attractive."

The GRE General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills that are not related to any specific field of study. Like the SAT, it is measured on a 200 to 800 point scale with the analytical portion on a scale of 1 to 6.

Ewing said taking the GRE and going to graduate school is an investment in the future that will actually pay off in dollars earned.

"There is no doubt when you look at figures, advance degrees earn more," Ewing said. "In 2007 students with bachelor degrees earned an average income of $57,000 while students with advanced degrees earned on average about $77,000."

Craig Pierce, assistant dean of the Graduate School at Marquette, said the bad economy also plays a role.

"In past years when the economy is down, for the most part, apps for graduate schools increase," Pierce said. "I think it's because students think they can't get a job."

In the past two years, according to Pierce, there has actually been about a 23 percent increase in applications received. While this has certainly made the number of graduate students increase, some departments have seen an opposite effect.

"A few departments have actually seen a decrease when the economy is bad," Pierce said. "Some employers don't want to give tuition benefits for academic programs."

Whether a department is gaining or losing students, each has its own requirements when it comes to the GRE.

Michael Patrick Gillespie, the director of graduate studies in the English department, explained what they are looking for in applying students.

"We try not to base our decision on a single factor," Gillespie said. "What we do is we look at the GRE, the GPA, the students' writing samples and the letters of recommendation. The idea is to get an intellectual profile of this person."

The Rev. Thomas Hughson, S.J., director of graduate students and associate professor of theology explained how much weight the university puts on the GRE.

"It's among the factors we consider for all applicants," Hughson said. "It doesn't by itself determine everything. I understand it to be a predictor of success and it's generally pretty good, but no one takes it as the only criterion of admission."

Ewing explained that anyone can take the test almost anytime, six days a week.

"Your scores are good for five years," Ewing said. "You are never going to be better prepared than while you are still in college."

For those students who go into the test feeling a bit unprepared, Shannon Welsh, a graduate of St. Norbert College (De Pere, Wis.), and current high school teacher, said she scored very well on the test with a very simple strategy.

"CBAD is a testing strategy that we should also teach our students as well as use ourselves for standardized testing," Welsh said.

In this strategy, Welsh said students are encouraged to choose 'C' if they absolutely don't know the answer to a question. If they know C is incorrect, they should choose 'B,' and so on, following the pattern CBAD.

But scoring well is not just a matter of knowing this strategy.

"I still studied a lot," Welsh said. "This is just helpful when you are having trouble choosing an answer."