Can We Skip the GRE Subject Test If It’s Too Expensive?

Dear Dora: The GRE subject testDear Dora,

Is it appropriate to contact a school and ask them (delicately) how much one of their criteria really matters?  More specifically, I’m grappling with the GRE subject test.  I’m working as a lab tech right now for a very miserly boss and coming up with another $150 on top of the many hundreds of dollars in application fees I’m going to have to pay is not going to be easy.  I don’t want to lose out on one of my top choices because I couldn’t come up with the money for some silly test but at the same time it’s hard to justify the cost when I know I have other significant expenses coming.  What should I do?

– Grant, Lab Tech


Dear Grant,

As a former graduate student, I understand your financial concerns. The application fees for graduate schools are high, especially when you need to apply to several schools. In spite of this financial burden, I don’t recommend delaying the GRE or inquiring about its importance. If a school requires a subject GRE, then (unfortunately) they expect their applicants to come up with the cost somehow.

If you call the school, you will most likely be connected with the administration office, which is responsible for processing applications. They are usually not the people who decide which candidates to accept, however. Those decisions are usually up to the faculty members, who are too busy to answer questions about application packages. Therefore, the administration office will probably not be able to give you a good answer about how much the subject GRE matters.

If you are applying to one of the top schools, then you want to make your application package as outstanding as possible. A candidate with a high score on a subject GRE is more likely to be accepted, than one who only has a general GRE test score. On a more positive note, the subject GRE score can be sent to all the schools you apply to. In addition, your scores are probably valid for more than one year, so if you decide to reapply in the future after you have had more job experience, you can resend you test scores without having to pay for the tests again.


Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to [email protected] and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!


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2 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Bonnie

    wrote on August 19, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Some grad schools will waive application fees in cases of financial hardship. I know the one I went to certainly did. Asking them to waive the application fee probably has a greater chance of success than trying to get out of taking a GRE.

  2. zfaulkes

    wrote on August 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    As a grad program coordinator, I've had some variation of this question several times.

    It does not hurt to ask. That is what the program coordinator and the like are there to do

    But expect the answer to be, "We won't review your application until you get us the GRE score." Typically, these are labelled "requirements" for applications. Offices have to be very careful about treating all applicants equally.

    Incidentally, you might characterize the GRE as "some silly test," but I've seen some surveys that indicate most grad program consider it THE most important factor they consider in reviewing applications.

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