Posted June 27, 2014 by

Should You Take the GRE While You’re Still in College, or After You Graduate?

Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge

Tackling the GRE is a major task. With so much to do before you graduate, should you take it while you’re still in college, or wait until after graduation? There are benefits and pitfalls to both, and the decision largely depends on your particular circumstances.

This guide can help you decide which path to take, positioning yourself to earn the score that you need.

Taking the GRE while still in college

1. Knowledge is still fresh

In order to do well on the GRE, you’ll need to have a significant amount of general knowledge that doesn’t necessarily apply to your degree or chosen profession. Our brains operate on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle. The longer time passes without using general knowledge information, the more it is forgotten. Since you probably had to take classes in various fields as part of your degree requirements, much of that knowledge is still fresh in your mind.

2. You’re already in the habit of studying

Being a modern professional means a career of learning. However, that’s different from being in the habit of studying. Studying is a skill that you won’t use as much in your career. Therefore, preparing for the GRE while you’re still in school can be easier if you view it as another class that you are taking.

3. You can’t continue your education without it

Finally, if you are going directly from an undergraduate program to a graduate one, you might have no choice but to take the GRE while you’re still in college. If so, plan to start early and use your breaks wisely for review and practice.

Pitfall:

If you want or need to take the GRE while you are still an undergraduate, make sure that you have a solid study plan. Since there are no assignments and no instructor setting the pace for you, it can be very easy to procrastinate. Treat your GRE studies like you would any other part of your academic program.

Waiting until after graduation

1. Focus

Once you’re out of school, you will probably have work and still lead a busy life. However, that’s very different from having three to five other college classes to juggle. Studying for the GRE after graduation gives you the ability to focus all of your academic energies on just that test.

2. More maturity and professionalism

Being out of school for a while can help you develop your level of discipline, especially if you had a tendency to rely on your general intelligence to cruise through your undergraduate classes. Graduate school is much more like the world of work than like being an undergraduate, and the professional skills you’ve gained will help you both in studying for the GRE and in your graduate program.

3. GRE scores don’t last forever

If you are planning to take a break of two or more years between your undergraduate and graduate programs, you might be better off waiting until you’re out of school to take the GRE. An increasing number of schools are setting time limits on the scores that they will accept, meaning that a score you earned while a senior in your undergraduate program may no longer be valid if you apply to grad school more than a couple years later. Therefore, you may find yourself needing to retake the GRE in order to update your score if you took it while still in school.

Pitfall:

Life can get really busy after college. You’ll have work and perhaps family obligations, and it can be tempting to deceive ourselves that – eventually – life will settle down and we’ll have ‘more time’ to study. Decide when you’re going to take the GRE and treat it like a deadline at work so that you don’t procrastinate on your dream of attending graduate school.

Whatever you ultimately decide, keep in mind that the GRE is a major undertaking requiring significant time and attention. There’s really no magic formula to earning a high score on the test. It is simply a matter of hard work, careful preparation, and dedication; only you can know which circumstances will help you perform at your best.

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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