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Grad school application without GRE score? What are they looking for?
February 21, 2013 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm toying with the idea of getting a Masters program in the next year or two in a specific field within my current career path. Since the program is fairly unique, the school isn't requiring a GRE score for the application (although it's a top research university in the US on the West Coast). So what are they looking for in my application? How does not needing a GRE score change things? Lots of questions!

Obviously they will look at my resume, my personal statement and my recommendation letters. But how do I distinguish myself from the rest of the people applying to this program? Are they basically looking for me to prove that I can do this?

Who to ask for recommendation letters? I'm not going to ask my boss or colleagues for one, because I don't want to get fired. I have been out of school for nearly two years now and haven't really maintained a relationship with my professors, although a couple knew me fairly well. My GPA is ok - 3.5 ish. I got a degree in Electrical Engineering, I work in software now and I'm looking to get a Masters in HCI. I'm more interested in the research aspect of it rather than the creative design part of that field.

Some things I was thinking of doing:
- Getting involved in the local UX/HCI community.
- Taking some courses in some local universities
- Attending local conferences
- Visiting the school when it's closer to application time (and hopefully connecting with the professor I'd want to do research with)
- Connecting with the UX people at my current job to see if I can learn from them and get involved in any projects (although I doubt that'll happen)
Will these things help my application tremendously?

If I take a course at a local university (these are often week-long courses rather than semester courses, offered for people getting certificate programs) and I click well with the instructor and maintain a relationship with them (via networking, etc.) is it ok to ask for a recommendation?

Any other things I should think about? I've been looking at job postings for the type of job I'd want to get with this degree - to see if I think I'd fit in and to see if there are jobs out there and the answer to both is yes. I'm huge on doing research in advance so I just want to make sure I think about everything before committing myself to grad school applications.
posted by carmel to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's my impression that most programs use GRE scores to weed out candidates. For instance, if you are applying to a doctoral program in engineering and you got a 500 in Math, your resume won't make the first round of cuts. However, the GRE tends not to hold the same weight in graduate admissions as the SAT does in undergraduate admissions.

In short, not needing a GRE doesn't change very much. You'll be selected on your other merits either way.

All your prep work sounds good. I'd suggest getting a recommendation from your undergraduate professors rather than someone that you've taken a weeklong course with.
posted by vathek at 5:04 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recently graduated from a professional Masters program at a top research university that didn't require GRE scores for admission. At first I was like, "Yay! My scores are almost out of date and now I definitely don't have to go through the hassle and expense of testing again to get a degree from a great school!" I should not have been so gleeful.

Once I got there I found that many of the students were nowhere near qualified to do Masters-level work. I got some benefits from the program, but I didn't have a great academic experience and I was pretty bummed about it. I now believe they removed the GRE requirement to attract the maximum number of students so the program could be a moneymaker for the university.

Not that I think the GRE is the be all, end all of academic potential, but the fact that they're lowering the bar to admission is a big red flag in my experience. It sounds like you're very thorough and very committed to your education, so you may want to reach out to folks currently in the program and alumni to see what their experience was. And not just the people that the program puts you in touch with, because those are people who will only have positive things to say. My recommendation would be to find a few students on LinkedIn and reach out to those who have successful careers in the field or went to a top-tier school for undergrad and get their thoughts.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:06 PM on February 21, 2013


How does not needing a GRE score change things?

It may be they relaxed the GRE requirement because they found it wasn't a good way to evaluate prospective grad students.

I think the recommendations of someone teaching a semester-long course will be paid attention to. If you can take one.

- Getting involved in the local UX/HCI community.
- Taking some courses in some local universities
- Attending local conferences
- Visiting the school when it's closer to application time (and hopefully connecting with the professor I'd want to do research with)
- Connecting with the UX people at my current job to see if I can learn from them and get involved in any projects (although I doubt that'll happen)
Will these things help my application tremendously?


This stuff seems mostly sensible. Try to take some term-long courses when you can.

Also, if you can do real-world development/research, that would be both fun and good cv fodder. Knock together a 3D printer, do up a input device or art project that uses an arduino, contribute to a few ongoing projects, and so on. Learn to do rapid-viz napkin sketches. Meet up with the local UX/HCI community but also the hackerspace and electronic artists community.

This may show them that you're a motivated self-starter that is good at the artsy-designy problem solving, along with being a pure engineering guy.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:57 AM on February 22, 2013


"I have been out of school for nearly two years now and haven't really maintained a relationship with my professors, although a couple knew me fairly well."

I finished my BS in 2006, and contacted a professor in late 2010 to write recommendation letters for graduate applications. I sent him an email including what courses I'd taken from the professor, what I'd especially liked about the courses, and included my resume (to explain what I'd been doing for 4 years). We talked on the phone for about 20 minutes before he agreed to write the letter(s), and I made sure to provide plenty of lead time, so I wouldn't worry about 2 years of no contact if you had strong connections.
posted by worstname at 6:32 AM on February 22, 2013


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