How Much do GREs Matter for Graduate School in Planning?

If you are applying to graduate school in planning, how much do GREs matter? Like many things in planning the answer varies with the person and program. Below I provide some general advice.

2 minute read

October 20, 2012, 4:22 PM PDT

By Ann Forsyth


A row of GRE exam study books lined up neatly in a bookstore.

TonelsonProductions / Shutterstock

If you are applying to graduate school in planning, how much do GREs matter? Like many things in planning the answer varies with the person and program. Below I provide some general advice.

  • GREs matter more for those without much work experience, particularly those coming straight from an undergraduate program.
  • They can matter quite a bit in doctoral admissions where the competition is fierce.
  • If English is not your first language it helps to do well in the verbal and analytical sections.
  • GREs are only part of the picture in admissions along with statements of purpose, letters of recommendation, planning-related experience, and undergraduate performance. Admissions committees look at the big picture.
  • This also means that if you have stellar GRE scores but your statement of purpose has little to do with planning and you have no relevant work or volunteer experience then admissions committees will be unlikely to admit you.
  • For those interested in assessing their scores, some schools, such as USC, provide guidelines which can be helpful. However, it is important to remember that most schools, including USC, take a holistic view placing GREs in context.

I have previously provided other advice on getting into graduate school in planning: how to decide if planning is for you, whether to get work experience before you go to grad school, find the right program, understand the basic philosophies underlying graduate education in planning, use social media to find out about schools,  applywrite a statement of purposeobtain letters of reference, assess your undergraduate transcriptsvisit successfully, and decide which offer to take up including how to assess the real costs.


Ann Forsyth

Trained in planning and architecture, Ann Forsyth is a professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 2007-2012 she was a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell. She taught previously at at the University of Minnesota, directing the Metropolitan Design Center (2002-2007), Harvard (1999-2002), and the University of Massachusetts (1993-1999) where she was co-director of a small community design center, the Urban Places Project. She has held short-term positions at Columbia, Macquarie, and Sydney Universities.

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