Now that you're finished with college, it's time to enter the real world: a world of cubicles, office politics, and backstabbing corporate weirdos. That's when you suddenly realize that college really wasn't such a bad experience after all. You got to read about interesting things, had a relatively relaxed schedule, and there was always time for a well-planned kegger. Why not extend your college lifespan a little longer by applying to graduate school? We here at are all for graduate school; it's a great way to learn about things that are specifically interesting to you while not having to deal with all of the unrelated prerequisites of the undergrad experience. But before you proceed to filling out those applications, there's an important feat of intelligence to be overcome: a standardized test that quizzes you on what you learned in college. This beast's name is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

You're not the only one who must confront the GRE; according to Kaplan Testing, about 500,000 students took the GRE in 1998. That means that there's stiff competition. One thing to keep in mind is that even though your GRE score won't unilaterally predict whether you will or will not be admitted into a particular graduate school, it is nonetheless a factor in the admissions process. The pressure! But wipe away those tears, buckaroo, because this SYW will educate you about the fundamentals of the GRE. Once you finish reading this SYW, get your butt over to our second GRE article, SoYouWanna ace the GRE?. That's where you'll learn all of our secret Jedi tricks for outsmarting the wily writers of the test. But before you jump off that boat, you first hafta learn how to swim.


Before you start spending your money on preparation courses and registration fees, there's one slight detail that you should be aware of: make sure you even need to take the GRE. Tons of people out there take the GRE and never realize that they weren't required (or even recommended) to take it. There are two reasons for this:

  1. For entry into medical school, business school, or law school, you don't take the GRE. Each of those schools has a unique test that you'll need to take (medical = MCAT; business = GMAT; law = LSAT). So if you're taking the GRE to get into one of those schools, then screw your head on right, take the appropriate test, and become rich.

  2. Not all graduate schools require the GRE for admittance. Don't get us wrong, most of the schools require (or at least "strongly encourage") you to take the GRE, but before you sign up, you should look through the application materials for the schools you're applying to and see if it's "required" or "recommended" (you might get lucky). We'll spoil some of the suspense now: the GRE is required for most advanced degree programs, including:

  • Education
  • Psychology
  • English
  • Communications
  • Journalism
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Music
  • Sociology
  • Math
  • Economics
  • Geology
  • Biology (not med school . . . that's different)
  • Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Engineering
  • Computer Science

In fact, for many of these programs, you'll have to take TWO GREs: the main general one that we talk about in this SYW, and a special "subject test" that will grill you on the specific subject in which you're trying to get your advanced degree. There's even a writing test that evaluates your ability to make original arguments on a particular issue. We're not going to worry about the subject and writing tests for the purposes of this SYW, but if you're feeling particularly anxious, check out the GRE's website for more details.