Dear Mentor:

What GRE/GPA scores are needed for a top-10 US college?

I am doing my BE [Bachelor of Engineering] in Computer Science & Engineering. I want to do my MS in the US. What should be my performance in the GRE and on my GPA to get into one of the 10 best colleges in the US? Please inform me on how the GPA of a student is calculated.

Focused and Ambitious, Location Unknown

Dear Focused and Ambitious:

While the GRE (Graduate Record Exam, a standardized entrance exam) score and GPA (Grade Point Average) are the two most critical elements of the admissions criteria, they are not the entire admissions criteria. Moreover, the GRE score and GPA are quantitative in nature, but the admissions criteria include non-quantitative elements as well. Thus, one can comment on the GRE score and GPA in some numerical and statistical sense, the other criteria are given subjective evaluation that can not be easily or universally formulated.

The typical criteria for admission in an MS program in the US include: academic performance (GPA), GRE score, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and so on.

As you know, the historic and statistical measures offer only guidance and not a guarantee. One easy response to your question would be to score the highest possible: A score of 2400 on the GRE and 4.0 on GPA. You would then have an excellent chance - still not a guarantee - of being admitted to a top 10 engineering school in the US.

Who determines the top 10 engineering schools in the US anyway? Isn't it a subjective evaluation? The fact is there is no universal agreement on the list of top 10 engineering schools in the US. Every time a source puts out new rankings, the evaluation process and the rankings are immediately embraced, complimented, criticized, debated, rejected and ignored - all at the same time - by the winners and losers. We are saying this to make you and others aware of the fact that depending on the methodology, the list of top 10 varies and quite dramatically at times. You must refer to multiple sources and rankings, understand the methodologies and rigor in the evaluation, and analyze the results carefully to create your own list of top 10.

The iMahal Education section includes sources for the US College Rankings. These sources often include average or median scores on GRE and GPA. While the GRE scores are on a standardized test, the assessment of GPA scores is highly dependent on the quality and prestige of your academic institution of prior education. For example, a score of 65 from an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) may be considered far superior to a score of 95 from a no-name school. We hope you see the complexity of your question. Even though the GPA is quantitative, it is exposed to a subjective evaluation.

We are impressed by your goal of targeting top 10 schools in the US. We are glad that you are conducting research to understand what it would take to achieve your goal. In the end, you are liable to come to the conclusion that regardless what the numerical scores are on the GRE and GPA, one best way - but not a guarantee - to achieve your goal is work the hardest and score the highest you can. Once you have your actual GRE score, you can use the iMahal College Finder to identify the colleges that best match your performance and personal needs. The iMahal College Finder can create a customized list of colleges for you in three categories - most competitive, reasonable competitive and moderately competitive - based on your GRE performance.

The calculation of GPA is formulaic and fairly straightforward. GPA is scored on a scale of 4.0. Performance on each course is assigned a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, with a respective grade points of 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0. An arithmetic average of grade points on all courses is called the grade point average. We addressed the calculation of GPA in an earlier Dear Mentor: column: Please explain the terminology like GPA and official transcripts.

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