Many undergraduates pursuing Bachelors degrees in environmental disciplines may be interested in graduate school. Students who have had experience in undergraduate research may be interested in pushing forward toward a career in science. For some students, a graduate degree is an important step in their career even though they are pretty sure they do not want science to be a full-time job. Still others simply want to keep their options open.
One of the steps in admission to graduate school is the Graduate Records Exam or GRE.
Here is information about this exam: LINK
If you are an undergraduate who thinks you might go to graduate school in the near future then you should take the GRE.
My recommendation is that you plan to take the GRE in October of your senior year, or earlier. Graduate school opportunities can pop up early in the fall and you do not want an opportunity to slip by because you do not have scores in hand. Also, if you have scores that you are not happy with then you need time to re-take the test in the fall.
There has been some criticism of the GRE, and some universities are eliminating this requirement; however, the bottom line is that most graduate programs do require it.
Programs differ in both the importance of the GRE scores and the standards for admittance. In the Department of Biology at the University of Dayton (LINK) we recommend applicants obtain a score of 150 or more in the verbal and quantitative sections and a score of 3.0 or better in the written section. I believe the UD Biology requirements are comparable to other programs; however, I would encourage you to check the details of the places where you are applying.
Applying to complete a research degree in Ecology and the Environment should involve an effort to connect with an individual mentor with whom you have a good fit (LINK). During your conversations you can inquire as to the importance of the GRE from their perspective and what (if any) standards they might have.
Although the role of the GRE as a gateway to grad school has been diminishing through time and the test itself is under scrutiny (LINK), there are still many programs which require this test. Therefore an undergraduate who is graduating in the near future should take this test if they want to have all their options open. Whether or not the test is an egregious boondoggle, if the program you apply to requires it, they almost certainly will not waive it for you as an individual. So you need the scores in hand.
What if you want to work for a while before going to graduate school?
You probably should take the GRE anyway because (A) you are better at taking tests right now than you will be if you work for a while and (B) you do not know what your circumstances will be geographically, etc.
GRE scores can be used for 5 years (LINK), so if you take the GRE as an undergraduate you will be set for quite a while.
For example, if after graduation you get an awesome internship in the middle of an amazing forest and spend two years measuring science things and then decide to go to graduate school….you probably will need to have GRE scores for your application… and in that moment it may be a much bigger barrier than it is in the middle of fall semester, senior year.
-You might be 200 miles from the nearest testing center, whereas if you are senior at a University there is probably a testing center in your town, maybe on your campus.
-The $$ it takes to pay the GRE might actually be harder to come by in that moment than it is now, for instance, if your internship stipend is small and you are partly being compensated by room and board.
-Test taking is like any other skill, it will fade with time and it might be a lot harder to get yourself up to speed on test taking later than it is while you are an undergrad. As a senior undergraduate you take tests all the time, but after two years in the woods the whole idea of taking a bubble test might feel like an impossible nightmare!
In mentoring I try to always prioritize helping students develop options and capacity so that they can pursue their ambitions. In the case of the GRE, regardless of what I might think about the test itself, it is clear to me that taking it early fall of senior year is a good investment for the graduate-school-interested undergrad. That student’s future self, working on a grad application after two years in the woods in Maine, will probably agree!
See other posts in the Path to Grad School series here: LINK