World's Would-Be Grad Students

ETS releases country-by-country GRE averages, and results point to importance of foreign students in U.S. graduate schools.

February 21, 2013

Non-U.S. citizens outperform U.S. citizens on the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE, according to data released today by the Educational Testing Service. The non-U.S. quantitative mean is 155.6, compared to 149.5 for U.S. citizens.

The U.S. test takers outperform non-Americans on the verbal reasoning and analytic writing sections, according to the data. The new report on GRE data is the first to be released since ETS made a series of changes to the GRE, and is the first with country-by-country breakdowns. (The report also contains various other data on topics such as desired field of study, desired region of study, etc.)

The data do not necessarily show an equal comparison of the potential graduate students around the world, since only top potential graduate students in some countries (typically those looking at American or other Western institutions) might take the GRE, while many Americans take the test while seeking admission to a wide range of graduate programs. ETS officials said that they were releasing the figures to allow colleges to better-understand the context in which they were examining scores of students from particular countries.

The figures, however, illustrate why foreign talent is so important to American graduate programs, especially in math, science and technology fields. And the verbal and writing scores of those from many other countries, while lagging their American counterparts, may be impressive when factoring in that English was not the first language of many test-takers.

Indeed, in countries such as Australia, Britain and Canada, where English would be the first language of most students (outside of Francophone Canada), averages in all categories exceeded those of American students.

The following table shows averages for U.S. citizens, test-takers from countries that are top providers of foreign graduate students to the United States (China, India and South Korea), and a sampling of other countries where those taking the test perform well.

GRE Averages by Country, 2011-2

Country Number of Test-Takers Verbal Quantitative Writing
U.S. 318,240 152.9 149.5 3.9
China 29,255 145.9 162.9 3.1
India 33,504 144.7 154.1 3.1
South Korea 2,933 147.5 158.2 3.2
Canada 4,924 156.0 153.6 4.3
Britain 1,341 157.1 152.9 4.4
Brazil 1,032 148.9 150.5 3.1
Germany 1,482 152.3 155.5 3.9
Hong Kong 643 147.7 159.5 3.5
Israel 442 151.4 156.7 3.5
Australia 491 158.4 155.7 4.5
Saudi Arabia 2,972 137.4 142.8 2.2
Turkey 2,764 144.1 158.7 3.0


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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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