There is no defined GRE score stipulated by the Fulbright program that ensures an automatic selection for the prestigious scholarship. According to USEFP (the agency that manages the Fulbright scholarship in Pakistan), you have to have a minimum score of 138 in the verbal and 136 in the quantitative to be eligible for the application. This sort of score, however, is almost never going to make your application stand out and you ought to score more. How much more? Well, that mainly depends on two factors: (i) the program or discipline that you’re applying to, and (ii) the academic standing of the university you want to get into. We will discuss these factors but before we do that, here’s a quick note on the significance of score percentiles.
SCORE PERCENTILES & THEIR IMPORTANCE
Percentiles are statistical measures that tell how well a GRE score ranks among other GRE scores globally. For example, a test taker having a 90th percentile quantitative score is, roughly speaking, better than 90 percent of the test takers, worldwide, on the quantitative reasoning measure of the GRE. Hence percentiles provide a yardstick for relative competence i.e. how better you are than other applicants (in contrast to absolute scores, which provide no such information). And that is why percentiles are of greater value to both university admission committees and the Fulbright program in comparing applications.
Coming back to the two factors we talked about earlier, given below is a brief discussion on how they help define a “good” GRE score:
i) Engineering/Physical Sciences
For these programs, you should ideally have a quantitative score of 160 or above, or, in terms of percentiles, a score equivalent to 90th percentile or more. At any rate, your quantitative score will be given more weight than your score in the verbal section. An overall score above 320, with a quantitative score around 165 will more than ensure that your application will at least not get rejected on account of the GRE requirements.
ii) Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences
Contrary to the technical programs, these programs require you to have a high verbal score. The 90th percentile i.e. 160 for Verbal is a great score for any applicant although many candidates with lower percentiles make it to the scholarship. At any rate, your verbal scores will be given preference over their quantitative counterparts. However, there is a caveat to this advice. USEFP officially states in their FAQ section for the Fulbright scholarship that
It is understood that students coming from private English-medium schools may have an advantage in the verbal portion of the GRE and such factors are taken into account in determining merit
so while you must aim for a great GRE verbal score, if you come from any underprivileged area and do not have proficiency in English language, Fulbright will review your application accordingly. In the past, some students received the scholarship offer and were asked to improve their GRE scores but they didn’t need to pay for the exam again, USEFP took care of their test fee.
Different universities have their own thresholds for GRE scores. For example, if you are targeting a top-ranked university such as Harvard or Stanford in a CS program, you need to have nothing less than a top-notch GRE score, something most definitely above 325. As the academic standing of your desired institute gets lowered, so do your score thresholds to get into those institutes. For the complete list of universities and their corresponding GRE score requirements, see US News and Rankings.
Admission committees also considers other factors when comparing GRE scores of applicants coming from diverse backgrounds. For example, it is understood that students coming from non-native countries may have a disadvantage in the verbal portion of the GRE and this factor is taken into account in determining merit.
IMPORTANCE OF THE OVERALL APPLICATION
Finally, it must be stressed that GRE is only one component in your overall application; and while it is an important component, it does not ensure acceptance or rejection on its own. A compelling personal statement, a clear set of study objectives, strong letters of recommendation great academic background such as having an excellent GPA or having published research papers, extra-curricular achievements, relevant work experience, personal background and the diversity that you bring to the Fulbright community are all factors that contribute to the success of your application. Many candidates with a below-par GRE score have not only been accepted by Fulbright but have been recommended into well-ranked graduate schools on the back of their stellar overall profiles.
As discussed above, some successful applicants with very low GRE scores are later on asked by the Fulbright program to retake the GRE and send improved scores to strengthen their applications.