It is important to the extent where your score must meet at least the minimum requirements of the specific department of the University that you are applying to. It is just a filter to get you across the screening stage and not the deciding factor for an admit. But yes, a low GRE score will surely hurt your chances, whereas a high GRE score can offset a low GPA or inconsistent academic performance. In short, a high GRE score is a key for your entire application as such to be given due consideration and one way of differentiating yourself from similar applicants. Therefore, I put my heart and soul to do well in my GRE from the very beginning.
I targeted the Fall 2011 semester. For that, I started my preparation a year in advance. I enrolled with GREedge’s Complete GRE program. With this program, I was able to carry out my preparation at a slow pace, at my own convenience.
After your scores are checked and you are put up in a pool of qualified applicants, then SOP is the most important part for the committee to decide whether or not you will receive the admit. I made sure to mention my research interests and projects here. It was the first signal to the Professor/ Research Team telling them that I am interested in the work they are doing or going to do. This, of course, was after thorough research about the university, and going through every professor’s profile in detail. With the help of the GREedge team, my SOP was ideated to bring out how closely my project work and experience correlates with the active research going on in the department of my dream university.
Finally, as far as scholarships are concerned, there is very little you can do in the post admit phase. In my University, if you wanted to TA for an undergraduate course, we just need to approach the Prof. as early as possible and prove you are qualified enough to TA the course (this can be in the form of tests or an interview). On the other hand, if we wanted to TA for graduate courses, we need to take the course initially, get an A and perform really well to impress the Prof. so as to TA for the course in its next offering.
RA is based on your performance in the course in addition to your projects and their relation to the professor’s work. If you wanted to do RA under a professor in a subject, take a related course under the professor, prove you are really good not only by acing the course requirements but going beyond what is required and bringing in innovations into the final project etc. Then you can talk about these to request for an opportunity to work as an RA under that professor.
It’s normal to be anxious about what awaits you. The key here is to do what you have to do with utmost patience and diligence. All the best!