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What’s up with the GRE?

The GRE (GMAT) is probably one of the most annoying parts about applying to grad school. We know that, and we are sorry about making you go through with it, but is it an important part of your application. Definitely not the most important one, but it is another way for us to better evaluate your quantitative and verbal proficiencies. So as with most things in life, work hard and try and do the best you can, but rest assured that you will not be judged solely on it.

We evaluate all candidates based on the following criteria: the personal statement, resume/curriculum vitae (work experience), transcripts of undergraduate, post graduate and/or graduate studies, letters of recommendation, and, lastly, the GRE (or GMAT).

Some of the most common questions regarding the GRE (GMAT) that we receive…

What is SIPA’s cut-off for the GRE?

The Admissions Committee seeks to admit applicants with a combination of the proven academic ability to master SIPA’s rigorous curriculum and two to three years of relevant professional-level work experience. Due to the diversity of our applicant pool, we do not set “cut-offs” for GPAs or GRE scores. Each applicant’s personal, professional, and academic history is thoroughly reviewed to determine if SIPA is the right fit for the applicant.

What is the average GRE score of incoming students?

For the same reason described above, we currently do not keep average scores for successful applicants.

I will be taking the exam before the deadline but I’m afraid your office will not receive the official scores from ETS before the deadline.

To be considered for admission to SIPA we do not require that official test score reports be on file; this includes the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, and IELTS. We only require official test scores reports if an admitted applicant chooses to enroll. This means that you can take the test any time prior to the deadline (January 5th) and self-report your scores.  At the end of the GRE, you will have the option to view your Verbal and Quantitative scores. Please make note of them to self-report them in your application. You just need to insert these numbers in the spaces provided in the application.  Your application is not complete without your GRE scores so please be sure to provide them by the application deadline.   If you self report your verbal and quantitative scores but do not have your writing scores, it is fine that ETS sends us your Writing score at a later date.

What happens if I take the exam after the deadline?

If you plan to take the GRE or GMAT after you submit your application, you may self-report these scores to us via email.   In the email, please indicate your full name, program you are applying to and the score results.  Please be aware that any score submitted after the application deadline will be considered at the discretion of the Admissions Committee.  An application is not considered complete if the GRE or GMAT score section has been left blank, so please update us as soon as your scores are available, at which point your application will be processed.

Can I waive the GRE?

GRE (GMAT) waivers are typically only considered in extreme circumstances such as military service or travel restrictions. If your situation prohibits you from getting to a test center and you have significant previous academic and/or professional quantitative experience, you may submit a GRE/GMAT request waiver.  Just send us an email (sipa_admission@columbia.edu) and we’ll send you a waiver request form to complete.  But be aware that waivers are rarely approved and all actions should be taken to sit for an exam prior to the application deadline.

The GRE Revised General Test

As interested applicants are likely aware, the Education Testing Service (ETS) is making changes to the GRE.  The test in its current format will be offered until July 31st and starting August 1st only the revised test will be offered.

The good news is that the new test will not negatively impact applicants to SIPA in any way.  As a matter of fact the test should be more friendly to test takers and to the SIPA Admissions Committee.  Here are a few questions people have been asking along with some general notes regarding the new test.  Do note that some of the text below is taken directly from a handout given out by ETS at a recent seminar.

Question:  If I took the GRE previously are my scores still valid?

Answer: GRE scores, no matter the version of the test, are valid for 5 years.  SIPA will accept any GRE test scores that are no more than 5 years old by the date of application.  If you are applying for fall 2012 admission and you took the GRE on January 5, 2007 or after, your scores are valid for fall 2012 admission consideration.

Question:  When reporting my scores to SIPA should I convert old scores to the new scores?

Answer: No, do not convert your scores.  Applicants to SIPA self report test scores on the admission application.  You should report the scores and the associated percentages exactly as they appear on your GRE test report.  If you took the older version of the test and the newer version, report the scores exactly as given to you by ETS.

Question:  Should I report my individual scores from each time I have taken the test, or should I only report my highest scores?

Answer: Applicants should report individual scores from each time the test has been taken.  In other words, if you have taken the test more than once, do not simply take the highest scores achieved and report the scores as one test.  List your full score report history.  If you took the test on January 15th, 2009 and on April 29, 2010 you will be asked to report the full results of each test by date on the admissions application.  Do not attempt to average your scores or take the highest score from each individual test.  When the Committee reviews applications we take the highest scores achieved, we do not average the scores.

Regarding the format of the test, the revised General test should be more friendly to test takers.  For one, the test will allow you to move back and forth between questions, edit or change answers, and skip and return to previous questions.  The questions asked on the test will also more closely reflect the kind of thinking needed to succeed in a graduate program.

For example, in the past antonyms and analogies were part of the test, but this is not really the type of thinking you will utilize at SIPA.  The learning at SIPA is contextual and vocabulary on the old exam was often tested out of context. In the quantitative section more emphasis is going to be placed on real-life scenarios and there will be an on-screen calculator.

In regard to the scoring scale, it is changing from 10 point increments to 1 point increments.  This will make it easier for the Admissions Committee to compare scores.  The new scale makes a small difference in scoring look like small differences, while bigger differences will continue to stand out.

Those that plan on taking the test in the future also have the opportunity to take advantage of free test preparation materials on the ETS web site.  Free software that simulates the test taking experience can be downloaded here. You can also sign up for free alerts regarding the GRE by visiting http://www.takethegre.com/.

And as a general note, SIPA does not use GRE scores as a sole indicator of the ability to succeed in our programs.  We do not have an absolute GRE cutoff nor do we use a mathematical matrix to make admission decisions.  Every applicant, no matter the GRE score, will have their file reviewed by the Committee.  For a full blog entry on this topic please click here.

SIPA will also take the GMAT in place of the GRE.  Just as with the GRE, GMAT scores are to be self reported on the admission application when applying.  We do encourage applicants to list our test code when taking the GRE or GMAT, however we will not look for official test reports until after admission offers are made an enrollment deposit has been paid.  Here are our test codes:

  • GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)
  • GMAT for MIA: QF8-64-56
  • GMAT for MPA: QF8-64-99

Test-Score Submission

We have been getting many questions recently about test score submission and I want to emphasize an important point: SIPA does not require official test reports (GRE / GMAT / TOEFL / IELTS) for admission consideration.  We accept self reported scores on the application for admission consideration.

Thus applicants need not worry about SIPA receiving official test reports by the admission deadline.  Applicants simply need to enter the scores achieved on the application site.  These scores can be entered up to the deadline, even after submitting Part 2 of the admission application.

So for example, let’s say you submit Part 2 of your application on December 15th after having taken the GRE one time.  If you take the GRE again on December 28th and ETS provides you with your scores within a few days, you log back into your application and report your scores up until January 5th.  We do not need the official score report by January 5th.

SIPA will require official test scores only if an applicant is admitted and pays an enrollment deposit.  The enrollment deposit is due by May 1st and official test reports will need to be submitted to our office in June.  Details will follow once admission offers have been made.

We still encourage applicants to list the appropriate SIPA code when taking these exams, but you need not worry about the official test reports reaching our office by January 5th.  Also note that we do not average test scores, so you can take test multiple times and we will always take the highest scores achieved.   See below for the appropriate SIPA test codes:

  • GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)
  • GMAT for MIA: QF8-64-56
  • GMAT for MPA: QF8-64-99
  • TOEFL:  2161

Document Tracking and the Admission Deadline

The most common inquiry we receive before and after the admission deadline is, “I have submitted a document via postal mail or the Web site but it does not show as received when I log in to check the status of my application. Can you please tell me if it is has been received and if my application will be impacted?”

First, let me start by stating the following – it is not important that an application be listed as complete on the application Web site by January 5th, 2009.  It is important that applications be submitted by this date and we hope that all documents are uploaded or received by this date.

Our office is happy to work with applicants to ensure the application is completed, but please understand it does take our office time to process the thousands of documents submitted on the application Web site and sent to our office. The date each document is tracked into the system is not important – it is the receipt date that is important. Here are a few important insights regarding processing.

First, do not be surprised if it takes up to two weeks after the deadline date for documents to appear as received on the application site. It is completely normal for documents to appear as not received on the Web site and this may be the case up to January 19th.

Second, we do not begin to track documents until an application is submitted. It takes us three to five days to set up an application file from the time the application is submitted.  Therefore, if you submitted your application recently and documents were sent some time ago, it will likely take at least two weeks to complete the matching process.

Third, even though you may have sent a document to our office via an express courier and we have signed for it, this does not mean we immediately track it. All documents received are first sorted alphabetically and then enter the matching process.

Fourth, as explained in a recent blog entry, there is always a slight delay in the receipt of postal mail that is not sent to our office directly by an express courier (UPS, FedEx, etc.). This is due to the fact that general mail that is addressed to our office is first sent to a central Columbia post office for sorting. This process can add three to five additional days to the delivery of documents to our office. We are aware of this delay and we account for this when tracking documents. Documents delayed by the internal sorting process are not negatively impacted.

Fifth, if there is an issue beyond your control that has resulted in the late submission of a document to our office, please feel free to send an email to sipa_admission@columbia.edu to let us know the specific details.

Sixth, please do not panic and request that another copy of a document you feel has been sent to us but not tracked be sent again. This will result in even more mail to be sorted when it is likely that we have already received the document, it has just has not been matched to your file.

Finally, if there is an issue regarding document receipt we will be happy to work with you, however we may not know this until up to two weeks after the deadline.  If there is good reason to believe an issue outside of your control has taken place we will do everything in our power to ensure your application is completed and forwarded to the committee for review. Please see our blog entry for information on standardized test score receipt for an example of issues we take into account.

In summary, do not panic if you feel you have done everything required and yet your application status still shows as incomplete. It is normal for this to be case up to two weeks after the deadline date. We appreciate your patience and look forward to reviewing your file.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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