Archive for test score

Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – #1 Test Score Reporting

We just finished one top 10 list and now we are on to another.  The first list dealt mostly with communication advice, this list will provide insight on the process of submitting your admission application to SIPA.

One of the ways we seek to make the application process fast and easy is to accept self reported test scores for admission application review. To repeat, 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.

At SIPA, we only require official test scores reports if an admitted applicant chooses to enroll. Here are a few common questions we receive and reminders of how the process works in our office.

Question: I sent my scores to SIPA some time ago, can you tell me if they have been received?

Answer: Applicants self report test scores as a part of the online application process. When assembling a file for admission we do not look for official reports. When you request that official test reports be sent to SIPA, they are downloaded into a centralized computer system. We will not match application records to this system until after admission decisions have been made.

Therefore, you should self report your scores when applying online. We print your application, do a manual check to make sure the necessary information has been included and then will update your record accordingly. We appreciate your patience as we work as quickly as possible to print and manually check each application after it has been submitted.

Question: I emailed my scores to your office or mailed a paper copy, do I still need to self report the scores when submitting my application?

Answer: Yes. Every applicant should self report the results of each test taken when filling in the online application. If the scores are not entered they do not appear when we print the application and this slows down the process.

Question: I took the (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) several times. How should I report my scores? Should I only list my top scores?

Answer: As you can see in the screen shot below you can self report the total results for thee different exams for both the GRE/GMAT section and the English as a Second Language section. You should therefore report each test individually.

Let us say that you take the GRE three times. We DO NOT want you to take your top three scores achieved and enter them as one exam. You should report your scores from all three exams in the three separate sections that are available to you. If you have taken a test more than three times, report your most recent three scores.

Screen Shot From Application Site Showing Multiple Entry Areas to Report Test Scores


Question: How late can I report my test scores?

Answer: The application deadline is January 5th at 11:59:59 PM EST. This means that all of your application and all of the associated information should be submitted by this time. Therefore, you can report your test scores up until this time. Because we do not need official test scores to consider an applicant for admission, you do not need to worry about how long it will take the testing agency to report the scores to us, only concern yourself with being able to self report your scores by the deadline.

Question: If I am admitted, when will my test scores need to be received by SIPA?

Answer: Applicants that are admitted and pay a deposit to enroll are required to have official test scores in our office by June 15th. We will provide guidance on this process after admission decisions go out. If you have listed our test code when taking the exam more than likely we will have an electronic record in our mainframe system.

Question: Is there a time limit on how long scores are acceptable?

Answer: TOEFL and IELTS scores up to two years old are acceptable. GRE and GMAT scores up to five years old are acceptable.  The year periods relate to the admission deadline – January 5th.  The tests must have been taken within 2 or 5 years of this date respectively.

Question: When I am taking the exam and it asks for your school code, what number should I enter?

Answer: See below – we highly encourage you to list our code so that if you are admitted, we can work through the process faster.

GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)

GMAT Code for MIA: QF8-64-56

GMAT Code for MPA: QF8-64-99

TOEFL Code: 2161

Document Tracking and the Deadline

My staff and I know the stress that surrounds the submission of an admission application.   This entry is meant to help applicants understand how our application system works as well as how we update our system and communicate with you.  I hope this will help to ease any concerns you might have during this busy time.  This entry is somewhat long, but if you read it thoroughly it should answer any questions or concerns you might have.

First let me state that 100% of the application process can be completed on the Web – we do not require that a single document be mailed to our office to consider a candidate for admission.  The only documents we might expect to receive by mail are academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.  We encourage applicants to upload copies of transcripts to our system, the personal statement and two résumés are uploaded, and applicants self report test scores in Part 2 of the application.

If letters of recommendation or transcripts are sent by mail, the important thing is the date the documents are received, not the date documents are tracked into the online system.  Our deadline is January 5th so documents sent by mail should be received by this date.  However, it can take 10-15 business days from the time a document is received via mail for us to manually track it in our system.

So do not panic if you have submitted Part 2 and/or mailed something to our office and it does not show as received on January 6th.  It actually may take us up until late January to track all documents sent to our office or uploaded to the system.  Rest assured that we will work with applicants if we believe a good faith effort was made to supply a necessary document by our deadline date.  There is no need to send a document a second time to us unless we reach out to you first (we will do so by email if necessary).  Sending documents a second time typically leads to delays.

Also note that if you do plan on mailing your transcripts, you should upload a single sheet with your name and short statement noting the names of the transcripts that are being mailed (in Part 2 where you are asked to upload your transcripts).

The following are details related to the two parts of the application, along with notes on each required document or piece of information we require and how receipt is tracked.

Part 1

Part 1 of the application is quite simple and only requires an applicant to fill in personal information and answer basic questions along with entering the names of three recommenders, along with whether an applicant expects them to submit their letters online or via mail.

If an applicant indicates that a letter writer initially was going to submit a letter online but then later decides to submit by mail, we do not need to be notified.  When we open the letter we will match it to the online record.

If a recommender submits a letter via our online system, the applicant will receive an email from the system informing him/her that the letter has been uploaded and the status will change to “Submitted.”  If we receive the letter via mail, we will have to manually update the applicant record.  In this case, no email will be sent to the applicant, rather the applicant can log in and check the status on the main page.

The receipt of letters of recommendation should not impact an applicant submitting other documents.  Applicants are encouraged to submit all of the documents and information they are responsible for as soon as possible.  As letters are received they will be tracked into the system and the status updated.

The final step in Part 1 is payment of the $85 application fee.  After paying the fee and submitting Part 1, applicants receive a confirmation email and Part 2 will become visible on the application site.

Part 2

Below are descriptions of all of the documents/information we require in Part 2 of the application.  Please read carefully as we receive many questions about the receipt and tracking of documents in our system.


Transcripts can be uploaded to the application site or mailed to our office.  We do not require official transcripts to consider an applicant for admission and uploading unofficial copies is perfectly acceptable. Do note that all coursework must show the grade received and the grading scale notes should be included with the transcript.

Do note that if transcripts are uploaded to the site they will not automatically be tracked as received.  Rather the status will read as “Not Received.”  Why does this happen?  The reason is that we must print the application and manually check to see if the transcripts are legible and complete.  Thus it can take some time for us to manually change the status to “Received – Not Official” which is acceptable for admission consideration. 

Note that any transcripts uploaded to our system will be tracked as “Received – Not Official.”  If an offer of admission is made and an applicant accepts the offer, we would then require an official copy to be sent via mail by June 15th.

If an applicant does send official transcripts via mail and they are received by the deadline, they will be tracked as “Received – Official” in the system.  Again, the tracking process can take time so we appreciate your patience.

Test Scores

All applicants should self report applicable test scores (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) in Part 2 of the application.  We do not require official test reports to consider an applicant for admission.

While we do encourage applicants to list our test code when taking exams, we do not pay the testing organizations to mail paper reports to our office, rather the score reports are downloaded into a centralized Columbia University computer system.  However, we do not match application records to this centralized system until after admission decisions have been made.

Because of this, every applicant must enter self reported scores in Part 2 of the application.  If self reported scores are not entered, it will slow down our processing of the file.  While we understand that some applicants have requested that official test reports be sent to our office, if you have left the self reported test score section blank, you should log back in and self report your scores before the January 5th deadline.

Just like with transcripts, test scores that are self reported in Part 2 will not automatically be tracked as received.  Upon submission of Part 2 the status will read as “Not Received.”  Again, the reason is that we must print the application and manually check to see if the scores have been entered and printed out correctly.  Thus it can take some time for us to manually change the status to “Received – Not Official” which is acceptable for admission consideration.

If an offer of admission is made, we will then match your admission record to the centralized system the university uses for test score reporting.  If an applicant entered our code we will match the official scores to the application record.  If we run the matching process and the scores are not present, we will notify the applicant that he or she should contact the testing service to ensure that the official scores are sent to us no later than June 15th.  Once official scores are received they would be tracked as “Received – Official.”

Personal Statement and the Two Required Résumé /CV Documents

When you upload these documents to the system they will automatically track as “Received – Official.”  We will still manually review the application and will notify the applicant if there is an issue when these documents print, but this happens so rarely that we are comfortable with tracking as “Received – Official” upon submission of Part 2 of the application.  The status change is automated, but it can take a day for the system to update so do not panic if they are not tracked as “Received – Official” right after submission.

Forwarding the File to the Admissions Committee

Once we have manually checked a file to ensure that all of the required documents have been submitted and are legible, we will send an email to you stating that the application has been forwarded to the Admissions Committee.  Please realize this may take up until late January.  Again, if there is an issue, we will reach out to applicants via the email listed in the application.  When a file is completed has no impact on the admission decision (as long as all of the documents were received by the deadline).

Keeping Up With the Admission/Enrollment Process

Thank you for your attention to this message and we look forward to reading your application.  Decisions will start to go out in early March.  When a decision has been posted, applicants receive an email with instructions to log in to the online application site to view the decision.  Please continue to visit this blog for updates on when decisions will be sent.

I encourage all applicants to thoroughly review this PDF document which describes the admission process from beginning to end, including when decisions are sent, when our Admitted Student Day will take place, and how you can best research financial aid opportunities.

The Matrix

I am hesitant sometimes to use personal experience/opinions when blogging about admissions issues, but every once in a while I will toss in a cultural reference that I understand maybe not everyone will understand.  We have applicants from over 100 countries each year and I understand that not everyone may understand the context, but I try to add enough detail to make the point understood.

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix.  I remember pondering the plot for days after I first saw it.  A good movie for me is one that makes me think for a while after seeing it.  I was not huge fan of the second and third installments, I think they should have left it at one movie, but such is the Hollywood model of producing sequels when a first installment of a film is a hit.

Anyway, for those who have not seen the movie the plot is based upon machines that set up a virtual reality called the Matrix.  Computer programs are written to provide humans with a world that they believe is real, but is not.  Humans are connected to the Matrix and do not physically live in the world, rather they live life as if a character in a computer program.  Why?  Well the machines wanted to tame humans and use them as energy sources after the war between machines and man cut off sunlight to the earth of course!  If you have not seen the movie, no, sleep deprivation from my travel schedule has not caused me to go off the deep end, it really is the plot =)

What does this have to do with admissions?  Well I think that sometimes we buy into a sort of Matrix regarding goals we wish to accomplish in life.  In some cases our society convinces us that there is a formula associated with the goals people have or achievements we seek to accomplish.  Admission to graduate school is a goal many have and society has led many to believe that admission to a graduate program is a Matrix.  Why do I believe this?  Primarily because two of the most common questions I have been asked as I have been traveling this fall are:

  • What is the average GPA required for someone to gain admission?
  • What are the average GRE scores of an incoming student?

These are two questions that I dodge like an adept politician (or should I say like Neo dodging bullets?).  Why?  Well two primary reasons are the diversity of age in our applicant pool along with the fact that we receive applications from over 100 countries each year.  Last year we received transcripts from close to 900 different universities and the youngest enrolled student this year is 21 and the oldest is 51.  With so many countries, universities, teaching styles, and grading systems you might think that it would not be fair to establish a singular standard for all applicants.  I agree – no single standard should be used to judge all applicants to SIPA.

We evaluate each applicant as an individual and the process is very holistic.  There is no Matrix.  Each person has a different story, background, education, experience, and goals.  Yes, we do look at GPA and test scores, but we put them in context and scores and grades are relative to the experience of an applicant.

Another example I could use to state why average GPA is not important is strength of schedule.  One applicant may have a “soft” academic record in terms of courses chosen while another applicant chose very challenging courses and achieved a lower GPA than an applicant who chose an easier pathway.  Should we punish the applicant that chose the more challenging path?  The Admissions Committee does not believe so.

How about the GRE?  Would it be fair to expect that an applicant that speaks English as a third language should score as well on the verbal portion of the GRE as someone who speaks English as a native language?  Again I believe the answer is “no.”

I do understand the desire of applicants to have information regarding GPA and GRE.  It is valid to seek an answer to the question, “How can I tell where I stand in terms of previous successful applicants to your program?”
I will offer up a few comments, none of which ever puts anyone totally at ease, but bear with me.

First, the younger someone is the more attention we pay to grades and test scores.  Why?  Well younger people have less work experience.  The older someone is, the more we might give them a “break” in terms of grades and test scores.  I would not expect that a 51 year old applicant would do as well on the GRE as someone that is 21 and just graduating.  However the 51 year old has decades of experience that the 21 year old does not.

Second, overall GPA is not as important as grades in particular courses.  Let’s say that an applicant majored in Economics and had a GPA of 3.1.  Perhaps this applicant went “off the board” and took some challenging classes that were unrelated to their major.  Maybe he or she got a “C” in a Sociology of Religion class.  Intellectual curiosity is admirable and average grades in a few classes may not be looked upon as a negative, but rather as a positive for wanting to expand one’s intellectual development.

I hope you understand where I am going with all of this – there is no formula we use to admit a student.  I know this still will not put you totally at ease so I will offer one final comment on test scores.  On the GRE we look more at percentiles than we do number scores.  Let’s say you scored a 680 on the quantitative portion of the GRE.  This may have put you in the 71st percentile meaning that 29% of those that took the exam scored better than you, and 69% scored lower than you.

As a general guideline I can say the following regarding percentiles as viewed by the Admissions Committee at SIPA:

  • The low 80s to the high 90s could be considered superior
  • The low 70s to the low 80s could be considered excellent
  • The low 60s to the low 70s could be considered good
  • Scores in the 50s could be considered fair

However, again realize that this scale is relative and we have no cutoffs.  An applicant may speak English as a third language and thus might have scored below the 50th percentile on the verbal portion of the GRE.  At the same time, this applicant could have scored very well on the TOEFL exam and the Committee will take this into account.

And perhaps someone completed extensive quantitative coursework in college but is not a good test taker and does not do well on the GRE.  It is typical for us to use academic transcripts as more of a barometer of ability than test scores.

I realize this entry will not put everyone at ease (just like watching the 2nd and 3rd installments of the Matrix left me unsettled) but I hope it helps provide insight on how we review applicants for our program.  We do not use a formula or Matrix to admit students and you simply need to do your best in telling a compelling story in your application.  A compelling story is told by how you weave your application together.  Who you choose for recommendation writers, what you choose to write about in your personal statement, what you choose to include in your resume, and yes your grades and test scores also are all parts of your story.

We look to admit applicants that are intellectually curious, committed to causes, possess diversity of experience, and are capable of handling our rigorous curriculum.  This mix does not lend itself well to formulas.  I have learned over the years that a bit of skepticism can be a healthy thing.  Be skeptical when society tells you there is one way to achieve something.  In the policy world is takes all kinds of people to make a difference, and we look to admit a class that we believe will assist the coming generations in addressing challenging policy problems – hopefully problems that do not include machines taking over our minds =)

"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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