PGRE cut-offs

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PGRE cut-offs

Post by mnakusor » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:54 pm


There is a long-standing rumour that departments use some sort of a secret PGRE cut-off in the applications review process. And looking at various statistics churned out by the data collected in this site, one might say that it is quite possibly the case. Very few, if any, mentions it clearly in their websites though. If naive low-scoring aspirants apply to these schools (inspired by "we don't have any cut-off" boasted by the department websites), only to get their applications fed to the shredder based on a cut-off, nothing comes out of it other than the universities getting about 75 bucks richer.

If schools can not show that they have admitted students with scores lower than a certain amount, don't you think they should mention it clearly? Wouldn't it be a business malpractice otherwise? A point to note here is that most schools do mention the GPA cut-off quite clearly. Why not the PGRE then?

On a similar note, do you think universities should also be clear about any extra expectation from a certain group (for example, internationals or older applicants), or any affirmative actions they have in place (for example, for women or ethnic minorities)?

I personally think that a little more information about these will help applicants choose their schools better and save them a lot of money. What are your thoughts?


King Vitamin
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Re: PGRE cut-offs

Post by King Vitamin » Sat Jan 19, 2013 12:23 am

I'm sure it changes with demand, and is different for different schools. There was another thread on this elsewhere, where I mentioned hearing third or fourth hand that UWashington didn't even look at theory applicants with scores under a 780 last year.

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Re: PGRE cut-offs

Post by Minovsky » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:00 am

A lot of schools at least post their averages for accepted students, so that gives some sort of sense of what scores are like. Columbia actually says what the lowest PGRE score of accepted students was in past years. Some schools also say things like "we don't have a PGRE cut off, but it is rare for students to be admitted with a low score such as 550" or something similar.

On problem with only using data from this site, is that 1) it is a very small sample size and 2) most people with weaker credentials don't post. One of my recommenders told me that they knew a student with a PGRE in the 600s that got into MIT. Based on the information on this site, you might conclude that this person should have had a 0% chance of getting in. My guess is that schools recognize that the PGRE isn't necessarily an accurate measure of ability to succeed as a physicist, so they don't want to rule out good applicants just because they had a bad Saturday morning one time.

Schools don't care about saving students money (especially top schools, because they can get away with it). Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, etc. all charge ~$100 for their application. I can't imagine that it actually costs $100 to process an application. Most less prestigious schools charge less (presumably, they're not loosing money by only charging ~$50-60).

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Re: PGRE cut-offs

Post by bfollinprm » Sat Jan 19, 2013 1:53 pm

Schools in Pittsburgh are free to apply! And if you're applying without a job (e.g. if you're currently in undergrad), you're more than likely to be granted a fee waiver at most schools, if you ask for one.

Schools generally charge an admission fee to discourage non-serious applicants. It's their spam filter. If you show that you're for real, they'll probably be more than ready to work with you if fees are a problem.

As for the title question, gradschoolshopper has some details, but it's true that schools don't want to discourage that 1/10^6 applicant who has a terrible PGRE but amazing everything else, so they're not going to publish a minimum. The only reason they have minimum GPA's is because generally the graduate school (as in, the Dean's office) requires it; in exceptional circumstances they'll apply for a waiver even in these circumstances. I agree it'd be useful if schools posted something like "A typical student should have a PGRE score of at least XXX to have a good chance of admission" on their website, since I have no doubt some schools use the PGRE to sort similar-looking applications, and they have to know something about the range of scores they'll receive each year in their application pool.

Of course, in addition to small-number statistics fluctuations from year-to-year, there is probably different cutoffs depending on the subfields of interest--schools pay attention to how many openings they have in different research programs, and admit to fill those openings. It's possible some years a school will have a lot of openings in some particular field, and people with a proven interest in that research will have an easier time getting in than average with a low PGRE.

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