An undergraduate student writes:
There appears to be many philosophy graduate school departments that have unannounced GRE cutoffs at a verbal score of 700. All of the applications with verbal scores lower than 700 do not make it past the initial, most basic stage of review. I have spoken with a Director of Graduate Studies who somewhat embarrassingly admitted this to me. I have spoken with one of my undergraduate professors who asked around and was told the exact same thing. And I’ve discoursed with prospective students and current grad students about this issue on a Live Journal website, “Who Got In.” The two professors claim that there is indeed a cutoff, while many of the students think otherwise. They usually point to an example, a “friend” or third cousin twice removed, “who got in” with sub-600 verbal scores. But when I do a little poking around it turns out that such individuals typically have extenuating circumstances – a Master's Degree in hand, they were undergrads at the grad department they were accepted to, one of their UG professors was on the Yale Row Team with the DGS, and so forth. Of course, the students like to think that it’s their “brilliant” writing samples that overcame their poor GRE scores.
It seems, however, that if a student has poor GRE scores, his or her writing sample and other materials do not get a full review. All the while, I have not seen a single GRE cutoff score posted on any of the graduate schools’ websites. If there is, in fact, cutoffs (as I have been told there are by a professor and a DGS), then the institutions need to post them on their applications or websites. The average cost for an application is around $73 ($50 for app; $23 to send the GREs). I applied to 13 schools. This was a substantial financial burden for me: all told, I spent around $1200 on applications and related materials. This is a financial burden I am willing to suffer if and only if my application receives a complete and thorough review.
I hate to make accusations on insufficient evidence, but it seems as if some institutions take undue pride in the prodigious number of applications they receive – “we received 350 applications last year.” It also seems that such numbers are inflated, especially in light of the untold GRE cutoff standards. Are 350 writing samples, letters of recommendation (times 3), and statements of purpose being read? Unfortunately, I do not think they are. I’m afraid that a large portion of those application are being set aside on the very first session that the graduate committee meets, never to be looked at again because of GRE verbal scores that do not live up to a standard in which the applicants know absolutely nothing about.
If this is not happening, I have been told wrong or made an inference from insufficient information. If it is happening, there needs to be transparency about the school’s cutoff score for the GRE (and perhaps refunds to the student that did not get a fair shake?).
Comments from readers, including faculty involved in admissions? My own sense is that it may be very hard to disentangle weak GRE scores as an indicator of a weak application from a GRE "cut-off." Even my correspondent acknowledges that there are reports of students admitted with low GRE scores, though he claims extentuating circumstances would explain those. Signed comments will be preferred; all comments must include a valid e-mail address.