Thursday, 17 February 2011

Admitting the proficient

I promised a post today on interviews. I've already filmed Prof. Jones speaking about why we do interviews and what to expect. I could just press the button...

But we've received two comments in the past 24 hours that convince me we need to diverge from plan.  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." (Who wrote that?) So we're going to be big-minded,  change horses in mid-stream and offer the interview post next week.

Both David and Carlos have asked about English proficiency exams. And David asked for an update on the admissions process. I think both deserve answers, and the timing is excellent.

We've got applications.
First, the admissions process. Here is where we stand: we've received a very solid number of applications -- enough, we believe, to ensure a quality class for the 2011-12 academic year. We are impressed by the diversity of the applicants, their accomplishments and their promise.

It is exciting to encounter the candidates, even if at this point mostly through paper, email and phone calls. In my case, the satisfaction of helping to mold a class of young people confirms I took the right decision to return to education after a fulfilling career as a foreign correspondent.

Amina and I are sorting through the applications to make sure they are complete. If you have applied, you know very well how much work goes into an application: the CV, statement of purpose, proof of undergraduate degree, transcript, the English proficiency exam for non-native speakers, letters of recommendation. Those who request financial aid have more work. We need to tell candidates if something is missing.

(The accompanying photo shows that the application process is not fully digitalized. But we're getting there. By next year we hope to have it almost fully online. For those who have applied this year, thank you for your understanding and patience.)

In the next couple of days, anyone who has applied will have been told if their application is complete or, if it is not, what is missing.

At the same time, we are organizing the schedule of interviews. As many of you know, we interview all of the SAIS Bologna candidates who apply to our office, either in person or over the phone/Skype. Amina is booking rooms, and informing interviewers and candidates. Here is the tentative schedule of interviews (with the interviewer in brackets):

Feb 25 - Brussels (Prof. Jones)
Mar 3 - Washington (Graves)
Mar 4 - Bologna (Prof. Cesa)
Mar 5 - Istanbul (Prof. Akin)
Mar 7 - New York (Graves)
Mar 8 - Bologna (Prof. Harper)
Mar 10 & 11 - London (Dr. Pye)
Mar 11 - Paris (Graves)
Mar 12 - Frankfurt (Prof. Gilbert)
Mar 18 & 19 - Vienna (Prof. Jones)

Soon you will receive, if you have not already, an email with the details of your interview. Those not interviewing in person -- and they make up most of the applicants -- will be interviewed on the phone or via Skype. Those details, too, will be communicated soon.

Faculty and senior staff will read all of applications before the Admissions Committee, made up of interviewers and readers, meets in the second half of March. Decisions on admission and financial aid will be communicated to candidates in early April. Applicants who are admitted will be invited to an Open House at SAIS Bologna on May 5-6. The deadline for decisions by admitted candidates is May 16.

I hope that gives a good idea of the timetable over the next few weeks. As you can see, we have our work cut out for us.

Now, on to English language proficiency and standardized tests.


Here is the message that Rebecca Hopkins was trying to get across to non-native English speakers in her post yesterday:

SAIS is a challenging, English-language graduate program. To benefit fully from the opportunity, a student needs to be able to operate full-steam ahead in English from day one. There is no room for playing catch-up while at SAIS. It's only fair that applicants know that and that they take stock of that reality before applying.

Because all classes are taught in English, reading is in English and papers are in English, it's essential that we have a very good idea of a candidate's English proficiency before admission. The TOEFL, Cambridge and IELTS tests can give a good idea. Any passing grade on the Cambridge test is acceptable. Scores below 100 on the TOEFL and below 7 on the IELTS generally count against admission. 

We don't fix a black-and-white threshold for the TOEFL or IELTS because, well, life is not always black and white. But in our experience, a student who scores below 100 on the TOEFL or below 7 on the IELTS will have difficulty thriving at SAIS. (Who invented acronyms? Don't worry, you don't have to answer that.)

By the same token -- I said life is not black and white -- there is no guarantee that a student who scores above those thresholds will not have language challenges. That is one reason why some students take English in pre-term (Carlos -- yes, at an additional cost).

Please keep in mind that non-native English speakers must pass the English proficiency exam while at SAIS. This exam is not the same as the standardized exams that students use to prove proficiency before matriculating.

Carlos -- Not to worry. The language proficiency exams at SAIS are definitely aimed at allowing students to prove their ability to communicate and to understand. No trickery here. And keep in mind that all SAIS students, whether native or non-native English speakers, need to pass at least one language proficiency exam to graduate. Some push themselves and pass more than one.

I hope all that helps to explain the admissions process and the language requirements. Feel free to comment or to send us an email with any questions.

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves