Although different, I applied to Columbia's bridge program last year and they told me the same thing. I made it to the top 3 of the selection process for 2 available spots. I had a follow up Skype interview after I wasn't selected, and he told me something they use to rank people in this bridge program is a "delta" factor. He explained this is a guess as to how much this program can help someone's application for a future PhD application. If there was something small that prevented me from getting into a competitive PhD program, like a low PGRE, this wouldn't be as big of a boost for another applicant who has gotten good grades but doesn't have any research experience. Since the physics MS degree is usually a stepping stone, they want to make sure they can provide the most help to people who need it most, kind of a utilitarian approach.