The Growing Importance of the GMAT in MBA Admissions

by on September 9th, 2015

According to a recent article by Poets&Quants, several MBA admissions experts believe that business schools are placing too much emphasis on the GMAT relative to other factors when it comes to MBA admissions. P&Q reported this information based on a recent survey of MBA admissions consulting firms, in which the relative weighting of the various admissions criteria was estimated.

One of the driving forces behind the trend of increasing GMAT scores at competitive MBA programs is the importance of MBA rankings. Several of the well-known MBA rankings, including US News and The Economist, factor in average GMAT scores of the incoming students to determine a school’s ranking. For a number of years we’ve seen that many schools’ GMAT averages have gone up. For example Wharton’s GMAT average has risen by ten points over the past five years and at Chicago Booth, last year’s average GMAT score was a 724, compared to 715 in 2010. According to Fortuna Admissions co-founder, Matt Symonds, “We’ve seen the school averages rise significantly in the past fifteen years, in part driven by increasingly well-prepared test takers applying to the top b-schools, and in particular the ever higher scores coming out of China and India. Higher GMAT scores are perceived to create a virtuous circle of school selectivity and positive impact in the US News ranking. Word from the corner office can set a trend in motion–15 years ago the dean at Columbia wanted GMAT scores of admits to all start with a 7. The arrival of (Dean) Ted Snyder at Yale has coincided with a rise in their average GMAT (720) as he sets out to secure the school’s place in the world’s top 10.”

In P&Q’s survey, the three schools that consultants believe are placing an increased emphasis on GMAT scores in the admissions process are Wharton, Yale School of Management, and Columbia Business School. With the GMAT score now more important than ever, it’s also clear that most schools place even more of an emphasis on the quant portion of the exam. According to former director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD and co-founder of Fortuna, Caroline Diarte Edwards, “Schools like Wharton, Booth, Columbia and Sloan are unapologetically quant driven, arguing that a world of big data and analytics is underpinned by a rock solid understanding of numbers.”

However, not all MBA programs seem to emphasize the GMAT score so heavily. Based on our experience working with our clients at Fortuna, we’ve noticed that Fuqua, Kellogg and Tuck appear more flexible in considering applicants with GMAT scores that do not start with a 7. Such applicants compensate for a weaker than average GMAT with very strong backgrounds, such as impressive work experience, personal achievements, and strong academics. So while GMAT scores are important, if someone has a score that’s below the average GMAT at the school, they are clearly expected to be stronger in other elements of their application to be considered for admission. We have a sense of which schools extend more flexibility when it comes to GMAT scores and we work with our clients to develop a list of target schools that makes sense for them based on their backgrounds.

If you have questions about your own candidacy or would like to know how competitive you are for your target schools, sign up for a free 30 minute consultation with an admissions expert. To see the complete Poets&Quants article on this topic, click here.

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