Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application: GMAT

Greetings 2013 applicants and welcome to a new series on applying to top business schools. Each of the articles in this series will address important topics and provide expert tips on how you can prepare and complete the MBA application process and win a seat in a top MBA program.

Your first hurdle:  The GMAT. What score do you need when applying to top business schools? What should you do if your score is too low? How important is your GMAT score? And are quant and verbal scores viewed in the same light?

FYI: This post assumes you have taken the GMAT or will take it soon. Like ASAP soon. You want to put your best effort into your first GMAT attempt, so if you haven’t registered for it yet, take a practice test. (You can take a free practice exam through most test prep companies.) If you did not get a superlative score, sign up for a GMAT prep course and then register to take the exam for real.

As you prepare and even after you receive your score, keep it in perspective. Despite how you obsess over your GMAT score (and this applies to those who ace the test or bomb it), the GMAT is not always decisive. While a low score may keep you out of your target school, a high score won’t serve as an automatic entry ticket.

Scoring well on the GMAT will definitely give you a leg up, but if the rest of your application fails to reveal the qualities valued by the adcom, or is poorly written and sloppy, then the adcoms will have no trouble putting your application into the ding pile.

So my first bit of advice is that if you do nail the GMAT, make sure that the other components of your application are also first-rate. Aim for a high GMAT plus a compelling application.

Now, what should you do if your GMAT score is less than perfect?

If your score is more than 30 points below the average listed at your target school than you’ve got two realistic choices: You can either adjust your list of target schools and aim for MBA programs that have lower GMAT averages, or you can keep your list and retake the GMAT. It’s important to note that there are a number of exceptional MBA programs that are not on the top 10 or top 20 lists.

You don’t need to go to Harvard, Wharton, or Stanford to get a solid business education. If your GMAT score is not in the range for these top MBA programs, then considering a lower ranked program should not be off the table. (Please note that the 30 points is a fuzzy number, not a hard-and-fast rule. A high or low GPA will change it. An unbalanced GMAT score, even if above the average, can be an issue. And membership in an over-represented or under-represented group also makes that number very jello-like.)