GPAs & GMATs: What You Need To Get In

by John A. Byrne on

The most reliable indicator of whether you can get into an MBA program at a top business school typically rests with two numbers: Your undergraduate grade point average and your GMAT or GRE score. The better those two numbers, the better your chances of getting into a highly ranked program.

It’s as simple as that. Yes, there’s lots more to an application than those two raw scores, but if you don’t fall within the ranges of each school’s accepted GMATs and GPAs, your chances narrow considerably.

If you want to get into Stanford, that pretty much means you need to have a GPA between 3.36 and 3.97 on a 4.0-scale and a GMAT score between 680 and 770 on an 800-scale. Those are the 10th and 90th percentile numbers for the Stanford class that entered in the fall of 2011. Few schools, by the way, publish the full range, though Harvard Business School is an exception. At HBS, the latest entering class had members with GMATs as low as 490 and as high as 790, though your chances of getting into Harvard with a GMAT below 700 are awfully slim.

If you want to get into Northwestern’s Kellogg School, you’ll essentially need to have a GPA between 3.19 and 3.88 and a GMAT within the range of 660 and 760 (see table for the top 25 school numbers).


Source: Kaplan Test Prep 2011 study of admissions officers

No matter what admission officials or consultants say, this is unfortunately one of the unshakeable truths of the B-school admissions game. In an ideal world, a GMAT score would just be another data point, perhaps equal to any other in your application, from recommendation letters to how you craft your essays. But last year’s survey by Kaplan Test Prep of B-school admissions officers showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants. The survey found that 58% of some 265 responding admissions officers said that a weak score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the biggest application killer (see survey results in table above). That was up ten percentage points over Kaplan’s 2010 survey which showed that 48% identified the exams’ score as the biggest killer.

A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 24%, below last year’s 33% citation, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 12%.

While this fact is hardly surprising to most business school observers, admissions officials tend to downplay the importance of any one piece of the MBA application. However, the Kaplan report, which includes responses from the admissions offices of 22 of the top 30 U.S. business schools, confirms that an applicant’s GMAT or GRE score far outweighs consideration of any other factor in a candidate’s chances.


One likely reason for the GMAT or GRE’s outsized importance is that it is a recent objective measure of an applicant’s ability to tackle the academics of an MBA program. Another likely reason is that an entering class’s average GMAT score is heavily weighted in rankings of  business schools by U.S. News & World Report, The Financial Times, and The Economist. So some admissions offices often are under pressure to keep those scores as high as possible.

Generally, these scores are highly correlated with a school’s given ranking because they are the easiest and most visible way to measure the quality of the MBA candidates enrolled in an MBA program.

(The latest GMAT and GPA stats for the top 25 full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are on the following page)

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