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).

THE NUMBER ONE MBA APPLICATION KILLER? A LOW GMAT OR GRE SCORE

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.

WHY YOUR GMAT OR GRE SCORE LOOMS SO LARGE IN AN MBA APPLICATION

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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  • Matt C

    Thanks for the consolidation of scores!  No matter how much Adcoms say they take a holistic approach, most applicants know it comes down to the numbers (but not as much compared to law school).  How deeply do you feel Adcom delves into one’s GPA though — is it a matter of that your gpa is primarily made up of quant heavy classes and not basket weaving/ballroom dancing or do they really focus mainly on the raw score?  Also for those who transferred between undergrad universities, are both gpa’s considered for the total or only the graduating gpa (obviously they prob want to see you do better in the harder program)? 

    If what you say is true, that GMAT is weighed heavier than GPA when considering dings, is it fair to assume that applicants can make up for low(ish) GPA w/ a higher GMAT easier than making up for low(ish) GMAT w/ higher GPA based on the school’s ranges?

  • Matt C

    and by lowish i mean within the 10-30% of their ranges

  • JohnAByrne

    Matt,

    Adcoms do look at transcripts and this is especially true of poets. They want to make sure that the courses you took in undergrad were somewhat rigorous and they want to make sure those grades show that you can cut it in the quant classes.

    As for a high GMAT or low GMAT offsetting a low GPA or a high GPA, yes that’s true, as long as the number isn’t so terribly low it’s really out of the 80th percentile range. But as Sandy has said in our MBA Handicapping series, Adcoms will wink once at something that isn’t quite as long as everything else in the application is perfect. They will rarely if ever wink twice at two problems.

  • Guest

    I’d like to know who got into Harvard with a 490 GMAT

  • Lala

    I think Yale and NYU deserve to be among the very best, looking at the stats alone.
    I’m not sure if creating your own ranking by diluting several rankings is 1) original 2) accurate.
    You claim that it eliminates bias but firstly it doesn’t completely do that and secondly by diluting, your ranking enhances/doublecounting overlapping/common measures.
    This is not to call your baby ugly but really you created another unnecessary ranking table that people will debate.

  • JohnAByrne

    Lala,

    I think your criticism is fair. Putting together a much of flawed rankings doesn’t create another ranking that is unflawed, for sure. But to the extent that it does paper over any given ranking’s anomalies (and there are a few of them in each system), it helps to get you to a better and more credible list overall. As for double counting common measures, that’s true and not true. Each of these rankings measures significantly different metrics that come from numerous sources. To the extent that they overlap, they serve as an additional check against small samples sizes or schools that fudge the numbers. A good example is compensation: Forbes gets its numbers of alumni salaries from the alums. U.S. News uses whatever the schools tell them for starting salaries. The Financial Times uses numbers reported by alumni as well. Somehow all this comes together rather nicely, I think.

  • Lolo

    How are these agencies and yourself treating schools that previously emphasized leadership in both private and public sectors, such as Yale? It will for sure pump out leaders in public sector more than other schools but we all know public sectors don’t pay as well. That sort of thing needs to be normalized but I doubt it is normalized.

  • shorttheworld

    I Think Fuqua’s average gmat is 698 not 689 :) typo? http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/full_time_mba_profiles/fuqua.html

  • Ree698

    in large class size like HBS, INSEAD, and others, there is much more availability for lower scores to be admitted. this will not affect their averages nor rankings. I believe such people have other strong parts in their applications. may be strong recommendations, some connections with the school, or good achievement..

  • Guest

    The range for Harvard has got to be the full range, not the middle 80%.  There’s no way 10% (or 90 enrolled students) of the incoming class scored below a 490.

  • JohnAByrne

    The source of this data is U.S. News which is reporting what the business schools have told them. It’s possible that U.S. News got it wrong, but Duke would have notified me if that were the case.

  • JohnAByrne

    Yes, it is the full range. hBS is the only school to report the full range.

  • Ree698

    John, I believe Tuck report full range (570 – 790)  as in the link: 
    http://www.tuck.dartmouth.edu/recruiting/data_and_statistics/class_profile.html 

  • RC

    Lala, the issue is that in the top part of the top 10 vs. the top 15, there is very little, if any difference. It’s like taking the top 15 downhill skiers in the world – anyone of them is superhuman and can win a given event.  Sure, NYU and Yale might be as good as the top of the top 10 (NYU dropped one in BW while Yale dropped two in FT), but who do you displace?  Taking it a step further, there is really no ranking difference between NYU/Yale/Darden/Fuqua/UCLA Anderson/Cornell.  Even the slightest rounding difference can move one of these schools a slot up or down.

  • bummed

    I am not sure I believe that GMAT and GPA could hold more than 50% weightage in an applicant’s profile. By that means, I should have recieved atleast interviews from all the colleges I applied to (710 GMAT and 3.5 GPA)…yet, nothing, nada, zilch….I heard not a single peep until the ding letter. While I agree that GPA and GMAT are important, but if your essays dont convey your GOALS properly (which is my case probably) then it is a sure ding. I am more likely to trust the Adcom when they say that GPA and GMAT are just one set of criteria. 

  • Lulu

    Sure, you can reorder the rankings with Yale, followed by Kellogg, Chicago, MIT, NYU and Berkeley.

  • RC

    An Olympic gold medalist who speaks five languages but has always found taking standardized tests a challenge.

  • Matt C

    If you’re WE is weak then that could’ve been a reason

  • Guest

    How important is difficulty of undergrad institution? I would think a 3.5 from Princeton is quite different from a 3.5 from UT Austin, for example.

  • GM

    The most successful businessmen and CEOs whom graduated from top schools didn’t write GMAT or gre at all. because such test are just 20 years old. and they just for money nothing more. 

  • Mhasan

    It possibly does make a difference.  On the other hand, a 3.5 in Liberal Arts from Princeton would also be quite different from a 3.5 in Engineering from UT Austin.  One probably needs to look at the relative rankings of these schools in various majors from US News or other similar sources, to measure their difficulties.

  • Remmi776

    GMAT is so over rated. As long as you are in the 80% range then forget about it and do the applications. I got into a top 10 with a score 80 points below the median and outside the range but my resume, gpa, leadership etc speaks for itself. It wasnt amazing but it was solid. Too many consultants and such think 700 is critical that’s garbage though. Just my 2 cents.

  • bummed

    Matt C…a lot of things could have been wrong with my app..and probably are….and thats is just my point…GPA and GMAT can only take you so far…they are just a part of the whole picture…not as singularily important as this article suggests

  • Matt C

    I would look at GPA/GMAT not necessarily as a stat to get you in (Interviewed) rather a stat to keep you out.  So if you have 710/3.5 you’re not guaranteed to get selected for an interview (based on other criteria) but if you have a 650/3.0 you’re other criteria prob won’t even be looked too closely.  So I think of GPA/GMAT is that first hurdle you have to climb and the rest (WE/Essays/Recs) are the 2nd then interview the 3rd.  IMO of course.

  • bummed

    Oh I absolutely agree with you….I was only questioning the validity of the article’s so much emphasis on the GPA and GMAT.

  • Rolad

    @ Lala NYU and Yale definitely do deserve to be among the best I am not sure why they hold 14 and 15th place given that given the most important criteria the GMAT, they hold the 3rd place together with Chicago at 719.. These schools are EASILY top 10 and no way top 15.

  • Rolad

    The GMAT is the single most transparent and easily comparable metric across the table. GPAs are not comparable since we do not know the quality of undergrad schools. Salary increases are distorted by currency manipulations and differences in cost of living in the specific regions/countries. The sole criteria of comparison is the GMAT. 

  • Castor

    @ Rolad I definitely agree with you. ps. I think Chicago avg GMAT is not 719 was lower if I remember right? Can you recheck please?

  • sandro

    Bo Guagua?

  • Roajhaansakaki

    If i am taking AP biology and AP european History, Honors Algebra 2, 10th Honors English, Spanish 3, and i play volleyball, the piano, and i do other things but i got a C in Ap bio, H alg 2, and i got a C in AP european history, and im in 10th grade do you think my chances to getting into and Ivy league school like Harvard is impossible, or do i still have a chance?

  • Happy

    Hi there,

    That is why I am sticking to the no name brand universities. I applied for them and all i care for is it is a Regional and AACSB International accredited Graduate Business programs. I don’t want to compete and be stressed out all time. Just be happy, degree is a degree, what you do with it, is more important. Luck is a huge factor in any one’s success. Good luck to all of you!

    “bummed”, your post is funny!
    Just be happy :)

  • ALD

    Didn’t George Bush Jr. get his MBA at Harvard?

  • Bored

    A few things:
    1) I don’t agree with GM’s statements
    2) in his defense he doesn’t say all people that go to top schools are successful businessmen. He said, that of the portion of people who did go to bschool and whom did become successful (1%>X>100%) didnt take the GMAT
    3) George Bush is known for having gotten into both Yale and HBS based purely on his father’s connections and name. Though there may still be a small percentage of similarly-situated folks today, the fact is in the last 15 years, the percent of such students has dropped precipitously (and is almost non existent at Yale undergrad – no connections are getting a C student with horrible SATs in).
    4) {cut and paste} Changes in the Administration of the GMAT

    In the fifty-five years since the first meeting of the Graduate Business Admission Council (changed to the Graduate Management Admission Council in 1976), nearly every aspect of the test has changed. In 1976, the name of the exam changed from the Admissions Test for Graduate Study in Business (ATGSB) to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). In 1955, one year after the exam was first administered, the Quantitative and Verbal sectional scores were added. In 1961 all but one of the question types were changed and they continued to change until 1994. The length of time required to take the test grew from two hours and twenty-five minutes in 1954 to four hours in 1994 and settled at the current three hours thirty minutes in 1997. Even the test developers have changed. ETS developed GMAT questions until 2006 when GMAC changed vendors to ACT Inc. Since 1954 the only things that has not changed is the GMAC’s desire to test those skills necessary to succeed in graduate business schools’ core curriculums, the belief that the skills tested on the exam develop over a relatively long period of time, and quantitative problem solving questions.

  • anon

    No.

  • Lili

    dude, just shutup.

  • GW

    That won’t keep you out of Harvard if you have the money to go. You won’t get a scholarship.

  • Sally A

    Is there an updated version of this today?

  • JohnAByrne

    Sally,

    Yes, indeed. In fact, we took a look at GMAT and GPA changes at the top 50 business schools over the past five years. See here:

    Average GMATs:
    http://poetsandquants.com/2014/03/11/average-gmat-scores-at-top-50-u-s-business-schools/

    Average GPAs:
    http://poetsandquants.com/2014/03/27/average-gpas-at-top-50-u-s-business-schools/

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