GRE Gaining Ground On The GMAT

by John A. Byrne on

GMAT-vs-GRE-HEADERNearly 10% of MBA-bound applicants during the past 2012-2013 testing year took the Graduate Record Examination instead of the dominant GMAT test, Educational Testing Service said today (April 29).

The testing organization, which has been promoting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT, said that GRE test-taker trends during the current testing year from July 1, 2013, through January 31, 2014, show even more growth. “In this time period, the number of GRE test takers indicating MBA as their intended degree rose dramatically, by 38 percent, compared to the same time period last year,” ETS said.

At least some of the growth can be attributed to the decision by several hold out business schools, including the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School and Georgetown University’s McDonough School, to finally  accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT for classes that enter in the fall of 2014.


But most of the increase is due to increasing numbers of applicants who are using the test to get into an MBA program. “We have heard from schools that they are seeing anywhere from 10% to 30% of their MBA applicants presenting GRE scores, and we expect this number to continue to grow,” says David Payne, Vice President of Global Education at ETS, in a statement.

At Yale University’s School of Management, a record 21% of last year’s applicants submitted a GRE score, up from 18% a year earlier. At Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, GRE test takers accounted for a record 25% of the applicant pool last year, up from 12%. At Columbia Business School, 5% of the prospective students last year took the GRE, up from just 2%. And at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, 8% of last year’s applicants submitted the GRE, up from 3%.

When Kaplan Test Prep surveyed business school admission officers last summer, 29% of the respondents said that GRE applicants now make up at least 10% of their applicant pool, while 18% said the GRE portion of their pool had increased to 18%. About 6% of the admission officials said that the GRE was being submitted by half of the candidates.

Not every school reported a greater percentage of GRE test takers. Washington University’s Olin School, for example, reported that the GRE pool fell to a still high 24% from 31% in 2012. The University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business reported a slight decline to 11% from 13% a year earlier. But these numbers appear to be counter to the trend of applicants opting to take the GRE over the GMAT. The percentage of applicants submitting GRE scores on their MBA applications ranges from a mere 3% at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management to a high of 25% at Notre Dame, according to data provided by the schools to U.S. News.


Some admission officials are confirming the ETS report of continued growth. “The GRE pool is definitely increasing,” says Rob Weiler, associate dean of the MBA program at UCLA. “We have admitted many more people with GREs. We have probably doubled the number of applicants with GREs from what it was last year, and certainly among the ranks of those admitted. We are better able to assess it now that we have had a couple of years of accepting it.”

Weiler says that a lot of candidates this year submitted GRE scores from a year or two ago. “It’s clear that they had graduate school in mind when they took the best but where still considering the best avenue to take for their career. Once it became clear that business school was their choice, they used their GRE score to apply.”

A good chunk of the growth could also be the result of soaring GRE test taking in India. The number of prospective students who sat for the GRE in India jumped by 68% last year to 88,884, from 52,792 in 2012. In the U.S., in comparison, some 422,668 people took the GRE last year, up just 5.3% from the 401,286 who took it a year earlier. Some of that rapid growth may be due to the cost difference in the tests: The GRE is priced at $195, while the GMAT costs $250.

There’s another very plausible reason for the marketshare gains by GRE. Several MBA admission consultants have been advising clients in recent years to submit GRE scores when they perform poorly on the GMAT. The stated reason for the strategy: Some ranking organizations, such as U.S. News, use GMAT scores to rank MBA programs. So an admissions office might be overly sensitive to a low GMAT score, but might pass on a lower GRE.


Newly disclosed data, provided by the schools to U.S. News & World Report for its recently published annual business school ranking, support the notion that MBA programs have been willing to accept lower scoring GRE candidates compared to those who submit GMAT scores. At Yale’s School of Management, for example, the average admit who got into the MBA program with a GRE score had a 160 verbal and a 162 quant, with a 4.7 analytical writing score. Using ETS’ comparative tool, the equivalent GMAT score would be 660, 54 points below Yale’s average 714 GMAT score for admits.

In every single case where a school reports both GMAT and GRE numbers for admits, a school is willing to accept lower GRE scores–and in many cases, much lower scores based on ETS’ comparative tool. The gap between the predicted GMAT score of admits from GRE exams and average GMATs can be 100 or more points wider at many prominent schools. At Cornell University’s Johnson School, where the average GMAT for admits was 691 last year, the average GRE for admits was predicted at 600–a difference of 91 points. At Washington University’s Olin School, the gap was 126 points, while at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate Sehool of Business, the difference was 118 points (see table on following page).

Of course, scores on entrance exams are only one of many variables in an MBA application. It’s also possible that the non-traditional students taking the GRE may offer a class greater diversity and also have a more differentiated narrative to entice an acceptance from admissions.

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  • Somine

    It is obvious that schools would feel comfortable with accepting low GRE, simply because it will free them from the ranking sickness and will give them greater space to pick more unique profiles.

  • devils0508

    Wow, this should be bigger news. Basically, who gets into the top schools is now based on who is best at gaming the system – people who paid consultants and knew to take the GRE and GMATs. 100 point spread between GMAT and GRE equivalent is absolutely ridiculous. Something needs to change

  • Thatguy

    To be fair, the comparative tool mentioned gives you the middle value of an 80 point “estimated GMAT score” range. So the estimated 660 could have been as high as 700. It’s not as drastic of a difference as this article is making it out to be.

  • Thatguy

    Correction, 110 point range.

  • gregmat

    I took both tests. My “estimated GMAT score” was a 650, but I ended up scoring 710 on the GMAT. The greatest difference between both tests is definitely the format of the GMAT, given you can’t go back to previous questions. (I don’t know if the GRE has changed since then but I last took it in 2012; took the GMAT in 2013)

  • Robert

    I would imagine they feel the GRE is a more reliable measure as it’s less of an obscure subject matter, paying for points test.

  • gre or gmat

    I took the GRE and scored in the 98 th percentile – an equivalent score of 740 in GMAT. But, in almost every b school interview, i was asked ‘why did i take it instead’… there was an assumption that I took the easy way out, and had to explain myself – I think GRE negatively affects your admission chances, no matter what the schools say.

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks for weighing in. I know there are some admission consultants who make the same argument and would prefer that their clients apply with the GMAT over the GRE for exactly the same reason you cite. I think an obvious answer to the question you were asked is that you were initially uncertain whether to get an MBA or another master’s degree so the GRE kept your options open. The test is also less expensive which is another reason in its favor.

  • Linda Abraham

    Also, many admissions offices pay more attention to the percentile score than the raw GRE score. In fact several years ago, but after they were already accepting the GRE, I attended a panel with admissions officers from top programs and they hadn’t even heard of the comparative tool mentioned in this article. They were relying on percentiles to evaluate applicants and compare GRE vs GMAT. I suspect my experience reflects a basic approach and while they probably know about the comparative tool today, they’re still looking at percentiles, and that’s not discussed here. It would be interesting though…

  • Michael Cohan

    Really useful information John. I have many applicants who (1) need to choose GRE versus GMAT and (2) if they choose the GRE need average scores from the MBA schools as one method to benchmark themselves versus the competition. Thanks.

  • JohnAByrne

    Michael, I found this data fascinating and quite a revelation.

  • Michael Cohan

    Agreed, John. It is nice to have average GRE scores (on the 2nd page). I appreciate your article because the information is actionable. If Yale is seeing 1 out of every 5 applicants submit a GRE score then in general applicants are not disadvantaged in taking the GRE over the GMAT. Of course, split by country would be helpful as the numbers might be skewed towards certain regions or towards applicants with prior graduate degrees. So, hypothetically, only a small minority of domestic applicants with only an undergraduate degree might be taking the GRE.

  • Linda Abraham

    Actually you didn’t have to pay a consultant for this. It was on our blog a while ago.

    Also, US News as of this year does calculate the GRE in its rankings, but doesn’t calculate it in its GMAT averages, which are published and tend to get a lot of attention.

  • Law School Bound

    The decision of “name brand” MBA programs to accept the GRE means that more and more MBA programs will accept the GRE. Why wouldn’t they? MBA programs have to compete too. This means that the GRE will eventually overtake and (my prediction) pass the GMAT. The GRE is simply a more flexible, less expensive admissions test that can be used for general graduate school admissions to boot.

  • jimismash

    I think it is an excellent way to avoid relying on a monopoly. The GMAT is still (probably) better to take than the GRE when looking at B-schools in aggregate; I felt it was more quantitatively intense. By increasing competition business schools are upping their bargaining ability with the GMAC.

  • Jaime

    Ms. Abraham do you mind clarifying? How is the GRE average of a school calculated in the US News ranking?

    Thank you for your time.

  • Linda Abraham


    Thanks for the question.

    This is what US News says on its methodology page:

    “Mean GMAT and GRE scores (0.1625): This is the average
    Graduate Management Admission Test score and average GRE quantitative and verbal scores of full-time MBA students entering in fall 2013. For the second consecutive year, we have used both GMAT and GRE scores in the ranking model for MBA programs that reported both scores. Using the GRE scores allows us to take into account the admissions test scores of the entire entering full-time MBA class.”

    The scores are reported by the schools.

  • Joe

    Its actually probably smart to take the GRE over the GMAT, especially if math isn’t your stronger suit. Its basically just a way to game the system. If you can score above the 90% on the GRE (which will obviously be easier because of the number of test takers vs the GMAT) but are struggling on the GMAT it just helps you stand out. Then you can use the BS converter to say that it converts to a 750 or so and B schools will be happy. I’ve been studying for the GMAT a ton with mediocre success (high 600s in mock tests) and I think if I don’t hit 700 I might just switch to the GRE.

  • FutureMBA

    I am a bit confused about conversion from GRE to GMAT tool, when I convert the new revised score it gives different GMAT score than when converting the equivalent old GRE? why?

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