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How Important Is Each Part Of Your MBA Application?

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Are business schools putting too much emphasis on GMAT scores in admission decisions? MBA admission consultants—who help to shape the candidacy of thousands of MBA applicants each year and get to see the results of their clients’ applications—certainly think so, according to a new Poets&Quants survey of the world’s leading consulting firms.

The vast majority of consultants—65% of those responding to the survey—say they believe business school admission officials are weighing GMAT scores more heavily than ever. After the GMAT, written essays, admission interviews, and undergraduate grade point averages are what gets an applicant in the game, according to the consultants. But GMAT scores are being given more consideration by schools largely because the exam scores are factored in annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and The Economist and the emerging view that a school’s average GMAT score is an overall proxy for the quality of students it enrolls.

The findings come from a Poets&Quants survey sent to 50 of the largest and most prominent MBA admissions consulting firms in early July and received a response rate of 46%. Consultants were asked to apportion 100 points over 13 critical components of an MBA application, giving more points to each attribute they believe is given more weight by admissions. The consultants and firms who completed the surveys have represented tens of thousands of MBA applicants to the world’s top business schools over the past ten years.

CONSULTANTS POINT TO WHARTON, YALE & COLUMBIA WHERE GMAT SCORES ARE MORE CRITICAL

The consultants singled out three schools in particular where they believe the GMAT assumes increased importance in admission decisions: The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Yale University’s School of Management, and Columbia Business School. Slightly more than half the respondents named Wharton for putting greater weight on GMATs in the past five years; a little more than a third named Yale while just a tad over 25% pointed to Columbia.

Three schools that MBA admission consultants believe have put less emphasis on GMATs in the same five-year timeframe are Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Nearly 40% of the consultants named Duke, 22% identified Kellogg, and 17% pointed to Tuck.

In general, the consultants estimated that GMAT scores account for more than a fifth of the weight—21.7%—in business school admission decisions, with nearly 16% given to the total score and an additional 6% to the quant score breakdown. Instead, they believe that GMAT scores should account for no more than 16.6% of all the components of an MBA application, with the total score representing roughly 11.5% and quant breakdowns at 5.1% (See table with comparisons below).

GMAT SCORES MORE THAN TWICE AS INFLUENTIAL AS UNDERGRADUATE GPAS

As it is, the survey found, GMAT scores are thought to be more than twice as influential in MBA admission decisions as undergraduate grade point averages, nearly three times more critical than either recommendation letters and employer prestige, and almost four times more important than the undergraduate college an applicant attended. After a GMAT score, the consultants believe the following parts of an MBA application are most important: essays (14.5%), admission interviews (12.1%), undergraduate GPAs (10.3%), recommendation letters (7.6%), employer prestige (7.3%), college or university attended (5.9%), and extracurricular involvement (5.7%). Far less significant, believe the consultants, are such factors as the number of years of work experience (4.7%), a candidate’s industry background (3.1%), international experience (3.0%), undergraduate major (2.4%), or fluency in other languages (1.4%).

These are very rough estimates, if not guesses, of course. The actual importance of a GMAT score varies by school and by applicant. “Everything is a data point and it varies from applicant to applicant,” points out Adam Markus, a well-known MBA admissions consultant. “I reject the value of the average, a hypothetical, because I am in a non-quantitative business: I help individuals.” Nonetheless, the survey provides an informed impression of the value of each part of an application that can be extremely helpful to MBA applicants.

Schools that are aggressively pursuing rankings gains or want greater confidence that an applicant can easily get through the core MBA curriculum are likely to put greater emphasis on test scores. And some MBA applicants might have below-average GMAT scores for a specific school, but overcome that deficiency with other parts of the MBA application. What the survey does show is that business school admissions, by and large, is a holistic process in which numerous metrics and facts are weighed and considered in deciding whether an applicant gets admitted or dinged.

  • Cam

    So if I have a 740 but a bad IR and 47Q but a 730 with a great IR and 48Q which do I go with for Kellogg?

    I have a weak quant background plus this article makes me think the latter but I had heard the reason for the spike in Kellogg’s average GMAT this year is because they’re trying to jack up their ranking to compete with Booth more

  • Annoyed

    Why are we wasting the time of those that want to learn on re-doing high school concepts? The whole process has become a joke. Just make it a buyer-seller market and massively expand intake class sizes. Stop pretending that an MBA is nothing more that a product that is being sold. No need for “consultants” to begin with.

  • SU85

    Hi,

    I am in a bit of a quandary with regards to my B School application and was wondering if I can get some advice on it. I am planning to apply for a PhD in the top 10 B Schools and just recently took my GRE in which I received a score of Q 161 and V 156. This is obviously low, however, I do have a masters degree from Stanford University in MS&E with a CGPA of 3.91/4.2. Given this information I am not sure if I should retake my GRE or proceed to apply with my current score.

    Any advice would be fantastic.

    Thanks,

    Sajjad

  • bwanamia

    You little guys don’t like being told that I wouldn’t hire someone with less than a 650. It’s worse than that. I don’t know anyone who’d hire someone with less than a 650. It’s a cruel world.

  • FAKu

    He is right bwanamia. You are a complete failure example.

  • bwanamia

    Pourquoi?

  • avivalasvegas

    Absolutely. Any good adcom will evaluate your past decision making and performance (as well as the GMAT) as indicators of your future success.

  • Tuk Tran

    one good thing about the gmat is that it demonstrates some discipline and seriousness of purpose…otherwise you would have people winging the applications process more and just applying to see if they get in without too much thought..when you suffer through the gmat prep and get a decent score then it becomes a filter…
    HBS experimented for 5 years not requiring the gmat..why did they go back to requiring it? i guess too many non-serious applicants

  • JohnAByrne

    And thanks for sharing your story. Applicants need to understand that the averages are just that: an average. Many people are admitted below the average of every school.

  • avivalasvegas

    While I’m not sure the GMAT has a 725 score (only 720 or 730), I agree that the compelling story and work experiences are key.

    I did not have a high GMAT score (came in at the bottom 20% for my top 5 program) BUT I had a story that was talked about for days after our introductory orientation and even on admissions materials for the following year’s candidates 🙂

    While this may sound like me bragging, I’m trying to give candidates with really strong backgrounds and unique stories hope.

  • fidel305

    if you truly have a compelling story and work experience [with a high undergrad GPA from a good school preferably}, then take the GRE if you can’t hit 725 on the gmat.

  • avivalasvegas

    This is why I’m willing bet on the limitations of your career bwanamia

  • Hedge67

    although there will be moral questions about it, I’d absolutely understand people doing it. In such ridiculous race to be ranked higher, schools left them with no choice. Remember that schools themselves manipulate the data on employment reports, admission stats, ..etc..

  • Acrumen

    if that the case then all the 800 score would be the best business leaders, which in reality not true at all. In fact, it is just the opposite. The GMAT importance is because it is the easiest way to filter people on number based, no more no less.

  • fidel305

    hahaha. what nonsense.

  • fidel305

    You could left it at this — “Keeping this high average GMAT score helps the school keep its ranking”

  • fidel305

    sure there is. the bama guy could not have done any better and the Princeton guy was tested and found wanting.
    the bama grad is still the equivalent of schrodinger’s cat in the box whereas the Princeton fop is known to be dead.
    this is where work experience comes in.

  • fidel305

    yep

  • fidel305

    actually, standardized test taking tests the ability to take standardized tests. take it from someone who has always scored well on them.

  • fidel305

    hardly surprising. the admissions consultants want the schools to place more emphasis on the things that the consultants think that they can sell their clients on being able to improve for them. things like interviews and essays as opposed to undergraduate gpa and employer.

  • Buffalove

    It’s not ridiculous at all. The GMAT isn’t about retaining all of the information forever, it’s about being able to process a lot of information and then successfully using it in a very stressful situation (the test itself). This is EXACTLY what business is about.

  • DUH

    Shocker admissions Consultants weigh the factors they could influence more heavily. Great Survey.

  • Truth

    Thank you. You seem very good in helping others.

  • avivalasvegas

    Agreed

  • ZZ

    Hi Sandy
    Nice to see that you were right again and your colleagues are just less bold saying it.

  • Fire That Jew

    The high 600s? It’s a number and like any number it only matters in relation to others. So if 680 is 80th percentile, then if you want to go to an elite school you have to make it up elsewhere.

  • Fire That Jew

    1) Wharton undergrad
    2) You still have yet to show how you are of such high-quality despite a) your undisclosed GMAT score and b) your whining about others who actually got in

  • hbsguru

    Maybe my friend, but the most popular and sustanied feature in ALL Poets&Quants attempts to do just that, it has been running for years, and not many folks have written back saying that its predictions, esp. about HSW are wrong.

    The Full Archive: Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds
    _____________________________________________________________________________

    Adam Hoff, says “Without visibility into someone’s character, motivation,
    passion, level of introspection, capacity for empathy, even their
    charisma and personality, it’s just absolutely impossible to peg their
    chances. I am even uncomfortable pegging someone’s chances after talking
    to them for an hour and knowing their deepest, darkest secrets.”

  • Truth

    points to consider:
    – Trump has a degree from Wharton.
    – Best description is:
    – It is not a personal failure, It is not a successful try in the right direction.

  • john

    Yea but the problem is that the top schools get bunch of candidates you just mentioned (unique work experience & real world industry knowledge and inspiring life stories) So using GMAT as another mean to find the better candidates among the pool seem to be reasonable. (thought I do agree that your score is a only true reflect of you ability +- 40 points…)

  • Fire That Jew

    Thank you for that Donald Trump answer. Congratulations on blaming others for your personal failures. You might just be leadership material yet.

  • avivalasvegas

    This is really heartbreaking. Once you get past the high 600s, what difference does the GMAT make? I’d much rather have a candidate with unique work experience & real world industry knowledge and inspiring life stories.

  • greer

    After reading some of these comments, I pray that I don’t meet people like the ones that made some the comments. Some of you come across as arrogant, whiny and outright nasty.

  • To really understand why GMAT matters so much you have to take the perspective of the admissions committee. Top MBA programs receive anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 applications each year. Most applicants come from very similar backgrounds in consulting, finance, or tech and have very similar career goals. It would be impossible for the admissions committee to dedicate significant amounts of time to learn about each candidate given that they typically have less than 3 months to make a decision in each round. The best way to make the process efficient is to group applicants and start eliminating them using a standardized metric which also happens to serve as a great proxy of an individual’s intellectual capabilities – the GMAT score.

    Thinking in terms of supply and demand, the admissions committee has the luxury to build a class full of applicants with high GMAT scores and then fill in the gaps with a handful of other really interesting applicants with lower scores. Keeping this high average GMAT score helps the school keep its ranking and maintain its prestige and exclusivity. This ensures that recruiters are happy and future top applicants are attracted to the program.

    So what does this all mean? If you are in the group of applicants with a GMAT score of 700 or above congratulations. You are the primary group of applicants that the admissions committee will devote the majority of their time reviewing. Your essays, recommendations, and interviews are set to differentiate you among other applicants with similar backgrounds so that the admissions committee can cherry pick the very best consultants, bankers, or engineers with the best story. If you fall outside of the 700 club, you become part of another group – the exceptions. These applications get the quick review and dinged unless there is something truly special and unique in the person’s background. Only a handful of these applications get additional consideration and admitted by the admissions committee.

    Remember every decision the admissions committee makes on admitting someone comes with an opportunity cost. Why risk a spot on an applicant with a low GMAT score that has a greater probability of struggling with difficult classes and nailing job interviews when you have so many applicants available with high GMAT scores?

  • AJ

    How on earth is this possible!? This is totally unheard of!

  • gerhard

    deal with them the same way; fake the score. Most indians and chinese do it.

  • AJ

    A very bold and authentic article indeed! I have never heard or read anywhere the hard-hitting reality that this article discusses – The undue importance given to GMAT scores by top b-schools for weeding out applicants. What according to me is unethical is that the adcoms of these schools never ever explicitly open up about the importance of the GMAT scores – I have attended quite a few info sessions in India and I hear one coherent response from adcom representatives – that they look at an application holistically. Honestly, thats not true! A close friend, who worked with the adcom of one of US’ top ranked b-school, disclosed to me that the adcom actually weeds out applications basis the GMAT and GPA, as these are the easiest way due to their quantitative nature of evaluation, as opposed to essays, recommendations, CV and other qualitative stuff. I particularly am amazed by the analysis about Indian/Chinese applicants, the article mentions. It is true that due to overrepresentation from these 2 countries, the average GMAT scores for applicants from these countries are typically 20 points higher than the global averages/medians. So, if Wharton’s average/median score is 720/730, one can conveniently assume the average/median for an India/Chinese applicant could be in the range of 740-750.

    I strongly believe these top b-schools must openly disclose their application review processes. Can someone throw some light on whether top ranked b-schools actually do read the entire application package for an applicant with a lower GMAT score than the school’s average or just weed that candidate out basis the low score?

  • mark

    so true. GMAT is a great equalizer….it helps equalize the different grading practices across schools that make ugrad GPAs not such a reliable metric…like for example it helps level the playing field between a grad form Harvard where the undergraduate median gpa is a 3.7 and say a grad from Penn where the ugrad median gpa is between 3.2-3.3.

  • Seth

    For that matter, the physics major from Alabama compared to your Princeton example in history or drama. Indeed, context.

  • Seth

    What a ridiculous blanket statement. Especially when considering a ‘masters’ in business. Give any big name CEO today the GMAT…how do you think they would do? The GMAT, quant, importance is possible a kowtow to the analytical driven consulting firms doing much of the hiring from top MBAs. However, I concede, if you are getting a masters in a technical field or pursuing a professional degree (architecture, doctor), you absolutely need to fit a mold…there is no mold in business.

  • guest

    Along the same line, what would be considered a hurdle score (one that wont weed you just based on GMAT) for a gay male in a STEM career and strong non profit community service background?

  • kp62

    Of course the admission consultants believe essays and interviews should be more important, that is where they make their money. If the GMAT was the only deciding factor in admission, then they would be out of jobs.

  • Truth

    all the M7.

  • bwanamia

    A GMAT focused admissions policy drives down selectivity by scaring off low GMAT applicants. Moreover, selectivity is worth 54% more than GMAT in calculating USNews rank. If there’s a reason why some schools emphasize the GMAT, it’s not for the sake of gaming USNews.

    Setting Considerations of rank to the side, I would never consider hiring someone who scored below 600 on the GMAT. Or 650, for that matter.

    Finally, this quote is amusing; “MBA admission consultants think schools should put less weight on GMAT
    scores and more on interviews, essays and recommendation letters.” Well, of course.

  • Bob

    The GMAT is the great equalizer. If you can’t test well you shouldn’t be getting a masters degree.

  • Jesus1

    Just get an 800.

  • Jesus1

    Definitely bitter. GMAT for the win.

  • Jesus1

    This is great news. There just isn’t any other way to gauge how someone with a 3.2 from Princeton compares to someone who got perfect grades at the University of Alabama.

  • Bitter much

    What schools rejected you?

  • Truth

    This explains the low quality of the students at these schools. They are very good in numbers but poor in business acumen and leadership. The admission people at the schools are bunch of failed mid aged who achieved nothing and they have nothing but the number to depend on to filter candidates.

  • khls

    Interesting perspective – I’ve always heard it’s ‘easier’ for us in some aspects. Of course, the GPA is a factor in this. A 3.5+ and a 680 might cinch you a spot at a Top 5, but I doubt a 2.9 and a 680 would do the same.

    I want to ask you 50 more questions since I’m applying this year and writing my Columbia app on the other window. BTW, I’m surprised you’re on this website given you’re already at a Top 5 (I feel like I will never give up my poetsandquants addiction either).

  • Guest

    650-690

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but being female means you can get away with a lower profile. I am at a top 5 school and there are very few women in the class who can compete with the majority of men in the class on incoming academic/work/leadership profile on a straight output sense (not taking in to consideration inputs / difficulties being female).

    When you are URM your scores can go down again — but female URM is a much more rare breed, so top schools go out of their way to get you.

    Add to that a STEM background, and they basically reserve a spot for you at any of the top 10 schools as long as you submit an application. Even a 650 on the GMAT will get you in to HBS at that point.

  • khls

    Out of curiosity, what is a good enough GMAT score (including Q/V breakdown) for:

    a) Female – Liberal Arts/Social Science
    b) Female – Engineering/Math
    c) Female – URM

    By ‘good enough’ I mean that it won’t raise any flags or weed you out of the process.