It’s common for every generation to think that if they had to compete with the current crop of applicants, they would never make it into their alma maters. For many, however, it’s no joke.
Consider that only 20 years ago, not a single entering MBA class at any business school boasted a class average GMAT of 700 or more. In fact, the average GMAT score for a Top Ten U.S. program was just 669, with a high of 690 at Stanford and a low of 650 at MIT Sloan (see table).
For the group of students who entered these same ten schools this fall, the average GMAT score bloated to a 725 average, with a high of 733 at Stanford and a low of 715 at both Columbia Business School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. That’s a 56-point increase in average GMATs for the Top Ten schools in the past 20 years.
AVERAGE CLASS GMAT SCORES ARE NOW 70 POINTS HIGHER AT WHARTON THAN THEY WERE 20 YEARS AGO
The school’s with the biggest increases? Wharton leads the group with average GMAT scores that are now 70 points higher than they were in 1996: 732 for this year’s entering class versus 662 two decades ago. MIT Sloan’s average GMAT ballooned to 716 from 650, up 66 points. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management saw its average class GMAT go to 724 from 650, a 64-point jump.
What’s behind the jump and how much higher can these scores get? A number of factors. For one thing, average scores on the GMAT test over the past two decades have gone up considerably. In testing year 1995, for example, the average score was 503. In testing year 2015, it had ballooned to 554, an increase of 51 points (see table below).
For another, some highly admired schools have clearly adopted admission policies that put greater emphasis on high GMAT scores. Admission officials are often under pressure to go for higher scores because U.S. News & World Report includes average GMATs as part of its methodology to rank the best MBA programs. They also believe that higher reported scores enhance the notion that a school is attracting the best possible candidates, even though there is little to no correlation that those who score highly on the GMAT will have successful careers.
‘THE CHICKEN & EGG’ ISSUE
“There’s definitely a ‘chicken and egg’ aspect to all of this,” explains Dan Bauer, founder and CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading MBA admissions consultant. “Schools with higher median GMAT scores are perceived as having higher quality MBA programs. So, the battle to improve and defend school rankings is only escalating. The most controllable and visible way to elevate ranking is by increasing the median GMAT score for admits. This, in turn, attracts applicants with higher GMAT scores, thus raising the median scores at the schools that admit them.”
Studying for the test itself has also become a more effective exercise. “The availability and affordability of test preparation resources are expanding by the minute,” adds Bauer. “A Google search on ‘GMAT tutoring’ produces over a quarter-million listings. Do-it-yourself software, local and online classes, one-on-one personalized guidance, and mass-market books are flooding the market. In addition to having expert tutors, our firm even features a licensed psychologist who specializes in test-anxiety counseling. Today, MBA applicants worldwide have an unprecedented array of resources to help them study, practice and improve their GMAT performance.”