Chicago Booth | Mr. Non-Profit Latino
GMAT 710, GPA 3.06
Stanford GSB | Mr. Healthcare AI
GRE 366, GPA 3.91
INSEAD | Ms. Social Business
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Risk-Taker
GRE 310 (to retake), GPA 3 (recalculated)
HEC Paris | Ms. Freelancer
GMAT 710, GPA 5.3
Harvard | Mr. Hedge Funder
GMAT 790, GPA 3.82
Harvard | Mr. Fresh Perspective
GRE 318, GPA 3.0
USC Marshall | Mr. Supply Chain Guru
GMAT GMAT Waiver, GPA 2.6
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Harvard | Mr. Green Energy Revolution
GMAT 740, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. MPP/MBA
GRE 325, GPA 3.6
Harvard | Ms. Analytical Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Technopreneur
GRE 328, GPA 3.2
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Hanging By A Thread
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
London Business School | Mr. College Dropout
Harvard | Mr. MBB Latino Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.75
Stanford GSB | Ms. Top Firm Consulting
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
INSEAD | Mr. Truth
GMAT 670, GPA 3.2
INSEAD | Mr. Powerlifting President
GMAT 750, GPA 8.1/10
Harvard | Mr. Mojo
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Ross | Mr. Law To MBA
GRE 321, GPA 3.77
Stanford GSB | Mr. Failed Startup Founder
GMAT 740, GPA 4
Wharton | Mr. African Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Sommelier
GMAT 710, GPA 3.62
Wharton | Mr. MBA When Ready
GMAT 700 (expected), GPA 2.1
Kellogg | Mr. AVP Healthcare
GRE 332, GPA 3.3

The Biggest MBA Application Killer

A new survey of B-school admissions officers shows that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants.

The survey, published today (Dec. 2) by Kaplan Test Prep, found that 48% of some 288 responding admissions staffers said that a weak score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the biggest application killer. A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 33%, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 10%.

While the finding is of little surprise to most business school observers, most admissions officials tend to downplay the importance of any one piece of the MBA application. 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. The poll was conducted by phone in July and August of this year.

Surprisingly, admissions officials also told Kaplan that they expect an increase in the number of applicants to business schools for the current cycle. About 78% of the responding admissions staffers said that getting into business school will become increasingly competitive due to their expectations of greater number of applicants. This result stands in contrast to a recent prediction by the head of admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business who is forecasting a 10% decline in applications this season.


The study also found that a far larger number of business schools are now accepting GRE scores instead of the GMAT. Kaplan said 39% of the 288 schools surveyed now allow applicants to submit a GRE score, compared to 24% last year. A quarter of the schools that still accept only a GMAT result told Kaplan that they have plans to consider accepting the GRE in the future.

The vast majority of MBAs take the slightly more expensive GMAT exam, which is exclusively designed for graduate business school applicants. But in the past three years, the GRE has been marketed to the business school community as a viable alternative. The general argument is that taking the GRE provides a candidate with greater options because other master’s programs accept the standardized exam. Many of the top business schools, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Columbia, now accept both the GRE and the GMAT.


Kaplan found that 65% of the responding admissions officials who accept scores from either test say there is no advantage to applicants submitting one over the other. About 32% of the officials, however, told Kaplan that applicants who submit GMAT scores have an advantage over those who send in a GRE result. Of the business programs that accept the GRE, 69% report that fewer than one in 10 applicants actually submitted a GRE score instead of a GMAT score this past admissions cycle.

“While the GRE is gaining acceptance among business schools, it’s still fairly new to the MBA admissions process and programs are not in a hurry to embrace it due to its lack of history in predicting business school performance,” said Liza Weale, Kaplan’s executive director of pre-business and graduate programs, in a statement. “But there’s currently a bit of an arms race between the two tests, with both making changes to be more reflective of the critical thinking necessary in business school.”

The GRE, administered by Educational Testing Service, is rolling out significant changes to its content, design, scoring and format next August, while the GMAT is adding a new integrated reasoning section in June of 2012. To introduce the newly revised GRE, ETS will be offering the test at a 50% discount for a two-month period starting in August. It currently costs $250 to take the GMAT, while the GRE costs $160 in the U.S.

Kaplan found that 47% of admissions officers have a neutral view about the upcoming changes by GMAT, while 31% consider it a positive development. Some 42% don’t think the new section—which is meant to measure examinees’ data analysis and balanced decision-making skills—will make the exam any harder. About 21% of the responding admissions officials think it will make the GMAT more difficult. Kaplan apparently did not ask the respondents about the upcoming changes in the GRE.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.