For MBA hopefuls, the first task in pursuing a graduate business degree has traditionally been to conquer the Graduate Management Admissions Test. For nearly half a century, the GMAT has been the gold standard predictor of an applicant’s ability to survive the rigor of graduate business education. But now, many business schools are pondering whether it is the only qualified exam to do the job.
Some have called the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) the “GMAT killer” because of the way it’s aggressively infringing upon GMAT territory. In three years, the number of business schools accepting the GRE has shot up 200%, according to Educational Testing Service, the creator and administer of the exam. In terms of the range of schools, the level of prestige is at an all-time high: Among those that are proudly flashing “Now Accepting GRE” signs are the business schools at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, and INSEAD.
The discussion around this topic has helped fuel a heated debate, butting the two standardized tests against one another. Yet the reality is, most B-schools aren’t nearly as concerned with the debate as is led to believe. Instead, the schools view the GRE as an invitation of sorts to non-traditional applicants. In other words, their eyes are focused on the virtues that GRE applicants bring: more applications and a more diverse student body.
EXPANDING THE APPLICANT POOL.
The GRE is hardly the GMAT killer, but its numbers are rapidly mounting. There are a number of reasons for the shift. At the forefront: by accepting the GRE exam, business schools are able to expand and diversify their applicant pool.
According to Rod Garcia, director of MBA admissions at the Sloan School of Management, “About 95% of Sloan’s applicants use the GMAT. But for people who have only taken the GRE, they can now apply. It’s our way of saying, ‘there’s room for you here.’”
MIT’s Sloan School has been accepting the GRE exam since 2006, but says it has had experience with the exam as far back as 1988.
The Sloan School has a joint program with the school of engineering for which applicants don’t need to take the GMAT, only the GRE. “Because of the experience we had in this regard, in 2006 we said, ‘let’s pilot this for the MBA program too.’ The decision was predicated on the fact that we already had experience with the GRE. Therefore, we saw it as a way to diversify the applicant pool,” says Garcia.
“Most people who take the GRE apply to graduate programs in the arts and in the sciences. For us, that is exactly the type of diversity we want at the Sloan School.”
Administrators at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management had a similar outlook. In an email, a spokesperson for the school said, “The Admission Committee reviewed the practice at other schools such as Baylor and voted that it made perfect sense to consider GRE scores as one way to ensure a diverse mix of backgrounds in our Full-Time MBA program.”
DIVERSIFYING THE STUDENT POPULATION.
Although it’s too soon to tell if accepting the GRE is indeed widening the applicant pool (many schools have only just begun to matriculate GRE test takers) some schools are seeing positive results already. In the fall of 2010, Graziadio enrolled a total of nine GRE students; three for the full-time MBA program and six for the part-time program. One of those students was Oliver Freund.
Having gone to high school in New York City, Oliver Freund says he saw college as an opportunity to learn about different cultures. He studied anthropology at Syracuse University then parlayed his writing skills into a career in public relations. “I started working and built a career in healthcare PR. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I hit the glass ceiling very quickly. In order to get where I wanted to be, I knew I needed to pursue an MBA.”