ONE OFFSET TO A LOW SCORE: HEAVY EXTRAS IN A COMMUNITY
“What I have seen as being successful in the past with my clients are very heavy involvement in a unique community activity,” adds Blanchette. “For example, I had a client develop a wheelchair seatbelt mechanism to help stop kids with Tourettes from hitting themselves. I also had a client lead the solar car team to the national championship. It was not only significant leadership – but not your run of the mill stuff like habitat for humanity or big brother big sister, etc.
“I have also had clients be successful with low GMAT scores who have taken significant risks in the workplace,” adds Blanchette. “For example, starting their own business before going to college, or trying out for a professional dance company, or becoming an Olympic athlete – again very impressive and unusual/unique characteristics.”
Students who are admitted to top schools with low GMATs have certain characteristics in common, says Shawn O’Connor, founder and CEO of New York-based Stratus Admissions Counseling which recently helped a client with a 510 GMAT get into Harvard Business School. “Almost without fail, they have a strong undergraduate GPA (3.6+) from a good undergraduate institution,” he says.
ROBUST WORK EXPERIENCE A KEY INFLUENCER
“They tend to have robust, though quite traditional work experience at a leading consulting firm, financial institution, or marketing powerhouse. If their score is low due to poor quantitative performance, they instead demonstrate quantitative proficiency through their coursework and/or work experience. Contrary to popular belief, most of those students do not have a particularly out-of-the-ordinary personal story, though of course there are the occasional individuals who grew up in a war zone or played a professional sport and are therefore admitted notwithstanding a low GMAT.”
Stacy Blackman, head of Stacy Blackman Consulting, says that she sometimes will counsel applicants to take the GRE rather the GMAT if their score is low. “We understood that schools were willing to take risks on very strong clients who happened to have a low GMAT score,” says Blackman. “However, a big hesitation was often the rankings. Because the GRE was not yet reported out for rankings, we felt that even if our client received an equally low score on the GRE, she should submit her application with the GRE rather than the GMAT score.”
Blackman concedes the strategy felt a bit risky because the GRE was new and her client’s score was still very low. But the applicant’s highest GMAT score was only 600 with her quantitative percentile an extremely low 40, which was half the target score. Nonetheless, she decided to go with the GRE for two reasons. “One, we felt that a low GRE (vs. GMAT) would at least eliminate concerns around reporting to rankings,” she says, “and two, her GRE was overall lower but boasted a much higher quant score.” The candidate, says Blackman, is in the new entering class at HBS.