Harvard’s ‘570 GMAT’ MBA Student

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com

“First of all, a 570 is NOT that low a score, especially depending on the splits. I had a client a while back with a mid-400’s GMAT and he got interviewed. My guess is, if you had the lowest single GMAT score for the entire HBS class for the past 12 years, 570 would be in the middle of that chart. To HBS’ credit, and especially Dee Leopold, who pulls the trigger on this, they do not fetishize GMAT scores. If you have a convincing record or college course work, especially in STEM courses, and work experiences, and interview well, if they want you (because you are special, rare, rich or connected), they will blink at low GMAT scores per se.

“Unpacking that: The 570 admit could have been a ‘development’ case, which is adcom slang for: the relative of rich donor, or even better, a potential rich donor, or the offspring of a faculty member/board member at Harvard someplace (either the B-school itself, which is hard to turn down, or the college, medical or law school, which is easier), or a favorite of some other miscellaneous Big Shot, such as a bold name CEO or lesser-known guy at a company who hires lots of HBS grads and call in a favor.

“Being the favorite of a Big Shot can be a proxy for merit, depending on the circumstances, e.g. you became the “dedicated analyst” for the  CEO/COO of a  blue chip investment bank, which is normally a job given to some kid in the investment banking analyst class the third year who is smart but not super smart, and who is real comfortable to be around. The CEO really gets to like you and makes a phone call. If I were Dee Leopold, and I were faced with some kid who 1. made it into the analyst program at at a top IB, got chosen to be the dedicated analyst of the CEO, did so well there the CEO called me, and the kid had a 570 GMAT, I would admit that kid, sorta on the merits. “The admit also could be totally on the ‘merits’ based on ‘rarity’ factors coupled with objective evidence that the admit could do the work. Rarity factors include race, national origin, talents, accomplishments, companies worked for, adversity story,  combination of all the above while ability-to-do-the-work evidence can include GPA and STEM classes, GMAT splits, other course work, professional work, and recommendations.

Some group of people don’t do well on those tests, but have no trouble doing well at HBS.  If  the adcom is certain enough that the applicant will not have trouble with the quantitative and speaking demands of the case method and regular exams at HBS, a NOT THAT HIGH BAR IN ISOLATION,  they will allow some other X factors to override a low GMAT score. And as noted, I don’t think 570 is that low.

Dan Bauer of The MBA Exchange

Dan Bauer of The MBA Exchange

Dan Bauer and Pauline Jennett of  The MBA Exchangepaulineheadshot

“Any top-tier MBA admit with a 570 GMAT clearly has other attributes that led to his or her admission. When reviewing such an application, the adcom certainly sees the sub-par score but also considers other academic, professional and personal aspects before reaching a decision. So, in advising such applicants, we start by assessing and optimizing the overall candidacy to ensure that the low GMAT score is the only true vulnerability.

‘Let’s call the fictitious applicant, ‘Sam.’ What are some possible strengths that could have mitigated his 570 GMAT?”


“Sam had a prior GMAT last year with a somewhat lower score. Re-testing indicates determination to succeed and potential for improvement. Furthermore, the quant and verbal percentiles were balanced, indicating that the issue might be ‘standardized testing’ in general rather than true weakness in his verbal or quant skills.

“In addition, Sam’s GPA was 3.7 in economics, achieved while working a part-time job and leading two student clubs. This confirms his demonstrated classroom abilities and solid work ethic. He graduated from a small, liberal arts college that is under-represented and thus would round out the incoming class. And, last year, he earned A’s in calc and stats through extension classes at a local college.  So, the academic profile is actually stronger than the GMAT score indicates.”