Those Pesky GPA & GMAT Averages


Studying at the NYU Stern School of Business – Ethan Baron photo


So you want to go to business school, but you have no idea if where you want to go will accept or reject you?

Though an MBA application has many components, there are two raw scores that largely dictate your range of possibilities: your undergraduate grade point average and your GMAT score.

Admissions officials at highly selective schools have been known to blink once at a below average number. But rarely do they blink twice at both a GMAT score and an undergraduate transcript that fails to hit their averages. And there are some schools–most notably Stanford, Wharton and MIT–where high GMAT scores really seem to matter.

No top 50 business school has an average GPA below 3,0 or an average GMAT below 641.. In fact, the lowest reported average grade point average is 3.20 at the University of Illinois’ business school. The highest? Stanford and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management: 3.69. The lowest reported average GMAT at a top 50 MBA program is 641 at Michigan State’s Broad School. The highest? Stanford: a lofty 729 average.

If you want to get into Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, that pretty much means you need to have a GPA between 3.40 and 3.94 on a 4.0-scale and a GMAT score between 680 and 780 on an 800-scale. Those are the 10th and 90th percentile numbers for the Stanford class that entered in the fall of 2012. Few schools, by the way, publish the full range, though Harvard Business School is an exception. At HBS, class that enters in the fall of 2013 had GMATs as low as 550 and as high as 780, though your chances of getting into Harvard with a GMAT below 700 are awfully slim. The median for admits to the Class of 2015 was 730.


“At HBS, the difference between a 740 GMAT and 780 is probably not going to move the needle,” believes Sandy Kreisberg, a prominent MBA admissions consultant and founder of “At Wharton and MIT, ultra GMATs are recognized and rewarded although hard to quantify. The difference between a 640 and 680 GMAT can be critical at many places, especially if the rest of your profile is likable. With a 680, you are meeting them half way. With a 640, you are asking for a big favor.”

Wharton already has announced that its incoming MBAs this year (2013) boast a record average GMAT score of 725, seven points higher than last year. At Wharton, even the lowest score isn’t all that low: 630.

Face it: a low GMAT score or a low GPA are the biggest application killers. No matter what admission officials or consultants say, this is unfortunately one of the unshakeable truths of the B-school admissions game. In an ideal world, a GMAT score would just be another data point, perhaps equal to any other in your application, from recommendation letters to how you craft your essays. But last year’s survey by Kaplan Test Prep of business school admissions officers at 265 MBA programs across the United States – including 17 of the top 25 — showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants.

The 2012 survey found that 49% of admissions officers 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 31%, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 18%. Asked which is the most important factor in the MBA admissions process, only 2% of the officers said recommendation letters and a mere 1% cited essays.


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. Admission officials also consider the score comparable across countries and cultures by all applicants. That’s not true with a GPA and it may not be true for a recommendation letter.

Another likely reason for the GMAT’s importance 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.

Generally, these scores are highly correlated with a school’s given ranking because they are the easiest and most visible way to measure the quality of the candidates enrolled in an MBA program.

(The latest GMAT and GPA stats for the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are on the following pages)

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