AT TOP SCHOOLS, APPLICANT POOLS ARE SO DEEP IT’S HARD TO ADMIT BELOW PAR GMATS
Hodara does offer some hope: “We sometimes saw candidates with great professional experience and a strong academic record who had a GMAT score in the mid or even low 600s, but who we believed had all the qualities to flourish in the MBA program and excel as alumni. So despite their GMAT, we fought to see them admitted. But at the top schools the pool of high quality applicants is so deep that it can be hard to justify admitting candidates with below par GMATs.”
What is also not apparent to many candidates is that faculty can have significant influence over the selection process. Caroline Diarte Edwards remembers professors at INSEAD admissions committee meetings insisting that all admits should be in at least the 75th percentile on the quant section. I assume they were teaching a finance class later in the year and didn’t want any of the students to fall behind because they couldn’t understand the numbers. Certainly at top 10 business schools any applicant with less than 75th or even 80th percentile on the quant will need to have other evidence of strong quant skills (eg through undergrad courses, work experience, additional courses etc)
Without getting into a debate about the merits of the GMAT in the admissions process, both the data that schools themselves use to track their admits, and various external studies, show that the GMAT score is a good predictor of academic success in the first year of business school (or first 6 months in the case of a one-year program). And the standardized test allows them to compare the verbal and quant skills of an international applicant pool with diverse academic backgrounds.
GETTING AROUND A BELOW 700 GMAT SCORE
So if the test is here to stay, is there any way to compensate for a weaker score?
Schools do at least look at the GMAT alongside your undergrad/grad school record, and rate you on your academics considering the whole picture. A really strong undergrad record, which perhaps included a consistent presence on the Dean’s List, can go some way to compensating for a borderline GMAT.
But while schools look at academics holistically, the reality of how schools assess your GPA is really fluid – i.e. there is a wide berth of understanding. For example, quantitative majors are often considered to be harder than the qualitative ones, so a 3.5/4.0 in Engineering is more highly regarded than it would be in History, for example. Not all majors were created equal, and not all undergrad institutions were either. But that will be a subject for a future MythBuster on Poets&Quants.
SCHOOLS HAVE HIGHER EXPECTATIONS OF CONSULTANTS, FINANCIAL PROS & ENGINEERS
There are also subtle differences in the expectations schools have of the GMAT from different types of candidates. For example, schools may be more flexible on the GMAT score of women from under-represented regions than to more common profiles. But if you are coming from a country or a professional background where historically the numbers are high on the quant, you need to really present within that range.
Schools will have high expectations of management consultants, finance professionals and engineers, while IT guys from India are competing with many, many others with similar profiles. Because the top schools have the pick of the crop, the GMAT scores for such individuals cannot afford to be anything less than stellar. Wharton and the other top schools could pick and choose but we know that a 670 would have been put aside pretty fast in such groups.
There is only one school in the Poets&Quants’ Top 10 with a GMAT average below 700.. Though you are not doomed to rejection if your score is below that level, the sheer volume of applicants with competitive GMAT scores means that the rest of your application will need to sparkle to mitigate your lower test score.
If it makes you feel any better, every year one of the Fortuna Admissions team of former MBA Admissions Directors would routinely receive around 175 applications from applicants with a perfect 800 score on the GMAT. And every year the MBA program would admit … none of them. I guess sometimes you can be too clever for your own good.
Matt Symonds is a co-director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, author of “Getting the MBA Admissions Edge”, founder of Kaplan Test Prep in Europe and QS World MBA Tour. Fortuna is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions at many of the world’s best business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and UC Berkeley Haas. This is the second in a series of myth buster articles on admissions.
THE MYTH BUSTER SERIES: