GRE Gaining Ground On The GMAT

GMAT-vs-GRE-HEADERNearly 10% of MBA-bound applicants during the past 2012-2013 testing year took the Graduate Record Examination instead of the dominant GMAT test, Educational Testing Service said today (April 29).

The testing organization, which has been promoting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT, said that GRE test-taker trends during the current testing year from July 1, 2013, through January 31, 2014, show even more growth. “In this time period, the number of GRE test takers indicating MBA as their intended degree rose dramatically, by 38 percent, compared to the same time period last year,” ETS said.

At least some of the growth can be attributed to the decision by several hold out business schools, including the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School and Georgetown University’s McDonough School, to finally  accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT for classes that enter in the fall of 2014.


But most of the increase is due to increasing numbers of applicants who are using the test to get into an MBA program. “We have heard from schools that they are seeing anywhere from 10% to 30% of their MBA applicants presenting GRE scores, and we expect this number to continue to grow,” says David Payne, Vice President of Global Education at ETS, in a statement.

At Yale University’s School of Management, a record 21% of last year’s applicants submitted a GRE score, up from 18% a year earlier. At Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, GRE test takers accounted for a record 25% of the applicant pool last year, up from 12%. At Columbia Business School, 5% of the prospective students last year took the GRE, up from just 2%. And at Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, 8% of last year’s applicants submitted the GRE, up from 3%.

When Kaplan Test Prep surveyed business school admission officers last summer, 29% of the respondents said that GRE applicants now make up at least 10% of their applicant pool, while 18% said the GRE portion of their pool had increased to 18%. About 6% of the admission officials said that the GRE was being submitted by half of the candidates.

Not every school reported a greater percentage of GRE test takers. Washington University’s Olin School, for example, reported that the GRE pool fell to a still high 24% from 31% in 2012. The University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business reported a slight decline to 11% from 13% a year earlier. But these numbers appear to be counter to the trend of applicants opting to take the GRE over the GMAT. The percentage of applicants submitting GRE scores on their MBA applications ranges from a mere 3% at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management to a high of 25% at Notre Dame, according to data provided by the schools to U.S. News.


Some admission officials are confirming the ETS report of continued growth. “The GRE pool is definitely increasing,” says Rob Weiler, associate dean of the MBA program at UCLA. “We have admitted many more people with GREs. We have probably doubled the number of applicants with GREs from what it was last year, and certainly among the ranks of those admitted. We are better able to assess it now that we have had a couple of years of accepting it.”

Weiler says that a lot of candidates this year submitted GRE scores from a year or two ago. “It’s clear that they had graduate school in mind when they took the best but where still considering the best avenue to take for their career. Once it became clear that business school was their choice, they used their GRE score to apply.”

A good chunk of the growth could also be the result of soaring GRE test taking in India. The number of prospective students who sat for the GRE in India jumped by 68% last year to 88,884, from 52,792 in 2012. In the U.S., in comparison, some 422,668 people took the GRE last year, up just 5.3% from the 401,286 who took it a year earlier. Some of that rapid growth may be due to the cost difference in the tests: The GRE is priced at $195, while the GMAT costs $250.

There’s another very plausible reason for the marketshare gains by GRE. Several MBA admission consultants have been advising clients in recent years to submit GRE scores when they perform poorly on the GMAT. The stated reason for the strategy: Some ranking organizations, such as U.S. News, use GMAT scores to rank MBA programs. So an admissions office might be overly sensitive to a low GMAT score, but might pass on a lower GRE.


Newly disclosed data, provided by the schools to U.S. News & World Report for its recently published annual business school ranking, support the notion that MBA programs have been willing to accept lower scoring GRE candidates compared to those who submit GMAT scores. At Yale’s School of Management, for example, the average admit who got into the MBA program with a GRE score had a 160 verbal and a 162 quant, with a 4.7 analytical writing score. Using ETS’ comparative tool, the equivalent GMAT score would be 660, 54 points below Yale’s average 714 GMAT score for admits.

In every single case where a school reports both GMAT and GRE numbers for admits, a school is willing to accept lower GRE scores–and in many cases, much lower scores based on ETS’ comparative tool. The gap between the predicted GMAT score of admits from GRE exams and average GMATs can be 100 or more points wider at many prominent schools. At Cornell University’s Johnson School, where the average GMAT for admits was 691 last year, the average GRE for admits was predicted at 600–a difference of 91 points. At Washington University’s Olin School, the gap was 126 points, while at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate Sehool of Business, the difference was 118 points (see table on following page).

Of course, scores on entrance exams are only one of many variables in an MBA application. It’s also possible that the non-traditional students taking the GRE may offer a class greater diversity and also have a more differentiated narrative to entice an acceptance from admissions.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.