Does HBS Favor GMAT Test Takers?

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Some 15% of the applicants to Harvard Business School last year applied with a test score from the Graduate Record Exam, the school said yesterday (Aug. 25). But candidates who applied with a GMAT tended to do slightly better than their GRE counterparts in winning admission to the prestigious school.

For any top business school, the release of such proprietary data is rare. HBS Managing Director of Admissions Dee Leopold made the information public to be “a bit more transparent about the GMAT/GRE issue.” In recent years, the GRE has been accepted by a growing list of top business schools, prompting the inevitable question: Does one test give applicants a slight advantage over the other?

Harvard’s data shows that the acceptance rate for candidates submitting a GMAT last year was roughly 10.2% versus a 7.3% acceptance rate for applicants who sent in a GRE score. HBS said that 8,288 people applied with only a GMAT last year, with 844 total matriculating admits. Some 1,115 applied with only a GRE, with just 81 total matriculating admits. Harvard’s overall acceptance rate is 12%, but one of every ten admits does not matriculate at the school. That’s why the percentages given by HBS for “matriculating admits” is lower than the overall acceptance rate.

‘THE SCHOOL HAS NO TEST PREFERENCE…WE ARE AGNOSTIC’

About 140 applicants to HBS took both tests and submitted both scores. Ten of those candidates became matriculating admits. This year, HBS has asked applicants to submit only one score result and has shut down the option to supply both tests for admission.

Despite the slight advantage given to GMAT takers, Leopold emphasized that the school has no test preference. “We’ve said for a while now that not only do we accept both tests, but we are agnostic about our preference,” she wrote in a blog post.

Admission consultants often encourage most applicants to take the GMAT over the GRE largely because they believe business school admission committees have had more experience with the test and tend to trust it more. But if a candidate scores poorly on the GMAT, a consultant will often recommend that he or she take the GRE instead. In any case, the percentage of people applying to business school with GREs has been increasing in recent years as the test takes marketshare away from the Graduate Management Admission Test.

‘GRE POOL MORE TILTED TOWARD SOCIAL SCIENCE TYPES, EDUCATORS AND RANDOM DIG-A-LINGS’

Though Leopold cautioned applicants not to “over-crunch” the numbers, it is inevitable that people would put the data in their calculators. As Sandy Kreisberg, a prominent MBA admissions consultant with HBSGuru, said: “Yes, number crunchers, crunch away and tell me that actually the admit rate for GMAT takers is higher by some x percent;  I believe Leopold’s  point was that this small-ish percent differential is not significant and I believe her. HBS does not have default preference for GMAT. My guess is, and this is a guess, that the GMAT pool is slightly more tilted to traditional applicants from banking, consulting and tech, and that pool is stronger in general than the GRE pool, which is tilted towards social science types, educators and random ding-a-lings.”

Leopold said that Harvard Business School cares less about the overall score than it does about the components. “We look at the subscores in the context of the candidate’s profile,” she said. “For example, an engineer with top grades who’s been doing highly quantitative work doesn’t need a high GMAT/GRE-Q to convince us he/she is capable of doing the quantitative work at HBS.

“But an English major whose transcript shows no quantitative coursework and has not done anything quantitative professionally or in post-college academics would be helped by a strong GMAT/GRE quant score. The corollary is true too: candidates who don’t have a background that demonstrates extensive practice in reading and writing may be helped by strong verbal subscores.”

‘YOUR SPLITS COUNT DEPENDING ON YOUR BACKGROUND AND COURSE TRANSCRIPT’

Kreisberg believes this could be less true at other business schools. “I also believe her when she says that what matters a good deal is your splits between quant and verbal and this depends on your background,” he said. “But this gets bit complex.  Many schools, less so HBS, are really, really focused on TOTAL TEST SCORE because that is what gets reported to the ranking magazines. HBS, being HBS, has the to ignore that a bit. If you are a social entrepeneur and present a 720 GMAT with a Quant percent of 55, AND you never took any math in college, HBS may get concerned a bit. If you are a software engineer and English is not your first language and you got a 3.9 from a U.S. tech college  and your GMAT verbal score is 40 percent, HBS will be concerned and may reject you or follow up on that in the interview.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.