Harvard Enrolls A 510 GMAT Student

Dean Nitin Nohria greets this year's incoming class at Harvard Business School

Dean Nitin Nohria greets this year’s incoming class at Harvard Business School

The single biggest surprise in the final Class of 2016 stats for Harvard Business School—released earlier this week—was the disclosure that the lowest GMAT score of an incoming MBA this year was just 510. When HBS published its preliminary numbers in early June, the school had said the lowest GMAT in the class was a 580.

The revelation may give some hope to candidates who submit GMAT scores to Harvard well below this year’s 730 median and 726 average. Just how out of the ordinary is a 510 for a school as elite as Harvard? Quite. Last year, the lowest GMAT at Wharton was a 630, while the low end at Stanford was 550. The lowest anyone can score on the GMAT is a 200, while the maximum score is 800.

Just how low is Harvard’s new bottom score? A 510 is in the 34th percentile of test takers—nearly 40 points below the average score of everyone who takes the exam. In contrast, the 730 median for the class is in the 96th percentile. Moreover, at Harvard, the average for the entire applicant pool of 9,543 students is about 700.  Still, it’s not the lowest ever. Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s managing director of admissions and financial aid, in fact, enrolled a 490 GMAT student in the Class of 2013.

Many other schools, in fact, would have passed on a 510, partly out of concern that it would lower the average GMAT and potentially harm the school in MBA rankings that factor GMAT scores in them. As it turns out, HBS’ average GMAT fell a point this past year–and the acceptance of a 510 might have tipped the scale.


“All it means is that he or she can’t take tests,” concludes Betsy Massar, an HBS alumnus and founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm. Of course, it also means that the rest of the candidate’s application had to be pretty much perform—from his or her grade point average at an undergraduate university to the person’s work experience and recommendations.

“I think it shows Dee’s increasing skepticism about the GMAT and GRE to predict success at HBS in all cases, and her confidence that by using evidence like work history, or coursework, she can override the test,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a prominent MBA admissions consultant. “I do not think the admit is a celebrity, prof or rich donor kid, although I could be wrong. I give her credit for listing the full range of scores and not engaging the standard business school shuffle of reporting an
80 percent range.”

Still, for HBS, it’s among the lowest GMAT scores enrolled in many years. Last year, for example, Harvard enrolled a 570 student, and Poets&Quants’ asked several admission consultants to explain how a candidate at HBS could overcome such a low score at what many consider to be the best MBA program in the world. Kreisberg then speculated that the 570 GMAT student might have been a “development case” (a euphemism for the relative of a rich donor or someone connected to the administration or faculty). Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, hypothesized that the student “came from a background that does not send many students to HBS.  Maybe an African tribal prince… or, a first generation immigrant from a poor neighborhood ….”


Ultimately, a long-time MBA admissions consultant came forward to claim credit for helping get the 570 into the school. Chad Troutwine, co-founder of Veritas Prep, explained that he was the “head consultant” for the 570 GMAT student. He told Poets&Quants that his client graduated from a large, public university in the mid-Atlantic United States that typically sends a few students to elite MBA programs every year.  “He is African-American and his family has been in the United States for generations,” Troutwine said. “He grew up solidly middle class and attended an urban magnet public high school where he excelled in the classroom, in sports, and in his extracurricular activities.”