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How Important Is Each Part Of Your MBA Application?

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Are business schools putting too much emphasis on GMAT scores in admission decisions? MBA admission consultants—who help to shape the candidacy of thousands of MBA applicants each year and get to see the results of their clients’ applications—certainly think so, according to a new Poets&Quants survey of the world’s leading consulting firms.

The vast majority of consultants—65% of those responding to the survey—say they believe business school admission officials are weighing GMAT scores more heavily than ever. After the GMAT, written essays, admission interviews, and undergraduate grade point averages are what gets an applicant in the game, according to the consultants. But GMAT scores are being given more consideration by schools largely because the exam scores are factored in annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and The Economist and the emerging view that a school’s average GMAT score is an overall proxy for the quality of students it enrolls.

The findings come from a Poets&Quants survey sent to 50 of the largest and most prominent MBA admissions consulting firms in early July and received a response rate of 46%. Consultants were asked to apportion 100 points over 13 critical components of an MBA application, giving more points to each attribute they believe is given more weight by admissions. The consultants and firms who completed the surveys have represented tens of thousands of MBA applicants to the world’s top business schools over the past ten years.


The consultants singled out three schools in particular where they believe the GMAT assumes increased importance in admission decisions: The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Yale University’s School of Management, and Columbia Business School. Slightly more than half the respondents named Wharton for putting greater weight on GMATs in the past five years; a little more than a third named Yale while just a tad over 25% pointed to Columbia.

Three schools that MBA admission consultants believe have put less emphasis on GMATs in the same five-year timeframe are Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Nearly 40% of the consultants named Duke, 22% identified Kellogg, and 17% pointed to Tuck.

In general, the consultants estimated that GMAT scores account for more than a fifth of the weight—21.7%—in business school admission decisions, with nearly 16% given to the total score and an additional 6% to the quant score breakdown. Instead, they believe that GMAT scores should account for no more than 16.6% of all the components of an MBA application, with the total score representing roughly 11.5% and quant breakdowns at 5.1% (See table with comparisons below).


As it is, the survey found, GMAT scores are thought to be more than twice as influential in MBA admission decisions as undergraduate grade point averages, nearly three times more critical than either recommendation letters and employer prestige, and almost four times more important than the undergraduate college an applicant attended. After a GMAT score, the consultants believe the following parts of an MBA application are most important: essays (14.5%), admission interviews (12.1%), undergraduate GPAs (10.3%), recommendation letters (7.6%), employer prestige (7.3%), college or university attended (5.9%), and extracurricular involvement (5.7%). Far less significant, believe the consultants, are such factors as the number of years of work experience (4.7%), a candidate’s industry background (3.1%), international experience (3.0%), undergraduate major (2.4%), or fluency in other languages (1.4%).

These are very rough estimates, if not guesses, of course. The actual importance of a GMAT score varies by school and by applicant. “Everything is a data point and it varies from applicant to applicant,” points out Adam Markus, a well-known MBA admissions consultant. “I reject the value of the average, a hypothetical, because I am in a non-quantitative business: I help individuals.” Nonetheless, the survey provides an informed impression of the value of each part of an application that can be extremely helpful to MBA applicants.

Schools that are aggressively pursuing rankings gains or want greater confidence that an applicant can easily get through the core MBA curriculum are likely to put greater emphasis on test scores. And some MBA applicants might have below-average GMAT scores for a specific school, but overcome that deficiency with other parts of the MBA application. What the survey does show is that business school admissions, by and large, is a holistic process in which numerous metrics and facts are weighed and considered in deciding whether an applicant gets admitted or dinged.