How Important Is Each Part Of Your MBA Application?

Professor Fiona Scott Morton at Yale's School of Management

Professor Fiona Scott Morton at Yale’s School of Management


The survey confirms the widespread belief that business school admission officials are under pressure from both the rankings and the accepted ‘logic’ that high scores are a reflection of student quality. Many admission directors privately say they often turn down candidates with lower GMAT scores who they believe would be a better fit with their MBA programs.

That view is shared by Dan Bauer, a Harvard MBA and founder of The MBA Exchange, one of the leading MBA admissions consulting firms. “If the assessment of survey respondents is even close to reflecting the true priorities of MBA admissions committees, then top business schools are definitely rejecting applicants who could have thrived there and gone on to great careers,” he says. “With earlier application deadlines and greater reliance on interviews in making final admission decisions, adcoms want a quick, easy and objective way to ‘cull the herd’ as soon as possible. Enter the GMAT, the most common of common denominators!

“And, given the fierce competition for higher rankings,” adds Bauer, “there’s an added incentive for schools to boost their ‘median’ and ‘middle 80%’ GMAT stats for admits. With the reduction in number and length of essays and recs at most schools, an applicant who doesn’t test well now has less of a platform to overcome a modest test score. The irony is that this is happening at the same time that adcoms state the critical importance of ‘authenticity.’ Relying so heavily on the GMAT and subordinating other aspects of the application reduces the opportunity to convey actual authenticity.”


Adds Matt Symonds, a partner at Fortuna Admissions, “We’ve seen the school averages rise significantly in the past fifteen years, in part driven by increasingly well-prepared test takers applying to the top b-schools, and in particular the ever higher scores coming out of China and India. The demographics of GMAT test takers have shifted significantly in this time period, with US test takers now less than 50% of the overall. Higher GMAT scores are perceived to create a virtuous circle of school selectivity and positive impact in the US News ranking. Word from the corner office can set a trend in motion–15 years ago the dean at Columbia wanted GMAT scores of admits to all start with a 7. The arrival of (Dean) Ted Snyder at Yale has coincided with a rise in their average GMAT (720) as he sets out to secure the school’s place in the world’s top 10.”

Though the clear consensus among consultants was that too much attention is paid to the total score of the GMAT, the survey found that the emphasis placed on the quant percentile scores was less of an issue. “GMAT quant % gets far greater attention than the verbal, unless the verbal scores from markets like China, S. Korea and Japan are worryingly low,” points out Caroline Diarte Edwards, the former head of admissions at INSEAD and now a partner at Fortuna Admissions. “Schools like Wharton, Booth, Columbia and Sloan are unapologetically quant driven, arguing that a world of big data and analytics is underpinned by a rock solid understanding of numbers. But quant skills though valuable are not the single recipe for success, as the likes of Kellogg, Duke and Tuck consistently demonstrate with their high recruiter loyalty.”

So if the consultants believe too much attention is paid to GMATs by business schools, what do they think schools should put greater emphasis on? Interviews, essays, and recommendation letters. “The interview would be the area that deserves more resources and consistency,” says Judith Silverman Hodara, former Wharton admissions official and a partner at Fortuna Admissions. “In the past it has taken a lot of time, travel and resources to conduct interviews with members of the admissions staff. And this is where we would like to see schools place more resources as well as technology solutions. The great majority of alumni interviewers are very committed and professional in their attitude and feedback, but there are always situations with less experienced interviewers, or simply a bad chemistry with the applicant that means that the candidate gets a raw deal, and certainly not a consistent assessment compared to others.”