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.”

  • Prakhar Raj

    It’s not about business acumen. Many people who cannot pass high school have set up business empires. For example Mukesh Ambani. GMAT cannot tell what type off businessman will a student turn out to be. It cannot by any stretch of imagination test your management skills either. But their is another thing that we are forgetting. B School is tough academically. You have to read finance, accounting, economics etc. These are tough subject. And B Schools demand certain type of rigor and planning. And the assumption is if you can’t plan your way out of GMAT 700, how can you handle the rigor of B Schools. Moreover you won’t immediately become a leader after B School. Many will be doing finance and consulting jobs which require lot of number crunching, hence the importance of GMAT.

  • hbsguru


  • Cam

    So if I have a 740 but a bad IR and 47Q but a 730 with a great IR and 48Q which do I go with for Kellogg?

    I have a weak quant background plus this article makes me think the latter but I had heard the reason for the spike in Kellogg’s average GMAT this year is because they’re trying to jack up their ranking to compete with Booth more

  • Annoyed

    Why are we wasting the time of those that want to learn on re-doing high school concepts? The whole process has become a joke. Just make it a buyer-seller market and massively expand intake class sizes. Stop pretending that an MBA is nothing more that a product that is being sold. No need for “consultants” to begin with.

  • SU85


    I am in a bit of a quandary with regards to my B School application and was wondering if I can get some advice on it. I am planning to apply for a PhD in the top 10 B Schools and just recently took my GRE in which I received a score of Q 161 and V 156. This is obviously low, however, I do have a masters degree from Stanford University in MS&E with a CGPA of 3.91/4.2. Given this information I am not sure if I should retake my GRE or proceed to apply with my current score.

    Any advice would be fantastic.



  • bwanamia

    You little guys don’t like being told that I wouldn’t hire someone with less than a 650. It’s worse than that. I don’t know anyone who’d hire someone with less than a 650. It’s a cruel world.

  • FAKu

    He is right bwanamia. You are a complete failure example.

  • bwanamia


  • avivalasvegas

    Absolutely. Any good adcom will evaluate your past decision making and performance (as well as the GMAT) as indicators of your future success.

  • Tuk Tran

    one good thing about the gmat is that it demonstrates some discipline and seriousness of purpose…otherwise you would have people winging the applications process more and just applying to see if they get in without too much thought..when you suffer through the gmat prep and get a decent score then it becomes a filter…
    HBS experimented for 5 years not requiring the gmat..why did they go back to requiring it? i guess too many non-serious applicants

  • JohnAByrne

    And thanks for sharing your story. Applicants need to understand that the averages are just that: an average. Many people are admitted below the average of every school.

  • avivalasvegas

    While I’m not sure the GMAT has a 725 score (only 720 or 730), I agree that the compelling story and work experiences are key.

    I did not have a high GMAT score (came in at the bottom 20% for my top 5 program) BUT I had a story that was talked about for days after our introductory orientation and even on admissions materials for the following year’s candidates 🙂

    While this may sound like me bragging, I’m trying to give candidates with really strong backgrounds and unique stories hope.

  • fidel305

    if you truly have a compelling story and work experience [with a high undergrad GPA from a good school preferably}, then take the GRE if you can’t hit 725 on the gmat.

  • avivalasvegas

    This is why I’m willing bet on the limitations of your career bwanamia

  • Hedge67

    although there will be moral questions about it, I’d absolutely understand people doing it. In such ridiculous race to be ranked higher, schools left them with no choice. Remember that schools themselves manipulate the data on employment reports, admission stats, ..etc..

  • Acrumen

    if that the case then all the 800 score would be the best business leaders, which in reality not true at all. In fact, it is just the opposite. The GMAT importance is because it is the easiest way to filter people on number based, no more no less.

  • fidel305

    hahaha. what nonsense.

  • fidel305

    You could left it at this — “Keeping this high average GMAT score helps the school keep its ranking”

  • fidel305

    sure there is. the bama guy could not have done any better and the Princeton guy was tested and found wanting.
    the bama grad is still the equivalent of schrodinger’s cat in the box whereas the Princeton fop is known to be dead.
    this is where work experience comes in.

  • fidel305


  • fidel305

    actually, standardized test taking tests the ability to take standardized tests. take it from someone who has always scored well on them.

  • fidel305

    hardly surprising. the admissions consultants want the schools to place more emphasis on the things that the consultants think that they can sell their clients on being able to improve for them. things like interviews and essays as opposed to undergraduate gpa and employer.

  • Buffalove

    It’s not ridiculous at all. The GMAT isn’t about retaining all of the information forever, it’s about being able to process a lot of information and then successfully using it in a very stressful situation (the test itself). This is EXACTLY what business is about.

  • DUH

    Shocker admissions Consultants weigh the factors they could influence more heavily. Great Survey.

  • Truth

    Thank you. You seem very good in helping others.

  • avivalasvegas


  • ZZ

    Hi Sandy
    Nice to see that you were right again and your colleagues are just less bold saying it.

  • Fire That Jew

    The high 600s? It’s a number and like any number it only matters in relation to others. So if 680 is 80th percentile, then if you want to go to an elite school you have to make it up elsewhere.

  • Fire That Jew

    1) Wharton undergrad
    2) You still have yet to show how you are of such high-quality despite a) your undisclosed GMAT score and b) your whining about others who actually got in

  • hbsguru

    Maybe my friend, but the most popular and sustanied feature in ALL Poets&Quants attempts to do just that, it has been running for years, and not many folks have written back saying that its predictions, esp. about HSW are wrong.

    The Full Archive: Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

    Adam Hoff, says “Without visibility into someone’s character, motivation,
    passion, level of introspection, capacity for empathy, even their
    charisma and personality, it’s just absolutely impossible to peg their
    chances. I am even uncomfortable pegging someone’s chances after talking
    to them for an hour and knowing their deepest, darkest secrets.”

  • Truth

    points to consider:
    – Trump has a degree from Wharton.
    – Best description is:
    – It is not a personal failure, It is not a successful try in the right direction.

  • john

    Yea but the problem is that the top schools get bunch of candidates you just mentioned (unique work experience & real world industry knowledge and inspiring life stories) So using GMAT as another mean to find the better candidates among the pool seem to be reasonable. (thought I do agree that your score is a only true reflect of you ability +- 40 points…)

  • Fire That Jew

    Thank you for that Donald Trump answer. Congratulations on blaming others for your personal failures. You might just be leadership material yet.

  • avivalasvegas

    This is really heartbreaking. Once you get past the high 600s, what difference does the GMAT make? I’d much rather have a candidate with unique work experience & real world industry knowledge and inspiring life stories.

  • greer

    After reading some of these comments, I pray that I don’t meet people like the ones that made some the comments. Some of you come across as arrogant, whiny and outright nasty.

  • To really understand why GMAT matters so much you have to take the perspective of the admissions committee. Top MBA programs receive anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 applications each year. Most applicants come from very similar backgrounds in consulting, finance, or tech and have very similar career goals. It would be impossible for the admissions committee to dedicate significant amounts of time to learn about each candidate given that they typically have less than 3 months to make a decision in each round. The best way to make the process efficient is to group applicants and start eliminating them using a standardized metric which also happens to serve as a great proxy of an individual’s intellectual capabilities – the GMAT score.

    Thinking in terms of supply and demand, the admissions committee has the luxury to build a class full of applicants with high GMAT scores and then fill in the gaps with a handful of other really interesting applicants with lower scores. Keeping this high average GMAT score helps the school keep its ranking and maintain its prestige and exclusivity. This ensures that recruiters are happy and future top applicants are attracted to the program.

    So what does this all mean? If you are in the group of applicants with a GMAT score of 700 or above congratulations. You are the primary group of applicants that the admissions committee will devote the majority of their time reviewing. Your essays, recommendations, and interviews are set to differentiate you among other applicants with similar backgrounds so that the admissions committee can cherry pick the very best consultants, bankers, or engineers with the best story. If you fall outside of the 700 club, you become part of another group – the exceptions. These applications get the quick review and dinged unless there is something truly special and unique in the person’s background. Only a handful of these applications get additional consideration and admitted by the admissions committee.

    Remember every decision the admissions committee makes on admitting someone comes with an opportunity cost. Why risk a spot on an applicant with a low GMAT score that has a greater probability of struggling with difficult classes and nailing job interviews when you have so many applicants available with high GMAT scores?

  • AJ

    How on earth is this possible!? This is totally unheard of!

  • gerhard

    deal with them the same way; fake the score. Most indians and chinese do it.

  • AJ

    A very bold and authentic article indeed! I have never heard or read anywhere the hard-hitting reality that this article discusses – The undue importance given to GMAT scores by top b-schools for weeding out applicants. What according to me is unethical is that the adcoms of these schools never ever explicitly open up about the importance of the GMAT scores – I have attended quite a few info sessions in India and I hear one coherent response from adcom representatives – that they look at an application holistically. Honestly, thats not true! A close friend, who worked with the adcom of one of US’ top ranked b-school, disclosed to me that the adcom actually weeds out applications basis the GMAT and GPA, as these are the easiest way due to their quantitative nature of evaluation, as opposed to essays, recommendations, CV and other qualitative stuff. I particularly am amazed by the analysis about Indian/Chinese applicants, the article mentions. It is true that due to overrepresentation from these 2 countries, the average GMAT scores for applicants from these countries are typically 20 points higher than the global averages/medians. So, if Wharton’s average/median score is 720/730, one can conveniently assume the average/median for an India/Chinese applicant could be in the range of 740-750.

    I strongly believe these top b-schools must openly disclose their application review processes. Can someone throw some light on whether top ranked b-schools actually do read the entire application package for an applicant with a lower GMAT score than the school’s average or just weed that candidate out basis the low score?

  • mark

    so true. GMAT is a great equalizer….it helps equalize the different grading practices across schools that make ugrad GPAs not such a reliable metric…like for example it helps level the playing field between a grad form Harvard where the undergraduate median gpa is a 3.7 and say a grad from Penn where the ugrad median gpa is between 3.2-3.3.

  • Seth

    For that matter, the physics major from Alabama compared to your Princeton example in history or drama. Indeed, context.

  • Seth

    What a ridiculous blanket statement. Especially when considering a ‘masters’ in business. Give any big name CEO today the GMAT…how do you think they would do? The GMAT, quant, importance is possible a kowtow to the analytical driven consulting firms doing much of the hiring from top MBAs. However, I concede, if you are getting a masters in a technical field or pursuing a professional degree (architecture, doctor), you absolutely need to fit a mold…there is no mold in business.

  • guest

    Along the same line, what would be considered a hurdle score (one that wont weed you just based on GMAT) for a gay male in a STEM career and strong non profit community service background?

  • kp62

    Of course the admission consultants believe essays and interviews should be more important, that is where they make their money. If the GMAT was the only deciding factor in admission, then they would be out of jobs.

  • Truth

    all the M7.

  • bwanamia

    A GMAT focused admissions policy drives down selectivity by scaring off low GMAT applicants. Moreover, selectivity is worth 54% more than GMAT in calculating USNews rank. If there’s a reason why some schools emphasize the GMAT, it’s not for the sake of gaming USNews.

    Setting Considerations of rank to the side, I would never consider hiring someone who scored below 600 on the GMAT. Or 650, for that matter.

    Finally, this quote is amusing; “MBA admission consultants think schools should put less weight on GMAT
    scores and more on interviews, essays and recommendation letters.” Well, of course.

  • Bob

    The GMAT is the great equalizer. If you can’t test well you shouldn’t be getting a masters degree.

  • Jesus1

    Just get an 800.

  • Jesus1

    Definitely bitter. GMAT for the win.

  • Jesus1

    This is great news. There just isn’t any other way to gauge how someone with a 3.2 from Princeton compares to someone who got perfect grades at the University of Alabama.

  • Bitter much

    What schools rejected you?

  • Truth

    This explains the low quality of the students at these schools. They are very good in numbers but poor in business acumen and leadership. The admission people at the schools are bunch of failed mid aged who achieved nothing and they have nothing but the number to depend on to filter candidates.

  • khls

    Interesting perspective – I’ve always heard it’s ‘easier’ for us in some aspects. Of course, the GPA is a factor in this. A 3.5+ and a 680 might cinch you a spot at a Top 5, but I doubt a 2.9 and a 680 would do the same.

    I want to ask you 50 more questions since I’m applying this year and writing my Columbia app on the other window. BTW, I’m surprised you’re on this website given you’re already at a Top 5 (I feel like I will never give up my poetsandquants addiction either).

  • Guest


    Don’t take this the wrong way, but being female means you can get away with a lower profile. I am at a top 5 school and there are very few women in the class who can compete with the majority of men in the class on incoming academic/work/leadership profile on a straight output sense (not taking in to consideration inputs / difficulties being female).

    When you are URM your scores can go down again — but female URM is a much more rare breed, so top schools go out of their way to get you.

    Add to that a STEM background, and they basically reserve a spot for you at any of the top 10 schools as long as you submit an application. Even a 650 on the GMAT will get you in to HBS at that point.

  • khls

    Out of curiosity, what is a good enough GMAT score (including Q/V breakdown) for:

    a) Female – Liberal Arts/Social Science
    b) Female – Engineering/Math
    c) Female – URM

    By ‘good enough’ I mean that it won’t raise any flags or weed you out of the process.