GRE Acceptance By B-Schools Hits Record High


Business schools that now accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT has reached an all-time high percentage, according to Kaplan Test Prep‘s 2016 business school admissions officer survey published today (Nov. 28). Some 92% of the schools now accept GRE scores, a huge jump from Kaplan’s 2009 survey — the first year Kaplan asked the question — when only 24% of business schools took GRE scores.

But despite the increased acceptance of the GRE, Kaplan found that 26% of admissions officers say those who submit a GMAT score have an admissions advantage over those who submit a GRE score. Only 2% say GRE takers have the advantage; the remaining 73% say neither exam taker has the advantage, essentially unchanged from Kaplan’s 2015 survey.

Still, the growing acceptance of the GRE has led to consistent marketshare declines for GMAT (see chart below) In the past three years, for example, prospective students taking the GRE to get into a business school have risen by 23.4%, while GMAT test takers have fallen by 6.6%, even after a test taking boost from allowing applicants to more easily cancel their GMAT test scores. Still, the GMAT is way ahead on volume for business school applicants, with the test being taken 84,600 times in the U.S. this testing year, ended June 30, versus 20,482 for the GRE.


Brian Carlidge of Kaplan Test Prep

Brian Carlidge of Kaplan Test Prep

Kaplan did not ask why one in four admissions officers claim they prefer the GMAT, though the test prep company offers some explanation based on what a spokesperson calls separate discussions with business schools. “The GRE is relatively new to the MBA admissions space,” says Brian Carlidge, Kaplan’s executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs. “Widespread acceptance of the GRE began less than 10 years ago and it was up against an entrenched exam that had dominated the landscape for decades. Many longtime admissions officers know the GMAT best and probably feel more comfortable evaluating students on it, compared to the GRE.

“There is also probably a sense that the GMAT is the most business school-like exam, especially given the addition of the Integrated Reasoning section, which includes questions that resemble problems test takers will encounter in business school and in their careers. While the GRE is the admissions exam for graduate-level programs for everything from veterinary medicine, to education, to engineering, with now even some law schools considering it for admissions, the GMAT has long been the test solely used for business school.”

A spokesperson for the GRE, though, points out that the vast majority of schools have no preference. “What we’ve found is consistent with Kaplan’s survey findings,” says Jason Baran, a spokesperson for Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the GRE, “that the vast majority of top-ranked business schools do not have a preference for one exam over another, and that GRE and GMAT scores are equally weighted. For example, Harvard Business School indicates on their application website that they ‘do not have a bias toward one test or the other.’”


Still, business schools have contended that accepting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT — widens the pool of applicants beyond students from ‘traditional’ MBA backgrounds, such as finance, banking or consulting. Kaplan survey data supports this notion and finds that schools have been successful in this effort, with 61% saying offering the GRE option has resulted in the enrollment of more students from non-traditional backgrounds.

Ironically, however, the survey found that admission officials do not believe the GRE has significantly contributed to business schools enrolling more female students (25%), students of color (24%), or low income students (16%). It’s important to note, unrelated to the GRE, that the percentage of female students at top business schools has increased over the past several years and there are other efforts underway to increase the number of students of color; and the GRE alone isn’t the only reason business schools have enrolled more students from non-traditional MBA backgrounds.

“One reason acceptance of the GRE continues to grow seems to be because it generally broadens the application pool to include prospective students who might bring a different set of experiences and skills to business school and the business world, which is important as the economy continues to diversify. It’s also possible that business schools that don’t offer the GRE option may lose excellent prospective students to schools that do,” adds Carlidge. “We continue to stress to students to understand that some schools are still reluctant to give both tests equal cachet, even though they accept both exams. Our advice is to gather intel and ask admissions officers if their program has preference for one exam over the other.”


Some applicants view the GRE as an easier test, but Carlidge disputes that notion. “This is a question that students frequently ask when deciding which exam to take,” he tells Poets&Quants. “And the answer is that it really does depends on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. Both exams involve early-high-school-level math, rely heavily on reading comprehension, and require essay-writing at the beginning of the test. But the GMAT really tests students on data interpretation in a way that the GRE doesn’t, including on its Integrated Reasoning section, which was launched in 2012.

“We’d tell students that if you are someone who enjoys crunching numbers, the GMAT may be the exam where you can really showcase your prospective MBA prowess. On the flip side, if you are more of a poet than a quants person, look at the GRE. The most important piece of advice we can give prospective students is to take a practice test for both and see for yourself.”

The percentage of schools accepting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT has jumped every year since Kaplan first began exploring this issue in 2009, growing at a double-digit clip for a number of years. “At this point,” says Carlidge, “with over 90% of schools saying they accept scores from the GRE, it’s likely we are approaching a ceiling. It’s unlikely, however, that schools which already accept the GRE will reverse their decision. It has now become a mainstream, established way to attract more applicants.”

Kaplan conducted its survey between August 2016 and October 2016 of admissions officers at 224 business schools in the United States. Among the 224 business schools are 18 of the top 50, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.


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