FOUR REASONS WHY GMAT SCORES KEEP RISING
Bauer of The MBA Exchange believes there are four primary reasons why GMAT scores keep going higher at the top schools. “First, as schools compete for higher rankings, they strive for higher average GMAT scores as evidence of greater selectivity and academic excellence,” explains Bauer. “This competition helps drive GMAT averages higher. Second, as application volume continues to climb at top-tier schools, applicants feel compelled to maximize their scores and, in turn, adcoms enjoy the privilege of cherry-picking those with the highest GMATs.
“Third, today’s MBA applicants can easily ‘dress’ their reported GMAT scores. The only scores that can’t be erased are those reported to schools prior to July 19, 2015. So, with each passing year, there are fewer ‘pre-2015’ test takers in the applicant pool. And fourth, MBA applicants with limited quantitative skills and confidence increasingly opt to take the GRE. So, with fewer, low GMAT scores in the applicant pool, the average GMAT score rises.”
The option to take the GRE has meant that several schools are now reporting increasing numbers of applicants who submit the alternative test for admission. At Dartmouth Tuck, the percentage of applicants taking the GRE has risen to 13% last year from 7% a year earlier. At UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, GRE takers have climbed to 21% of the applicant pool, up from 16%. At Boston University, they now make up a whopping 42% of the MBA candidate pool, up from 34% only a year earlier.
CARLSON & SIMON HAVE LED THE TOP 50 DECLINERS IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS
Declining GMATs can very well be an indication of a school falling behind in its ability to attract the best candidates to its MBA program, either because it lacks scholarship funds to compete for the best or simply chooses to invest its money in other ways. In some cases, however, higher GMAT scoring students have been poached by some of the higher-ranked schools. In the past five years, the biggest GMAT score declines among the Top 50 are at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business, which saw a 17-point decline to 675 last year from 692 in 2012. The University of Rochester’s Simon School saw a 15-point drop over the same period to 665 from 680.
A school may decide intentionally to reduce average GMAT scores in favor of more well-rounded applicants with stronger interpersonal and communication skills. That’s especially true at schools where such tradeoffs are more common. Admission officers know that it is easier to place graduates with better interpersonal abilities than those with GMATs that are 10 or 20 points higher and are willing to take a hit on this metric in U.S. News‘ ranking. In fact, that is the admissions strategy in place at Rochester’s Simon School and at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
Simon Dean Andrew Ainslie, who came to Rochester in 2014, employed a similar approach at UCLA’s Anderson School when he headed up the MBA program there. When he arrived at Simon, Ainslie quickly came to the realization that the school boasted a GMAT score that was unusually high given its ranking. That occurred, he believes, because admissions was putting too much weight on GMATs in an applicant’s file.
WE CHOSE TO MOVE OUR GMAT AVERAGE DOWN TO PICK MORE WELL-ROUNDED STUDENTS’
“This leads to ignoring equally important aspects such as work experience, whether the student adds to diversity at the school, how well they interview etc.,” he says. “My concern was that we were picking students who might struggle in the workplace because of the excessive weighting of GMAT in our process. We therefore chose consciously to move our GMAT average down a little in order to allow us to pick more well-rounded candidates, who we felt might do better in the workplace a couple of years later.”
Ainslie concedes that it’s still too early to tell if the strategy has been successful
because the first class under the new admissions policy is about to graduate. “But there are good indications that it worked,” he adds. “They were up nearly 50% on early internship offers in their first year, and were up around 40% on early job offers in their second year. So we are strongly optimistic. There is very little correlation between a person’s GMAT and how well they do in the marketplace. In fact, it’s also surprisingly bad at indicating performance in the classroom.”
The only Top 25 school to report a double-digit decline in its average GMAT score over the five-year timeframe was New York University’s Stern School of Business. Stern’s average fell to 710 from 720. That unusual drop could be attributed to the dramatic decline in Stern’s U.S. News ranking last year that resulted when the publication penalized the school when it unintentionally failed to report on a single data point. Stern fell nine places to rank 20th. Even though Stern managed to eke out a small rise in MBA applications, the school’s yield–the percentage of admits who enroll–fell to 44.7% from 45.9%.
EVERY PROMINENT EUROPEAN BUSINESS SCHOOL BOOSTED THEIR GMATS LAST YEAR
In all, only 12 of the Top 50 schools reported GMAT declines over the past five years, with nine of them at MBA programs ranked 26th through 50th by Poets&Quants.
How do these numbers compare to the best European schools? Last year, every prominent European school reported a year-over-year increase in its average. London Business School overtook INSEAD for having the highest average GMAT, an eight-point jump to 709. INSEAD’s number also went up five points to land at 708, just behind London. Most full-time MBA programs in Europe fall in the high 600s, with Oxford at 692 (+2), IESE and Cambridge, both at 690, with Cambridge up 10 points and IESE up 21 points year over year. IE has an average of 680, up eight points. HEC-Paris is now at 689, up seven points.
Top 50 With Biggest Five-Year Decreases In GMAT Scores
|School||Five-Year Change||2016 Average GMAT||2012 Average GMAT|
|Washington Univ. (Olin)||-10||688||698|
Source: Poets&Quants analysis from available GMAT data * An asterisk indicates a three-year decline