Your application is more than just your test score

Linh Gilles, director of admissions and recruiting for the Carlson Full-Time MBA Program

I could tell you, promising MBA candidate, that your GMAT or GRE score doesn’t really matter. I could

do that, and I would be lying.

Look, there’s no way around it: Your test score is important. When we’re evaluating applications, we

look for strength across the board, and your GMAT or GRE score demonstrates academic capability. But,

just like an employer evaluates multiple facets of a prospective hire, we take a holistic approach to our

application process.

So, if you scored extremely well on the GMAT or GRE, don’t assume you’re a shoe-in. And if you didn’t

do so hot, don’t self-select yourself out of the MBA game.

A test score can’t measure your capabilities for leadership, teamwork, and collaboration, or even that

immeasurable quality that is crucial to success in business school: grit. Are you willing to do the hard

work to make a group project successful?

The GMAT or GRE is intended to be a predictive indicator of your academic capability in an MBA

program. If you find your test score sitting below the average at your preferred schools, first keep in

mind that all averages are based on the larger pool of applicants and a range of scores have been

admitted. But don’t ignore your score; confront it as a weakness. If you think it’s an inaccurate reflection

of your academic prowess, then retake it.

If you feel like you’ve given the test your best shot, then find other ways to demonstrate your academic

strength. If you had a 3.8 GPA as an undergraduate, then tout that in the optional essay on your

application. Or break down your test score into components. If your quantitative score is what’s bringing

your overall mark down, highlight how you’ve used your abilities in that area at your job or in previous

coursework or your experience with sophisticated statistical analysis.

Regardless of your score, be sure to firm up the other aspects of your candidacy. Avoid common

mistakes like simply listing accomplishments or trying too hard to be creative rather than directly

answering the essay questions. Connect your short- and long-term career goals to the different parts or

overall ethos of a program. Fit is paramount.

Build relationships with a program early on. Visit weekends and conversations with alumni and students

show dedication to a program. That’s something we can’t read in an application, and it can make a


And be honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to re-assess your options. There are plenty of schools with

different strengths and track records of positive student outcomes. Re-examine your goals for your MBA

experience and expand your range of options to include schools that can get you where you’re looking

to go.

Linh Gilles is director of admissions and recruiting for the Carlson Full-Time MBA Program at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, where the average GMAT score is 675.  Contact her at

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.