There are two ways — at least — to look at the grade-point average data for the MBA Class of 2019, newly compiled by Poets&Quants. At only five of the top 25 schools in the latest P&Q ranking are average GPAs trending downward over the last five years — that’s good. But the increases are generally small and in some cases minute, averaging only .05 for the top 10 schools, the elite of the elite, and not much better for the top 50: just .06. Meanwhile, if you examine year-to-year data from 2016 to 2017, the number of schools with a decrease balloons to seven of the top 25 and 17 of the top 50, with seven schools staying even.
All of which is to say that while the best schools continue to impress with their GPA averages, there’s only so high a crop of scholars can go, and 2017 seems to be an acknowledgement of that.
The highest average undergraduate GPA is an honor once again achieved by Stanford Graduate School of Business, at 3.74, eclipsing last year’s mark of 3.73 but a hair below the all-time high for any school of 3.75, which Stanford set in 2015. It’s the fifth straight year Stanford has had sole possession of the top GPA (they tied Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management at 3.69 in 2012). Harvard Business School and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, both with 3.71, join Stanford as the only three schools above 3.70. In Berkeley’s case it was an achievement made possible by one of the biggest leaps in the top 50, of .11. Rounding out the top five in GPA are Yale SOM (3.67) and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (3.61). (See Pages 2 and 3 for a complete list of the GPA averages and the five-year trends for the P&Q top 50.)
IOWA TIPPIE SEES BIGGEST 5-YEAR DECLINE
In all, 14 of the top 50 schools saw a drop in average undergraduate GPA over the last five years, at an average loss of .07. Three schools stayed even, while data for eight schools was incomplete. That means 26 schools experienced increases, led by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, which has climbed .15 to 3.46; USC’s Marshall School of Business, which saw an increase of .13 to 3.48; and Berkeley Haas.
Among the noteworthy decreases were MIT Sloan School of Management, which dropped .09 to 3.49, biggest drop in the top 25 and third-biggest out of 50. The biggest drop overall occurred at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, for which the incoming 2017 class will be the last to earn MBAs in the soon-to-be-defunct full-time program. Overall, in the last five years Tippie has fallen .21 points, the biggest drop in the top 50. Last August’s announcement that Tippie’s full-time MBA would be phased out might explain the year-to-year drop from 3.26 in 2016 to 3.22 in 2017, but the biggest decline for the Iowa program came a couple of years ago, when its average GPA score dropped from 3.39 in 2014 to 3.27 in 2015. Which raises the chicken-and-egg question: Did the lower GPAs contribute to the Tippie MBA’s decline, or did the program’s decline turn off the higher-scoring candidates?
Also seeing notable declines: Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business (3.30 in 2013 to 3.20 in 2017) and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, which fell .09 to 3.34.
IN ONE-YEAR SNAPSHOT, A MIXED PICTURE
That’s over five years. What about the changes in the last year alone? For one thing, the two schools leading the “biggest gainers” list below owe most of their progress to what they achieved between 2016 and 2017, with Georgia gaining .16 in that span and USC gaining .11. In all, 23 schools in the top 50 saw year-over-year gains, with other notables including the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business (.12), Emory University’s Goizueta Business School (.10), and Boston College’s Carroll School of Management (.08).
But that means that, subtracting the three schools for which there isn’t enough data to form a picture and the seven schools that stayed even — notably the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (3.60), Northwestern Kellogg (3.60), Columbia Business School (3.50), and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (3.50) — 17 schools saw drops in the last year, and some of them were big drops. Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management fell .17 to 3.22, MSU Broad dropped .10 to 3.20, and MIT Sloan dropped .09 to 3.49. Before this year MIT had been enjoying a .05 rise in its five-year trend.
Overall, then, in the last year the picture is decidedly mixed, with schools that gained gaining an average of .05 and schools that lost losing an average .06.
HAVE A LOW GPA? THERE’S STILL HOPE TO GET INTO YOUR DREAM SCHOOL
A low GPA doesn’t always sink an application. At Chicago Booth this fall, someone with a 2.72 was admitted. As consultant Karen Marks wrote for Poets&Quants in 2016, “Despite what you may have heard, it is absolutely possible to get into a top MBA program with a low GPA,” adding that she has helped many clients succeed despite having shaky undergraduate records. “Just how low were these GPAs? I have helped clients with GPAs as low as 2.4 get full-tuition scholarships to top-10 schools, and clients with sub-2.6 GPAs get into top-five schools with significant funding.”
Betsy Massar of MBA admissions consulting firm Master Admissions, speaking to P&Q last year, added that “A great GPA is not the only thing that admissions officers care about. It’s also the quality of that GPA. A student who has a lower-than-average GPA for a school in a subject like applied math or chemistry is still going to get a good look. Everyone knows not all majors and not all courses are equally difficult. If you have just an average GPA but took courses in really difficult subjects like physics, you shouldn’t worry. It’s really about how much you challenge yourself.
“But it’s not just about grades,” Massar said. “We see people all the time with great grades and scores who are really quite boring. The grades might get you considered, but you have to deliver.”
(See the next pages for the P&Q top 50 schools and their GPAs over the last five years.)