The lowest possible score on the Graduate Management Admission Test is 200. But if you have a pulse, you’re all but guaranteed to score twice that — even if you have no business applying to business school. In fact, according to GMAC, the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers hundreds of thousands of GMAT tests every year, over the last three years the mean score on the test was 556.04. In 767,833 tests taken between 2015 and 2017, no one scored lower than 220.
If you’re reading this, those numbers are probably no more than amusing trivia, since you’re more likely to be a serious MBA candidate who already has taken the GMAT or studied long and hard to do so. But just for a moment consider what might happen if your GMAT score didn’t live up to expectations: What if you bombed it? Are your dreams of attending a top business school dashed if you score near, or below, the average?
The answer is a qualified no. Because while things will be much harder for you — and you will have to step up your application in various other ways to overcome your low GMAT — it can be done. Just witness some of the scores at the top 25 B-schools in the United States: According to a Poets&Quants analysis, 12 of the top 25 schools admitted someone with a GMAT score in the 500s, including four of the top 10 schools. At four schools in the top 25, the lowest GMAT score that earned admission was lower than GMAC’s three-year average of 556.
In fact, of the 21 schools that provided P&Q the full range of GMAT scores for enrollees in the Class of 2019 (the other four schools provided only the middle 80% range), 14 had low-end scores of 600 or less. That includes the elite of the elite: the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (530), Harvard Business School (580), Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management (600), MIT Sloan School of Management (580), and Columbia Business School (530). The average low score for the 21 schools: 585.7. The average low for the top 10 (all of which provided full-range data): 595.
ONE SCHOOL TAKES IN A STUDENT WHO SCORED 510
And the lowest GMAT score that earned someone a ticket to business school at a top-25 institution? A 510 at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. That’s the sort of score — landing in just the 31st percentile of all tallies, according to GMAC — that means the candidate must have had some amazing attributes that admissions folks at Duke found super compelling.
As one Duke communications person put it to P&Q — in a sentiment echoed by admissions directors at multiple schools — “our admissions team has long had a commitment to looking at a candidate holistically, beyond a test score alone.” Russ Morgan, senior associate dean for full-time programs at Duke Fuqua, explains that the school approaches test scores as just one element in a person’s overall candidacy. Another, he says, is the school’s “25 Random Things” essay question that asks applicants to share a list of personal facts.
“Test scores are important but they are only one slice of the pie in the Fuqua admissions process,” Morgan says. “We are much more interested in if a candidate is going to be a fit for Fuqua, and specifically the ‘Team Fuqua’ way of working: an approach to leadership that values differences and seeks to pull out the strengths of others to achieve a common goal.
“Because of that, we really try to get to know our candidates on a deep level. That’s part of what’s behind the ‘25 Random Things’ essay. Those random facts tell us a lot about the character of a person, what he or she values, and their motivations for pursuing a business degree. Ultimately, our admissions team is most interested in if a candidate’s passions and purpose align with our leadership philosophy and approach. We feel that’s a much stronger predictor of a student’s success at Fuqua and beyond than a test score alone.
“That said, high test scores never hurt.”
EVEN AS SOME SCHOOLS ACCEPT LOW SCORES, AVERAGES EVERYWHERE RISE
In the fall 2017 intake, three schools in the top 25 admitted applicants with low scores of 530 — the Wharton School, Columbia, and Indiana University Kelley School of Business. According to GMAC, that’s only the 34th percentile of all test takers in the last three years. Another six schools said yes to applicants with scores of 580 (HBS, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern School of Business) or 590 (Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business). That’s the 51st and 54th percentiles, respectively. Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business admitted a 570 (48th percentile), and another top-25 school, Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, admitted someone with a 560 (44th percentile).
But low scores and percentiles are only part of the story. The high scores in each school’s range continue to be 780-790 for all of the top 10 schools and 17 of the 21 that provided the data to Poets&Quants. And even as many schools make exceptions at the low end for outstanding candidates, average GMAT scores continue to climb, led by Stanford Graduate School of Business’ remarkable 737. The top 19 schools in the P&Q ranking saw improvement in their scores year-over-year or no change between 2016 and 2017; you have to go all the way down to Emory University’s Goizueta Business School at No. 20 to find a backslide, in this case a 1-point drop from 683 to 682. Only one other school had a decrease in its mean GMAT score: No. 24 Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business, which saw a 9-point decline to 674 from 683. Six schools, including pace-setter Stanford, saw no change; the average increase at the 17 others was 4.88 points (heavily weighed by a 21-point jump to 711 at Rice Jones).
Not all schools are forthcoming about their GMAT scores; some schools don’t like to provide averages, preferring instead to publish median scores. The reason: Some schools believe that an average number makes applicants more anxious and concerned about the GMAT. “Somehow, the average is much more of a red flag in people’s psyche’s than a median (below average, above average are part of everyday language),” one school official told Poets&Quants. “This gives applicants a sense of the range of scores, rather than lead them to focus on one number that hangs over them like the proverbial sword of Damocles.” Another solution is to publish the full range of scores, but as we have seen, some schools are reluctant to do that, too.
THE NON-U.S. GMAT PICTURE: SAME BUT DIFFERENT
And what about non-U.S. schools? In average GMAT scores, it’s a mixed bag: Looking at six schools, we see two with a decline in scores (London Business School, Oxford Said) and four with an increase (INSEAD, HEC Paris, Cambridge Judge, Toronto Rotman).
As far as minimum scores, it looks like you need a 600 on the GMAT to get into a European B-school (though Cambridge does not make available their range, even the middle 80%), but Toronto Rotman last fall took in someone with a 500 score — more than 50 points below the average for all takers in the last three years.
(See the next page for a full list of the top 25 U.S. schools and their GMAT score ranges, score averages, and year-over-year changes in mean scores.)