Every year, an unknown number of potential MBA students decide not to apply for business school because they either don’t have enough time to prep and take a GMAT or GRE exam or they simply don’t test well on a standardized exam. Now Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business says it will review and accept “a select number of candidates” for its full-time MBA program without a test score in a new pilot initiative.
Broad’s decision comes at a time when an increasing number of admission officials believe that too much emphasis is being placed on the GMAT test. Scott Beardsley, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, believes that schools are “over-indexing” on standardized test scores in MBA admissions. And the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management has done a study which shows that high GMAT scores have virtually no correlation with a MBA student’s ability to land a job.
The decision by Michigan State to forgo the GMAT and GRE for some students in what would be their Class of 2021 was made after an analysis of the outcomes of admitted MBA students with scores that were lower than the school’s average GMAT. “We noticed that students who came in with lower than our average GMAT score did extremely well in the program and went on to get some of the highest paying jobs in the class,” says Paul North, director of MBA admissions and marketing for Broad. That gave us assurance that they would be good admits without a GMAT test at all.”
OPENING THE DOOR TO STUDENTS APPREHENSIVE ABOUT TAKING A STANDARDIZED TESTWith domestic test takers down for several years, North and his team believed the time was right to try a different approach. That is why the pilot is directed at domestic applicants with what Broad is calling “progressive professional experience,” or work experience that shows a candidate has had increasing responsibility and or promotions at work.
“We talk to a few of these candidates every year but are apprehensive about taking a standardized test,” adds North. “Some of them do not have the time to take a standardized test or are just bad test takers. We are trying to figure out if there is a group of candidates who are on the cusp but would make great students.”
Applicants who want to take advantage of the new admissions policy will have to meet certain other criteria, including a recommendation from a direct supervisor, an additional interview with Broad’s career management team, and–for admitted students–the successful completion of three non-credit online courses in business statistics, finance and accounting.
BROAD HAS INCREASED ITS AVERAGE CLASS GMAT SCORE TO 674 FROM 638 IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS
“We want to insure that they can cope with the rigors of the program so we definitely have to check the box on that,” says North. “If they are able to do these three required courses to prove they can handle the quant work, they shouldn’t have any problem in the program. The second piece is we really want to know if these candidates are genuine so we would require that they are nominated by their supervisor. We want people who have moved up the ladder. It doesn’t have to show up as a promotion per se. It can be greater responsibility.”
North says he agrees with Darden Dean Beardsley and other deans who think too much emphasis is being placed on GMAT scores, even though Broad has significantly upped its average GMAT scores. “We moved our GMAT up from a 638 to a 674 in the past five years,” he says. “We have seen the GMAT score go up and down and there is no correlation between the GMAT score and the employability of the students.”
Employability is key. “To provide employers with the type of candidates they are seeking, we need to think outside the box and look at more than test scores to admit the right applicants,” says Marla Feldman McGraw, director of career management and employer relations. “These employers don’t necessarily want a team of people who know how to take a test. They want broad skills, talents, and backgrounds, and employees who are able to adjust and think quickly.”
‘I SEE ROCK STARS IN THE BOTTOM OF THE GMAT RANGE’
The pilot also isn’t being done to boost enrollment. “We could still go after a higher score but as a program I don’t think we are doing the right thing by closing the door on high-caliber candidates because they are not good at testing. And we see that over and over again. I still see rock stars in the bottom of the GMAT range as well as at the top range. There is no hard fast rule that if you have a 780 you are going to be a rock star in the classroom and in the job market. I am really happy I can say yes and bring in some top talent without having to worry about how it will affect the average gmat score and our U.S. News MBA ranking.”
Broad’s full-time MBA program is a small one, with an incoming class size last year of just 74 students, though Broad has a capacity of 96. “We are not just opening up the gates to anyone who wants to get into an MBA program,” insists North. “We’re opening the door to candidates who we know will be successful in their job search. We would like to see some really good quality but we haven’t put a number on it yet. “If I can bring in five additional rock stars, this is good for us and for employers as well.”
The Broad pilot will run for at least three admissions cycles.