From On-Campus To Online, Big MBA Admissions Differences

GMAT scores showed a huge drop-off from full-time to online programs. Looking at the top 10 ranked schools, the average GMAT score is 605; looking at their counterparts, whether full- or part-time, the average is 645 — a 40-point difference. Remove the three top-10 schools with anomalous data — part-time program Michigan-Dearborn, North Dakota which actually saw a one-point drop in its FT GMAT average, and Lehigh which had no FT data — and the gap is even starker, a 58.7-point superiority in FT GMAT averages.

The biggest gaps were reported at Florida Hough (588 online, 682 full-time, 94-point difference) and Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business (591 online, 682 full-time, 91-point difference). While North Dakota was the only school with a full-time MBA program to see its average GMAT (580) come up short against its online MBA counterpart (581), other schools also had tiny differences in scores: Drexel LeBow (567-570, 3 points) and Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business (577-584, 7 points). Three of the four schools with only part-time MBA programs had better GMAT averages in their online programs: Michigan Dearborn (589-570, 19 points), Nebraska-Lincoln (603-593, 10 points), and, most notably, Georgia Southern (535-451, 84 points).

The differences were not as stark in average GPA scores between online and full-time programs. Seventeen of 25 schools reported increases, many very slight, in their FT GPAs over their online counterparts. The biggest of these was 0.31 at two schools: North Dakota (3.30 online, 3.61 FT), where, you may recall, there are nine students in the full-time program; and Arizona State Carey (3.20 online, 3.51 FT).


Certainly, the GMAT drop-off gets more attention. But while it is large, it is not unexpected, and not only because professionals with more work experience — the chief target of online MBA programs — have been away from the classroom longer and thus are unused to the rigors of B-school study. There’s more to it than that, Ash Soni tells P&Q.

“We don’t ask these students how much time they spent studying for the GMAT,” he says. “But it’s quite possible that to them, the work experience, the professional development, all the other things that they’re looking for, are much more important. From our point of view, that’s what’s happening — but there’s another explanation. When you look at the full-time students, generally they don’t go through the same level of experience interacting with the school. They know they want to do an MBA, they know they want to do it in finance or marketing, and there are a bunch of schools out there that can give them what they’re looking for, so they tend to apply to a lot more schools. A possible explanation is, these students want to get their test scores as high as possible.

“Other things become a lot more important for online applicants: Can these schools deliver the professional experience I’m looking for? Or, can they deliver the content that I’m looking for? What experiences can I get from the program? So the focus of the GMAT becomes a little less.”


UNC’s Sridhar Balasubramanian. UNC photo

In a letter to students and alumni after the publication of Poets&Quants‘ 2018 ranking of online MBA programs, UNC Senior Associate Dean for MBA Programs Sridhar Balasubramanian took umbrage with the MBA@UNC’s placement, 20th out of 25 ranked schools, noting that the reason 86% of its latest incoming class of online students got into the school without either a GMAT or a GRE test score is because they have double the work experience of students in Kenan-Flagler’s on-campus MBA offering. “Poets&Quants seems to have ignored this diversity in our student body and assumed that all students are — or should be — comparable to Residential students,” Balasubramanian wrote. “Just as a point of comparison, our MBA@UNC students currently have, on average, double the work experience of the students in the residential program.”

The UNC dean also said that the school’s own analysis showed that a GMAT exam is “a poor predictor of performance” for admits with more work experience. “Our research on our admissions and student performance data indicates that the GMAT is a poor predictor of performance for students with significant work experience; thus, we tend to waive the GMAT for those students and evaluate those applications based more heavily on their work experience,” Balasubramanian wrote.

What he did not note, however, was that the average age of UNC’s online students is not appreciably older than many rival programs that have far more stringent admissions standards that rarely if ever waive a standardized test. The latest crop of online students at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, for example, have an average age of 31, compared to UNC’s 33, yet 86% of Kelley’s online students submitted either a GMAT or GRE score for admission. Of the top 10 online MBA programs in U.S. News’ 2018 ranking, only UNC and Maryland report fewer than half the incoming students without standardized test scores.

See next page for acceptance rate, GMAT, and GPA data for the online and residential programs at the 25 schools ranked in the P&Q 2018 online MBA ranking.