Why A High GMAT Score Won’t Get You Into Harvard

Harvard Business School
Photo by John A. Byrne

If you’re applying to a highly selective MBA program, GMAT and GRE scores are important. Generally speaking, the highest your score, the better your chances.

But at Harvard Business School, MBA admissions chief Chad Losee wants applicants to know that a high score is no guarantee of an admit—and that it makes absolutely no difference to HBS if you submit a GMAT or a GRE score.

In fact, he notes, Harvard is accepting an increasing number of GRE applicants. In the incoming Class of 2020, 14% of students submitted the GRE, up from 12% a year earlier. “We are agnostic about the GMAT or the GRE—really,” he says in a recent blog post. (Really!) Take whichever one suits you best.”

‘ONE OF THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS IS THAT ADMISSIONS DECISIONS ARE BASED ON YOUR GMAT’

Chad Losee, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

As for that 730 median GMAT score for the Class of 2019, a score reached by only 4% of all the test takers in the world, Losee wants applicants to know that it counts—but not nearly as much as many people think.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about applying to HBS is that admissions decisions are based largely on your GMAT or GRE score,” says Losee in an Aug. 6th blog post. “That is not how it works. We consider every element of your application to get to know you as a whole person, and we know that you are more than a standardized test score!”

That’s probably why Harvard’s average GMAT score last year of 729 was behind four other leading rivals: Stanford (737), Northwestern Kellogg (732), Wharton and Chicago Booth (both 730) (see Average GMAT Scores At The Top 50 U.S. Business Schools).

In fact, Losee maintains that some of the biggest student success stories are written by those who were admitted without the highest test scores.“While a higher score will never hurt you, it’s not a guarantee to be admitted either,” he adds.

“And some of the admitted students who have the biggest impact while at HBS and beyond didn’t have the highest test scores. We’re looking to craft a Class of diverse thinkers and leaders who will make a difference in the world, and that goes well beyond a test score. We always keep that in mind as we get to know you through the whole application and make our decisions.”

‘TEST SCORES ARE NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY OTHER ELEMENT IN YOUR APPLICATION’

So if Losee is downplaying the role a test scores has on the school’s decisions to admit, waitlist or deny an applicant why does Harvard require it? “In the case method at HBS, students think on their feet, debate with classmates, and analyze complex situations,” he writes. “The classroom is very engaging and fast-paced, and I think you’ll love it. A standardized test gives us one indication of your verbal and quantitative agility—important for thriving in the HBS MBA program and the case method.”

In the school’s published profile for the Class of 2019, enrolled students scored as low as 580 on the GMAT and as high as 790. The median quant score was a 49, while the median verbal score was 42. The lowest quant in the class was a 35, while the lowest verbal was a 30.

Losee says that to assess “academic readiness, we also look to your transcripts, GPA, letters of recommendation, and the rigor of your work experience. The transcripts should be one of the easiest parts of the application since your undergrad degree is already behind you by the time you apply. We look through your classes, major(s), grades, and your journey through your degree(s).

“Let me just reiterate that test scores and transcripts are two important parts of the application but they are not more important than any other element.”

Testing Profile For Harvard Business School’s Class of 2019

Stats on the GRE and GMAT for Harvard Business School’s Class of 2019

DON’T MISS: READ THREE HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL ESSAYS WRITTEN BY SUCCESSFUL ADMITS or REJECTED BY HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.