NOT ALL THE TOP MBA PROGRAMS COULD DEFY THE PULL OF GRAVITY
Not all schools were able to keep their year-earlier averages in the face of application declines. At Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Management, for example, the class GMAT average fell five points to 706 from a record 711 a year ago. But Rice suffered the largest single percentage decline of any top 25 school this past year, seeing applications for its full-time MBA program shrink by 27.7%, a decline made worse by the effects of Hurricane Harvey which dumped 51 inches of rain on greater Houston in two days. After creeping higher for five consecutive years, from 714 for the entering MBA class in 2013 to 727 last year, the average GMAT score at Yale University’s School of Management slipped three points to 724. It took a 7.6% drop in MBA applications to cause the reversal.
In at least one case, a decline in the average seems deliberate and unrelated to the application falloff. At Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the average fell five points to 732 because the school felt that its industry leading 737 average over the past two years was discouraging talented young people from applying to the school which also has the lowest acceptance rate for any prestige full-time MBA program of 6% (see Stanford Wins Plaudits For A GMAT Slide).
Of course, averages are just that–averages. There are plenty of people who score below a class average number and many that score above it. This year’s entering classes include a student with a 500 GMAT at Wharton, a 530 at Columbia Business School, and a 590 at Northwestern Kellogg. It’s highly unusual for a school to break these numbers out. One exception: Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business which this year reported a GMAT average of 677 for its incoming MBA class, down from 678 a year earlier. Kelley reports that 44% of its newly enrolled MBA students got in with GMATs at 700 or higher, with 46% of the class scoring between 600 and 699, and the final 10% of students with a GMAT score of between 500 and 599 (see below).
WHARTON ADMITTED A 500 GMAT THIS YEAR, HARVARD HAS A STUDENT WHO SCORED A PERFECT 800
Most business schools report middle 80% ranges, preferring that applicants do not see the full range of GMATs they accept. The policy of publishing just middle 80% numbers would tend to discourage applicants who score below the more narrow range of scores a school reports. Still, a good number of schools now report the full range, including Harvard Business School (610 to 800), Wharton (500 to 790), Stanford GSB (600 to 790), Northwestern Kellogg (590 to 790), Chicago Booth (610 to 790), Columbia (530 to 790), Dartmouth Tuck (620 to 780), and NYU Stern (590 to 780).
Fewer schools report GMAT splits. Two notable exceptions: Harvard Business School. Among the 930 students in this year’s incoming class at Harvard, GMAT test takers had a median verbal score of 42 and a median quant score of 49. The full verbal range on the GMAT was 28 to 51, while the quant range was 35 to 51. Dartmouth Tuck, meantime, reports that its average verbal GMAT score is 41, with an average quant of 48 and an integrated reasoning average score of 6.8. The verbal range goes from a low of 31 to a high of 50, while the quant range is 37 to 51.
In the end, some think there is little connection between declining apps and reported class GMAT scores. That’s because the majority of young professionals who have dropped out of the applicant pool aren’t the best candidates. Adds Shrum: “I think a lot of the people who aren’t applying are the marginal people who would only have been so-so candidates, anyway. When the economy tanks, a lot of fence-sitters hurry up and apply. Many of them are not stars, with high strong stats and so on. They’re ‘Plan B’ folks who figure they will give an MBA shot and try to wait out the bad economy in school. The flip side is that the economy is good right now, and many of these fence-sitters are happy where they are, so they’re not applying, and the schools don’t miss them because there are still enough MBA-dreaming Princeton grads with high GMAT scores to choose from.”
How much higher can average GMATs actually go? Min of The MBA Exchange thinks they have pretty much topped out. “Assuming the degree of rigor of the GMAT remains the same, average scores have to flatten over the next few years,” he says. “Test takers can only come so close to a perfect ‘800’ score. To fill their seats, some business schools – even elite programs like Stanford GSB – may start to accept applicants with more modest scores. There’s also a ‘lag factor’ to consider. As applicants have observed the past few years of increasing scores, it may take a few years of reported flat or declining average scores before the applicant universe ‘relaxes’ about GMAT scores and more people get back in the game.”