The average GMAT score of an entering class of MBA students is typically considered one of the most valuable metrics available that measures the quality of the raw talent coming into a business school. Yet, year after year, even as the European schools have become more viable rivals to their U.S. counterparts, the best European MBA programs significantly trail the best U.S. offerings on GMAT and GRE scores.
The U.S. now boasts 18 full-time MBA programs with average GMATs above 700. Europe has only two: INSEAD at 711 and London Business School at 707. In fact, there are 14 U.S. MBA programs with average GMAT scores above INSEAD’s latest average. Even more surprisingly, perhaps, is that the average GMAT for the entire MBA applicant pool at Columbia Business School this past year was 713, two points higher than the average for INSEAD’s enrolled class of MBAs.
That disparity is not an anomaly. If you take a simple average of the top five schools in Europe versus the U.S., the difference in GMATs is dramatic: 732 for the U.S. versus 698 in Europe. That 34-point gap is the difference between scoring in the 96th percentile on the test (meaning the top 4% of the world’s test takers) vs. the 88th percentile.
EUROPEANS ON AVERAGE DO BETTER ON THE GMAT TEST THAN AMERICANS
Why do the best European business schools consistently have average GMAT scores below their U.S. counterparts? It’s not because Europeans–who largely make up the bulk of students in European schools–score less on the test. In fact, the average GMAT score for test takers in Western Europe is 18 points higher than for those who sit for the exam in the U.S., 571 versus 553. Test takers in Eastern Europe also do better than Americans, scoring an average 567 on the test.
While admission officers put significant emphasis on standardized test scores in their admit decisions, there is still much controversy over the tests which are only meant to give a school confidence that an applicant can complete the core MBA curriculum without difficulty. Some critics, particularly of the U.S. schools, complain that MBA admission directors are giving GMAT scores too much weight in admission decisions, largely because of the U.S. News’ ranking that uses scores as a key part of its ranking methodology.
In Europe, schools have faced less rankings pressure to over index standardized test scores in mission decisions. The Financial Times ranking, the most influential list of the best MBA programs in Europe, does not even include GMAT or GRE scores among the 20 different metrics it uses to crank out its annual ranking. The Economist puts an inconsequential 3.1% weight on GMAT scores, less than a fifth of the 16.25% weight assigned to standardized test scores in U.S. News‘ annual list of the best U.S. MBA options, the most influential ranking in the U.S.
ONE TAKEAWAY: STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES ARE LESS IMPORTANT IN EUROPE
Eager to climb the U.S. News‘ list, schools in the U.S. are spending tens of millions of dollars annually in scholarship support to effectively buy higher GMAT scores. Just this week, for example, the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah even spelled out in detail the estimated scholarships available to MBA applicants based on their GMAT scores. The school–with an average class GMAT of 659, a number that exceeds the average at eight of Europe’s top 20 business schools–noted that a GMAT score of 710 could earn successful applicants a $61,000 scholarship plus a living stipend. For a 620 score, the scholarship would be $20,0000; for 650, $40,000; and for 670, $50,000. With significantly lower endowments and less access to major fundraising, European schools are at a disadvantage in the GMAT race, and the FT ranking metrics allow MBA programs in Europe to sit out the arm’s race toward higher scores.
While standardized test scores are only one of many admission metrics, research has shown that the single most important measure in MBA admission decisions is a test score, accounting for an estimated 16% of the decision versus 10% for undergraduate grades (see How Important Is Each Part Of Your MBA Application). Those are rough estimates, of course, from a wide sample of MBA admission consultants, and they vary by applicant.
One unmistakable takeaway? European business schools put less significance on standardized test scores than U.S. schools. So if you’re an applicant scoring below 700 on the GMAT, your chances of getting into a highly ranked European school seem much better than a U.S. MBA program of equivalent standing.