If the GMAT is just not your thing — as in your score is 30 or more points below the average GMAT for your desired MBA program — is there ANY hope of being accepted with a low GMAT score? It makes you an expensive admit because if you have a 600 GMAT and the average is 700, a program must admit 1 student with an 800 or 2 students with 750 scores to keep their average.
Here are six ways to overcome a low GMAT score and still be successful in applying to business school:
1. Low GMAT, Hello GRE
When the GMAT door won’t open for you, try another door. MBA programs started to accept the GRE as a way to diversify the pool of potential applicants, but an emerging off-label use is that the GRE provides another testing option for people who can’t beat the GMAT. And with fewer people taking the GRE, the GRE scores seem to get a little less scrutiny in terms of the MBA ratings process. Using information published by Poets & Quants, one trend I have noticed is that the average GRE score for a school seems to be lower than its stated GMAT equivalent. Michigan Ross’s website notes for the class of 2019 an average GMAT score of 716 and an average GRE of 160 Verbal and 160 Quantitative, which using this conversion tool equates to a 640 GMAT. If your best GMAT score is 640, consider submitting a GRE score instead.
2. Show Your Quant Skills in Other Ways
The reason admissions officers scrutinize your GMAT score is that they need to know you can handle the quantitative rigor of an MBA program. Enrolling in a program like MBA Math provides some objective proof that you have mastered the core quantitative concepts needed for success in an MBA program. If you have a high undergraduate GPA and have excelled in quantitative courses such as microeconomics, statistics, calculus or financial accounting, this can mitigate the impact of a lower score on the quantitative section. If you have not enrolled in any of these courses yet, consider taking some from an accredited institution and ideally get an “A.” Then in an optional essay you can highlight these areas that show you are ready for the quantitative work in the MBA program. Additionally, ask your recommenders to highlight specific examples of your quantitative prowess in their recommendation letters.
3. Round Out Your Application
MBA programs review many data points in making admissions decisions beyond the GMAT, so other areas of your application can help you overcome a low GMAT score. If you have good grades (GPA is considerably over a program’s average GPA), this can help. Have recommendations that call you out as a ‘best in career’ candidate. Impress admissions officers with your exceptional work experience and logical and attainable MBA goals. Write compelling essays that connect your background and goals to the resources offered by each program.
4. Consider Other Programs
There are some excellent MBA programs that offer alternatives to standardized test scores. If you have passed all three levels of the CFA exam, the Rotman School at the University of Toronto will waive the need for a GRE or GMAT. Michigan State’s Broad MBA program recently announced a trial where they will not require a GMAT score for selected applicants for the next three years. Alternatively, there are several online, part-time and executive MBA programs that waive GMAT requirements based on the quality of your work experience. Most part-time and executive education MBA programs also have lower average GMAT scores since they are not as concerned with rankings, so if you can’t improve your score after retaking the test, consider these alternatives.
5. Build Deep Relationships with the Program
Set yourself apart by showing lots of love to your target MBA program. Visit the campus, connect with club leaders, get to know the admissions staff by attending multiple events both on and off campus. Reach out to alumni. If you have a champion in MBA admissions who loves your overall profile, it can make it easier for just one element such as the GMAT score to be given a little less weight.
6. Retake the GMAT
This last piece of advice could be the simplest. Dust off those practice tests, join online communities like GMAT Club and BeatTheGMAT, seek additional coaching and consider retaking the GMAT. In the same way that admissions consulting firms can help you clarify your goals, GMAT coaching can help you focus your practice on the areas where you need the most help. Admissions officers pay particular attention to the quantitative section as one way to assess your ability to handle the curriculum. Many international students find the verbal section to be more challenging. I have seen many applicants make significant improvements in both areas of their GMAT score after further practice so don’t give up after just one or two attempts. With a little extra effort, you may still find yourself with a GMAT score that helps you get accepted at Harvard Business School!
Donna is a Senior Admissions Counselor with Stratus Admissions Counseling. Her background includes 15 years working in MBA Admissions at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Her clients have received scholarship offers totaling over $750,000. Donna has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and an undergraduate business degree with honors from UNC Kenan-Flagler.