In 2018, Stanford came back to Earth — in one key metric, at least.
Make no mistake: Stanford Graduate School of Business continues to be the world’s most selective elite B-school, with a single-digit acceptance rate in the fall of 2018 for an incoming cohort that boasted an undergraduate GPA of 3.74. But as gaudy as those and other Stanford numbers are, GSB no longer has the gaudiest — and, some have charged, most discouraging — number in another key data point: average Graduate Management Admission Test score. Last fall, Stanford dropped out of the stratosphere where it had been with a 737 average, losing five points to land at 732 — still the best mark of any school in the world, but one equaled by three of Stanford’s peers.
The five-point drop could be construed as a normal fluctuation; after all, there’s only so much higher average scores can go on a test where a perfect score is 800. Many said as much as Stanford’s score rose dramatically in 2016 and stayed at 737 in 2017, with the closest competitor schools a respective seven and five points behind — remarkable for the upper echelons of graduate business education. But while we know that it’s generally considered a good thing to have a high number in this data point, some see too high a number as a possible deterrence to potential applicants. Stanford’s gatekeepers seem to be sympathetic to this view. Even as she brought her first cohort to Palo Alto last fall Stanford’s Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, bemoaned that the “misconception is that you have to be a unicorn to get in (GSB).”
“Some of our students tell me that they almost did not apply because they did not come from a ‘top’ university, or they were from the ‘wrong’ industry, or their GMAT or GPA was ‘too low,'” Moss told P&Q in September. “This is heartbreaking to me. We are trying to select a class who aspires to our motto of change lives, change organizations, and change the world. From my experience, I am clear that those who will live up to this motto do not come from a limited number of institutions, job roles, or GPAs. We look at what you value, what you aspire to do, how you think, the impact you have had, and the perspective you will bring.”
Maybe it’s no natural fluctuation after all. As Alex Min told P&Q in October, Stanford having a lower average GMAT score sends a clear message to would-be applicants that GSB is not over-indexing GMAT scores in its admissions decisions. “My theory is this is their way of signaling to the applicant universe that no one should be reluctant to apply to Stanford solely because of a modest GMAT score,” said Min, CEO of leading MBA admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange. “This is also exactly what Kirsten said when I got to meet her in the summer of 2017. Using the average score to convey that message is the most credible and convincing way I can think of they might do this.”
IN TOP 10, COLUMBIA SEES BIGGEST INCREASE: 8 POINTS
The difference in a 737 and a 732 average is, practically speaking, academic. The bottom line remains that only the best of the best have a shot at getting into any of these schools, and stellar GMAT scores are just one checked box among many. But Stanford’s five-point drop is significant in at least one big way: Because of it, the three other schools that notched a 732 this year — the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Columbia Business School — all can claim to have the highest GMAT average in the world.
Stanford was one of six schools in the top 25 to see a year-over-year decline in average GMATs in 2018, with 15 schools recording increases (average size: 3.1 points) and three staying even. (Harvard Business School reported only its median score, 730, after posting a mean score of 729 in 2017.) In the top 10, the biggest increases were at Columbia (+8) and MIT (+6, to rise to 728). Widening our view a bit, the GMAT score trend in the upper half of our Top 50 is almost entirely positive over the last five years, with one school — Stanford — remaining even and 23 others recording average GMAT increases. The only top-25 school to see a decline from 2014 to 2018 is NYU’s Stern School of Business, which is down four points (721 to 717) in that span.
The average five-year increase for 24 of the top 25 schools: 7.72. Overall in the top 50, the number of schools with double-digit five-year GMAT average increases is 17. The number of schools with positive trends overall is 38.
FOR BOSTON CARROLL, A WILD THREE YEARS
Then there’s the other side of the ledger. Of 50 reporting schools, 11 have negative trends over the last five years, with the biggest drop coming at the University of Maryland Smith School of Business, which saw a 22-point decline from 662 to 640. Other double-digit declines include 18 points at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School (to 666) and 15 points at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business (to 671). Looking at a two-year window, big declines were seen at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management (10 points to 678) and a trio of schools that lost eight points: BYU Marriott (to 672), SMU Cox (to 653), and Wisconsin (to 670).
Boston College’s Carroll School of Management is a special case. We only have data for Carroll for the last three years, but what three years it has been: BC was at a 667 GMAT average in 2016, then dropped a precipitous 30 points the next year. In 2018, Carroll looks to have arrested its decline, however, remaining at 637; nevertheless, its 30-point drop remains a sore thumb on our Top 50 list while not quite fitting into either two-year or five-year trend lines.
EUROPEAN SCHOOLS LAGGING IN GMATs
And how do European schools compare to their U.S. counterparts when it comes to GMAT scores? Not particularly well. Only two schools — INSEAD in France and London Business School in the UK — are above a 700 average, at 711 and 707, respectively. Meanwhile, more than a dozen U.S. schools have superior averages to those two. Another pair of European schools, Cambridge Judge (693) and HEC Paris (691), have scores approaching 700 but aren’t quite there yet. See page 4 for details.
(See the next pages for a five-year picture of the average GMAT scores for all 50 of the schools in the Poets&Quants top 50, as well as a ranking of European schools’ GMAT averages and a breakdown of which schools are taking high numbers of Graduate Record Exam applicants.)