When you decide to pursue an MBA degree, you are also deciding to prepare for and take a standardized test (GMAT or GRE). This may be your first test in some time. Combine this with performance pressure and the high expectations from yourself and others and you have a recipe for anxiety.
Years ago, business schools started accepting the GRE in addition to the longtime business school standard test, the GMAT. While this optionality can be positive, having a choice can also lead to additional questions and/or anxiety.
So what is an MBA applicant to do?
Goizueta Business School and the vast majority of business schools accept both the GMAT test and GRE test and have no preference for which test you submit. You may wonder if that is just what schools say while something else goes on behind closed doors. My experience at two, top-20 ranked business schools and conversations with many colleagues at other schools says that is not true. It really does not matter to MBA admissions directors which test you take. Business schools do not have a GMAT or GRE preference and consider your test performance along with other materials such as transcripts to assess if you will be successful in the classroom.
Every school is looking for academically well-rounded students, but success in an MBA program also requires a level of quantitative skill not all undergraduate majors or disciplines require. Standardized tests provide a way for schools to collect information about your academic readiness, especially in the quantitative area. Of course, a significantly low verbal score will also raise a flag to an MBA admissions committee.
Again, well-rounded, academic readiness is what we are looking for.
Since schools do not have a GMAT or GRE preference, it is in your best interest to take the test on which you will perform best. A quick Google search will yield tips on figuring out which test suits you.
If you aren’t sure if an MBA degree or a different type of graduate program is right for you, the GRE might be a better bet. It is accepted at a wider variety of graduate programs. If you know an MBA program is in your future and you have a group of friends or co-workers also planning to apply, you might lean toward the GMAT and leverage group study and/or tutoring each other to stay accountable and improve your performance.
Whether you choose the GMAT or GRE, take some time to get acquainted with the test. Plan to study on your own and consider some kind of test prep or tutoring. Practice tests are helpful to get a feel for the questions and style, but do not be surprised if your score varies from how you do on the practice exams. And don’t let a low score derail you. If you believe you can do better, prepare some more and take it again.
Business schools love perseverance.
If you sit for the GMAT or GRE a few times and don’t see improvement, you may need to accept your score and focus on the other application materials. My advice to someone with a low score is to be so strong in the other aspects of the application that I forget the low score. Remember, it is a holistic process. I’ve denied perfect scores and admitted sub-600 scores. No matter your GMAT or GRE score, the rest of your MBA application is just as important.
Melissa Rapp is the Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. In this role, she leads the team responsible for the recruitment, evaluation, and matriculation of students across Goizueta’s portfolio of MBA programs. Melissa has worked at both small and large institutions helping to form and implement admissions strategies. Most recently, she was Director of Admissions for Full-Time MBA and MSMS programs at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and a masters from Baker University.