That pesky GMAT. The Graduate Management Admission Test may be one of the prime gateways to admission to an elite MBA program, but that doesn’t mean prospective B-school applicants are always happy about it. Though the test itself only takes about three hours, preparation can take weeks or even months as would-be applicants strive for a score that gives extra shine to their applications. To get into a top full-time MBA program, it’s generally accepted that a minimum score of 750 is a must.
Not so for online MBA programs. The highest average GMAT score among the 35 online MBAs in Poets&Quants‘ 2020 ranking is 670 for those enrolled in the MBA@UNC at the Kenan-Flagler Business School; the top-ranked online MBA at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business is next at 669. But here’s the rub: Not everyone needs to take the test, even at the schools that say they require it.
More and more schools are outright removing the GMAT from their application process; most schools, like UNC, offer a waiver for either the GMAT or Graduate Record Exam for applicants with the right amount of experience (some schools also require applicants to hold certain degrees or meet other prerequisites). The “right amount” of experience varies widely from school to school, and can be as little as one year — effectively making the test optional — or as many as six, as at UNC. But judging from the low percentages of GMAT submissions among P&Q‘s ranked schools, it’s not hard to meet waiver requirements. Only about 6% of the most recent intake at the MBA@UNC submitted GMAT scores, for example — though it’s a far different story at UNC’s closest rival at the top of our ranking, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, where 83% of admits to the online MBA submitted GMATs.
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Besides the programs that offer GMAT waivers of some kind or other, some schools eschew the test altogether. One, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, declines to require the GMAT for its iMBA because the majority of applicants are older, in their mid- to late-30s, with 12 years or more of experience — and measuring their aptitude for B-school with a written exam is basically impossible. Or to paraphrase the view of the school’s dean, a fool’s errand.
UIUC’s Gies College of Business choosing to drop the GMAT for its online MBA program is a game-changer. The school’s iMBA is changing the face of graduate business education as you read this, having grown from about a hundred students to more than 2,600 in four short years by charging only $22,000 in a space where $40K, $50K, even $100K is not unheard of. A sleek, top-quality program for a very low cost that also doesn’t make you go through the pain (and cost) of a standardized test? The appeal is obvious.
Illinois Gies Dean Jeffrey Brown told P&Q this fall that there are better ways to determine the readiness of an applicant to the iMBA. “If you’re on the young side of our application pool, and you don’t have as much work experience as our typical student who has lots of years of experience, taking the GMAT does provide us some information,” he says. “But if you’ve been out for 10 years and you’re a successful mid-level or senior-level executive at a Fortune 500 company, or you’ve been a successful entrepreneur, or you have a law degree in a successful law practice, we’re really not going to learn anything from a GMAT test other than the fact that you took the GMAT.
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“We’ve seen from your professional success that you have what it takes. We just really think the additional information value we get out of a standardized test at that point in somebody’s career is very limited.”
Bottom line, Brown says: “If you did well on a standardized test, you can send it in, and it will help your application, but we don’t want that to be a barrier.”
See our chart below of top programs that, like Illinois Gies, either offer a GMAT/GRE waiver (those with an asterisk) or simply don’t require applicants to submit a score. Note that all but two of them accept more than 50% of applicants. Schools that waive the GMAT for their own undergraduates or other already-enrolled students, such as UMass-Lowell’s Manning School of Business, are not included. Read more about them here.
And read in-depth profiles of all the schools (and much more, including schools that only recently got in the online MBA game like the University of Michigan and UC-Davis) at our Online MBA Hub.