The Graduate Management Admission Test remains the big dog when it comes to getting into the leading business schools. In the long term, even coronavirus is unlikely to change that. But a growing statistical mountain proves that the Graduate Record Exam is no longer the unloved step-child of business school admissions tests. According to data compiled by Poets&Quants, over the past five years the percentage of entrants submitting GRE scores has climbed at 42 of the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the United States.
Add to that the fact that Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, recently announced an at-home version of the exam, and it’s hard to escape the conclusions of admissions officials and consultants that the doors to graduate business education are wide open for those who wish to eschew the GMAT altogether or take and submit scores from both tests.
“We are seeing a higher percentage of our clients opting to take the GRE over the GMAT than in the past,” says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange and a 2007 MIT Sloan MBA. “Since ETS redesigned the GRE almost a decade ago — including a change in its scoring scale — more business schools began accepting GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT. Many business school applicants perceive the GRE as less intimidating than the GMAT, especially the Quant component.
“So, it makes sense some applicants opt out of the GMAT and take the GRE instead.”
STANFORD AGAIN LEADS THE WAY, BUT THE STORY IS IN THE GRE’S WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE
The GRE has three scored sections: a Verbal Reasoning score reported on a 130-170 score scale; a Quantitative Reasoning score, also reported on a 130-170 scale, and an Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 scale. A Poets&Quants analysis of the GRE averages at the top 50 business schools in the U.S. shows that in 2019, Stanford Graduate School of Business was once again the leader of the pack, reporting a total score of 330 from an average Quant and Verbal scores of 165 each. Stanford, which has led or tied for the lead in each of the past four years, was the only school to record a 165 average in the Quant section this year and one of only two schools, along with Yale School of Management, to notch a Verbal 165.
Stanford also had one of the highest Writing scores: 4.9. Yale SOM likewise reported a 4.9, but both schools were eclipsed by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, which reported a 5.0.
In total score, after Stanford and Yale (329 total) came Harvard Business School and UCLA Anderson School of Management, both at 326, followed by three schools at 324: The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business. Altogether, only 18 of the top 50 schools saw score improvements or stayed even over the last four years, a reflection of the reality of having more scores added to the pool, while 21 schools saw declines. The biggest decline was a 7-point drop at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, to 317, and the biggest jump was UCLA Anderson’s 6-point climb from 320 in 2016.
But a much bigger story is how many schools have seen growth in the percentage of applicants who submit GRE scores. In P&Q‘s top 25 alone, of the 21 schools for which we have enough historical data to determine a trend, the average gain in percentage of program entrants who submitted GRE scores is 13.5 points. Last year when we wrote this story, six schools were at 40% or more, including two — Washington Olin and Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam — at 50%. This year there are nine schools above 40%, including two above 60%: Tennessee Haslam leads all schools at 67%, and Texas-Dallas Jindal jumped 22 points in one year to land at 62%.
Among the other schools with big jumps: UNC Kenan-Flagler, which grew its GRE population from 30% to 48%; and Florida Warrington, which more than doubled its GRE submissions, from 24% to 50%. Though only three schools in 50 have seen declines in the last five years, in the last two cycles one school saw a major drop-off: Michigan State Broad went from 29% last year to 14%. But that is still double where the Broad College was in 2015.
“There’s now enough data since schools started accepting the GRE so that admissions offices are truly agnostic about which test you should take,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “Almost every prep company now offers good GRE prep. Both the GRE and GMAT are standardized tests appealing to different brain abilities, and applicants like having a choice between which one shows their strengths better. Additionally, the trend for joint degrees, such as an MBA with an engineering degree, is up, and that tilts the scale toward the GRE.
“I don’t think this dooms the GMAT at all. Last time I checked, competition created better products for consumers, which includes schools and applicants, so it should be a win for everyone — except GMAT’s monopoly power.”
‘BOTH BENEFICIAL TO THE CANDIDATE & THE SCHOOLS’
At Wharton, the GRE has been welcomed with open arms. Fifteen percent of the school’s latest class that began its studies in the fall of 2019 recorded an average GRE score of 324, up 4 points in three years. The number of GRE submitters has more than doubled in 5 years at Wharton, says Blair Mannix, director of admissions for the Wharton MBA program.
“We are really proud at Wharton of the growth in the diversity of applicants over the past five years, and with that we have seen changes in what tests candidates take as part of their application process,” she tells P&Q. “As we see the population of those considering and applying to MBA programs expand and change over time, the increase in the use of the GRE has grown with it.
“We at Wharton are happy to accept and evaluate the results of both the GRE or GMAT. My advice to applicants is take the test that plays to and best showcases your strengths — and see that as both beneficial to the candidate and the schools.”
At Florida, the Warrington College of Business has only been accepting GRE scores for about five years, yet the school’s fall 2019 intake was comprised of 50% GRE submitters, up from only 17% in 2015. Moreover, the school has seen its score rise to a 316 average, up 6 points in just one year. John Gresley, assistant dean and director of the University of Florida MBA, calls it “a big pop in a short timeline. We realized in looking at the data many of our peers had started gradually increasing their percentage of GRE submissions. We did that in years one and two and then the combination of positive trajectory and increased applications gave us one of the strongest pools we’ve probably ever had last year.
“We had a lot of applicants that came from non-traditional business roles and majors as well, so they had been considering other graduate programs and the GRE was more versatile. This strong, diverse pool showed gains in nearly every dimension: GPA, GMAT average, GRE average, percentage of females, and percentage of under-represented population. So all in all we’re thrilled with where we’re at.”
Early returns in Florida for the incoming fall 2020 class suggest a regression toward a mean of closer to 2:1 GMAT to GRE ratio, Gresley says. “But who knows? We are, after all, only two-thirds of the way through.”
The University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business is in a similar place. Last year the college’s incoming class was comprised of 24% of students who submitted GRE scores, up 15% in five years, and Tim Bohling, chief marketing officer and teaching professor of marketing, says the GRE is playing a big role as this year’s application season, too (the effect that the coronavirus pandemic will have on deadline extensions is still unknown).
“Our current enrollment cycle continues to see the important role the GRE is playing,” Bohling says. “From a submitted application perspective, 35% of applicants thus far this cycle have submitted their GRE scores. We’ll have a good feel for the percentage of admitted students that submitted GRE scores soon as we are working through the latest round of application decisions.”
DOUBTS ABOUT THE GRE HAVE ALL BUT EVAPORATED
The main reason for the rising acceptance of GRE scores in admissions is business schools’ desire for “the broadest, most varied classes possible,” says Paul Bodine, founder and president of consultancy Admitify. Schools want this for both economic and diversity reasons, he says, and the GRE helps them get closer to that goal.
“The GRE was originally accepted in order to attract non-trad applicants (‘Poets’) but Admitify is seeing an increasing number of applicants who are traditional applicants but submit GRE scores to try to increase their odds of admission — because they believe they can achieve higher subscore percentiles in the GRE versus the GMAT,” Bodine tells P&Q. “Some will say that the schools’ embrace of GRE — which is generally seen as being harder on the Verbal side but easier on the Quant side — reflects a ‘dumbing-down’ of MBA classes, at least in quant skills, in order to promote diversity. If you use ETS’s GRE-to-GMAT conversion tool, HBS’s most recent class had a lower overall median GRE score than its median GMAT score — a 690 median converted GRE score versus a 730 median GMAT score. However, if you look at the subscores of HBS’s most recent class, you see that while the median GRE Verbal score in percentile terms is roughly the same as the median GMAT Verbal score (93% and 94%, respectively), the median GRE Quant score is actually higher in percentile terms (82%) than the median GMAT Quant score (67%). So clearly, HBS is evaluating/weighing its GRE applicants carefully to ensure their entering class is ready academically.
“And no doubt HBS and other business schools have the internal data to put to bed any doubts they once may have had that the GRE is less predictive of students’ success. The broader the universe of potential applicants the business schools can draw their classes from, the better hedge they have in preserving the MBA degree’s viability.
“This is part of a larger trend in admissions generally: just as more and more undergrad colleges are more comfortable making admissions decisions without test scores, more and more business schools are embracing alternative ways (e.g., Yale SOM’s behavioral assessment) to evaluate applicants. As for the GMAT, it has had its monopoly power weakened by the GRE and that’s probably a good thing, but I don’t see it losing its market share much below 50% because there will always be applicants who want a standardized test where their quant skills will shine more brightly than their verbal skills.”
As popular as the GRE has become, it’s not for everyone, Min says.
“For certain industries — such as management consulting — there is a perception that GMAT scores are preferred,” he tells Poets&Quants. “So, for savvy applicants, the choice of which exam to take extends beyond just the business school application process. The flip side is that the GRE is accepted for applications to many other graduate programs beyond just business schools — so for applicants considering other graduate programs in addition to MBA programs, the GRE may make more sense.
“One thing is for certain: GMAC certainly no longer has a lock on test scores that business school adcoms consider useful in ascertaining applicant candidacies.”
See the next page for percentages of admits submitting GRE scores at each school, and pages 3 and 4 for a breakdown of score averages and comparison with data from the previous three years.
DON’T MISS OUR REPORTING ON THE 2021 U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT RANKING OF MBA PROGRAMS
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.