The I’s have it. International students fare better on the Graduate Management Admission Test — that much we’ve known for a long time — and the latest batch of data from U.S. News & World Report‘s 2021 MBA ranking does nothing to change the narrative. Tucked away in the mountain of numbers attached to each school are breakdowns of average GMAT scores by domestic U.S. test-takers versus international test-takers, and once again in 2019, internationals fare far better, whether you’re looking at the top-ranked schools, the middle tier, or lower down.
There are a handful of notable exceptions — one of which is a top-5 school. But of 44 top-50 schools that reported the pair of GMAT averages to U.S. News this year, 34 have higher international averages, and 25 of those are by double digits. Up and down the ranking, the gaps range from a 2-point international advantage at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (731>729) to 21 points at New York University Stern School of Business (736>715) to 42 points at the No. 48 school, the University of Utah Eccles School of Business (690>648). But Utah’s is not the biggest differential. That distinction goes to the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, No. 46 per U.S. News, which reported a 78-point gap between its domestic average score (625) and its international (703).
Other huge gaps between international and domestic MBA program entrants: 53 points at Indiana University Kelley School of Business (698>645) and 41 points each at Wisconsin School of Business and Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The total average differential in favor of international schools: 20.8 points. It’s a landslide.
MIT: BUCKING THE TREND IN GMAT SCORES
About those exceptions. One stands well above the rest. MIT Sloan School of Management, ranked No. 5 by U.S. News this year (and No. 6 by Poets&Quants), reported a domestic GMAT average of 732, 10 points higher than its foreign average, despite MIT losing application volume in last year’s cycle. Because MIT has the largest international student population by percentage of any top-25 school, 39.8%, it could be posited that the school is simply seen more favorably by high-scoring, highly talented international applicants. But with data from only one year to go by, it’s hard to draw any significant conclusions about MIT’s culture, says Paul Bodine, founder and president of admissions consultancy Admitify.com.
“If you told me that this link between lower international average GMAT and high percentage of international students has been the case at Sloan for the past five years, then maybe I would say that Sloan is more institutionally committed to a diverse class and therefore doesn’t expect its international applicants to ‘incentivize’ it to admit them by posting higher GMAT scores,” Bodine tells Poets&Quants. “Or I might say that Sloan might have a more ‘holistic’ applicant review process where GMAT matters less. But I would not say these things based on only one year’s data.” In other words, it’s something to keep an eye on next year.
Five other schools reported higher domestic than international GMAT averages: Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business, which had the largest domestic advantage at 39 points (679>640), the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, Texas A&M Mays Business School, Boston College Carroll School of Management, and UC-Davis Graduate School of Management. (See page 3 for a compete table of the top-50 schools.) Two other schools, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business and the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, had identical GMAT averages; and seven schools, including five of the M7, did not provide the domestic-international breakdown. The University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam College of Business provided only partial data.
The exceptions are a small minority. The total average U.S. domestic GMAT score at the five schools in the top 10 with enough data to go by: 723.2, more than 5 points lower than internationals’ 728.8. The gap was wider at 20 schools in the top 25, where the average was 702.4 domestic, 713.8 international. And finally, looking at all 44 schools, international wins with an overall average of 693.7 to the domestic average of 677.8. The number of schools with 700+ averages on the domestic side: 13; on the international side: 22.
DECLINING INTERNATIONALS = LOWER AVERAGE GMATS? NOT SO FAST
MIT Sloan leads all top-25 schools in international student percentage, and Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management is the lowest, at 12.9%. Overall in the top 50, Arizona Eller leads all schools with 52.1% foreign MBA students, while Alabama Manderson is last with only 1.9%. (Four schools are in single digits.)
Can a correlation be found between declining international numbers and declining overall GMAT averages? We took a look at the last four years of data and the answer is … Not really. Overall across the top 50 schools, a few cases jump out: Yale SOM shed 3.4 percentage points in international student volume while its GMAT average declined to 721 from 727; both Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management (33% to 29.3%, 700 to 697) and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School (27% to 20.1%, 701 to 697) saw modest impacts, but too many other variables exist to draw direct correlations.
An easier case could be made with one region of the U.S. where we know internationals have been less likely to go for the last few years. In the U.S. South, B-schools have been losing international talent since about 2016; but stacked up beside GMAT scores over that time, no definitive pattern emerges. (See the chart above.) Half of the 10 schools examined by P&Q showed some possible correlation, but likely not a strong one.
Despite international test-takers generally outscoring their domestic U.S. counterparts, “U.S. applicants are still the favored target pool of top schools, so perhaps they feel they have less to prove, need less of an edge, or have less at stake,” Bodine tells Poets&Quants. “Or maybe U.S. culture defines meritocracy in more holistic, well-rounded terms than do other cultures, so U.S. applicants know they will be judged by more than their ‘numbers.’ I don’t think the difference is due to better test-prep resources in non-U.S. locations or to some cultural or ‘racial’ superiority. I think it comes down to motivation, stakes, and sheer numbers.
“I do notice that of the 10 schools that have the highest percentage of international students, most (excepting MIT) are non-top-tier schools and most (excepting MIT, BU, and Washington U) are public universities. Lower-ranked and public schools might be more incentivized to admit applicants who have higher GMAT scores — that is, international applicants — because they know these students will raise the schools’ place in the rankings and they will have to pay higher tuition as non-residents. So admitting internationals for these schools is a double-win no-brainer.”