More Business Schools Going Test Optional This Year

An MBA student at Michigan State’s Broad College of Business. Broad now has a pilot program to waive GMAT and GRE scores for its full-time MBA program.

With the coronavirus pandemic surging in the U.S., more business schools are moving to test-optional admissions policies for their MBA programs this year. The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business, Babson College, Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, and UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business are now giving MBA applicants the opportunity to waive the GMAT or GRE in applying to their schools this year.

They join a sizable group of other MBA programs, including MIT Sloan and UVA Darden, that have made standardized tests optional for the current admissions cycle. Other prominent schools that are more generously handing out test waivers include Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, Rochester’s Simon Business School, the Wisconsin School of Business, Rutgers Business School, and Northeastern University. 

And when the outbreak of COVID-19 in the spring shut down test centers, a number of schools, including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, began offering test waivers for applicants directly affected by the pandemic.


In several cases, applicants will have to request a test waiver by meeting a series of requirements. But schools have lessened the requirements to the point where it should be relatively easy to avoid the need for taking a standardized test. At Minnesota’s Carlson School, for example, an MBA application would need a GPA of 3.2 or above and one of several other requirements that range from having a CPA or CFA, a master’s degree or five or more years of full-time professional work experience, Candidates’ undergraduate GPA could even be lower—3.0—if they have a STEM degree.

At Broad College, MBA applicants can waive a test if they have four or more years of full-time work experience, gain a “strong recommendation” from a supervisor, do an extra interview with the school’s career management center, and successfully complete non-credit online pre-requisite courses after admission. At Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, admissions is giving reviewing waiver requests for any candidate who cannot access a test or has “extenuating circumstances.”

At UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business, candidates who want a waiver should have four or more years of full-time professional work experience and a strong record of academic performance from an accredited U.S. institution, though no minimum GPA is required. The School also notes that having an advanced degree, a professional certification, strong performance in earlier analytical or quant coursework, or being a member of the U.S. military also can strengthen your case for a waiver.


School officials generally note that MBA admission decisions are made on a holistic basis and a standardized test score is but one of many metrics used to decide who to admit and who to reject. Some deans have also begun to question how strongly correlated test scores are with the success of MBA graduates. “We have many tools and data points at our disposal in the application review process,” said Katie Lloyd, associate dean of the full-time and evening MBA programs at Scheller. “We can predict a candidate’s potential for success in and beyond the MBA program without reliance on the GMAT or GRE. Basing decisions on previous academic experience, work history, and interview evaluations has been an effective admissions approach for our Evening MBA program, which began accepting candidates without a test score in 2018.”

Most schools are giving applicants the option of applying without a standardized test score due to the coronavirus pandemic. But some have discovered that waiving the GMAT or GRE can open the doors to many other highly qualified candidates who might not have the time to prep for a standardized test or who tend to perform poorly on them. 

GMAT and GRE test waivers can also result in an increase in diversity as well. When the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business waived several requirements for admission to its online and part-time MBA programs this year due to the COVID, the result was a significant increase in diversity in the accepted and enrolled incoming class. In Tippie’s part-time MBA program,  the number of admitted students from underrepresented groups increased by 73% (from 23 to 40) and the number who enrolled was up 47% (21 to 31). The number of admitted women soared 74% (98 to 171) and the number who enrolled was up 78% (84 to 150).


In Tippie’s online MBA program, the number of admitted students from underrepresented groups went from 0 to 19, and 9 enrolled, while the number of admitted women increased from 12 to 67, and the number who enrolled went from 10 to 50, one of who is Meg Gustafson, the 2019 NCAA women’s basketball national player of the year as a Hawkeye and who currently plays for the Dallas Wings in the WNBA. In addition to waiving GMATs and GREs, Tippie also waived the employment requirement and the application fee.

In addition to the schools that are allowing current MBA candidates to waive standardized tests, there is also a slew of business schools that will now accept the shorter and easier Executive Assessment in lieu of the GMAT. The test, originally designed for applicants to Executive MBA programs, has fewer questions and can be completed in just 90 minutes vs. the three-plus hours for the GMAT or GRE. Schools now taking EAs include Columbia Business School, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management.

Schools that accept the EA view it as part of their overall recruiting strategy to remove barriers for applicants. “We recognize that a standardized test can be a hurdle to many,” says Sue Oldham, associate dean, of MBA Operations at Vanderbilt which announced its decision in September. “Offering another option to our full-time MBA applicants simply makes sense and is an inclusive move to allow our applicants to submit their most competitive test score as a part of their application.”

Still other business schools, including Emory’s Goizueta, are reviewing applicants who can submit Valid MCAT or LSAT scores instead of a GMAT or GRE.


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