‘WE ARE LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE OF QUANTITATIVE COURSEWORK OR QUANTITATIVE WORK EXPERIENCE’
Candidates who request waivers from Kelley are promised a decision within a week. For Holmen and his admissions staff, it will mean a greater reliance on undergraduate transcripts and grades. In particular, the school will look to see if an applicant had taken more rigorous coursework during their undergraduate experience and how well they performed in those courses. The rigor and achievement of a previous graduate degree also would count along with evidence of work experience requiring analytical and quantitative skills, as well as career growth including demonstration of leadership. “The MBA program is a challenging academic experience so if the evidence isn’t in their undergraduate record we want to see evidence in their test scores,” he says.
In this fall’s entering class, Kelley enrolled just 92 full-time MBA students with a class average GMAT of 652, an average GPA of 3.32, and five and one-half years of work experience. The lower-than-typical enrollment was the result of international deferrals and a decision to keep class size lower due to the pandemic. That decision enabled Kelley to deliver its entire core curriculum with face-to-face classes that also were live-streamed and recorded for a couple of international students who were unable to travel to the U.S. Homen says he is aiming to enroll a class of 135 students next fall, the size of the current second-year class.
Holmen says he expects more business schools to grant waivers of the tests this year. “If it becomes even more difficult than it is right now (to take a test), I wouldn’t be surprised if more schools do it,” he says. “We are always concerned about having barriers to apply that our competitors aren’t putting up. But it is always more challenging for a school to make the change mid-stream than offering it from the start of an admissions cycle.”
MANY ADMISSION OFFICIALS BELIEVE THAT ‘TEST SCORES HAVE TOO MUCH INFLUENCE’
The trend to go test-optional is being fueled by more than the pandemic. Abraham notes that many business school admission officials “feel that test scores have too much influence on the application process and want to break the chokehold. They want to make it easier for applicants to apply and thereby increase application volume, and they want to remove a barrier to greater diversity in their programs. ”
Still, she does not believe there will be a mass movement away from testing, in part, because applications are soaring for many top MBA programs this year. “I don’t believe a large number will decide to do so mid-cycle given last spring’s surge in applications,” she says. “While acknowledging that scores may have become too influential in the evaluation process, these admissions professionals want the predictive evidence provided by the test score before admitting people who may not do well in their program. With remote testing as a viable option that worked in the spring, these programs are confident applicants can handle the remote testing and that they will have plenty of applications to choose from without making this move. And they don’t want to make this move mid-cycle. Next cycle, I think we’ll see more schools going test-optional as the trend in higher ed, both on the undergraduate and graduate level is to go test-optional. Maybe then ‘wave’ will be the appropriate term.”
Even when a school offers test waivers, however, it may not be in the best interest of all candidates to take advantage of those flexible policies. “Applicants with a strong academic record and demonstrated quantitative skills may benefit from a waiver,” notes Edinburgh of Personal MBA Coach. “This is particularly true if COVID-19 limitations have prevented them from achieving their target scores. However, those with weaker academic records are not advised to request a waiver. This is not the time to run with a 3.0 GPA and no score. These candidates present too much of an unknown to admissions committee representatives and are not likely to succeed. Schools waiving exams will also see increases in applications so this means they may be even more competitive than had they not waived scores.”
ONE MIT SLOAN APPLICANT FELT HIS TEST SCORE WOULD BE A DEALBREAKER
Magna, with Stacy Blackman Consulting, reinforces that notion. “We recommend submitting a score if it’s a decent score or better,” says Magna. “The application fine print may be that if a candidate has any score, they are required to submit it. Forgo submitting a score if you haven’t taken the test before and is unable to do so due to access.”
She cites a recent client who applied to MIT Sloan. Both of his test scores on the GMAT and the GRE were well below MIT’s class medians of 720 for the GMAT, especially for his industry background. “The client has solid grades in math courses from college to demonstrate aptitude,” adds Magna. “Despite the lower test scores and the analytical college coursework, we concluded, ‘He should submit his GMAT and GRE to MIT.’
“In another client scenario, the applicant’s career path was super strong, but his test score was at the lower end of the test score range for MIT. Assuming his test score would be a dealbreaker, the client opted to not submit the score with his round 1 application. He was just waitlisted by MIT. We feel the waitlist outcome was due to not having submitted any test score.
“Applicants who don’t have a test score will have a higher bar to reach in showing via other measures that they can thrive in the data-driven program and can provide value to the incoming student class,” believes Magna. “Applicants without a test score may end up being somewhat “disadvantaged” because their academic potential will be under greater scrutiny and at a time when MBA applicant competition has intensified due to high demand. We don’t expect a test-optional policy to dilute the admissions standards for top programs. We do expect the test-optional policy to increase the volumes of applications.”