For MBA applicants, there just may be a silver lining to the pandemic. Largely due to COVID-caused closures of tst centers and concerns over the at-home versions of the GMAT and the GRE, the vast majority of the top 100 full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are now waiving standardized tests for admission.
Some 65 of the top 100 have now gone fully test-optional or are actively promoting test waiver policies. MBA admission officials insist that their admission standards have not declined as a result of the policy changes. Instead, they are relying on other parts of candidates’ applications to gain confidence that an applicant can handle the academic requirements of their programs.
“We are not waiving the requirement that an applicant has demonstrated analytical and quantitative skills,” says Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions and program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “We want to see students succeed and thrive in our program. As such, we will continue to look for evidence that an applicant can handle the rigor of our MBA program.”
SCHOOLS PUTTING GREATER WEIGH ON PREVIOUS COURSEWORK, WORK EXPERIENCE & PROFESSONAL CERTIFICATIONS
In most cases, business schools are setting specific hurdles for applicants to gain waivers: A minimum GPA during their undergraduate studies, a number of years of professional work experience, another graduate degree already earned, or a professional credential, such as a CPA or CFA, to give admissions assurances that the quant work in the MBA program can be successfully completed.
For MBA applicants who seek a waiver at Michigan Ross, for example, the school is putting more weight on undergraduate or graduate coursework, full-time work experience, and professional certifications to gain confidence in a candidate’s academic proficiency and quantitative ability. Admission officials will look more carefully at the rigor of the individual courses taken and a student’s grades in them. “It is going to take more time for us to review applications than with a test score,” says Kwon.
In at least one case, some schools are reserving waivers only for people directly impacted by COVID. At the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business applicants must meet two criteria to gain a test score exception: They have to be unable to take an exam in person at a test center due to lack of availability or because they or someone in their household is immunocompromised. And they have to be unable to take an exam due to lack of availability in their region, technology, or “other test-taking requirements (e.g. device availability or compatibility, slow internet connection, testing environment).” Emory’s Goizueta School of Business has a similar policy, granting waivers to those who cannot access the test or have “extenuating circumstances.”
SOME ADMISSION OFFICIALS BELIEVE STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE A HURDLE TO DIVERSITY
At many schools, however, admission officials are increasingly expressing the view that the tests are not necessary to determine whether a candidate can handle the quant demands of an MBA program. And more schools are questioning the use of standardized tests for admissions.
At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Dean Scott Beardsley is deeply concerned that the tests can be inherently unfair. He points out that prospective students from low-income families are less able to pay for prep classes or tutors who can cost up to $500 an hour or can take time off from work to study for the exam. Students who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, born to uneducated parents, tend to score lower regardless of whether they are tutored or not.
“If you look at the data for the SAT and ACT by ethnic group, it is absolutely shocking,” he says. “It shows that underrepresented minorities score between one to two standard deviations below the average. If you Google standardized tests and racism, it is very well documented. I don’t want to reward only people who spend tons of money or have tons of time studying for standardized tests. We appreciate the people who have gone through all those hoops as well. But there are many indicators of success. If you graduated with the highest honors in engineering from Carnegie Mellon, I don’t need a GMAT to tell me you can do the math in an MBA program.”
THREE-QUARTERS OF THE SCHOOLS RANKED 50TH TO 100TH NOW GRANT TEST WAIVERS
More business schools, though, are granting waivers because they believe it is simply the right thing to do during a health crisis that has now led to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. alone. “There are just so many stories from students all over the world that it made the decision easier,” adds Kwon at Ross. “Even though test centers have reopened, getting to one and feeling safe in one is another story. And even though students can take the online test, taking a standardized test at home is challenging because some students are being disrupted by friends or family or have had internet connections slow down. So it is hard to perform best in those conditions.
The school heard from one applicant who took the at-home GMAT on online under stressful conditions, only to score a 620, adds Kown. “She took it a week later at a test center and got a 730. It was stories like that that made us think to have to deal with the struggles students are having taking a test under these conditions. It is really quite stressful like nothing we ever experienced. I am really worried as the pandemic is getting worse globally. I can imagine that test centers will shut down again.”
Poets&Quants‘ analysis of the current admission policies at the top 100 business schools still show some reluctance to move to waiver options at higher-ranked schools (see below table). Only nine of the top 25 ranked MBA programs in the U.S. are granting waivers this year. They include many significant players, from MIT Sloan and UVA Darden to Michigan Ross, Carnegie Mellon, UNC at Chapel Hill and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
But while roughly a third of the top 25 schools have opened the gates to candidates without standardized test scores, three-quarters of the schools ranked between 50th to 100th are now waiving GMATs and GREs, 37 of the 50. Many of these schools have followed the lead of both MIT Sloan and UVA Darden of adopting test-optional admissions. Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School, and Boston University’s Questrom School are fully test-optional this year.