In A GMAT-Optional World, Average Scores Plummet At The Top 50 Schools

To anyone paying attention as MBA class profiles began to dribble out last fall, it was clear that average scores on the Graduate Management Admission Test were dropping. But not until all the top schools had released data from the coronavirus cohort of 2020 did we have a complete picture. Now we have it, and it’s crystal clear that making the test optional amid the universal disruption of a worldwide pandemic caused scores to drop — and drop significantly, at big schools and small alike.

Of the 37 top-50 MBA programs in the United States for which data is available, average scores for the incoming MBA Class of 2022 fell at 30. Seven of the top 10 schools experienced declines from 2019, averaging 3.6 points; the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania had it worst in the top 10, losing 10 points on its average to fall to 722. In the top 25, 18 schools saw their scores drop an average of 5.5 points; the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia lost 10 points to fall to 703, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management lost 12 points to drop to 707, and biggest of all, Indiana University Kelley School of Business lost 14 points to fall to 652. The only three schools in the top 25 to avoid GMAT declines were UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, which gained 2 points to rise to 727; NYU Stern School of Business, which moved 2 points to 723; and Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, which stayed even at 704. Even Stanford Graduate School of Business — once again the top school for GMAT average — saw a 1-point decline in 2020, to 733.

More lower-tier schools were spared, with five seeing actual increases in their average GMAT scores. But the drop-offs were steeper, with a dozen schools ranked 25-50 reporting average score declines of 14.3 points. Three schools had declines of 20 or more points: UC-Davis, ranked 47th, was worst with a 28-point decline to 641, followed by 26 points at No. 42 Boston University Questrom School of Business (657) and 21 points at No. 26 Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business (689). Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, ranked No. 32, dropped 19 points off its GMAT average to fall to 639.


Overall among the 30 schools that both report averages and saw GMAT declines, those declines in one virus-plagued year averaged 9 points. A dozen schools had declines of 10 or more points. Quite a cliff! But what about the bigger picture?

Between 2015 and 2020, only three B-schools in the Poets&Quants top 25 had seen an overall decline in the average GMAT score of their incoming full-time MBA classes; seven more schools in the lower 25 saw a decline over that span. Altogether that’s just one-fifth of all schools. The lesson: Over the years, fluctuations in score averages tend to even themselves out, and most schools gradually improve their class-wide scores.

But coronavirus took a wrecking ball to much of that edifice. According to the five-year data collected by P&Q, while 30 schools saw year-over-year declines, 22 have now seen declines over the five-year window from 2016 to 2020. While 12 schools saw double-digit two-year declines, seven now have seen them over five years.

Compare the average decline in the top 10 between 2019 and 2020: 3.6 points among seven schools. Now compare the average decline over five years at the same schools: 3.8 points, with Wharton suffering the biggest drop-off (8 points). Or compare the average two-year decline at the 18 schools in the top 25 that lost ground: 5.5 points. Over five years, the 12 schools in the top 25 that have lost ground have dropped 6.3 points, led by Indiana Kelley’s 18-point decline.

And the whole enchilada? In the top 50, as noted above, the average decline for 30 schools was 9 points between 2019 and 2020. Since 2016, the decline for 22 schools is 9.3 points.

The biggest five-year declines came at Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, which dropped 27 points off its GMAT average since 2016, followed by Boston Questrom (-25), Penn State Smeal and Wisconsin (both -20), and Indiana Kelley -18.


What about the B-schools that have (so far) weathered the GMAT storm? One is head and shoulders above the rest in both the two- and five-year outlooks. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam College of Business, ranked 48th, saw an 11-point increase in 2020, to 668, the only school in our top-50 ranking to have a double-digit increase, and has grown its GMAT average an incredible 41 points in five years. No. 36 Georgia Terry College of Business is almost as impressive, with a 9-point increase this year to 672, up 25 points since 2016.

After Stanford GSB, the highest average overall in 2020 was at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and UC-Berkeley Haas, which both reported a 727 average, followed by Columbia Business School (726) and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (724). The lowest average in the top 10 was 720, reported by both Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business and Yale School of Management; the lowest in the top 25 was 652 at Indiana Kelley; and the lowest in the top 50 was 639 at both Penn State Smeal and the University of Utah Eccles Business School.

And what about Europe? Comparisons with U.S. schools are rarely instructive, at least when it comes to test scores, but in this case, the impact of the pandemic is plain. Top schools INSEAD, London Business School, and IESE all lost ground, as did Cambridge and Oxford. HEC Paris was even at 690, and another Spanish school, ESADE< actually gained 9 points; however, across the last four years, six of the 10 schools we examined lost points, including 8 points at LBS and an incredible 20-point decline at IESE.

What about GRE scores? Were they down last year too? Stay tuned!

See the next pages for tables of all the top 50 U.S. business schools and their average GMAT scores over the years.

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