The Graduate Record Exam has been creeping up on the Graduate Management Admission Test for years, gaining enough market share by 2019 that the possibility could not be ignored that it might one day supplant the GMAT as the primary admissions test for graduate business education. Then came coronavirus. How did the pandemic — which spurred dozens of leading U.S. business schools to waive testing requirements altogether, a policy most kept through the 2020-2021 cycle — affect the GRE’s march to dominance?
It wasn’t just waivers that muddy the picture. We know how the advent of virtual testing options impacted GMAT scores at the top 50 schools — it contributed to a dramatic drop-off, nearly across the board. What effect did the launch of the online GRE have on test score averages?
We now have answers — and more questions. In terms of scores, the usual suspects remain at the top: Stanford Graduate School of Business again has the top overall GRE average, followed by Yale School of Management in second place and two schools tied for third-best: Harvard Business School and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. See more about GRE scores at the top 50 schools on page 2.
But much more interestingly, we’ve learned that the percentage of admits who submitted GRE scores (whether alone or in addition to a GMAT score) continues to go up at most schools — with some dramatic exceptions.
GRE SUBMISSIONS BY ADMITS ARE MOSTLY UP
After a wildly disruptive year in the world of testing, the GRE continued to gain on the GMAT in terms of applicant preference — for the most part. In all, 26 of the top 52 schools in the 2021 Poets&Quants ranking saw year-over-year increases in the percentage of new entrants who submitted GRE scores, including all seven of the top 10 schools for which data is publicly known, and 16 of the top 25. Eight of those 26 schools saw double-digit increases, led by the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business, which gained 24 percentage points to 58%, followed by the school with the highest overall GRE admit submission rate: Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School, which gained 22 points from 2019 to 71% last year. Other big gainers (see table above) were Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business (+18 to 53%) and Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business (+18 to 39%, highest in the top 10).
However, 18 schools lost GRE volume from 2019; the highest ranking was Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, which dropped 8 points to fall to just 11%, second-lowest among all 52 schools. Ten of the bottom 15 ranked schools lost GRE volume (see table below), including UC-Irvine Merage School of Business, which lost 13 points to fall to just 7%, lowest total of any school. In all, seven schools lost double digits.
One of the biggest decliners was UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, which had reported among the top GRE submission rates among new entrants in 2019, but which lost 26 points last year to fall to just 22%. Danielle Richie, senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment for Kenan-Flagler, tells P&Q that the B-school’s test waiver policy is the main culprit.
“We introduced the test waiver policy in spring 2021 which allowed full-time MBA applicants the opportunity to submit their application, if approved for a test waiver, without test scores,” Richie says. “The MBA admissions and student recruitment team will continue offering test waivers to applicants.” Compounding the situation, she adds, “GRE and GMAT test centers were closed part of the year before introducing the online and at home version. Overall, the number of test takers decreased globally, as shown by ETS and GMAC data.”
THE FIVE-YEAR WINDOW
In 2019, the average percentage of GRE submitters at the top 25 schools was 13.5%. Last year that number more than doubled to 27.8%, thanks to some big gainers: UC-Berkeley Haas, Dartmouth Tuck, and Duke Fuqua all saw double-digit gains year over year. In the top 52 (minus five schools that don’t report the number), the GRE submission rate for new entrants is exactly 30%. Overall in the top 10, the highest rate of GRE submissions by admits is Dartmouth Tuck’s 39%; in the top 25, Georgetown McDonough School of Business’ 54%; and in the top 50, Washington Olin with its amazing 71%.
Overall in 2020, 29 schools out of 52 are above 25% in GRE submissions by new entrants, 18 schools are above 35%, and eight schools are above 45%.
What kind of increases have schools seen? Let’s look at the last two years first. In the top 10 between 2019 and 2020, the increase rate is 8.7% for seven schools; in the top 25, 6.9% for 17 schools; and in the 52 we examined overall, 8.6% for 27 schools. But over the last five years is where it gets really interesting. Thirty-five schools are up since 2016, and just six are down; we don’t have enough data to complete the picture for 11 others.
The average increase in the top 10 over five years is 17%, though that is for only four schools; in the top 25, 15.1% for 18 schools; and in the top 52, 15.5% for 35. Washington Olin saw the biggest five-year jump, gaining 37 points; Pittsburgh Katz was close behind with 36 points gained; and Georgetown McDonough gained 32 points, to today’s rate of 54%.
‘WE EXPECT THE INCREASE IN GRE TEST-TAKERS TO CONTINUE’
And then there are the schools going the other direction. Over two years, the biggest declines in GRE submissions have occurred at the University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business (-27 points to 40%) and two schools that saw 26-point dropoffs: the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management (to 32%) and UNC Kenan-Flagler. The biggest five-year decreases: UC-Irvine losing 13 points to 7%, and the University of Texas A&M Mays Business School, which dropped 10 points to record 29% in 2020.
UNC’s Danielle Richie tells P&Q that she expects 2020 to be just a blip in the rise of the GRE in graduate business admissions.
“Applicants have unique backgrounds, various work experience, and different life experiences,” she says. “As the recruiting process goes on, candidates consider which entrance exam to take when applying to business school, based on their strengths and goals.
“UNC Kenan-Flagler started accepting the GRE exam about a decade ago, which has been a great alternative option for applicants to consider. It has provided more flexibility, especially for candidates from non-business backgrounds and those who might be pursuing an MBA for roles and industries that fall outside of the more traditional paths MBA graduates take. We’ve seen an increase in GRE test-takers, and expect that to continue.”