When last year’s incoming cohort of MBAs arrived at the Wharton School, there were two shocking surprises in the school’s class profile. The class average GMAT score plunged 10 points and the percent of incoming women fell by six full percentage points to 41%, the lowest level since 2014.
The consequences of those declines were obvious. Wharton’s average GMATs of 722 fell below seven peer schools, including Columbia Business School, NYU Stern, Northwestern Kellogg, Chicago Booth, and UC-Berkeley Haas. It was a full 11 points below Stanford’s Graduate School of Business which historically reports the highest class average GMAT scores. Last year, Stanford’s average was 733. In a year heavily impacted by COVID-19, GMAT scores were down overall. But no school in the Top Ten suffered as big a drop as Wharton.
The drop had to set off alarm bells at Wharton because GMAT scores are a key metric used by U.S. News to rank the best MBA programs in the U.S. Sure enough, when the newest ranking came out earlier this year, Wharton slipped to second place after being tied with Stanford for first in 2020.
WHARTON’S AVERAGE CLASS GMAT SCORE OF 733 NOW MATCHES STANFORD
The fall in women had to be equally alarming. At one point, Wharton led all top business schools in enrolling the most women. As far back as ten years ago, the school had welcomed a class made up with 45% women (see Wharton Admits Most Women Ever). The decline, moreover, ironically occurred during a year in which Wharton named its first female dean, Erika James, who had been recruited from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
With the publication of its profile for the Class of 2023, Wharton has more than reversed both of those declines. At a time when some leading business schools are deemphasizing standardized test scores, granting waivers to some applicants, Wharton posted the highest average and median class GMAT scores in its history: an average of 733 and a median of 740. The average score matches Stanford’s average last year, while the median is 10 points higher than Harvard Business School’s typical median of 730.
Only 3% of the GMAT test takers in the world achieve a 740 score which is in the 97th percentile of scores. Generally, many believe a score of 650—the average score achieved on the test is only 568—provides more than enough confidence that an applicant can do the quant work to succeed in the core MBA curriculum.
IS WHARTON OVER-INDEXING STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES IN ADMISSIONS?
“An 11-point pop over last year in the Wharton GMAT average strikes me as either a new party line at the school to get the GMAT up for rankings or more innocently, some very like-minded folks on the committee,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a top MBA admissions consultant. “You might ask a statistician but 11 points strikes me as not a random bump.
Another explanation could be that the whole world of over-730 GMATs has become very large because of both an increase in the number of folks who take the GMAT period, and especially an increased number of folks who are willing to take it 2 or 3 times. . . and more. 730 is the new 700 in the minds of many applicants. Kids that would have settled for a 700 three to five years ago will not settle for that anymore. I think re-test takers is way up and that explains a lot.”
While some admission consultants believe that Wharton is over-indexing on standardized test scores in its admission decisions, Linda Abraham of Accepted.com, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm, points out that both the 2018 and 2019 entering classes had average GMAT scores of 732. “So I see this year’s 733 as more of a ‘return to normalcy,’ post-COVID or almost post-COVID and a slight uptick,” says Abraham. “I’m sure all kinds of alarm bells were going off last year with that 10-point drop in average GMAT scores. However, that was also the class that was admitted at the tail end of a steep drop in application volume and then the application cycle that seemed endless due to COVID with all kinds of concerns about deferrals, remote learning, and people being able to show up or not,” she adds.
“From my perspective, it’s more of a resumption of the increasing GMAT trend of the last twenty years, than a dramatic departure. Last year was the dramatic and startling dip. I also find it interesting that the GRE verbal and quant both went up by just 1 point each. With that increase both those scores returned to their pre-COVID level.”
‘EITHER THE MEN HAVE SUPER HIGH GMAT SCORES OR WOMEN ARE DOING BETTER ON THE GMAT’
Because test scores are lower for underrepresented minorities, many admission officials believe that GMAT and GRE requirements make it harder to enroll diverse classes of students. The record GMAT score at Wharton coincides with a 20% reduction in the percentage of Black American students in this year’s incoming class. Black Americans will represent 8% of the incoming cohort from 10% a year-earlier. Yet, Hispanic/Latinx students will make up 7% of this year’s fall cohort, one percentage point higher than last year.
Only a few years ago, Stanford won praise when its class average GMAT came down from a peak of 737 in 2017 to 732 in 2018 and finally 733 last year. The decline occurred after Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, believed the school’s super high average was actually discouraging highly talented applicants from applying to the GSB. “Some of our students tell me that they almost did not apply because they did not come from a ‘top’ university, or they were from the ‘wrong’ industry, or their GMAT or GPA was ‘too low,’” Moss told Poets&Quants in an interview. “This is heartbreaking to me.”
On women enrollment, Wharton this year will become the first elite business school to enroll a majority of women in its fall MBA cohort: a record 52% of the class. Here, too, Wharton’s new milestone comes after the school fell behind many peer schools last year, including Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (49%), Stanford (47%), Duke Fuqua (46%), Harvard (44%), Michigan Ross (43%) and NYU Stern (43%) (see The Leading Business Schools With The Most Women).
Abraham and other admission consultants are praising the new milestone. “I find most remarkable the increase in the percentage of women in Wharton’s class to 52% from 47% last year,” adds Abraham. “That’s a 10% increase. In light of the GMAT bounce back, either the men have super high GMAT scores or women are doing better on the GMAT.”