Is This Top B-School’s New Pre-MBA Program A Threat To The GMAT?

There are — or should be — many paths to entry to graduate business education. The University of Michigan created a new one quietly last month, and its immediate popularity signals that it could become an industry-leading program.

Looking to give prospective students another way to showcase their MBA readiness, the Ross School of Business in September softly launched a Quantitative Readiness Course for its Online MBA and Weekend MBA programs. Students who achieve a score of 80% or better on the QRC can waive the school’s exam score requirement — in other words, no need to take the Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Exam.

Already, says Patricia Russo, Ross’ managing director of part-time MBA programs, the new, free, 20-hour program has nearly 200 enrollees — and administrators from other schools’ part-time programs are taking notice.


Patricia Russo

Designed by Jean-Paul Baldwin, lecturer and instructional support specialist for many of Ross’ quantitative courses, the QRC was conceived as a way to better respond to the needs of prospective students, with a goal of attracting a diverse set of MBA students. But then the school realized it had a chance to do something more. Feedback from candidates — especially those from non-traditional backgrounds — highlighted an opportunity to help prospective students gain confidence in their quantitative abilities — to “test drive” the rigor of an MBA, and ease the transition to Michigan Ross.

“I’m a liberal arts major, my director of admissions, she’s a liberal arts major, so we always talked about how we might not do real well in the GMAT,” says Russo, who is also a lecturer in public policy and business communication. “But we are people who work hard, we’re smart people, and, we would do well on something like a course.

“That was how it really started. And it sort of serves two purposes. One is, if you want to use it as a waiver to our application if you get a good enough score. But the other thing is to ready you for the quant in an MBA program.”

Coronavirus, Russo says, was the catalyst for change.

“That’s how it started,” she tells Poets&Quants. “In the past, of course we always required either a GRE or GMAT. Now, and this is probably true of lots of schools, we had to rethink that during the Covid thing, because of course the offices were shut down. People couldn’t take tests. We instituted a waiver with certain criteria and that made us think even more about ‘Well, maybe there should be different paths.’ And so we opened it up a bit.”


“But then the other thing that we were thinking is, we always had this idea about a course that that can fulfill two things. One would be to actually give us yet another data point for somebody being ready to start an MBA. But the other part of it as well would be to, in fact, prepare people to start an MBA.”

The QRC consists of six self-paced, online modules with about 20 hours of coursework covering a range of statistical techniques and other topics designed to improve and evaluate a students’ analytical skills. The course is free, and candidates who take it can use it to apply for a test waiver or just to brush up on their quant skills. In  other words, they are under no obligation to apply to Michigan Ross.

Reaction to the QRC, Russo says, has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides the close to 200 MBA candidates who have enrolled, a number of candidates have already completed it, and “We’ve also received a lot of interest from other PTMBA administrators about the course,” she adds.

“I know at least two people have gone through the course completely, passed the exam, and qualified officially for a waiver,” Russo says. “One of the cool things about this is, in a part-time program, most of our students are working full-time and then they’re having to take courses. I think one of the really great things about this course is that it prepares students for that mindset: ‘I have to work and then I have to go home and I have to do this thing.’ So I think it’s a good way for students to prepare for that kind of life.”


It’s early yet, but could the QRC represent the death knell for the GMAT? Russo is skeptical.

“I think the tests are a good data point,” Russo says. “They’re not the only data point, but they’re a really good data point. But what we really were thinking about is, if you want a really diverse group of students — because that’s what everybody’s looking for now, right? — then you should probably have diverse paths to acceptance in your program.

“The GMAT works for lots of people. I just interviewed a couple of people who had some very lovely GMAT scores. The GRE works for other people. I sort of see it as that way. I mean, I agree that everybody’s always talking about the death knell, but it’s always premature. We felt that that was one of the reasons why we did this, was this many paths to entry. You choose the one that you think will fit well for you.”

Does she expect the QRC to catch on and become a precursor to the Ross full-time MBA program?

“That I can’t speak to because I am over at the part-time programs, but they do know what we’re doing,” Russo says. “We share best practices all the time.”

Learn more about the Michigan Ross Quantitative Readiness Course here.


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