Average GRE Scores At The Top 50 U.S. MBA Programs

Graduate Record Exam scores jumped at many of the top schools in 2021 — but submission rates stalled

We’ve watched and reported on the rise of the Graduate Record Exam (and the corresponding decline in the Graduate Management Admission Test) for years now. But even as the number of GMAT takers has plunged to historic lows in the last two years of disruption and upheaval, growth in the percentage of GRE submissions across the top MBA programs in the United States has stalled — slowing to a crawl at many of the elite schools, while dropping precipitously at several schools in the lower half of the top 50.

For every Virginia Darden School of Business, which saw a 10-percentage-point increase in its GRE submissions from MBA applicants in 2021, there is an Indiana Kelley School of Business, which reported an 11-point year-to-year decline. Overall across the last six application cycles going back to 2016, growth in GRE submissions is still apparent, but the two-year picture is more complex, with the rise in submissions that occurred amid the worst of the pandemic in 2020 slowing — and in many cases reversing.

Given so many schools’ embrace of liberal test deferral policies in 2020-2021, the numbers can be misleading. But from the available data, it appears the rush to crown the GRE as the new go-to exam over the GMAT may have been premature.

One clear trend emerging from the data collected in the recently released rankings database from U.S. News: 2020 was a temporary trough for GRE scores — one that most emerged from in 2021, recovering the points they lost off their scores in the depth of the pandemic. All the same, the usual suspects at the top of the Poets&Quants ranking shined once again, led by Stanford Graduate School of Business and Yale School of Management, which each reported a combined GRE score (Quant plus Verbal) of 330.

GRE: POISED TO USURP GMAT'S PLACE AS THE GO-TO B-SCHOOL ENTRANCE EXAM

Test volume for the GMAT dropped off a cliff in 2021, falling nearly 50% from the pre-pandemic testing year of 2018. But it's more stark even than that. Between the GMAT's peak in 2012 and July 2021, the number of tests taken in the United States dropped from more than 117,000 to less than 40,000. Every year since 2012, GMAT test-taking volume in the U.S. has fallen — with the only exception 2016, when exams grew by only around 600 tests.

In 2020, it certainly seemed that the GRE was poised to become the standard business school entrance exam. A year earlier, the average percentage of GRE submitters at the top 25 schools was 13.5%; in 2020 that number more than doubled to 27.8%. In the top 52 B-schools, the GRE submission rate for new entrants was exactly 30%; in the top 10, all the schools that released GRE submission data reported increases, with Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business leading all the elite schools at 39%, and Yale and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business at 35%. In the top 25, Georgetown McDonough School of Business reported that 54% of new entrants submitted GRE scores; in the top 50, Washington Olin Business School reported a whopping 71%.

Overall in 2020 — thanks in large part to a smooth rollout of an online version of the GRE, and a late and clunky launch of its rival — the rise of the GRE was plainly written, with 29 schools out of 52 above 25% in submissions by new entrants, 18 schools are above 35%, and eight schools are above 45%.

24 SCHOOLS IN TOP 52 REPORT DECLINES IN GRE SUBMISSIONS

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. This year's data shows a marked slowing in GRE submissions — and at several schools, a dramatic reversal (see table above).

In 2020, 26 of 52 B-schools saw GRE submission increases, including 16 of the top 25; a year later, that number dropped to 21 schools, 14 of which were in the top half of the ranking. While six schools reported double-digit increases, that's down from eight schools reporting the same a year before.

Of the 24 schools with declines in GRE percentages, nine were in the bottom half of the ranking; Stanford, Columbia Business School, Dartmouth Tuck, Duke Fuqua School of Business, Michigan Ross School of Business, and NYU Stern all saw declines. Overall, eight schools reported double-digit drop-offs (compared to seven between 2019 and 2020); the highest-ranked is No. 22 Indiana Kelley, which slipped 11 points to just 15%, making it also the top-25 school with the lowest GRE submission rate. Indiana was one of six schools in the top 25 and 13 of 49 to be sub-20%.

Once again, Washington Olin was the top school overall for the GRE, with 70% of new entrants submitting scores (down from 71%). Florida Warrington College of Business was close behind with 62%. Dartmouth Tuck was the biggest GRE school in the top 10, with 37%; Georgetown McDonough School of Business was tops in the top 25, with 48%. At the other end of the scale, UC-Davis Graduate School of Management reported just 5% of admits submitted GREs, down 10 points from 2020; UC-Irvine Merage School of Business, No. 45, was at 12%.

See all GRE submission data from 2016 to 2021 on page 3.

26 SCHOOLS REPORTED 25% OR MORE GRE SUBMISSIONS

Big picture, the GRE continues to rise, just a lot more slowly. In the top 10, the test lost a step year-to-year, with the average percentage (at the nine schools that reported the data) 27.9%, down a couple of ticks from 28.1% in 2020. However, at 24 schools in the top 25, the average was 28.5%, up from 27.8%; and in the top 52, 33.6%, up from 30%.

Looked at another way, 26 schools were above 25% in 2021, down from 29 in 2020; 14 schools were above 35%, down from 18; and four schools were above 45%, down from eight.

The six-year window from 2016 to 2021 offers the best evidence for the continued strength of the GRE. In that span, 34 schools are up overall in the percentage of GRE submissions, and only eight are down — none in the top 25. Only two schools are down over six years while being up over the past two; 18 schools are the reverse, down year-to-year but up overall since 2016. Fourteen schools are up in both; only six are down in both.

The average increase in the top 25 over two years (14 schools) was 4.6 points; in 2020 it was 6.9 points at 17 schools. But over six years, the average increase at 21 schools was 15.9 points; from 2016 to 2020 it was 15.1 points at 18 schools. In the top 50, the average increase over two years was 7.8 points at 21 schools; in 2020 it was 8.6 points at 27 schools. But over six years, the average increase at 34 schools in the top 50 was 15 points — down only slightly from 15.5 points at 35 schools from 2016 to 2020.

Notably, three of the four schools that lost the most year-to-year — Pittsburgh Katz School of Business, Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, and Minnesota Carlson School of Management — are nonetheless up over six years. Only four schools out of 42 with available data lost double digits over six years, and only eight schools lost any ground at all.

FLORIDA WARRINGTON: UP BIG SINCE 2016 & SINCE 2020, TOO

More key data points (see pages 3 to 5 for all the details):

  • Biggest 2-year increases in GRE submissions: Utah Eccles +28 to 40%; Florida Warrington +17 to 62%; Wisconsin +15 to 30%; Penn State Smeal +14 to 33%
  • Biggest 6-year increases: Florida Warrington +39 to 62%; Washington Olin +36 to 70%; Washington Foster +30 to 36%; Virginia Darden +30 to 38%
  • Biggest 2-year decreases: Pittsburgh Katz -34 to 24%; Notre Dame Mendoza -20 to 17%; Boston Questrom -20 to 29%; Minnesota Carlson -16 to 20%
  • Biggest 6-year decreases: SMU Cox -15 to 20%; Boston Questrom -13 to 29%

Next page: A breakdown of the GRE score averages at the top 50 business schools

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