Back and forth.
A swinging pendulum.
Average scores on the Graduate Management Admission Test plummeted in 2020 as business schools loosened admissions standards amid the worst global health crisis in a century. Schools cracked the gates open just a bit more than usual, making GMAT waivers easier to get and extending application deadlines; some abolished test requirements altogether. Other factors contributed: a clunky rollout of the online version of the GMAT, and the steady, persistent market incursion of the test’s main competitor, the Graduate Record Exam.
Did all this signal the demise of the GMAT, long the primary exam to gain entry to graduate business education? Not quite. As we saw in November, GMAT averages at the leading U.S. B-schools skyrocketed in 2021 — and a new analysis of class profile data at the top 50 U.S. schools shows the huge rebound was enjoyed across the spectrum, with 21 schools reporting double-digit jumps in just one year and most reversing the declines suffered in 2020. At a handful of B-schools in Europe, the trend across the last five years was less pronounced but mostly positive, as well.
The GMAT may be in trouble for others reasons: Far fewer people are taking it, and U.S. News revised the methodology for its 2021 online MBA ranking omitting the GMAT and GRE as factors in the ranking process. See our story here. Will other rankings follow?
5-POINT JUMP FOR STANFORD, WHICH LEADS ALL SCHOOLS WITH A 738 AVERAGE
Many of the top 100 U.S. B-schools made the GMAT optional in 2020, policies that were still in place through 2021 (and up to today). But if anyone thought that would lead to long-term score declines, they were mistaken.
In 2021, 22 out of the top 25 schools, and 33 of the top 50, saw year-over-year GMAT average increases. Only six schools saw declines, out of 42 with available data. Compare that to last year at this time, when we reported that 30 schools saw declines out of 37.
Stanford Graduate School of Business led all schools with a 738 average, up from 733 last year and a new school record, eclipsing by 1 point Stanford's marks of 2016 and 2017. After the GSB, the top five in average GMAT were Penn Wharton at 733, Chicago Booth at 732, and two New York schools, NYU Stern and Columbia Business School, which tied at 729. Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management, two of the four B-schools that report median scores, were at 730 this year; for HBS that was flat from 2020, but for MIT it was a 10-point jump.
The average two-year increase in the top 10 (seven schools) was 5.3 points; in the top 25 (21 schools), 9.2 points; and in the bottom 25 (11 schools), 18.1 points, the latter fueled by double-digit gains at 10 schools, including 36 points at Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business. Not included in these calculations but notable nonetheless: a 30-point increase at UC-Davis School of Management, which currently sits outside the P&Q top 50 at No. 52.
15 B-SCHOOLS HAVE SEEN DOUBLE-DIGIT GMAT AVERAGE INCREASES SINCE 2016
Digging into the data, we find that after SMU Cox, Indiana Kelley School of Business had the biggest year-over-year GMAT average increase, of 27 points (to 679), followed by Penn State Smeal College of Business (+27 to 666) and Miami Herbert Business School, the No. 50 B-school in P&Q's ranking this year, which grew its class GMAT score by 23 points to 656.
Across six years, the average class score increase in the top 10 (7 schools) was 5.1 points, led by Columbia and Berkeley, which both gained 9 points in that span; at the top 25 (18 schools), 9.9 points, led by USC Marshall (+24), NYU Stern (+19), and Duke Fuqua (+18); and at the top 50 (30 schools), 12.5 points, with the biggest reported by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam College of Business, which has improved its GMAT average an amazing 53 points, to 680. Also notable in the bottom half of the top-50: SMU Cox's 24-point gain, and the University of Utah Eccles School of Business, up by 26 points.
Overall, 20 schools saw double-digit increases over two years, and 15 over 6 years. Ten schools have seen double-digit increases in both 6- and 2-year windows. And 26 — more than half — of all top 50 schools have seen increases in GMAT average in both the short- and the long-term; just last year only three schools could make that claim.
One reason for the jump in GMATs at so many schools: more applications. Most schools saw app boosts in the 2020-2021 cycle, giving admissions offices a deeper talent pool to choose from. “While there are a number of factors that play into our average GMAT, the main factor that allowed us to increase the average GMAT for this fall’s entering class was our 61% increase in applications,” Indiana's Jim Holmen told P&Q in November. “The increase in applications allowed us to be a bit more selective.”
The lowest average GMAT scores are interesting, too. In the top 10, Dartmouth Tuck takes the honors (724); in the top 25, Indiana Kelley (679), one of only four top-25 schools that are sub-700 (last year it was seven schools); and in the top 50, Texas A&M Mays, at 643.
BIGGEST DECLINE OVER 6 YEARS: WISCONSIN, DOWN 23 POINTS
Since 2016, only four B-schools in the Poets&Quants top 25 have seen an overall decline in the average GMAT score of their incoming full-time MBA classes; six more schools in the lower 25 have seen a drop-off in that time. 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.
Only one school in the top 25 reported a GMAT average decline from 2020 to 2021: UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, which reported a statistically insignificant 1-point drop to 726. (Last year, interestingly, Haas was one of only three top-25 schools to avoid a slipping GMAT.) Last year, 18 top-25 schools reported Y-O-Y declines from 2019 averaging 5.5 points.
In the lower 25, five schools saw year-over-year declines averaging 9.6 points in 2021. That's an improvement from last year, when 12 lower-25 schools reported Y-O-Y declines averaging 14.3 points. Over all the top 50 across six years, 10 schools have declined, with the biggest drop-offs coming at Wisconsin School of Business (-23) and MSU Broad (-20).
Overall, just two B-schools across the top 50 — MSU Broad and UC-Irvine Merage — reported double-digit declines from 2020 to 2021, and three reported double-digit declines from 2016 to 2021.
And in Europe, INSEAD and London Business School continue to pace the top B-schools in terms of GMAT average; both are at 708, with INSEAD gaining 2 points in the last cycle and LBS gaining 8. IESE in Spain saw an incredible 20-point swing in one year, to 690, bring the Barcelona-based school back to its 2017 level. Most of the 10 European B-schools examined by P&Q are up since 2020, but still down since 2017. Warwick Business School in the UK is down 11 points in both the two- and five-year windows.
See the next pages for a complete 6-year overview of Graduate Management Admission Test averages at the top 50 business schools in the United States. On page 2 you will also find a table of GMAT averages at 10 of the leading European B-schools.