Applications to MBA programs are booming, and a big reason why is that many business schools have waived test requirements for admission since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. This July, the University of Washington Foster School of Business became the 12th of the 25 leading B-schools — and at least the 68th in the top 100 — to carve out some kind of path to admission for applicants who have taken neither the Graduate Management Admission Test nor the Graduate Record Exam, nor any other entrance exam such as the Executive Assessment.
GMAT scores at first plummeted, but have since rebounded, removing yet another objection to making them optional since they continue to be an easy metric by which to define program quality. Whether B-schools — including many of the top 25 schools in the United States — continue to offer wide waiver policies once Covid-19 is a thing of the past is an open question, but it’s hard to see most going back to requiring GMAT, GRE, or EA scores when they have benefited so much from opening their doors a little wider.
But don’t cancel your GMAT appointment just yet. A new survey finds that regardless of policy, B-schools may look more favorably on applicants who submit test scores.
TAKING THE TEST ANYWAY: AN EDGE FOR APPLICANTS
Kaplan/Manhattan Prep interviewed admissions officers from 96 full-time B-schools across the U.S. by e-mail between September and October 2021, including 24 of the top 100 programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and found what the test prep company calls “an evolving role” for the trio of admissions tests. Most interviewed gatekeepers who waive the admissions test requirement also say that applicants who submit scores may have a strategic advantage over those who don’t.
“While the admissions process remains fierce and top business schools are reporting record numbers of applicants, in some ways the admissions process has never been more flexible, and aspiring MBAs would be wise to take advantage of that,” says Brian Carlidge, vice president of admissions programs for Kaplan.
Taking the GMAT, GRE, or EA and submitting a score may give applicants an edge, even at MBA programs that have declared it unnecessary for admission.
“A good strategy for prospective students is submitting applications to a range of schools, including ‘safety schools’ and ‘reach schools,’” Carlidge says. “If you take the GMAT, GRE or EA, those scores are ‘for your eyes only’ unless you decide to share them. If your score is likely to help you get into a certain school, submit your score, but if you think it would hurt your chances of getting into a different school, then keep it to yourself and let other pieces of your application like your GPA and work experience speak to your strengths.”
‘ANYTHING AN APPLICANT CAN DO TO STAND OUT FROM THE PACK IS HELPFUL’
The 2021 Kaplan/Manhattan Prep business school admissions officers survey finds that 67% of U.S. B-schools currently waive the admissions exam requirement, including 34% who say their school may make the waiver permanent. However, 88% of exam-waiving schools say that submitting a competitive admissions exam score helps a prospective student’s application.
The admissions officers explained their reasoning:
“Anything an applicant can do to stand out from the pack is helpful,” says one. “A good GMAT score shows us that they are willing to invest time to prepare for the MBA and that they have the baseline knowledge to begin.”
“There is too much variance in GPA scores, and letters of recommendation are not always an accurate reflection of the applicant’s potential success,” says another admissions officer. “The standardized tests, even though they have their flaws, are useful in admissions decisions.”
“Our scholarships are based on GPA, GMAT score, and interview experience, so strong GMAT scores have a very important impact on admissions and scholarship offers,” says a third.
“In situations where an applicant’s GPA is lower than we would typically consider, strong scores might lead to us giving the applicant additional consideration,” another says.
“With so few taking the tests, a GMAT/GRE score can really make a candidate stand out,” yet another says.
NO DIFFERENCE IN VIEWS OF AT-HOME VS. ON-LOCATION
In another finding of the survey, admissions officers almost unanimously viewed applicants who take the GMAT Online (97%) and GRE At Home (97%) no differently than applicants who take the exam in-person at a testing service.
“This is good news for applicants, especially since the online versions of the exams have become a permanent option,” Carlidge says. “Business school applicants can now be fully confident that they won’t be at any admissions disadvantage if they decide to take the exam from the comfort of their own home.
“Just focus on getting the best score possible.”