Now that most of the top business schools in the United States accept both the GMAT and GRE exam for admission, how do you decide which test you should take? Many elite schools hope to diversify their applicant pool by accepting the GRE as an alternative in the admissions process. Another favorable aspect for business schools: it creates a more competitive enrollment rate; the number of available spots stays the same but the volume of applications goes up.
Prospective grad students of the arts and sciences have typically submitted GRE scores, so applicants deciding between business school and other graduate programs appreciate having one less test to study and pay for. Meanwhile the GMAT, long considered the gold standard for the specific academic skills needed in graduate business school, is more expensive and offered in fewer locations worldwide.
One essential difference between the tests is that the GRE requires you to do the arguing, whereas in the GMAT you analyze what has been argued. The style expected from GRE test readers is more abstract and draws from various sources and disciplines for examples or references, whereas it is more concrete and analytical for the GMAT. This supports the suitability of the GRE for the more academically-minded student.
A recent US News and World Report article weighs in with the following five factors MBA applicants should consider when choosing between the GMAT and GRE:
- Does the school have a strong preference for the GMAT?
- Are your math skills especially strong? The GMAT is generally more difficult in the quant section
- Are you a wordsmith at heart? The GRE is more challenging in verbal, particularly for non-native English speakers.
- Consider your post-MBA career goals. Some firms require applicants to submit GMAT scores.
- Test anxiety is generally lower with the GRE, which allows you to save and return to questions to check your work.
In general, top business schools will be looking for fairly high percentile scores on the GRE, especially on the quantitative section. I had one client who, while phenomenal in many ways, could not achieve a GMAT score above 600. Her quantitative percentile came in around 40—half of the target score.
Although I’ve seen applicants admitted with very low GMAT scores in the past, we decided to take advantage of this new option and submit her application to Harvard Business School with the GRE instead. Despite a lower overall performance, her GRE results boasted a much higher quant score, and in the end, she was admitted to HBS.
Ultimately though, the GMAT remains the “tried and true” entrance exam for business schools—the admissions team will have no questions about why you chose it. If you are a great test-taker and it’s all the same to you, I would stick with the GMAT.
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