GMAT or GRE for MBA Applicants: What’s the Right Strategy?

Most of the top business schools in the United States now accept both the GMAT and GRE exams for MBA admission. But how do you decide which test you should take, the GMAT or GRE?


By accepting the GRE as an alternative in the admissions process, many elite schools have diversified their applicant pool. Plus, 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 the GMAT is more concrete and analytical. This supports the suitability of the GRE for the more academically-minded student.

Let’s take a look at some common questions SBC clients have had about choosing the GMAT or GRE for their MBA application package.  You might find your own situation mirrored in one of these examples.

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Q: How do I decide whether to take the GRE vs. the GMAT?

A: The GMAT and GRE are two entirely different tests that don’t remotely resemble one another.  Which test to take will depend on the applicant’s profile, college major and coursework, and target MBA programs. 

Try a free practice test online for both the GRE and GMAT to assess which test is best for you.  If you do significantly better on one over the other, you probably have your answer. 

Discuss with your MBA admissions consultant to validate which test score to submit. There are nuances to the decision, such as your industry profile, target school, and the scoring differential between the tests. 

Some schools are more flexible with lower GRE scores. Jenna, a former NYU Admissions Officer on our SBC team, shared: “We did not have to report GRE scores to the ranking agencies, so we were much more willing to ‘dip’ in test scores if the candidate took the GRE instead of the GMAT.”

Q: Should I take the GMAT or GRE for Harvard?

A: “The majority of applicants historically have favored the GMAT, but HBS has no preference for one over the other,” shared Andrea, a former HBS Admissions Officer who is now an SBC consultant.


“They will zero in on how you performed relative to the GMAT. Some admissions staff use the converter tool to get a sense of your overall performance.”

Q: I am looking to take advantage of MIT dropping its testing requirement to apply this year, but would like to take a finance class to boost my chances. I got Cs in a few of my finance classes in undergrad. What is your advice?

A: Not submitting a standardized test score is only beneficial if all other measures work well, especially the grades.  So if you had stellar grades undergrad, AdCom would probably be ok evaluating you without a test. 

But because your grades were low in quant classes, having a GMAT or GRE score to help counteract those grades is essential. Even with A’s in multiple courses, it will be more challenging without another measure (especially at a school like MIT Sloan).

Reconsider taking either the GMAT or the GRE, which could do much more to help your chances than taking finance classes. 

Q: What is the converter tool? I only see reported GRE averages on the MBA program sites.

A: The reported GRE scores on the MBA program websites aren’t entirely reflective for any given applicant because they are averages. They reflect only a fraction of the admitted class.  Keep in mind the reported GRE test score averages are not adjusted by crucial variables such as demographic, function, industry, career path, college caliber, or the extent of quantitative exposure. 

So, we recommend using this conversion tool to assess GRE scores as another way to evaluate your candidacy. 

Here is a sampling of GRE scores from our HBS admits from the current season to demonstrate the range:

V161, Q167 V160, Q163
V160, Q159 V168, Q166
V166, Q170 V170, Q170
V169, Q164 V165, Q165

Q: I just got out of the GRE. I got a 160 verbal and 159 quant. This translates to a 630 GMAT score. I should tell you I have taken the GMAT a few times. My highest score has been 640, and my lowest and most recent score has been 580. Which test should I submit?

A: When in doubt, we will usually recommend submitting the score that is the highest, especially if the differential between the GRE and GMAT score is significant and if there’s enough quantitative exposure through college and career.

Q: I took both the GRE and GMAT practice tests but did better on GRE. Which should I submit?

A: We have had exceptionally quant-proficient clients who bombed the GMAT multiple times (e.g., one client took it four times and couldn’t break a 650) but then switched to the GRE and absolutely killed it.

The client who took it four times scored a 720 GMAT equivalent when converted. This client reported both sets of scores and got into the programs they had hoped for.

Look at the quantitative percentiles on both tests, the difference between your scores, and the extent of quantitative coursework from college before determining which test to submit. There are scenarios where we may recommend submitting the weaker test score because of the quantitative percentage.

Q: While they may accept both GRE and GMAT, do admissions committees have a preference or bias for one over the other?

A: We surveyed the former MBA Admissions Officers on our SBC team, and here’s their advice.

Anderson: “The GRE is fine if the quant % is high enough, ideally over 80 percent.”

Booth: “If you haven’t taken either, take the GMAT, but if you’ve already taken the GRE and are happy with your score, don’t take the GMAT just to take it.”

CBS: “We used the conversion tool online to see what the GRE would equal to GMAT. They really don’t care which one because they can see what the GMAT equivalent was.”

INSEAD: “INSEAD will focus on the % breakdown in verbal vs. quantitative. The ratings are assigned to scores based on a 1-5 scale, so 5 = 90%+, 4 = 80%+, 3 = 70%+, 2 = 60% +, 1 = 50%+. This is true for both the GMAT and the GRE. Aim for 70%+, ideally 80%+,  to demonstrate that the prospective student can cope with the rigor of the program.” 

Kellogg: “Submit GRE if a great all-round candidate and GMAT is the weak-spot.” 

Stanford: “Submit the score that substantiates that you can do the work.”

Stern: “Stern is so super sensitive about test scores, and doing well on the GRE/GMAT matters. We converted the GRE to the GMAT using the online conversion tool. Q was more important than V. We rarely cared about IR or AWA unless it was really low.”

Q:  Which MBA applicants should favor the GMAT over the GRE?

A: For typical top MBA applicant profiles, such as those from the traditional fields of finance or consulting, the majority opt to submit a GMAT score. The same is true for over-represented applicants, such as Indian engineers. 

If you come from a traditional or over-represented career path/ demographic, we recommend trying the GMAT first. The GRE is accepted, but it can be perceived as easier quantitatively than the GMAT.  If you can score high enough on the GMAT as a traditional industry applicant, that should be your plan A. 

If the GMAT score comes in below average for a target MBA program and you’re a traditional industry applicant from a common demographic pool, it would be wise to pivot to the GRE. 

Q:  Which MBA applicants should favor the GRE over the GMAT?

A: For anyone struggling with the math side of the GMAT, we would recommend shifting to the GRE to see if the applicant can gain an edge, as the quantitative section of the GRE is easier than the GMAT quant section. If an applicant is nervous about their quantitative performance, they will likely perform better on the GRE. 

We have seen that the GRE could be a valuable differentiator and smart strategic decision for an MBA candidacy. MBA programs began accepting this exam to attract a broader, more diverse set of applicants. Because the GRE is accepted at many graduate programs, incorporating the test into an application strategy often bolsters positioning, especially for non-traditional applicants. 

Joint degree applicants, such as those applying to MPP/ MBA programs, usually opt to take the GRE. 

Hear more about how the GRE can help MBA admit chances from Stacy Blackman Consulting principal Esther Magna:

Those that submit GRE scores may be highlighting strengths outside of the more common business skill-set. When developing a full strategy, choosing the GRE can be another way to highlight a unique path.  

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SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.