The buzz around test requirements for MBA programs has intensified over the last season due to the pandemic and access issues around test-taking. Across our client pool, we field questions about admissions exams daily. With former MBA admissions officers on our team for every top US and European program, we have a unique opportunity to share insights that reflect the active dialogue of our own “GMAT Club” community.
Here is the first in a series of Q&As offering a sneak peek into the internal conversations we’ve been having.
Do I need to take a test for MBA admissions?
There are two different camps on this subject. The first includes strong proponents of test-taking. Meanwhile, others genuinely feel that standardized testing isn’t predictive or necessary for higher education admissions. Both camps are accurate.
Prospective business school candidates need first to identify which caliber and type of MBA program they aspire to. Those criteria influence whether to take a test and how important that score will be in predicting relative admit chances.
There are countless graduate programs, especially outside of the top 15 MBA programs, that are “test lighter” in their expectations. Still, we see that demand for the elite 15 full-time MBA programs has soared. This is because of the sterling value of their reputation, the education provided, and alumni networks.
Most of the top executive MBA programs also require a test score. Even during the peak of the pandemic, few waivered on their requirement of an objective test measurement.
Bottom line: Almost all top brand MBA programs still expect and require a test of some type.
What value does a test score have in MBA Admissions?
A test score is the most objective measure of one’s ability to handle the coursework of business school. A score close to or at the program’s reported average demonstrates that the applicant can manage the analytical courseload.
MBA admissions officers evaluate the test score to assess academic aptitude in conjunction with the college transcript and work experience. “It becomes a moral question. I don’t want to admit someone who is going to struggle,” shared a college admissions officer in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
The MBA essays and recommendation letters help paint the bigger picture of who the applicant is as a person. A strong test score shows the candidate committed to the academic exercise of test prep through hard work and perseverance. Such attributes are proxies for success within and outside the classroom of a graduate program.
For example, a former admissions officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared the following about quant performance for most MBA applicants to INSEAD:
“Anyone who scores below the 70th percentile will be a ‘conversation.’ A committee discussion will ensue to review the academic record to see if there are overall concerns about the prospective student to cope with the rigor of the program. There is always some test score flexibility. But there’s definitely an agreement that quant performance predicts academic success within the INSEAD program.”
Should I take the GMAT exam?
If you’re aiming for top MBA programs and have access to the test—either version—we recommend taking the test and submitting the score.
“Even for some programs such as MIT Sloan, which temporarily waived the test requirement due to the pandemic, we find that clients who submitted a test score have had more favorable admit outcome results overall,” shared a former MIT admissions officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.
Any test is better than no test for applicants focused on the top MBA programs with competitive acceptance rates. There are other tests to consider, such as the Executive Assessment, if the GMAT isn’t ideal for the applicant.
Should I submit a test score even if the program doesn’t require one?
We almost always encourage minimizing risk by submitting a test score. “Not submitting a standardized test score is only beneficial if all other measures work well, especially the grades,” shared a former Kellogg School of Management admissions officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.
“So, if you had stellar grades undergrad, the AdCom would probably be okay evaluating you without a test, if the program’s application requirements waive the test score.”
But if college grades were low in quant classes specifically, a test score to help counteract those grades is essential. A test score is the most reliable measure of academic aptitude. It’s also weighted more heavily than even if a candidate opted to submit any ancillary course transcripts such as HBx Core or MBAmath.
What has changed in test expectations for top MBA programs?
Top programs have deemphasized the GMAT in recent years, so it’s not quite as rigid as it once was. This pivot has helped to diversify the student class.
“When I was at Wharton Adcom, we placed less of an emphasis on stats (i.e., average GMAT score) as we realized Wharton had lost candidates to HBS and Stanford who were taking lower test scores,” noted a former member of the Wharton School admissions officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.
Programs still evaluate a candidate’s profile holistically based on all aspects. “All the test score shows, which is still vital, is that the applicant can do the work in addition to managing everything else that’s part of MBA experience,” shared a former Harvard Business School admissions officer on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team.
Stay tuned for our next edition of GMAT Club: Test Talk with Stacy Blackman Consulting, where we will share the insights of the other former MBA Admissions Officers about test guidance.