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MBA GMAT vs. GPA


GMAT
Minimum score?
The GMAT is a standardized test you need to take to be admitted. In order to be considered for a selective program your GMAT score doesn’t necessarily have to meet or exceed the program’s average score. As you probably already heard a thousand times: The GMAT is only one of many MBA admission requirements reviewed in an application. GMAT scores, however, have been on the rise over the past years. Consider Kellogg, for example, which publishes some interesting stats of its incoming class each year. Look closely at the percentage of enrolled students with GMAT scores of less than 650 for the class of 2009 and the class of 2010 which has dropped from 11% to just 6% respectively. On the other end, the percentage of enrolled students with scores greater than 740 has increased from 15% to 22%.

Kellogg stats for class entering 2007 (MBA class of 2009):

Distribution of GMAT scores among applicants 2007

Kellogg stats for class entering 2008 (MBA class of 2010):

Distribution of GMAT scores among applicants 2008

Note also that the average GMAT score increased from 704 to 712. The average GMAT score for the class of 2012 was 714 so scores are still increasing but at a slower pace. Other data also shows this trend. Say you scored a 660 on the GMAT in 2004, which placed you in the 87th percentile. The same score was "only" in the 82nd percentile in 2010 though. So don't be surprised if your percentile rank goes down if you took the GMAT a while ago and apply this year. Wait for the copy of the score report to arrive once you submit your score in order to use the latest percentiles in your application. Or take Stanford GSB as an example, which had a sick median GMAT of 730 for the class of 2009, the highest ever. Luckily, for the classes of 2010 and 2011 the median GMAT has remained at 730, indicating that scores are finally reaching a frontier.

Score below average?
Again, you do not need to meet or exceed an MBA program's average score go get accepted. The general rule though is that if your score is below average it helps to have an above average GPA and vice versa. Either of the two should demonstrate that you can succeed academically throughout the program (however, not all GPAs are the same as mentioned below). Try to stay above the lower limit of your target's middle 80% range though. For example, MIT Sloan School of Management's class of 2012 has a middle 80% range of 680 - 760 (meaning 10% scored below 680 and 10% above 760) with a mean of 717. This means that you should at least aim for 680 or above. If you're below that, the rest of your application (GPA, work experience, recommendation letters, essays, etc.) better be stellar. On the other hand, can a very high GMAT automatically get you in? Check these stats which are a bit old but still hold true. During a 2004 accepted.com admissions chat the Haas (UC Berkeley) admissions director mentioned that the year before 187 applicants had a GMAT of over 750 - and 75% of them were rejected.

On another note, your background by the way also plays a role when looking at your individual scores. If you deal with numbers a lot at work (e.g. in finance or accounting), then you might get by with a weak quantitative score. If you're an international applicant (e.g. from China) then your verbal score should be decent. And if you don't deal with numbers on a regular basis then obviously a good math score will be more important.

Overall, some programs also place a bit more importance on the GMAT than others (e.g. Wharton or Stanford GSB, which also have the highest GMAT averages of all MBA programs). An excerpt below from the GMAT score report might explain why most put a bit more weight on the GMAT than the GPA: "GMAT scores are a valid predictor of academic performance in the first year of a graduate management program. Since creating the GMAT exam 50 years ago, we have conducted hundreds of validity studies that demonstrate this fact. In the past ten years, we’ve conducted almost 300 studies for graduate management programs all over the world. The median correlation between GMAT scores and first-year grades was 0.51 (perfect correlation is 1.0). The median correlation between undergraduate grade point average and first-year grades was 0.28. Thus, GMAT scores are generally a better predictor of performance in the first year of business school than undergraduate grades, though we advise admissions committees to use both when evaluating candidates.” Also, GMAT scores are more important than GPA averages for an MBA program’s ranking.

Harvard Business School, on the other hand, is one of the MBA programs that doesn't emphasize the GMAT as much as others. HBS didn't even require the GMAT from 1985-1997. Still, with an average of 724 the class of 2012 had one of the highest scores of all MBA programs.

How do I get a good score?
The Official Guide for GMAT Review book is almost a must, because it is published by the guys who have the monopoly on this type of test. Therefore, they are the only ones who can use real questions asked in previous GMAT tests. To stay fair, other books are of course also recommended (especially the ones with practice tests)! Some also take a GMAT prep-course, which you could consider if you have the time. In general, you might want to practice about an hour a day for 2-3 months and take some practice tests on the weekends.

Websites with free GMAT online tests (user registration required):

One more tip: Take this annoying test as soon as possible. Statistics actually show that those taking the test right after college do a bit better (maybe because their brains are still in learning mode). Your score is valid for 5 years and adcoms don't care if you take the test right before applying or a couple years before. Just get the GMAT out of your way early because you don't want to worry about it while you're applying. Writing your essays will take up enough of your time. That said, check our Useful Links page to register for the GMAT or to purchase a GMAT prep-book.

Should I take the GMAT again if I’m unhappy with my score?
If you know that you can do better and you just had a bad day or didn’t prepare enough – then definitely yes! It also looks good to show that you gave it a second shot if you're dissatisfied with your score to re-emphasize you're serious about getting an MBA. However, not everyone does better on their second try. MBA.com writes: "In fact, some people do worse the second time, and of those who do get a higher score, most only improve their scores by about 30 points... However, many programs, but not all, will consider your best, rather than your most recent, score. Factor that policy into your decision." Also, if your score already meets or exceeds your target MBA program's average then don't bother trying to get an even better score. This might only make sense if your GPA is below average.

Do recruiters care about my GMAT score?
This depends on your post-MBA career goal. The majority of companies out there don't ask for your GMAT score when you apply for a summer internship or a full-time position. There are some that do (e.g. Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Google, etc.). For these companies, a low GMAT score (e.g. <700) could prevent you from getting even a 1st round interview. So depending on your post-MBA career goal, re-taking the GMAT could even make sense if your GMAT is already close to your target's average.

What about the essay section?
Admissions officers supposedly don’t pay attention to this score that much. Your score might only stand out if it is considerably below average (e.g. an AWA score below 4.0). Instead of actually focusing on the score, they might use the essays you wrote for the GMAT to compare with your application essays. You know why.

GRE instead of the GMAT?
It seems like GMAC (the company which administers the GMAT) is slowly losing its monopoly. More and more MBA programs are now accepting the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. Check this article by BusinessWeek on the latest developments.


GPA
Your undergraduate GPA is also closely looked at as an MBA admission requirement to see if you’re academically fit enough for a top MBA program. GPAs are not all the same, however. The following factors play a role:

  • Which university did you graduate from? (e.g. a 3.3 GPA from an Ivy-League university will be viewed more favorable than a 3.3 GPA from a community college)
  • How difficult were the courses you took (did you only take 101 classes)?
  • Which degree did you earn (e.g. did you graduate with a double major and a minor vs. only a single major)?
  • Did you have to work part-time to finance your education or were you on a college sports team where you had to practice a lot?
If you have a low GPA, then a good GMAT score will be vital (as mentioned above). A strong graduate GPA might also help to offset a poor undergrad GPA. If you have a valid reason for why your undergrad GPA is not as strong as you would have liked it to be (e.g. you had to take care of your sick granny) then use the optional essay to explain this. The optional essay can't be used to explain a low GMAT score, however. It just is what it is.

Math Proficiency
Many top programs especially look at your quantitative score on the GMAT as well as your math grades in college to see how fit you are in math. If your math grades from college are poor (or you didn’t take any math classes in college) and you didn’t do too well on the quantitative section of the GMAT, then you might want to consider taking an advanced math course (e.g. Statistics) at your local university to prove that you won’t struggle in class.

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