The business school admissions process has a lot of moving parts. Understanding the details in how your application is evaluated by an admissions office is key to finding success—especially when applying to top programs. To help ease your anxiety about the details of the applications, we have answered four common questions about the GMAT and MBA admissions more generally.
If I want to go to a top 10 school, how important is getting a 700 or higher on the GMAT?
Getting above a 700 on the GMAT is a good benchmark to set for yourself if you’re applying to top programs—a 730 is a good goal to set for the best schools. But getting above a 700 is not a guaranteed admission, and getting below a 700 doesn’t mean that you’re automatically rejected. The testing issue is a threshold matter, meaning that once you have reached a certain threshold at top schools—usually above a 700—that afterwards, your point of evaluation is more reliant on your work experience, resume, essays, letters of recommendation, and generally the rest of your application.
And even if you don’t hit that threshold, schools will still read your application. Maybe you have a 680, but some incredible work experience and your own side venture and you sit on the executive board of a nonprofit and you have a very personal letter of recommendation from Phil Knight. Your lower-than-the-average GMAT score might require some more scrutiny into the rest of your application, but it won’t automatically get tossed into the reject pile.
As you think about where your GMAT score should be, always look at the median scores at the schools you’re applying to. HBS (and most other MBA programs) includes a class profile on its admissions site. It clearly outlines its median GMAT score—730—as well as the middle 80%—690-760. Try to get as close to the median or above as possible. You should always look at the differences in scores, class profiles, resources, and culture at different schools. Look through this article on HBS vs GSB to understand the differences between top schools’ class profiles.
Is it important to be in the 80thpercentile or better on both sections of the GMAT?
In order to get a good overall score, yes. A lot of the time, that’s not the case though, as different people have different strengths when it comes to testing. If you’re coming from a STEM background, you’re probably going to be scoring higher on the quant than the verbal sections. And the opposite might go for people coming from a more humanities-leaning background. Naturally, you should be scoring higher in these sections. If you’re not…that’s an issue.
If you’re not reaching the 80th percentile in your weaker section, you’ll want to 1) Make sure to hit the other section out of the park and 2) Think about how to fill in this gap elsewhere in your application. If you’re quant isn’t up to par, use your resume to point out your quant abilities or ask a recommender to speak to your skills in his/her letter.
How much work experience do I need?
Again, for a general answer, you should look at the average age of admits at the schools on your list. Stanford GSB lists the average number of work experience as four years on its class profile site. Similarly, Chicago Booth’s Class of 2018 profile lists the average work experience as five years for its accepted students. The metrics at the schools on your list are typically the best way to gauge how much work experience you should have.
That being said, this can vary student-by-student. If you have had an accelerated career, where you have been promoted twice in three years and have led your own projects and managed your own team earlier than usual and have stellar letters of rec, then you might consider applying earlier than five years of experience. Or, if you took a gap year in between graduating from college and entering the working world, you might need to extend your timeline. The best way to think about how much work experience you need, is to reflect on your accomplishments. Look at your resume, and consider your tangible achievements. Are they impressive? Then it might be time to apply. Do you have more room for growth at your current job? Then maybe hold off another year. In general though, 4-5 years of work experience (around 27 or 28 years old) is a good metric of time for averages at top MBA programs.
In what situation should I take the GRE instead of the GMAT?
You should take the GMAT if given the choice. The GRE is technically evaluated the exact same as the GMAT. But there’s still a slight bias in the admissions offices towards the GMAT. Taking the GMAT shows that you’re committed to this MBA degree, you’re sure that this is a necessary step to take for your future goals, and especially if you’re coming from a nontraditional background, taking the GMAT instead of the GRE shows that you’re serious about business school. That being said, if you’re applying to dual-degree programs such as Stanford’s joint/dual degree programs, then taking the GRE might make more sense to kill two birds with one stone. The other time you should be taking the GRE is if your GRE score will be significantly higher. This is something that depends on your individual profile and your test-taking abilities.
About the Author
Hannah Smith is a graduate of Stanford University and admissions expert at InGenius Prep.