If you can’t score a 700+ GMAT, can you still get into a top 10 MBA school?

May 29, 2015 | by Matt Symonds

Scoring a 700 on the GMAT today isn’t worth the same as it was 10 years ago. While achieving 700+ in 2003 would place you in the top 92% of test takers, the same score today means you’ve scored in the top 89%. This is due to the fact that applicants are investing more time and effort to study for the test, and are making the most of the abundant amount of test information and practice material available out there. Meaning, the competition for a competitive score on the GMAT continues to increase, but is it true that if you can’t score a 700 on the GMAT you’re destined to a school below the top 20?

It could be comforting to many to see that GMAT scores for the MBA class of 2016 range from 510 to 790 at Harvard, and 550 to 790 at Stanford. But the distribution of GMAT scores of students in a program will roughly fall according to a bell curve. So if you remove the outliers who had something outstanding to offer (or whose parents could afford to fund a new building), you’re left with a more realistic view of what represents a competitive score. At Wharton, for example, 80% of those admitted for the class of 2016 had a GMAT score between 710 to 750.

Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara explains that when she was at Wharton, for anyone with a GMAT below 650 there was a committee that met to discuss the viability of that candidate. “If a quant score was below the 75% threshold we needed to understand why. Sometimes there were reasons for it, but there’s a lot of pressure on the admissions team to ensure that they’re not admitting students who would struggle with quants. Wharton is one of a number of schools which is quant heavy, along with Harvard, Booth, Sloan, and Columbia, while the likes of Kellogg and Darden are less so.

Judith does offer some hope: “We sometimes witnessed candidates with great professional experience and a strong academic record who had a GMAT score in the mid or even low 600s, but who we believed had all the qualities to thrive in the MBA program and excel as alumni. So despite their GMAT, we fought to see them admitted. But at the top schools the pool of high quality applicants is so deep that it can be hard to justify admitting candidates with below par GMATs.”

The reason why the GMAT is so heavily used in the business school application process is because it’s a standardized test that allows admissions to fairly compare the verbal and quant skills of applicants with diverse academic backgrounds and has proven to be a good predictor of academic success in an MBA.

So if the test is here to stay, is there any way to compensate for a weaker score?

Schools do at least look at the GMAT combined with your undergrad/grad school record and rate you on your academics taking a holistic picture into account. A really strong undergrad record, which perhaps included a consistent presence on the Dean’s List, can help compensate for a borderline GMAT.

But while schools look at the big picture of your academics, the reality of how schools assess your GPA can vary. For example, quantitative majors such as Engineering are often considered to be harder and may be more highly regarded than qualitative ones, such as History. Not all majors were created equal, and not all undergrad institutions were either.

There are also slight differences in the expectations schools have of the GMAT from different types of applicants. For example, schools may be more flexible on the GMAT score of women from under-represented regions than to more common profiles. But if you’re coming from a country or a professional background where historically the numbers are high on the quant, you need to really score within that range.

Schools have higher expectations of management consultants, finance professionals, and engineers, while IT types from India are competing with tons of other similar candidates. Because the top schools have the pick of the crop, the GMAT scores for such individuals cannot afford to be anything less than stellar. Wharton and other top schools could pick and choose but we know that a 670 would have been put aside pretty fast in such groups.

There are only two schools in the Poets & Quants’ Top 15 with a GMAT average below 700. Though you’re not headed to the rejection pile if your score is below that level, the sheer volume of applicants with competitive GMAT scores means that the rest of your application will need to sparkle to mitigate your lower test score.

If you have a GMAT score below 700 and want to attend a top-ranked program, we are happy to speak to you to provide feedback about your candidacy so please contact us for a free consultation.


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