Over the past decade, the average GMAT scores at the top business schools have steadily been rising. Why is this the case, and what are the implications for applicants?
Reasons for rising average GMAT scores
GMAT scores are rising because GMAC, the administrators of the GMAT exam, has made the GMAT more favorable for candidates. Because candidates can cancel a score within 72 hours of taking the GMAT (after knowing what the score is), and even reinstate a cancelled score, there is absolutely no downside for candidates to retake the GMAT multiple times to increase their score; and so this is exactly what applicants have been and are doing. Another factor to keep in mind is that many MBA programs now accept GRE scores in addition to GMAT scores. If a candidate is not able to achieve a competitive GMAT score, he/she always has the option to take the GRE. So, those candidates who are able to get the high GMAT scores are the ones who are taking the GMAT (which, in turn, is also contributing to the trend of rising scores).
Implications of rising average GMAT scores
Rising test scores at the top business schools essentially means that for the typical applicant, there is very little, if any, room for error. The typical applicant needs to meet this very high threshold to even be considered a competitive candidate. Of course, there are always exceptions; for example, if a candidate has exhibited stellar qualities in another area of the application (such as phenomenal leadership potential), then that can certainly compensate for a weaker test score, but that does not happen very often. As a result, if a candidate has a weak GMAT score, he/she needs to do everything in his/her control to demonstrate the ability to handle the rigor of the curriculum, such as pointing to analytical work in his/her professional roles.
Suggested application strategy given rising average GMAT scores
There are a few ways that you can account for this trend in your application strategy:
1) You need to decide whether to take the GMAT or the GRE. If you are not able to achieve a competitive GMAT score and/or are struggling with that exam, it is probably better for you to go down the path of taking the GRE (however, this needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis).
2) Apply to business school when you are able to put your strongest foot forward (which includes the highest GMAT/GRE score that you are capable of). So, this may mean even delaying applying to business school to bolster your profile, if necessary.
3) You should also apply to a range of business schools given how competitive the process is. By just targeting the top few schools, you are essentially putting all of your eggs in one basket, which is risky.
4) As a stated in a prior blog, you also need to put together differentiated applications that are authentic and compelling. How should you go about doing that? By drawing upon your unique experiences and perspective, talking about the why, and conveying your voice. Anyone can talk about his/her experiences and accomplishments, but what will really set you apart is providing color on why something has been instrumental in shaping you or why something means so much to you. This interpretation – for example, the impact that you have had, the obstacles that you have overcome, the lessons that you have learned – is what will make you stand out.
By keeping this trend at the forefront and following the suggested application strategy, you will maximize your chances of success. If we can help you craft your strategy, please reach out to us!
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.