What GMAT score is good enough for you

In this post, I explain what GMAT Score is high enough for your favorite MBA schools and explain why you probably need to take the GMAT and GRE again. And again. And maybe even again.

If you missed Part 1, please check it out! It explains how to choose between the GMAT and the GRE. That’s an important choice, and not for the reasons you might think!

But once you’ve chosen the test for you, it’s all about crushing it. Like totally, head butt smashing that thing.

A lot of people don’t realize how much a mediocre GMAT can hurt them, so lemme debunk a few more myths.

Here are some false impressions people have about the GMAT

  • As long as I have a good GPA, I don’t have to worry so much about the test
  • Even if my GPA is low, then a score that’s around the school’s average is good enough
  • I have a 730! That’s Harvard’s average (or my target school’s) so I’m good!
  • I’m not even applying to Harvard! I’m applying to the bottom of the top 10, so my score matters less and I can get away with a 700 or 710.
  • Apply all the above myths to the GRE. (BTW, if you want to see how your GRE score equates to the GMAT, you can use this tool from ETS.)
  • I took the test once and it’s over 700, so I can quit and focus on apps.

The truth (as usual) is far more complicated and nuanced than mere GMAT averages for MBA programs.

Sadly, there’s no real comfort in stats. You’re gonna have to face the music of your unique profile. May you face it with the confidence of JT:

Schools need diverse student bodies. They need people of all kinds of backgrounds, based on gender, age, academic background, geographic origin, career industry and function, goals, and other identifiers. This is part of what makes the MBA experience so awesome – having your perspective augmented and challenged by people very different from you, many of whom know way more than you do about cool stuff.

But in the admissions process, it means the schools have to constrain their decisions even further. They aren’t just admitting the “statistically best candidates.” They are admitting a strong group of candidates that cover their demographic bases. That is why plenty of people get rejected from top schools every year even with 4.0s and 760 GMATS.

Your GMAT or GRE score doesn’t get you into business school, but it can keep you out.

Remember what I said in Part 1 about the rankings? Schools have to monitor and maintain high average GMATs. That means that for each low scoring admit, they need a high scoring one. Seems reasonable enough, but it gets complicated (and one could even argue, a bit unfair) when you add the diversity piece to the equation. This is because not all demographics are competing for the same “number of spots” and not all demographics score equally well on average on the test.

To understand how this looks, check out this beautifully produced report from GMAC, the makers of the GMAT, summarizing GMAT tests taken in 2017.

I want to highlight two specific stats that alone will illustrate my point.

On page 9, you will see that the total number of U.S. citizens taking the test was 79,862. The total number of tests taken by East and Central Asian citizens was 86,213, almost 10% more.

But if you know anything about school demographics, you know that Asians do not represent 10% more of the class than Americans. Most schools in a good year are eking out around 40% of the entire class represented by people of ALL nations outside the US, and that includes both U.S. dual citizens AND representatives of every other country, not just Asians.

If we imagine that East and Central Asians represent 10% of the class, it’s clear that Asian citizens are fighting a much more brutal battle for many fewer spots at top schools. (If you crunch these loose numbers above, you’ll see it could theoretically be 7X more competitive for an Asian citizen to get into a top school than an American.) And these numbers get even more alarming if we look at the country level instead of the continent.

And you also have to look at average GMAT scores.

Asians have the highest average scores of any geography in that same report (608 vs 604 for U.S. citizens and 510 for those from Latin America.) Remember, schools are not just accepting the applicants with the best test scores. They are assembling a diverse portfolio, and that means they sometimes pass on people with higher scores in favor of people who will bring a diverse experience and perspective to the class, even if that means accepting a weaker test score.

So if you read between all the lines above, you could infer that a strong applicant from Latin America could get admitted with a lower GMAT score than a strong applicant from Asia. Though these stats aren’t made public, and schools might even deny that they have quotas or metrics of this type, the numbers don’t lie. As Poets&Quants recently highlighted, the average GMAT scores for internationals at most top schools is higher than the average GMAT score of American students.

So the first determinant of your minimum required score is demographics. If you are from an overrepresented demographic, your score needs to be higher. If you’re from a less well-represented demographic, then you will face less fierce competition because there are fewer applicants like you. Unfortunately, the primary battleground on which this apples-to-apples comparison and elimination takes place is the GMAT/GRE, because it is a recent and unifying stat that all applicants must have.

But there are other factors that determine how high your personal score needs to be.

And that includes things like…

  • Your undergraduate GPA and how strong your school was
  • Your major (Was it MBA relevant and quantitative? And did you do well?)
  • Your job (Do you use MBA-type analytical skills daily? Do you work with numbers?)
  • Your other academic profile (Do you have any certifications or additional quantitative coursework that strengthens your profile?)

The easiest one to understand is your GPA. I’m gonna keep this simple.

If your GPA is below the average for your target school, you need to crush your standardized test.

You need to score above the average for your target school. Having the dual whammy of a relatively low GMAT and low GPA will change your competitiveness with top schools, unless there is something truly unique and extraordinary about your personal profile – like a once in a generation kind of accomplishment.

Like, are you Justin Timberlake? JT could get in with a 550.

But the rest of us have to toil in the sentence correction and number properties mines to score better.

It may not seem fair, but think about this from the adcom’s perspective. They have to reject more qualified and amazing candidates than they accept. If they accept 600 students, you can bet they are rejecting 1,200-1,800 that would have been a perfectly good fit and addition to the class.

That’s hard, especially because most adcom members are people-people. They want to help applicants achieve their goals and have great professional lives.

So when you have a clear major weakness like a low test score or a low GPA, or both, then you make the decision easy for them. No matter how much they like you, they have an out to say:

“Well, the stats are just too low, so we can let this one go.”

Your ideal target GMAT or GRE score is simple, though.

Your target GMAT score is your personal best. It is the very best you can do after having given your chosen test all you’ve got. That means testing more than once, taking a class, even hiring a tutor if need be. That test score won’t get you in, but it could be the reason schools say “no.”

So don’t leave any stone unturned in getting the very best score you can get. Only you know when you’ve really maxed out. In my next post, I’ll explain how to know when it’s time to quit and when and why you might need to keep going — even if you get a good score the first or second time. Every point gives you a slight edge in this brutally competitive field, and you deserve every advantage in achieving your dreams.

If you want to talk to me or a member of the Career Protocol team about how to achieve those dreams, even if your test scores are lower than you’d like, drop us a line and we’ll reach out for a chat!