Does the GMAT even matter?
Well yes, kind of. Your GMAT or GRE score is absolutely something you want as high as possible for your MBA application. Even if a great GMAT score is not enough to get into business school, a bad score might just keep you out of it.
Angela Guido is here to explain just how the GMAT works in your MBA application, why it is important, why schools care about it and how to work out whether your GMAT score is good enough to get into the MBA program of your dreams.
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Is your GMAT or GRE score good enough? That is the question I'm going to help you answer today on MBA Monday. Welcome back! I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, a Career and MBA Coach, and a person who really wants you to get into the business school of your dreams. As it turns out, your test score is going to have a disproportionate share of that decision for you, which is why I'm talking about the question today of whether or not your test score is good enough. We've done quite a few videos on this channel about the GMAT and the GRE, but today I really want to get right to the heart of the question which is, is your score — whatever it is and whoever you are — good enough for the schools that you want to go to? This is an incredibly important question because what we found over the years is that a good GMAT score will not get you into business school. If you're not also qualified and passionate and a great person, the GMAT score alone is not going to overcome those weaknesses and get you into a great school, but if you are committed, accomplished, passionate, and a good person, a weak test score can limit your options. It can be the reason you are not admitted to a school that you would otherwise be a great fit for. So it's really important that you take those test scores seriously and that you do everything that you can do to maximize your score before you apply. But if you already have your score in hand, you're probably asking yourself, is this score, this one that I have, is it good enough? Can I stop now and apply, or do I need to take the test again? So I don't know who you are and I don't know what your test score is, but I'm going to explain to you the process you need to go through to answer this question for yourself.
The Test Score Serves 2 Purposes
First thing you need to understand is that the test score is serving two purposes in your application.
- Number one, it's sort of proving or helping demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are smart enough to handle the work of the MBA program. Now, most applicants that we work with and almost everyone we speak to even, already have ample evidence in their profile that they're smart enough to handle the work. They've got a strong GPA, they majored in a challenging major, they went to a good school, they're doing work that is somewhat quantitative, they've been promoted… So if you have at least most of those things, you're probably already showing the admissions committee that you've got the intellect, that you've got the intellectual horsepower to survive in business school.
- So where people run afoul of the test score is not usually in demonstrating whether or not they're capable of doing the work, it's in the second role that the GMAT plays for schools, and that is maintaining their rankings. So, we've done some videos about the rankings. If you Google MBA rankings, you're going to find a lot of information out there about how various schools rank against each other, and if you know anything about rankings in general and human nature, you probably know that when schools rank well, they're going to be more popular among applicants than when they don't rank well. The various ranking agencies each have their own algorithm, but all of them put some significant weight on the average test scores of students at a given program. They're using that as a proxy to help them ascertain which schools are getting the highest caliber applicants. It's an incredibly flawed algorithm because your test score is just one tiny aspect of your candidacy and proving what you're capable of. It has very little correlation with actual post-MBA success directly but because it's a single number that almost everyone has, everybody is piling onto that statistic as a predictor of strength of program and in some cases, as we said, also strength of candidate. So because schools need to care about their rankings, they cannot afford to ignore the rankings, they need to preserve their average GMAT and their average GRE score. So this means that even if you're the strongest candidate ever on every other dimension, your test score alone could be the reason you're eliminated because it is so far below that school's average GMAT they don't think they can compensate for it with admitting other students that have higher GMAT or GRE scores, so they're going to have to pass on you as a candidate, even though they might otherwise really want to accept you. That's the sad reality with respect to your test score. It's the one statistic that can kind of screw you for no fault of your own. I want to say one last thing about the first role of the GMAT in demonstrating your intellectual horsepower, and that is to say that if you have a weakness in your profile vis-à-vis your GPA — if you have a week undergraduate GPA, or you went to an unknown school or a lesser-known school, or you majored in something very qualitative with no math or quantitative coursework whatsoever — that puts a little bit of extra pressure on the GMAT to lift your intellectual horsepower profile. So for those of you who are coming in with a weakness in your transcript, in your academic profile, the test score is that much more important because it's no longer just helping the school preserve their average. It's also doing some of the heavy lifting and proving that you have what it takes to survive in business school. So if you've got that weakness, really, really, really take that test score very seriously.
Go Check Out The Rankings
Okay, so now that we've discussed the role that the test score plays in your profile and how schools look at it, let's talk about how to decide if your score for you is good enough. First, you want to go to the rankings. Just pick your favorite rankings, almost all of them publish the school's average GMAT scores as part of the list, so just go to the rankings and look and see what is the average GMAT and GRE score at the schools that you're targeting. Is your score higher than the average test score at your target schools? Then you're probably in good shape. Is your test score lower than the average at your target schools? Then it may not be good enough. That's a very simplistic way to look at it. I'm going to add some more color commentary detail to it, but the bottom line is, if your test score is doing a little bit better than the average student at that school, chances are you're okay. And if it's below that, then chances are it's going to prove to be a weakness in your candidacy and if it's at all possible, you're going to want to try to get it higher than it is if it's currently below the average of your target schools.
Consider Diversity Targets
But the simple average doesn't tell the whole story, because as you may also understand, business schools are trying to compose a diverse class. They're really looking to include people of all kinds of backgrounds, all careers, all geographies, gender, LGBT+, all different kinds of demographics, first generation college students, people from other countries and races, etc. etc. They're really trying to put together a melting pot of students so that when you're learning from your classmates, you're not just learning from people like you, you're learning from a very wide range of perspectives. It's a huge part of what makes an MBA program valuable, is the diversity of your classmates. That's the good thing about diversity. The tricky thing about diversity is that it means that as you're applying to visit school, you're mostly competing only with other people like you. So if you're a woman, you're competing with women. If you're an engineer, you're competing with other engineers. If you are from a different country, you're mostly competing with people from that country or from that general geography. You're not competing with people from different countries. You're not competing with people with very different jobs from you. For the most part, you're competing with other people like you because the school is going to admit some people like you and some people like everybody else. That's how they end up with diversity. So what this means for you and your test score is you need to understand how competitive your demographic is. So here's a simple example. I believe this was the first year that any business school had a class of more than 50% women. I believe it was Wharton with 52% women. That's the first time in history that a business school had more than 50% women in their class. Most schools have a balance of closer to 40/60, 35/65. So that already tells you that if you're a woman, you're in a smaller class of applicants than if you're in a pool than if you're a man because if you're a man, you're competing with men. If you're a woman, you're competing with women. And this goes for all the different aspects of your candidacy. If you're a management consultant, you're competing with management consultants. If you're from India, you're competing with other people from India.
How Competitive Is Your Demographic?
So you need to understand which demographic pools you're in and how competitive those pools are. If you're in a more competitive pool, such as management consultants such as men, you know who you are, figure this out for yourself, then you need to add at least 20 points to your GMAT score. Meaning if the school's average GMAT is 730 and you're from a really competitive demographic, then the average for you is going to be 750. It's going to be higher because there are more candidates like you. Schools can be pickier about who they admit for the chosen spots for that type of applicant. It's just very simply, there are more candidates competing for fewer spots, so that puts more pressure on the test score. In recent years, schools have really doubled down on all kinds of diversity. They're really starting to put their money where their mouth is and in our anecdotal experience, this means that people from competitive demographics, from competitive pools of applicants cannot afford weak test scores. They need every aspect of the application to be airtight. So if you're from a competitive demographic, consider adding 20 points to the school's average GMAT and calibrate yourself to that number. If you're from a rarer pool of applicants where there are fewer people like you in business school and applying to business school, then you can deduct 20 points and consider that that's the average that you are shooting for because there are fewer candidates like you competing for those spots, and that means they will take into account other aspects of your application and weigh them slightly more heavily than just the simple test score. This is, of course, a gross generalization. The bottom line is that you ideally want to have a test score that's above the average for all the schools that you're applying to and as long as you've still got juice in the tank, I recommend that you keep going, you keep trying. We're about to start publishing a series of videos by our MBA wizard and GMAT guru, Brian Birdwell, who's going to come onto our channel and tell you how to prepare for the GMAT and the GRE and to really knock it out of the park. He’s been teaching those tests for over 17 years. We used to work together at Manhattan Prep. He’s an amazing guy, so I hope you’ll come back and follow his advice on your test score.
Don’t Stop Until You’ve Reached Your Own Very Best Score
But the bottom line is, no matter who you are, you really want to make sure that you get the best score that you can possibly get. Not everyone can get a 760 and that’s okay, not everyone has to. But you should not stop trying until you’re sure that you’ve gotten the very best score that you can personally get. You’ll kind of know what that is. You’ll know when you’ve maxed out your test score and at that point you can shift your attention to the application itself. Okay, maybe that was good news for you. Maybe that was bad news I wore a bright red shirt in case this was a grim topic. I hope it cheered you up a little bit. Regardless, give the test everything you’ve got. Don't let that one little three-digit number determine your future. If you end up not getting the score that you want to get it doesn't mean that you can't get into business school it just means that you're going to need to apply to a few more schools and ideally some slightly safer schools where your test score is at or above the average at those schools. That's the best way to make sure that you're able to get in somewhere even if your test score isn't in the upper echelons of test scores. But we're wishing you all the best. This video is important because you have to know the hard facts. The truth is the test score matters. More than it should. So, give it everything you've got, best of luck and I'll see you next week on MBA Monday!
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