Why a Great GMAT/ GRE Score Alone Will Not Carry You Through?

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Haas School of Business doesn’t admit 80+ percent of applicants with 750+ GMAT score.

(Note: Admission policies of schools and guidelines for standardized tests can change. Refer to their website for the most updated information.)

Here is what Rich Lyons, Dean, Haas, says:

Over 80% of the applicants with GMATs of 750 or above are not getting admitted to the school [Haas] because we are trying to find the most balanced candidates who bring a lot to the dynamics of a class. The GMAT is just one element of the application [emphasis added].

Yes, you read it right: 80+% with 750+ don’t get admitted. (The data here is representative of all geographies.)

As per this comprehensive analysis (5,000+ data points) of applicants on GMAT Club forum, acceptance rate of Indian applicants at top-20 U.S. B-schools is only 16 percent in 760-770 GMAT range, and 11 percent in 740-750 range. Schematically, this data can be represented as follows:

acceptance rate with gmat scores

And as per this analysis (12,000+ data points) of applicants on GMAT Club forum, certain geographies fare worse than others on acceptance rates to M7 programs (HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, and CBS):

Why a great GMAT/ GRE score isn’t enough?

To get answer to this question, let’s look at the evaluation criteria (for MBA applicants) of few schools:

1. Stanford GSB mentions intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities & contributions as their criteria for evaluating MBA applications.

2. Chicago Booth breaks down the criteria into much more detail under three broad categories of curriculum, community, and career.

3. HBS mentions habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship as their criteria.

4. And Tuck has six evaluation factors.

If you click on the links above and go through details, you’ll notice that evaluation criteria is much broader than just the academic profile, of which test score is one, though important, part. And most B-schools, invariably, follow a similar evaluation criteria.

In order to do well with such criteria, a strong GMAT/ GRE score must be balanced by a well-rounded personal & professional background, reflecting strong leadership, communication, and teamwork skills; career progression and transferable skills; and varied interests outside work.

Remember, MBA, unlike an undergrad program, is not an academic program. It’s a managerial program, with a strong focus on producing future business leaders.

What’s the role of test score then?

Through your GMAT/ GRE score, the admission committee wants to make sure that you can handle the academic rigor of an MBA program. That’s the main role of test score, and if you cross the median score of the school, you’ve crossed a filter, a hygiene factor. (However, it is bit more nuanced. You would be better off reaching a score around the median of your applicant pool. For example, if you’re an Indian applicant, you’ll be better off scoring 20-30 points above the median score of the school.)

How schools weigh GMAT score is also influenced by MBA rankings, though no school will acknowledge it for obvious reasons. GMAT score is an important input in most MBA rankings, and therefore schools would be less inclined to push your case if your score is less than the median of your applicant pool unless you bring a stellar professional experience or add to the diversity of the class in some unique way.

In nutshell:

  • A high score never hurts, but its significance drops once you cross certain threshold (the median score of your applicant pool). To put it in other words, test score is like a hygiene factor: once you cross a threshold, rest of the application takes precedence.
  • A high score won’t get you in on its own (there are just too many applicants with high scores at good schools), but a low score can keep you out of the race (why would a school compromise on its ranking if you’re not valuable to them on some count).

So, how do you make a difference?

If you’re fine on the GMAT count, then you can stand out among applicants with similar profile and test score by putting in strong essays and recommendations. For example, you can make your essays stand out by showing strong fit with the school, articulating career goals which look realistically attainable, being reflective in your essays, differentiating your experiences from other applicants with similar professional backgrounds, displaying soft skills (interpersonal, problem solving, leadership, and so on), and allaying potential concerns, among other things.

Yet, many applicants don’t pay enough attention to these elements, the ones that matter the most. And those who do, are more likely to get through, even with less stellar stats.

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