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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

December 11, 2007

MBA Application Myth: GMAT is Everything!

Yes, the GMAT matters, but some applicants focus too much energy exclusively on GMAT and don't think about the rest of the process. Of course, you maybe forced to study GMAT while simultaneously preparing your applications. This is not ideal, but it beats doing the applications as an afterthought.

Myths about the GMAT abound.
More specifically...

A. Myth: You need a 700 or higher to get into a top MBA Program. Assuming the school has an 80% that does not start at 700 and no school does, why make this assumption? Schools repeatedly state their processes are holistic and that GMAT is just one factor. Applicants focus on the GMAT score for good reason. While it is the only indicator for measuring all applicants in exactly the same way (TOEFL, see below, only applies to international applicants), the reason MBA program put such an emphasis on other aspects of this process is because it is only one factor. The 80% range for any school is a pretty good indicator of what range of score is sufficient, but clearly some are admitted both above and below that range, so overly focusing on a particular numerical target can really overly focus applicants attention on their GMAT scores both in terms of school selection and in terms of time allocation.

B. Myth: You need to get a score that is at least the average for those admitted. Look at the 80% range and as long as you are in it, your GMAT score is potentially sufficient to get in. At Stanford University GSB for example, the 80% range is from 670 to 770 with a mean of 721 and median of 730 according to Businessweek. Means and medians are just averages, but very poor indicators of how specific applicants are likely to be viewed.

C. Myth: No one gets in with a score below the 80% range. Well clearly someone does because that 20% range that is not accounted for includes people with scores below the range. For example, Stanford GSB states that the GMAT range is from 500-800. Of course, some schools may actually have a stated minimum. In such cases, it is best to simply contact admissions and see if they ever make exceptions. If they say they don't then there is no point in applying, but if they say they do than it becomes an issue of whether you want to take a chance. Yes, you have to be great overall candidate to get into Wharton with 600 or Harvard with a 650, but it can be done. In my experience, it is better to take a chance on at least one reach/dream school than to not try at all. I know it is an expensive gamble, but I guess if you think the potential pay-off is sufficient than you will conclude it is worth doing.

D. Myth: A high GMAT will get you into a top program. One of the saddest things I have seen is otherwise highly qualified applicants overestimate the value of the GMAT. Actually given the relatively high rate of 700 plus GMAT scores among applicants to top programs, it is merely one factor. In fact top programs like Stanford, Wharton, HBS, and Chicago are likely to be less concerned with GMAT for good or bad than with the overall strengths of an applicant.

So clearly the final Myth that relies upon one or more of the above is that "I should select schools based primarily on my GMAT score." Based on the above, I obviously think this is a very poor idea. School selection should be based on multiple factors including but not limited to cost, starting salaries for graduates, location, TOEFL score, and suitability based on academic and professional goals. Be realistic, but also try to get exactly what you want. As I wrote in a previous post, I don't like the idea of back-up schools. That said, you need to determine how much risk you are willing to take and what is your minimally acceptable ROI on the degree.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions, I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
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