Is the GMAT required for MBA programs ? How much does the GMAT matter in terms of business schools admissions? Are there any alternatives if you don’t want to take the GMAT? In this article, I’ll go over why so many business schools require the GMAT, the significance of the GMAT in the business school admissions process, and your options if you choose not to take the exam.
Is the GMAT Required for MBA Programs? Why?
The short answer is yes, the GMAT is required for the majority of MBA programs. Most business schools require the exam and place a major emphasis on it in the admissions process.
Business schools tend to require the GMAT for two primary reasons. Firstly, the GMAT has been found to be a reliable predictor of students’ academic performance in MBA programs, particularly in the first year of business school. The GMAT tests skills and concepts that you’ll use in business school (and after), such as critical reasoning, logic, grammar, math, problem solving, analytical writing, and reading comprehension.
Secondly, the GMAT is standardized: everyone takes the test the same way, in the same format, and the content has been rigorously examined to make sure it’s fair for all populations.
Most other factors of a business school application, such as undergraduate GPA and work experience, are more subjective. Some undergraduate programs are easier than others, for example, so GPA isn’t a surefire way to compare candidates for MBA admission fairly and equally. The GMAT gives business schools a chance to compare candidates when they’re on equal footing.
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How the GMAT Factors Into MBA Admissions
While MBA admissions are holistic—meaning that they consider a variety of factors, including letters of recommendation, undergraduate GPA, essays, writing samples, work experience, and interviews—the GMAT is one of the most important aspects of a business school application. However, the value placed on the GMAT by admissions committees varies from school to school.
High GMAT scores (700+) tend to be expected, and therefore more significant, at top business schools like Harvard Business School (median GMAT score of 730), the Stanford Graduate School of Business (average GMAT score of 737), and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (average GMAT score of 726).
At mid-range business schools, a GMAT score of 650+ is the norm. Lower-ranking business schools don’t tend to place as much emphasis on the GMAT.
In general, the GMAT doesn’t matter as much for executive MBA programs. Executive MBA programs are designed for the mid-to-senior-level manager with at least 5-10 years of professional, relevant work experience. They usually feature more hands-on and accelerated curriculum than traditional MBAs.
Many executive MBA programs place a higher priority on the extent and relevance of an applicant’s past work experience than they do on GMAT scores. Some allow you to waive the GMAT requirement if you can demonstrate past academic achievement and/or extensive prior work experience.
Other executive MBA programs accept the Executive Assessment in place of the GMAT. The Executive Assessment is a shorter GMAC-authored alternative to the GMAT meant for working professionals applying to MBA programs. It has only three 30-minute sections and a total of 40 questions.
What To Do If You Don’t Want to Take the GMAT
If you decide not to take the GMAT, there are a few other options if you plan to apply to business school. Let’s go over the alternatives to the GMAT.
#1: Take the GRE
Many business schools now accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. Harvard Business School, the MIT Sloan School of Management, the NYU Stern School of Business, and the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin all accept the GRE in place of the GMAT, among hundreds of other highly ranked MBA programs.
The GRE requires just as much preparation as the GMAT and tests the same skill set, but it does have a few advantages, including a lower registration fee and the chance to use it to apply to a more diverse set of programs, including M.A. and Ph.D. programs.
Also, while both exams test the same skills, the GRE is timed and structured differently than the GMAT and contains different question types. The GRE also has two essay sections, while the GMAT only has one. You can find more information on the differences between the tests here.
#2: Consider Executive MBA Programs If You Have Prior Work Experience
Many executive MBA programs (called ‘professional MBAs’ at a few schools) will waive the GMAT requirement if you can demonstrate extensive prior work experience and/or academic achievement.
At the UCLA Anderson School of Management, for example, the executive MBA program waives the GMAT requirement for students who already have advanced degrees or demonstrable experience in a quantitative field. The Fox School of Business executive MBA program at Temple University waives the GMAT requirement for students with experience in business and/or technical fields.
Some executive MBA programs have also recently begun to accept the Executive Assessment in place of the GMAT. A few examples include Columbia Business School, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
#3: Check Out Online MBA Programs
There are several online MBA programs that waive the GMAT requirement for outstanding applicants, and a few don’t require the GMAT at all.
The online MBAs at the Saunders School of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and the USC Marshall School of Business, for example, are three highly ranked programs that waive the GMAT requirement for students with demonstrable work experience.
Online MBAs that don’t require either a GMAT score or a waiver are rarer, and tend to be at for-profit or private and/or faith-based institutions, such as Liberty University and the University of Mary.
#4: Look at International MBA Programs
There are many international MBA programs that accept the GRE or the Executive Assessment in place of the GMAT; a few don’t require any standardized test scores for admission.
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IE Business School, in Spain, accepts the GRE and the IE Global Admissions Test in addition to the GMAT for MBA admissions. Hult International Business School, with locations in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai, and New York, waives the GMAT for applicants with at least five years of professional work experience. Henley Business School at the University of Reading (in the UK) is also willing to waive the GMAT for students with high academic achievements and extensive work experience.
China Europe International Business School, London Business School, and HKU Business School (in Hong Kong) accept the Executive Assessment instead of the GMAT.
Conclusion: Do You Need to Take the GMAT for an MBA?
So is the GMAT require for MBA programs? Not always, but remember that the alternatives to taking the GMAT have considerable drawbacks.
They may still allow you to attend business school, they will limit your options, particularly if you don’t already have the experience required for an executive MBA. Simply put, most high-ranking schools do require the GMAT or GRE, so you start off at a bit of a disadvantage in your search if you eliminate any school that expects a test score.
And while online and part-time MBA programs are often high-quality, they don’t usually offer the same level of access to networking opportunities as conventional business schools. Many do have special events and conferences where you’ll be able to get hands-on experiences and make connections, but generally speaking, it’s not equivalent to the sustained networking you’ll be able to do in a traditional MBA.
The bottom line: It’s probably in your best interest to prepare for and take the GMAT or the GRE if you’re planning on going to business school.
Our guide to preparing for an MBA offers helpful tips on the best way to get ready for success in business school.
If you’re sure you don’t want to take the GMAT, check out our full list of MBA programs that don’t require the GMAT.
If you are planning to take the GMAT, learn what qualifies as a good score and how to set your own goal.