Many MBA hopefuls aren’t sure what their GMAT scores mean. What is a good GMAT score? What’s a bad GMAT score? How about a really exceptional one? And most importantly, what are the average GMAT scores at your top choices for business school?
In this article, we’ll go over what makes a GMAT score good, GMAT score ranges of admitted students at various MBA programs, and how to set your own target GMAT score.
What Is a Good GMAT Score, Really?
Business schools are all different and have different expectations and uses for your GMAT scores. Generally, the GMAT is used to predict your likely first-year performance in comparison to fellow business school applicants, as studies have shown that a higher GMAT score is a fairly reliable predictor of a more successful first year in business school. There is no one score that will guarantee you admission, though (even if you get a perfect 800 total score). There’s also no one score that will necessarily deny you admission all on its own, either.
When it comes to GMAT scores, the main takeaway is this: ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that a good GMAT score is the one that gets you into the business school of your choice.
As of 2018, the mean total GMAT score is 556.04, but that doesn’t mean you just have to get above a 550 to get into the school of your dreams. At many schools, even a 600 would be a very low GMAT score. At top MBA programs like Stanford, Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth, the average GMAT score of incoming students is above 720.
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However, some well-respected schools with high post-MBA employment rates don’t have the same expectations, and have average GMAT scores of less than 600. This is often especially true for part-time and/or online programs geared towards working professionals or those who are somehow lacking in significant relevant academic experience.
GMAT Percentile Rankings
When you apply for MBA programs, you’ll be competing against your peers for a limited number of coveted spots, so your GMAT score will have to compare favorably to theirs. This means that your GMAT percentile rankings are arguably even more important than your score itself.
GMAT percentile rankings, which are provided on your score report, let you know how you did on the exam as a whole and on every section of the exam in comparison to other test-takers. For example, a total score (that is, the Verbal and Quantitative sections combined) of 650 will give you a percentile ranking of 75%. A 75% percentile ranking means that you got a higher total score than (or equal total score to) 75% of your peers and a lower total score than 24% of fellow GMAT test-takers.
650, then, is a good starting benchmark for a high GMAT score: it usually hovers around the 75% percentile ranking spot, which is a solid place to be relative to your fellow applicants. A low GMAT score, on the other hand, is anything under 550.
Percentile rankings are recalculated every year based on the past three years of test-takers. This means that while the possible scores for each section remain the same every year, the percentile rankings change (usually very gradually) from year to year.
Here are the GMAT percentile rankings from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) for the past three years, beginning with the total score and followed by section-specific charts for the Verbal and Quantitative sections, the Integrated Reasoning section, and the Analytical Writing Assessment:
|Total Score||Percentile Ranking|
|Score||Verbal Percentile Ranking||Quantitative Percentile Ranking|
Note the differences between Verbal and Quant percentile rankings: A score of 51 would put you in the 99th percentile for the Verbal section and in the 96th percentile for the Quant section. A score of 46 would keep you in the 99th percentile in Verbal, but put you in the 60th for Quant! This gap exists because more students score highly on the Quant section than on the Verbal section, partly due to an increasing number of international students (many of whom have trouble with the Verbal section) taking the GMAT.
|Integrated Reasoning Score||Percentile Ranking|
The percentile rankings for the Integrated Reasoning section show us that 7% of test-takers get a perfect score on the section, since a perfect score of 8 would put you in the 93rd percentile. A high GMAT score on the Integrated Reasoning section is roughly considered to be 6 or above.
|Analytical Writing Assessment Score||Percentile Ranking|
11% of test-takers get a perfect score on the Analytical Writing Assessment. A high GMAT score on the AWA is usually considered to be 5.0 or above.
Which GMAT Sections Are Most Important?
Business schools consider the total GMAT score first, followed by the individual Verbal and Quant sections. Having a significantly higher score in one section over another may indicate your particular strengths or weaknesses to your prospective program.
So what about the Integrated Reasoning section and the Analytical Writing Assessment? Many students wonder how important these sections are to business schools. After all, they aren’t calculated into the overall total score.
The short answer is that both of these sections matter, but not quite as much as the Verbal and Quantitative sections or the total score. For one thing, the Integrated Reasoning section is newer than the others; it was added in 2012, so it’s not quite as tried-and-true as an analytical tool for schools. And while the schools you apply to receive and read a copy of your Analytical Writing Assessment essay, there are many other places on the application for you to provide writing samples. So it makes sense that a business school admissions committee might not regard a 30-minute essay written under pressure as the #1 means of evaluating an MBA applicant.
The longer answer is that:
1. It’s hard to tell just how much value MBA programs place on the IR and AWA sections, as schools usually don’t publicly report section-specific information. In fact, they usually only report the average total score for incoming students.
2. There is some evidence that the Integrated Reasoning section in particular has become more significant to business schools in recent years. One 2015 survey indicated that 59% of MBA admissions officials claimed to evaluate the Integrated Reasoning section as a significant aspect of an applicant’s profile, in comparison to 41% of the same pool of officials just a few years prior.
3. The Analytical Writing Assessment can be especially beneficial for non-native English speakers. If you can do well on the timed writing assessment, it’s a great indicator of your fluency in English, as MBA admissions officials can know for sure you didn’t have to take too much time to complete it and didn’t have outside help during the test. This can boost your chances of admission.
In short, prepare for both of these sections just as you would for the others. Regardless of their overall significance, an extremely low or extremely high score in either section could certainly affect your application.
For more information about how the Graduate Management Admissions Council suggests that schools use the Analytical Writing Assessment to evaluate applicants, check out these guidelines.
What Is a Good GMAT Score to Get Into Business School?
Like we went over previously, there is a wide range of GMAT scores that can gain you admission to your business school of choice. Generally speaking, top 10 MBA programs consistently look for GMAT scores of 720 or above. For mid-to-high-range business schools (those consistently ranked between 25 and 80 on annual rankings lists like U.S. News), average scores of incoming students are usually in the 600-700 range.
So, where can you find the average GMAT scores at your favorite prospective programs? MBA class profiles, like this one from Harvard Business School, are usually published yearly, as soon as an incoming MBA class is admitted and accepts their offers of admission. Class profiles are a treasure trove of information about how you might fit into various schools in terms of demographics, work experience, GPA, undergraduate major, and, yes, GMAT score.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at average GMAT scores at a range of 15 different MBA programs. Note that the ‘middle 80% range’ is reported by some schools as part of their class profiles. It includes the range of GMAT scores of all incoming students, excluding the bottom 10% and top 10% of scores:
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|Top-Tier Business Schools||Average GMAT Score of Recent Incoming Class||Middle 80% Range of Recent Incoming Class|
|Harvard Business School||730||690-760|
|Stanford Graduate School of Business||737||Total range: 590-790|
|University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business||717||680-750|
|Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business||717||680-750|
|Yale School of Management||730||690-760|
|High-Level Business Schools|
|University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business||656||Not available|
|George Washington University School of Business||643||Not available|
|Brigham Young University Marriott School of Management||670||Highest GMAT 770; 99% over 600|
|University of Iowa (Tippie)||676||610-730|
|University of Maryland, College Park (Smith)||660||600-720|
|Part-Time/Online Business Schools|
|University of Texas at Austin: McCombs School of Business (part-time)||635||Not available|
|University of Massachusetts, Amherst: Isenberg School of Management (online and part-time options)||570||Not available|
|Georgetown University McDonough School of Business (part-time)||666||590-710|
|Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business (online)||596||Not available|
|NYU Stern MBA Manhattan (part-time)||Not available||620-730|
What Is a Good GMAT Score for You? Setting a Target
Remember that the main criterion for a good GMAT score is that it helps you get into the business school of your choice. A high GMAT score for one applicant could be a low GMAT score for someone else— it just depends on what your business school plans are.
Thus, the first step in GMAT preparation is setting your own target score. This will help you know what kind of prep you need to do: do you need to brush up on a few targeted areas? Or do you need long-term, in-depth instruction? It will also help you calculate how many hours you’ll need to study.
Let’s go over how to determine your target GMAT score. Follow along with my sample chart as we go.
Step 1: Print Out the Worksheet
Before you do anything else, you should print out this worksheet:
Step 2: List Your Programs
Next, you’ll need to come up with your list of prospective MBA programs so we can make a chart like the one in the previous section that’s tailored to your individual list of schools. Write the list in the column on the left. Here’s a sample:
Step 3: Find the Average GMAT Score for Each Program
For each school, find the average GMAT score of the most recent incoming class. Each school’s website nearly always includes the most recent class profile, which is where you’ll usually find this info. If for some reason you can’t find a class profile (which will be very rare), you can try the school-specific MBA Forum at GMAT Club. Write the average GMAT score in the right column. If the school only provides the middle 80% range of GMAT scores, use the top score in the range to be safe:
Step 4: Choose Your Target Score
Lastly, choose the highest score in your right column. You can either leave it as is or add 20-30 points to it if you want to have a bit of a cushion. This will be your target GMAT score:
Remember that earning your target GMAT score or higher won’t necessarily guarantee you admission. But if you reach it, you have a good shot of getting into at least one of your selected MBA programs. And having a realistic goal will help you prepare without getting lost in a sea of other numbers and comparisons.
Recap: What Is a Good GMAT Score?
- A good GMAT score is one that gets you into the business school of your choice, no matter what anybody else thinks.
- A good ‘baseline’ GMAT score is 650. Top 10 business schools usually expect GMAT scores of 720 or above.
- The MBA class profiles of your prospective schools will usually provide you with the average GMAT of incoming students. This average will give you a good idea of where you might fit in relative to other applicants.
- Use your target GMAT score to decide how and when to prepare for the exam.
If you’re ready to start prepping for the GMAT, check out our expert guide to determining how long you need to study for the exam.
Still curious about how to interpret your GMAT scores? Learn more about the GMAT Total score and how schools look at it.
Looking for a section-by-section tour of the GMAT? Our complete guide to the GMAT format breaks it down.
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