Can a Low GMAT Score Kill Your B-School Dreams?

Can a Low GMAT Score Kill Your B-School Dreams?

Why your GMAT score is important, and what it tells MBA admissions people about you

For many MBA applicants, the GMAT can be an intense source of stress. Especially if you've been out of school for a few years, it's probably been a while since you applied geometric or algebraic concepts, or had to write an essay in under 30 minutes.

However, according to many MBA admissions people, the GMAT is a very important part of the overall application process. According to Yvonne Li, director of MBA admissions at CEIBS in Shanghai, a GMAT score can provide an admissions committee with a range of indicators about a potential MBA student's skills, as well as his or her overall fit with the school. 

“It helps in assessing candidates' capacity for learning, whether they are logical and analytical in their thinking, and their English proficiency,” says Li.

A GMAT score can also help a business school understand if an MBA candidate is up-to-par when it comes to quantitative skills, which can be a big part of the business school experience.

“Because our program is rooted deeply in analytics, a student's ability to process and solve complex problems is important,” says Kelly Wilson, the executive director of masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

“So the GMAT is an important indicator for us, but it's only one indicator across the entire application.” 

Should you take the GMAT or the GRE?

Other parts of an application can help show a business school that you have the quant skills it takes to do an MBA program. If a GMAT score indicates that a candidate's quantitative ability may not be strong, then the Tepper admissions staff will look to other parts of the candidate's profile to find evidence of quant skills. 

“I'm going to look at an application to see what are the quantitative courses that you've taken, and how well did you do in those courses,” says Wilson. “I can't stress enough that it's a holistic process, so there's not one component that would stand on its own, it's really the entire picture that is most important.”

Likewise, Pejay Belland, INSEAD's director of marketing, admissions and financial aid for degree programs, says that beyond a GMAT score and academic experience, there are a number of factors that go into an MBA admissions decision. 

“Of course we equally consider professional background, international motivation and ability to contribute to the program,” she says.

The middle 80 percent

So, how low is too low? Interestingly, many business schools, including Tepper and INSEAD, do not have a minimum cut-off where a GMAT score is officially too low to be considered. But by and large, most MBA admissions staff agree that a competitive candidate is one whose GMAT score falls within the school's middle 80 percent range of scores – referring to the scores that the majority of admitted schools tend to get. For instance, the middle 80 percent range of admitted MBA students at Tepper is 630 to 750. 

“Those are the people that have been successful in joining the program,” says Kelly Wilson.

“Now, having said that, ten percent of the students in the class score above that range, and ten percent score below that range,” and that “if someone has a score that's below that, other parts of the application we would look to be a little stronger to balance.”

CEIBS' Yvonne Li would agree. The CEIBS's middle 80 percent GMAT score range has been 640-740, and if an applicant's hasn't reached 640, “the applicant needs to prove he is above average in other aspects.”

Use FIND MBA's Advanced Program Search to find MBA programs by average GMAT

Middle 80 percent GMAT scores can vary depending on business school. At Pennsylvania State's Smeal College of Business, for example, the 80 percent range of the most recent MBA class was 680-760; at Wharton it's 690-760; and at Ohio State's Fisher's College of Business it's 600-720.

Should I retake the GMAT?

If your GMAT score is lower than the middle 80 percent range for the business schools that you're looking at, an important question to ask yourself is whether or not you should retake the test. According to MBA admissions staff, in some cases, it can help. 

“If a candidate has an excellent profile except for the GMAT, then we may encourage an applicant to reapply if they are able to improve their score,” according to INSEAD's Pejay Belland. 

According to Tepper's Kelly Wilson, retaking the GMAT might be beneficial for some students with lower-than-average scores, who feel that they could do better on the test. 

“There is never a point where I will tell somebody 'you have to re-take the test,'” she says, “but if when they took the exam, they felt like they could have prepared differently, or they feel that they in some way they didn't perform up to their own expectations, then they may want to consider retaking the test.”

Additional information about the GMAT

  • The middle 80 percent ranges or average GMAT scores of recent MBA cohorts can sometimes be found on business school websites
  • There are alternatives to the GMAT. Many schools now accept the GRE, and some business schools, like CEIBS, allow candidates to take school-specific tests
  • There are a wide range of GMAT test preparation options, from practices tests to study books, as well as class-based and one-on-one tutoring.

Photo: M. Filtz

Comments

Vancouver
Jan 22, 2017 11:01
Reply
Hello Everyone,

It’s really encouraging to find so many success stories of people who made their career steer clear of all obstacles with low GMAT & GPA. Someone in the forum has rightly said that we are human being and not just “numbers” and so our fate cannot be just decided with a low GMAT or GPA. The good news is that the Ad Coms of most of the premiere (Top-ish) B-Schools realize this very fact and consider the admission application holistically i.e. consider all the factors viz. your profile, education, background, work experience, extra-curricular activities, community service, recommendations / references, English proficiency etc. along with your GMAT scores.

Three years back, I was in your shoes. Even after thorough preparation, I got a discouraging 570 in GMAT, though my quant scores were decent however verbal score was a complete mess. I tried enough to improve upon my verbal scores; however I met with little success every time. In the end, I decided to move ahead with whatever I had in my hand.

Well, a little about me at the time of application – I had about two years of technical experience in project management wherein I had managed few contracts and gained experience in robust man management. I am basically an engineer by degree with 60.6% in undergraduates (which I am sure is not impressive).

I talked with my three supervisors / seniors at work and they agreed to be my professional recommendation providers (admission committees place critical importance on your recommendations). To cover my low GMAT and GPA, I thought to get some score on IELTS and luckily I got a score of 7/9 in the very first attempt.
I did an extensive research of the B-Schools world-wide for about 3-4 weeks. While selecting the school, I placed utmost importance on the post-MBA job prospects. As such, North America was a natural choice like everyone does have. However, since the immigration policy of US is mostly uncertain (i.e. stay in US after completion of such an expensive degree program – problems with H1B working visa for immigrants- “and now screwed up all the more”), I decided to turn towards Canada.

On exploring the possibilities, I found the country loaded with great MBA programs. The very encouraging fact for me was the low tuition fees of the MBA program with great scholarship opportunities even for the most reputed B-Schools (FT Rankings Top 100). The Post Graduate work permit program offered by the Canadian Govt. was yet another cherry on the cake. In addition to it, the stable economy, high paying jobs, work-life balance, jobs availability, cost of living, presence of huge Indians community, connectivity with India terrain, permanent residency, citizenship options etc. were some of the many factors for selecting Canada over any other country.

After earmarking the B-Schools, I started off struggling with my application. I never imagined that preparing the admission application would be so challenging and demanding. I literally went blank when I started off with preparing my Statement of Purpose (SOP). Further, when I asked my recommenders to provide me the recommendation for the 5 B-Schools to which I had applied – they in turn asked to suggest the important points that they should cover while writing a strong recommendation for me.

By this time, I knew that it would be absolutely not possible for me to complete my admission applications along with my grueling work hours so I started to consult various MBA Consulting firms in India and abroad, however I was stunned after learning about their sky-rocketing consulting rates. Even for a short discussion over phone, Consulting firms were asking several thousand bucks forget about their huge demands for assistance in application (few started their bid with Rs. 1,25,000 per B-School just for the sake of providing advices and reviews). To look out for economical means, I was searching frantically in community forums when some member mentioned about Jugaadugar. Upon enquiry, I came to know that Jugaadugar can help me throughout the application journey and even draft SOPs, recommendations, reviewing and resetting CV, English test waiver appl., help in getting scholarship, interview preparation etc. on my behalf and further help me around in filing visa application, medical test, and provide assistance (free of cost) w.r.t. accommodation, currency exchange, and what not if I am proceeding to Canada for MBA. (I think they have some Canadian affiliation or government funding).

They helped someone with a profile like me to get admission offers (with modest scholarships) from reputed B-Schools such as Sauder School of Business (UBC), Schulich School of Business, McMaster, and Simon Fraser University. After considering the tuition cost and post-study prospects I had joined UBC and successfully completed the 16 month program in jan’15.

Ah….so it has been a long read, so to cut it short now…I would suggest all readers not to lose hope on account of your low GMAT or low GPA scores. Stand confident. Make your application strong in all ways possible. Pour down all your efforts. Show the admission committees what they want to see.

Success will be yours!!

Best of Luck

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