GMAT Scores Rising in Competitive MBA Application Process

Rising GMAT Scores Increase MBA Competitiveness

In the fiercely competitive arena of business school admissions, where seats at elite institutions are akin to gold dust, one metric stands out as a formidable gatekeeper: the GMAT score. 

With each passing year, prospective MBA students are finding themselves facing increasingly daunting hurdles as GMAT scores soar to unprecedented heights, even as interest in pursuing an MBA decreases, intensifying the competition for coveted spots at elite business schools. 

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the proportion of exams with a total score of 600 or greater increased by 6 percent over a five-year period up to the end of 2023. At the elite schools GMAT averages are significantly higher than even that, and have been breaking fresh records. 

At Stanford in California, the average GMAT score for 2024’s MBA enrollees has matched a record 738 set two years ago – the highest among all of the top-flight MBA schools. So, what factors are driving this relentless ascent in GMAT scores? 

​​The soaring ascent of GMAT scores

One key reason lies in the growing emphasis placed on academic excellence by elite business schools. With a glut of highly qualified applicants vying for a limited number of spots, admissions committees are compelled to raise the bar even higher, turning to higher GMAT scores to distinguish the crème de la crème from the rest.

Moreover, the escalating arms race among applicants fuels a culture of relentless self-improvement, with candidates continuously striving to outperform their peers. This competitive ethos, coupled with the widespread availability of GMAT prep resources and coaching services, has contributed to a surge in GMAT scores as applicants spare no effort in their pursuit of perfection.

For prospective MBA students, GMAT experts offer up some tactics to consider for achieving higher scores. “Like almost any endeavor, how much effort you put in directly affects the outcome,” says Dennis Yim, a longtime GMAT instructor at Kaplan, an American test prep company.

“We love to emphasize that students need to practice for the GMAT by taking a holistic approach – learning the content and fundamentals, the critical thinking aspect, and test day crisis-prevention. It’s all about limiting the surprises and being able to let your critical thinking skills shine when it counts.” 

Challenges from alternative assessments

However, amid the skyrocketing GMAT scores, it’s important to acknowledge that in recent years, the GMAT has faced mounting challenges from alternative assessments, most notably the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which an increasing number of business schools now accept in lieu of a GMAT score. 

“More business schools are accepting GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT. While the GMAT has long been the standard test for MBA admissions, many schools now recognize the GRE as a valid alternative,” says Michelle Zhu, MBA administration director at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai. 

This trend has been fueled by several factors, including the relaxation of admissions requirements during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the GRE’s broader acceptance across a range of graduate programs beyond business schools. Consequently, prospective MBA students are presented with a more diverse array of options when it comes to standardized testing, adding a layer of complexity to their decision-making process.

“Our survey of business school admissions officers finds no global preference for one exam over another, but it’s a good idea to ask an individual school’s admissions office if they do have a preference. If a school does prefer one exam, it will likely prefer the GMAT. Do your research, ask around, and prepare accordingly,” says Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum for Manhattan Prep, an American test preparation company. 

Experts insist that even if schools do not require a GMAT or GRE test, candidates who submit one may have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. 

The dwindling demand for MBAs

The relentless surge in GMAT scores stands in stark contrast to a broader trend: dwindling applications to MBA programs. Demand has dropped for two years on the bounce, following a surge in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic as workers sought refuge in business school to weather the storm of economic uncertainty. 

However, as the pandemic fades into memory, the euphoria surrounding MBA programs has waned, with demand returning to more normal levels. 

Despite this decline in applications, GMAT scores have continued their relentless ascent. The disconnect between declining demand for MBAs and soaring GMAT scores underscores the enduring importance placed on standardized testing in MBA admissions. 

“The purpose of any standardized test is to ensure that an applicant is academically prepared to handle the rigor of an MBA program,” says Allison Jamison, assistant dean of admissions at Duke University Fuqua School of Business, in North Carolina. 

However, the GMAT or GRE is used in conjunction with all the other application materials to determine that a student has the potential to be successful in an MBA classroom. 

“It’s important to note – the test score is not the only information used in making this assessment. Rather, it is one data point taken into account within the context of all the other data points in the application, such as work experience, undergraduate experience, essays, recommendations and interviews,” adds Jamison. 


 

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