As a numerical score, the GMAT hints at offering a solid ‘pass-rate’ for potential students to work towards.
If only it were so simple.
Business schools everywhere tend to publish an average score, rather than a minimum score, erring on the side of caution. Their reasoning is that a lower GMAT score combined with a number of other attributes could still mean success come admissions time.
So what do you really have to do to get in? What is a good GMAT score?
“We don’t have a minimum requirement and that’s because we take a holistic approach to viewing each single applicant,” says Charlotte Russell-Green, MBA Admissions Manager at Cambridge Judge Business School.
“So we take into account not just the GMAT score but also the undergraduate performance, so the bachelor score, and whether they’ve done a masters. And we take into account work experience, international experience, that kind of thing.”
Of the MBA students admitted to Cambridge Judge Business School, the GMAT class average is around 690 every year. But Russell-Green says that shouldn’t deter someone with a lower score from applying.
However, there is one part of the GMAT exam score that is of particular interest to their admissions team and that’s the quantitative score.
Russell-Green says, “we do look at the quant score in particular because obviously there are a certain amount of the MBA’s core courses where they need to be able to have some grasp of quantitative analysis. The first term in particular is quite quant-heavy”.
Antoinette Molino at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University agrees: “Generally speaking, students with high quantitative scores are less inclined to have difficulties in our core program, especially the quantitative modules”.
Looking at specific GMAT requirements (and average GMAT scores)
Just like at Cambridge, McGill does not have a minimum cut-off score. “However, the average GMAT score of accepted candidates is typically 660,” says Molino.
Stuart Dixon, the Academic Coordinator for Global MBA programs at the Maastricht School of Management (MSM) says it’s important to keep the GMAT score in perspective.
“To be honest, a lot of managers these days, I wonder how well they would do in GMAT. Even people like Steve Jobs – would he do a good job? I don’t know, he probably wouldn’t care.”
“It’s only one part of a broader evaluation.”
To apply for the MBA at MSM, a minimum GMAT score of 600 is required as a baseline for ensuring that the program’s highly diverse range of students all start off on equal footing.
“We have students from everywhere,” says Dixon. “We have students coming in from Kazakhstan, from Bhutan, from India, Pakistan, and some of these countries have fantastic education systems, and some of them we just don’t know. We need to have something which makes it easier for someone to be admitted or not, and the GMAT is one of those elements.”
For students whose GMAT results show they need to strengthen some core skills before starting an MBA, MSM offers leveling courses that can be completed online to help bring them up to speed.
The verbal score, for example, is an important way for non-native English speakers to demonstrate that their language skills are up to par.
IESE Business School in Spain also uses the GMAT to measure the capabilities of its MBA program’s international cohort. Their average score is 690.
“With 83% international students, our MBA program, especially in the first year, is known to be quite stressful,” says Jessica Smith, Associate Director of MBA Admissions.
“Most students are not only experiencing the normal adaptations to school but also adjusting to a new country, culture, and language. So understanding how a student copes with stress is key in our admissions process.”
Smith says that the IESE admissions board also seeks to understand how a student works with prioritization and multitasking.
“We try to understand: what were your circumstances while preparing for the exam and how did that impact your score? For example, did you stop working to study or did you study alongside working? If your first score was low, did you try to improve? If so, what did you change in the study process in order to get the better result? We try to understand not just the numerical score but the micro situation you were experiencing at that time.”
But will your future employer care about your GMAT score?
For most students, the MBA is the means to an end – it’s the program you undertake with future career possibilities front of mind.
But that doesn’t mean that a mediocre GMAT score will leave you alone once you get into b-school.
Charlotte Russell-Green at Cambridge Judge Business School says some employers want to see a solid GMAT score as well.
“If you want to work at one of the top tier consulting firms, they look for a minimum 700 GMAT score generally. So we advise students on that as well. We say, ‘you know you’ve a 620 GMAT and that might be ok for admission to the business school, but with your career goals I would encourage you to try to increase that if you can’.”
Cambridge Judge tries to give this advice at admissions time in order to best prepare a student for the career they hope to find ahead of them.
That way, when it’s time to start looking for jobs, a student will have had some time to keep working on their score and re-take the test if they wish.
Should you take the GRE instead of the GMAT?
Many schools now accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. But not all employers are there just yet.
Jessica Smith as IESE says that they encourage students to select the exam format with which they feel most comfortable.
If you prefer to focus on verbal skills or essay writing, having the choice between the GMAT and GRE allows you to play to your strengths.
“But do keep in mind that some employers still ask for GMAT exam scores, not GRE. So do check with the school's career services or admissions to confirm if this is relevant for the industries that you want to apply for.”
[See also: MBA Admissions Test Choice: GRE or GMAT?]
- Tulane Public Relations / CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
- Wayan Vota / CC BY 2.0