Whether you’ve already submitted your applications for business school or you’ve just begun preparing for your first GMAT attempt, you’ve probably asked yourself at some point: “How much does my score actually matter?” After all, the answer can help you know where to set your expectations. Simply put, a high score can be as important as other elements of the application or a basic qualifier. Now, this may seem like a lot of emphasis to put on a number, but remember that the GMAT gives business schools an objective way to evaluate the merit of every applicant. Measures such as your GPA, in contrast, may reflect inconsistent coursework rigor and grade leniency across colleges. The GMAT, in theory, levels the playing field. However, your GPA, recommendations, academic and personal background, and professional experiences come into play because they allow admission committees to infer your work ethic, motivation, and character.
Ultimately, the importance of your score for your chances of admission depends on two factors: (1) which business school(s) you want to apply to and (2) the strength of other parts of your application.
#1 Who’s Your Competition?
Competitive schools compete for competitive applicants. GMAT score averages, in addition to giving you benchmarks for choosing reach and safe schools, also help schools compare their prestige against other schools. This means high-ranking programs prioritize high GMAT scores to maintain exceptional class profile statistics, and lower-ranking programs try to improve their profile by increasing their GMAT score average. Business schools almost always expect high scores, but how high depends on the specific school. At the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, the MBA Class of 2018 had an average GMAT score of 730, while the average at George Washington University was 646.
Research prospective schools and their classes’ average GMAT scores to get a better picture of how the score you earned will affect your chances of admission. A high GMAT score (even a perfect one) will rarely single-handedly get you into b-school, but a poor one can prevent you from getting in. In most cases, an outstanding score (30 points or more above the program average) will boost your chances, whereas a particularly low score (30 points or more below the median) will need to be heavily compensated for by other application components. A 90th percentile score could earn you both admission and funding from lower-ranked schools trying to improve their averages, and you may even be able to leverage funding offers from these schools to secure more funding if you are admitted into a more prestigious (and expensive) school.
#2 What Else Do You Bring to the Table?
Because so many business school candidates boast exceptional GMAT scores on their applications, a high score has almost become the norm at top schools and has become standard even at lower-ranked schools. High scores no longer guarantee admission anywhere. The rest of your application must differentiate you from other applicants in the same score range. Imagine it this way: you’re invited to a dinner party with 10 seats—but so are 40 other people. To give the host a reason to keep you, avoid bringing the same thing as everyone else: bring the entrée, not another bottle of wine.
While most schools claim to balance each application component equally, others will prescribe an order of importance. Hint: reaching out to admissions chairs can help you better understand what a certain school looks for and give you the unique opportunity to demonstrate your interest and familiarize them with your name. Generally, you can count on essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation to tell your story and provide context for information that may otherwise raise red flags. GPAs and GMAT scores establish a general aptitude fit for the class profile, and undergraduate and work experiences (major, internships, jobs, etc.) show compatibility with a specific school’s program and resources. Tie these together to tell a story that characterizes you as a unique fit. Establishing what makes you different from the competition is especially important if your GMAT scores, GPA, recommendations, and experiences reflect a typical applicant profile. With admission becoming so competitive, an application that’s good enough isn’t good enough.
The business school admissions process is a two-way street; invest in a high GMAT score and prepare an outstanding application, but don’t forget: what matters most is how a program fits your goals and passions and what it can offer you in return for your efforts and talent.
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