GMAT Purpose and Competition for Admission

Purpose of GMAT

Simply put, business schools need as “objective” an expedient filter as they can in order to compare applicants from widely varying backgrounds. While professional background and aspirations, essays, interviews all count, they are more subjective factors, and the top business schools in particular get as many as 10x as many applicants as they can accept.

The GMAT is the first application hurdle that MBA hopefuls must clear in order for the Admissions Committee to become interested in considering the more subjective elements of their application.

Over time however, the almost universal reliance of top business schools on the GMAT as an expedient first filter for admission has given the test a de facto monopoly. Top business schools absolutely cannot let their GMAT averages slip over time, as those averages are now taken by both applicants and recruiters as first proxies for the competitiveness of each school.

Overview of Competition

Acceptance rates hover around 10% for the top US schools, and 15-25% for the top European schools. So-called “second tier” schools — say the top 50 worldwide — are less selective with an acceptance rate range of 25-50%.

While acceptance rates can never tell the whole story (crucially, they don’t tell us anything about the caliber of the applicant pool, which can exhibit self-selection), they are a decent proxy for admissions competitiveness, at least for schools of a similar rank.

There are a some key implications of the above that should inform your MBA admissions strategy:

Of the rejected applicants, while some may clearly not have been qualified, many likely were qualified. Obviously, it isn’t enough simply to clear all the (nonetheless considerable) application hurdles: i.e., take the GMAT, pay the application fee, write passable essays, get decent references, and have an OK interview. Something more must be required.

Given the amount of work involved in applying, and the apparently low starting chances of success, you should: 1) count on applying to more than one school and 2) think hard before applying to a top MBA, especially if you haven’t budgeted enough time to do a proper job on all the application components. It may not be worth it — and if you are still committed to going to business school in a year or two after a rejection at your school(s) of choice, re-applying is neither trivial nor assured of success.

What about competing “by the numbers”?

Given these low acceptance rates, would it be enough to compete “by the numbers”, i.e., by relying on a strong undergraduate performance and pushing the GMAT well above 700?

This is a very common question fielded by admissions representatives on internet fora. The short answer is no — and the most common reply admissions representatives from top schools give includes a comment about looking for applicant well-roundedness, accompanied by something along the lines of:

“Last year we rejected half of the applicants who scored 800″
“If we wanted to, we could fill the entire class with 750+ scorers”

The above is probably true (if a bit arrogant). But the point is nonetheless clear — unlike the admissions process at many graduate and law schools, you can have an outstanding undergraduate record and a top standardized test score and still not get into your top choice schools.

Something more must be required.

But what exactly? How does one stand out among the applicant pool in a way that impresses Admissions Committees?

To make a start at an answer, we need to take a closer look at the different application components (see next section in this menu “Role in MBA Admissions”.