GMAT

The GMAT V. The GRE: Which Test is Best for You?

For the past two years, respondents to the AIGAC MBA Applicant Survey have reported that the standardized test is the most challenging component of the MBA application. While there is no way to completely defray the stress associated with the GMAT or GRE (the top 50 business schools accept both), it is helpful to think critically about which one will provide you the best opportunity for success.

At Apply Point, we generally make the following recommendations:

You might prefer the GMAT if:

  • Your strengths are quantitative, analytical
  • You are adept at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve problems
  • You know that you want to attend an MBA, or business-related program, such as a MS Finance.

You might prefer the GRE if:

  • Your strengths are verbal, writing
  • You want to keep your graduate school options open. The GRE is accepted at most graduate programs, including a couple of law schools.

In Kaplan’s 2016 Survey of Business School Admissions Officers, 26 percent of admissions officers reported that those submitting a GMAT score have an admissions advantage over those who submit a GRE score. However, 73 percent said that neither exam has an advantage. In 2014, Harvard Business School’s Admission Director shared that the school looks carefully at the score components in combination with the student’s transcript and resume. As such, prospective students should use the test strategically to fill in any “gaps” or answer open questions that may stem from their transcript and/or work experience. For example, an applicant with an undergraduate degree and work experience in finance may need to bolster their application with strong verbal scores, while a communications major will want to demonstrate his/her ability to handle the rigors of the quantitative coursework in the MBA by providing a strong quantitative score on the GMAT/GRE.

Above all, an applicant should take the test they feel most comfortable with and are most likely to succeed on. Taking a diagnostic exam of each is a good place to start.

Top Ten Things To Consider When Applying To An EMBA Program Part I: GMAT, Academic Records and Recommendation Letters

Executive MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are searching for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete. They want to build a class comprised of students who have a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

So, what does this mean for your applications?  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.

 GMAT

The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which is 1 of only 2 intellectual measures on the application, was recently updated with an additional section.  It tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings and require the test for admissions, but EMBA admissions committees differ in their opinions regarding the GMAT.  Therefore, you will only be required to take the GMAT when applying to some programs.

--GMAT preparation is critical:  

If you are applying to EMBA programs that require you to take the GMAT, preparation is key.  Give yourself at least 3 months and pick the preparation option that is best for you.  You can either self study using one of the many GMAT guides on the market, take a GMAT prep class or hire a private tutor.  It is important to note that you can re-take the test multiple times because the admissions committees typically only take the highest score.  While the GMAT may seem like a drag, standardized tests continue to be widely used in the higher education admissions process and valued by admissions officers.  You don’t want your GMAT score to be the one aspect of your application keeping you out of your top choice program. 

Academic Records/Transcript

The content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants will never be able to change that low grade they may have received in college math and admissions deans will never be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is simply another predictor, like the GMAT, of future academic achievement.

--The transcript is telling, but only 1 piece of the puzzle:  

When evaluating your transcript, admissions committees will want to ensure you challenged yourself throughout your academic career, especially in quantitative courses, and could maintain a solid GPA.  They will assume, if you were a dedicated student throughout your undergraduate work, you will succeed in the EMBA classroom.  If you have poor grades, you can’t go back and change them. However, a high GMAT score, additional coursework and an essay explaining weaknesses can help to mitigate the negative influence of a poor transcript.

Recommendation Letters

Most graduate business programs require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation, so it is important to make strategic decisions when choosing recommenders.  You will also want to ensure their messages align with your overall application strategy. 

--Choose the right recommenders:  

Choose recommenders who know you well and who will sing praises about your candidacy and fit.  Don’t get the distant CEO to write the letter because you think admissions committees will be impressed.  Identify those supervisors who have worked closely with you and can provide specific examples of your leadership and innovation potential.  The one exception here is if you are connected to a prominent donor or decision maker at the program to which you are applying.    

--Provide recommenders with background information:

If your recommendation letter can provide specific examples and add depth to your position, they could add real value to the admissions process.  In order to achieve this, you will want to provide your recommender with substantial background information – a sample essay or two and some examples that could help them illustrate specific qualities.  Ideally, each recommendation will complement the qualities you’ve brought out the essays, resume and other recommendation letters, by providing evidence of specific professional accomplishments.  You want each application piece to work together, emphasizing different areas of strength and, ultimately, completing the puzzle.   

The application process may seem daunting, but the rigorous admissions standards applied will lead to an unparalleled EMBA experience, a classroom where each seat is taken by a talented leader who is more than merely a test score and a transcript.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part I: Assessing Academic Potential

Touted in nearly every business blog or book, the ability to innovate is the Holy Grail of capitalist enterprise.  The advent of the MBA program was in itself an innovation, a response to the massive business model overhauls during the industrial revolution.  Later, the end of World War II brought continued innovation, aggressive growth in the automobile, aviation and electronic industries and, in 1943, the creation of the Executive MBA at the University of Chicago.  Since then, like business, management educations have continued to evolve. What hasn’t changed so much is the evaluative process employed by admissions committees, the gatekeepers at top programs.

In 1943, when the first Executive MBA Program yielded a class of 52 students, business school admissions processes largely mirrored those practiced in the Ivy League.  Applicants completed a personal facts section and clearly outlined their extracurricular and professional activities.  Recommendation letters, written by persons who knew the applicant well and could speak to their character, were sent to the institution.  The applicant completed personal essays so the admissions committee could gauge the applicant’s aptitude for leadership.  And, finally, the interview would look at the more subtle indicators of future success.  Academic achievement was just one of the 4 pieces.  Was the admissions committee downplaying the value of intellectual accomplishment?

The answer is yes, because it was decided that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

 (1.) Assessing Academic Potential: The GMAT and Transcripts

The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which was recently updated with an additional section, tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings because it makes their evaluative jobs easier by leveling the playing field.  This has proven to be especially important when applicants are coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds.  But, is the GMAT an effective predictor of academic success?

Many proponents of the exam agree that analytics, reasoning skills and aptitude are vital in EMBA programs.  With no standardized measure, some schools say, programs may accept students who are not qualified academically, especially in the heavy quantitative courses.  Schools who require the GMAT for EMBA admission say that while work history, prior degrees and leadership experience are important, they are not a good gauge of an applicant’s analytical skills.

Critics of the GMAT’s usage in EMBA admissions say it is not a valid test of an applicant’s strengths. Instead, they say, schools should base decisions for enrollment on academic records and work history, aspects of the application the GMAT doesn’t measure.  These programs are clearly more concerned with an applicant’s professional career and the value their experiences will add to the classroom dynamic.                      

Business schools will continue to engage in the debate regarding the priority given to the GMAT in admissions, but one thing is for sure.  The GMAT is not a test of future management success.  It is merely a predictor of success in an applicant’s first year of business school.  

Like the GMAT, the transcript is another predictor of future academic achievement.  For applicants and admissions officers alike, the content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants can’t change its material and admissions deans won’t ever be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is what it is, a staple of most applications to academic programs in higher education.  

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.