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Business Schools Go Test-Optional for 2021 MBA Applications

Business Schools Go Test-Optional for 2021 MBA Applications main image

Business schools continue to go test-optional in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Back in March 2020, when the GRE and GMAT became available for b-school candidates to take at home, several b-schools adopted a more flexible application process – either allowing candidates to submit at-home test scores or waiving GRE/GMAT requirements entirely.

Now, the trend looks like it’s set to continue throughout 2020 and into 2021.

Various business schools in the US  – including the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business – have recently announced they’re going test-optional for prospective students applying in 2020 and 2021.

But what does this mean for the future of MBA admissions?

New challenges to test-taking

B-school faculty and recruiters believe that COVID-19 has brought pre-existing challenges linked to standardized testing to light.

Scheller College of Business Dean Maryam Alavi said: “COVID-19 has introduced many complications and disruptions in terms of access to standardized exams, presenting new challenges and barriers to test-taking.

“An overreliance on standardized test scores in MBA admissions decisions puts underrepresented minorities, individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and first-generation college students at a disadvantage. For this reason, we are confident on our decision to trial a test-optional approach for fall 2021 admissions.”

Dean Alavi makes an important point. While GRE/GMAT test scores have helped b-schools recruit the top-performing candidates, the process isn’t fault-free, as it has discouraged candidates from applying in the past.

This sentiment is echoed by Pasquale Quintero, Senior Director of full-time MBA and specialized master’s programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

He said: “We decided to continue our test waiver policy to make it easier for qualified candidates to apply to our MBA programs. When we announced our temporary GMAT/GRE waiver in April, in response to the pandemic, we saw an increase in applications from very qualified individuals.

“It’s highly likely many of our applicants would have not applied to our MBA programs, putting their career objectives on hold.”

A more holistic approach to applications

Without test scores, how can b-schools assess candidates efficiently and recruit those who’d best fit into their MBA cohort?

Dean Alavi believes a more holistic and organic approach can help schools evaluate candidates without a GMAT or GRE score.

She said: “We have a track record of successful admissions decision-making without a GMAT or GRE score. Evaluation of previous academic experience, work history and progression, essays detailing goals and motivations, and interview opportunities provide sufficient data points for us to use in determining quantitative readiness, teamwork abilities, and leadership potential.”

Pasquale agrees with this approach.

He said: “The GMAT or GRE is an important assessment, but we review candidates holistically. We take into consideration academic history, work experience, industry certifications, and other factors that will strengthen one’s application.”

Will MBA admissions become more competitive?

Different schools reported seeing an increase in applications after waiving test score requirements. While this is a promising sign that perhaps the MBA admissions process will feel less intimidating, it might also lead to a hyper-competitive process for 2020-2021 applications.

Dean Alavi said: “I believe this test-optional trial will lead to increase in applications for our MBA program. With that being said, our admissions process will remain as competitive as ever – we have a history of attracting high-calibre, future-oriented professionals. COVID-19 has only strengthened the appeal of this type of education.”

Pasquale added: “We expect applications to increase because of the waiver policy and in turn make the selection process very competitive, and I expect more schools to follow suit.”

In the meantime, recruiters believe this admissions season to be an ideal time for evaluation and assessment, one that might end up changing the core requirements of MBA applications.

Dean Alavi said: “COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented opportunity for institutions to re-examine what they do and why they do it.

“Applicants will need to display both an ample understanding of the value of this type of education as it relates to their career goals and high levels of readiness for the rigor it requires.”

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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