GMAT or GRE? What Do Business Schools Really Think

GMAT or GRE? What Do Business Schools Really Think main image

For years, applying to business school usually meant taking the GMAT admission exam, but a rival standardized test has given MBA candidates another option.

The GRE is a generalist exam that can be used to apply to many different graduate schools, including law schools. But globally, more than 1,200 MBA programs accept GRE scores, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and INSEAD.

Changing the game

Dennis Yim, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of academics says, “While it was once an anomaly, well over 90 percent of business schools now allow applicants to submit GRE scores instead of GMAT scores. It’s now the anomaly to not accept both exams.”

He says the number of GRE takers applying to top MBA programs has steadily increased in recent years. He cites a news report claiming that in 2015, only eight MBA programs admitted 20 percent or more of their students this way, whereas in 2017, 22 schools did. At Boston University, for example, 42 percent of admits were GRE takers.

According to Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange admissions advisory firm, there are valid reasons why someone would take the GRE over the GMAT.

He says, “The GRE may make sense if the MBA applicant anticipates or has achieved subpar results on one or more previous GMATs.

“The GRE math section is considered less rigorous and, unlike the GMAT, allows for a calculator when solving quant problems. Applicants with strong vocabularies tend to do especially well on the GRE’s verbal section.”

Calming the candidates

Applicants prone to anxiety may feel more comfortable taking the GRE. Min says, “Unlike the GMAT, the GRE permits test-takers to save and revisit questions during each section. This relative flexibility can help reduce nervousness.”

He adds that “there may be an admissions advantage” for some applicants who take the GRE.

He explains, “The variance between the average GMAT score and (the GMAT equivalent of) the average GRE score for admits is a substantial 70.5 points for 38 schools that reported both average test scores.” At Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, the variance was 92 points.

A wider selection

Some business schools may see advantages in admitting GRE takers, because the GRE can be used to apply to many types of schools, Min says it can “increase and broaden the pool of MBA applicants”.

He says, “Individuals applying to non-MBA programs such as public policy or law with a GRE score can easily add MBA programs to their target list without having to take the GMAT.”


He adds that many undergraduate students are encouraged to take the GRE before they graduate, whereas people usually take the GMAT after several years in the workforce.

“Several top-tier business schools – including Harvard and Stanford – have a ‘deferred admission’ option for current undergrads, allowing them to apply [for an MBA] now but enroll a few years later,” Min says. “By accepting the GRE, these MBA programs encourage more college seniors to apply to business school earlier.”

Tradition still matters

Despite the GRE’s growing appeal, however, many business schools still favour the GMAT. A Kaplan survey last year found that the latter was preferred by 21 percent of admissions officers who accepted both tests. Only 1 percent thought GRE takers had the advantage over people who took the GMAT.

This makes sense, according to Yim, as business school admissions teams have been more familiar with the GMAT for decades.

Also unlike the GRE, the GMAT is designed specifically for evaluating business school candidates. So, taking the GMAT can signal to admissions teams you’re more serious about getting an MBA exclusively.

In addition, the GMAT was recently shortened by 30 minutes — a move that consultants say was designed to make it more appealing to candidates. The number of GMAT exams taken last year fell by 10,364 when compared with 2016, though the number of people taking the exam had steadily risen in the few years before that.  

Vineet Chhabra, senior director of product management at GMAC, which owns the GMAT, suggests that the change was made to create a “better and friendlier” experience.

He says, “We’re always looking for ways to help test takers build confidence and control, reduce any stress they might be feeling, and streamline the test center experience.”

He notes that 9 out of 10 admissions to the top Financial Times 100 MBA programs are made using a GMAT score. Globally, more than 7,000 MBA and master’s programs use the GMAT.

It’s down to you

However, Brandon Kirby, director of admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, says he doesn’t have an admissions exam preference. “Either test can provide the information we need to aid the admissions process.”


He notes a strong score in either test doesn’t guarantee an MBA place. “If schools only cared about the GMAT then there wouldn’t be a need for an essay, recommendation letters or an interview,” he says. “The GMAT is one part of the process – albeit an important one”.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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