While this may be hard to believe, having a low GMAT score isn’t the end of the world. There are still things you can do that will increase your chances of being admitted.
How do we know? For the past year and a half, TopMBA.com has been asking business school admissions officers for their advice on how to address low GMAT scores as part of an interview series. Here are some of the best pieces of advice we received on the subject of the standardized admissions test, including: Why schools look at the GMAT, how they view retaking the GMAT and, most importantly, what you can do to improve your chances of getting in.
Why do business schools look at GMAT scores?
A large number of admissions officers will tell you that the GMAT is just one factor schools look at when evaluating MBA candidates. The reason schools include your score as part of their admissions criteria is because they feel it is an indicator of whether or not you are up to the academic challenge required of MBA students.
“We look at…whether we think the candidate can actually get through our coursework requirements. That is where the GMAT comes in,” explains Christie St. John, admissions director at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. “The GMAT doesn’t tell us whether a candidate will be a successful businessperson, but it does tell is whether they will be able to get through the first year of the program. And that is very important to us.”
The assistant dean of MBA admissions at NYU Stern, Isser Gallogly, agrees stating, “these exams have been statistically proven to provide a high level of correlation with how students perform academically in the MBA program, so they are important in ensuring that students are capable of meeting the challenges of Stern’s rigorous education.”
A low GMAT score doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get in
Having a low GMAT score doesn’t mean you should give up on your application entirely, according to Warwick Business School’s assistant dean and associate professor of strategic management, Sotirios Paroutis. “It is always worth applying despite a low GMAT score, as the make-up of the MBA cohort is important, so we are not after a room full of mathematicians - we want a mix of skills. If you have a different skillset, especially from the creative industries, then that could fit in very well with the cohort, even if you have a low GMAT score.”
Therefore, your score, while important, isn’t the be-all and end-all of MBA admissions criteria. At Oxford’s Saïd Business School, for example “the school will assess each applicant holistically and a low GMAT score does not disqualify you from entering the program (neither does a high one guarantee entry),” says associate director of MBA recruitment, Raquel Lison.
Retaking the GMAT may boost your chances of admission
Retaking the GMAT is the most direct solution to the problem of a low GMAT score. If you are wondering whether or not business schools look down on you for retaking the GMAT, the answer is a resounding “no.” In fact, several of the admissions officers interviewed by TopMBA.com actively encourage candidates with lower scores to retake the test. Additionally, most schools will only look at your highest score.
“The most straightforward way to overcome a low GMAT/GRE score is to retake the test and to improve your score. At Stern we look only at your best overall score, so there is no downside to retaking the test,” reasons Gallogly.
The same approach is true of Kellogg: “We do see candidates who have retaken the GMAT or GRE when they believe their first attempt is not a good reflection of their intellectual ability and we will consider the highest score.”
For low GMAT scorers who are looking for post-MBA work in finance or consulting, London Business School’s admissions director David Simpson, points out another good reason to retake the GMAT: “The banks and consulting firms look at GMAT, so you should care.”
Candidates with a low GPA should also consider retaking the GMAT, since, as SDA Bocconi’s admissions officer, Laura Russo, explains, “a GMAT score can help balance a poorer academic record.”
In addition, some schools may request that you retake the GMAT, as is the case with the University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management. “We may ask candidates to attempt the GMAT again if their score is extremely low, since our program is highly analytical and we have expectations of performance that one must be able to meet,” states the school’s director of graduate recruitment and admissions, Jay Bryant.
If you do decide to retake the GMAT, make sure you study this time, since a lack of adequate preparation is a big reason people get a low score in the first place. In the case of those with low GMAT scores who apply to Vanderbilt’s Owen MBA, St. John often asks how they prepared for the GMAT. “Sometimes people just walk in and take it with no preparation; or they study the book but never try a mock test. That’s not recommended!” So, if you got a low GMAT score and didn’t prepare beforehand, make sure you get some GMAT study in before going in for your next exam.
Mike Langley, associate director of admissions at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management advises taking a practice test first: “It helps to simulate the testing environment - no TV, music, or other distractions; try doing the calculations by hand.”
7 things you can do if you are worried about a low GMAT score
Retaking the GMAT isn’t the only way to improve your chances of admission. Most schools like to look at the full picture of an MBA applicant’s credentials, so you may still have a chance of getting in if the other parts of your application are exceptional.
At London Business School, for example, Simpson says: “We would rather they have a healthy GMAT score, our average is around 700 which is reflective of our international feel.” Even so, he adds that “no one gets in with a score under 600, but a 620 and a strong application can see you through.” Here are some other things you can do, based on the advice we’ve received from admissions staff:
1. Make the most out of any optional MBA essay questions
Some schools, like Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business have an optional essay question that gives applicants a chance to provide additional information about why they are a fit. According to Fisher’s director of MBA admissions, Julee Conrad, the supplemental essay gives applicants the opportunity to “elaborate on what you perceive to be your area of weakness and the other contributions you will make to the program.”
“Essays are also considered when assessing verbal ability. Applicants who feel that the GMAT is not representative of their abilities may utilize the optional essay to share their thoughts on the exam and highlight other areas of the application that demonstrate strength in a certain area,” states Allison Jamison, director of marketing and recruitment for Duke Fuqua’s full-time MBA program. Of course, when it comes to international applicants’ need to demonstrate English proficiency, Jamison also points out that language test scores will also be taken into account.
2. Take a math class to demonstrate your quantitative ability
“Some students also choose to take specific courses, such as statistics, economics, calculus, or accounting, to present another side of their abilities,” says Jamison. In addition, some schools may even request that applicants take a pre-enrolment class where they work with math professors to improve their quant score.
3. Do a great job during the MBA interview and/or video essay questions
Excelling at the interview and video essay portions of the application can also compensate for a low GMAT score, states Schulich’s former assistant director of graduate recruitment and admissions, Renice Jones. “Candidates that are below the (GMAT) average can use the other components of the application, such as the interview and video essays in particular, to exhibit why they may be a great fit for Schulich.”
4. See if the school accepts GRE scores instead
Some schools, like Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, accept both the GMAT and GRE and weigh them equally as part of the admissions process. Be sure to ask each school about their GRE policies before switching tests, since this is not the case at every business school.
5. Apply to a school or program that does not require the GMAT
There are also schools that don’t require the GMAT. At the University of Exeter Business School (where the GMAT is recommended but not mandatory) “a candidate’s suitability to the program is assessed through personal interviews,” states the school’s One Planet MBA director, Nicolas Forsans.
6. Ask about GMAT waivers
“Some of our programs may offer a GMAT waiver, depending on the circumstances, so make sure to check with us for any of those potential options,” says Langley of Arizona’s Eller College.
7. Talk to admissions
“My advice to a candidate that is concerned about his/her GMAT score is to speak to the admissions office. The RSM MBA admissions team see various MBA profiles every day and the core part of their jobs is to guide applicants through the application process. Thus, if a candidate reaches out to our admissions managers, they will be able to advise as to whether the GMAT is indeed taking away from the candidate’s profile and, if that is the case, what can potentially be done to overcome this. The admissions managers will also be able to discuss application timeframes to ensure that candidates can run their application processes in parallel with any discussion over a GMAT or GRE score,” states Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, director of marketing and admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management.