Biggest Killer of Your App? A Low GMAT Score..

No matter what admission officials or consultants say, this is unfortunately one of the unshakeable truths of the B-school admissions game. In an ideal world, a gmat score would just be another data point, perhaps equal to any other in your application, from recommendation letters to how you craft your essays. But last year's survey by Kaplan Test Prep of B-school admissions officers showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants.

The survey found that 58% of some 265 responding admissions officers said that a weak score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the biggest application killer (see survey results in table above). That was up ten percentage points over Kaplan's 2010 survey which showed that 48% identified the exams' score as the biggest killer.

A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 24%, below last year's 33% citation, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 12%.

More info: http://poetsandquants.com/2012/03/27/gpas-gmats-wh...

Comments (65)

Mar 28, 2012

That's what they may say, but from personal experience, talking with former students who were on the Admission committees, and reading forums like GMAT club, it seems like plenty of 700+ GMAT, 3.5+ from top schools aren't getting into the top tier schools. Essays and the fluffy stuff are used to distinguish one Goldman I-Banker from another...they're not all getting in everywhere.

Note they surveyed 265 admissions officers...how many of them are at schools WSO users would consider?

Mar 28, 2012
petergibbons:

That's what they may say, but from personal experience, talking with former students who were on the Admission committees, and reading forums like GMAT club, it seems like plenty of 700+ GMAT, 3.5+ from top schools aren't getting into the top tier schools. Essays and the fluffy stuff are used to distinguish one Goldman I-Banker from another...they're not all getting in everywhere.

Note they surveyed 265 admissions officers...how many of them are at schools WSO users would consider?

Say your overall application can be split into: 1. GPA + GMAT combo 2. Work exp 3. Story (ie essays) 4. Extras 5. Recs
At the top schools the most you get a break on is one of these categories. That's it. And the reason is simply what you said: the oversupply of good applicants.

Mar 28, 2012

I think it's pretty understandable. Someone that really cares about getting into a top school and is reasonably intelligent can obtain a good GMAT score with some effort over a relatively short period of time compared to how long it takes to get and obtain a good GPA (~4 years). What does it say about someone who can't muster up a good score?

Mar 28, 2012

yes but its saying one of the biggest net reasons o the whole applicant pool are based on thos factors.. it says that they surveyed 22 of the top 30...

Mar 28, 2012

This is basic logic.

GMAT, and to a lesser extent GPA (except at HBS where it's the other way around), are NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT CONDITIONS.

Hence, they are application-killers, rather than "what gets you in".

The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.

Mar 28, 2012
jtbbdxbnycmad:

This is basic logic.

GMAT, and to a lesser extent GPA (except at HBS where it's the other way around), are NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT CONDITIONS.

Hence, they are application-killers, rather than "what gets you in".

This is exactly right. Past a certain level (around the averages for the schools, obviously), you are helped if you have uber stats, and hurt if you have weak stats, but they don't get you in or keep you out in isolation unless your stats are really bad. If you're in a competitive demographic like white males in finance, you need to be solid all around with no weaknesses, because your competition won't have any weaknesses. If you're a non-traditional like the guy / girl who worked at a social media start up or built huts in Africa for 10 minutes, you're competing against the other non-traditionals from a range of pre-carved out spots for people like you. The number of spots isn't going to be rigid per se, but they'll take a 600 GMAT 3.0 GPA at HBS if that's the best applicant they get for social media (they have a specific sub-program for that apparently). It's ALL about what bucket you are in and how you stack up against the other people in that bucket relative to the rough allocation of spots at the school.

    • 1
Mar 28, 2012

This makes sense to me and is pretty consistent with the notion you hear that "Your GMAT/GPA can't get you into a school but it can get you dinged." Ad comms receive thousands of applications and they have to have a quick, relatively cheap, way to cut the pool down to a managable size. The GMAT/GPA, while not a perfect indicator, are probably the best way to judge that quickly and easily. Obviously, like any thing that is a proxy for intelligence/ability, some people on either side will be incorrectly judged (real life dolts who kill the GMAT and really smart people who don't do well) but such is life.

Mar 28, 2012

Definitely makes sense from a macro, total application pool perspective, I just thought of "You" as the WSO crowd, which is obviously way smarter and higher achieving than the rest of the rabble applying.

Mar 28, 2012

haha . that could be argued ;)

Mar 28, 2012

THANKS, this is very useful info

shorttheworld:

lack of relevant work experience followed at just 12%.

However, ^ this makes me laugh

I'm not here to change the system, I just want to know how to use it to my advantage.

Mar 28, 2012

Ravenous is spot on. How competitive you are within your specific bucket is what matters.

Mar 28, 2012
cinnamontoastcrunch:

Ravenous is spot on. How competitive you are within your specific bucket is what matters.

Is it possible to straddle buckets? Or shoot for the "other" category? While my finance work history is good and improving, I have a bunch of random but interesting experiences that I can weave into a story. I'm wondering if the schools may just be of the mind "well shit, I don't know what to do with this guy but he's interesting so let's bring him in and see what happens".

I'm asking a relatively focused demographic here, I get that, but I'm just curious what the parameters here are...

Mar 28, 2012

re: bucketing of applications

does this more or less mean those in MO positions basically can't compete with FO within finance?

well damn...

Mar 28, 2012
inspireddude:

re: bucketing of applications

does this more or less mean those in MO positions basically can't compete with FO within finance?

well damn...

I am coming out of MO (Internal Audit at a BB) and was recently accepted to CBS. I think the key, as with everything, is to tell a good story. If you want to do IBD or Consulting or whatever and can point to specific reasons why and interactions or experiences you've had that helped you develop that interest, that is probably better than a guy with two years blue chip IBD experience who's going to b-school because that's just the natural progression of things. The roles in MO can also be a little less rigid and you can develop some serious leadership stories if you try. Bottom line, anyone with a good story and good stats is competetive.

Mar 28, 2012

I think it's possible but you have to have a pretty convincing pitch. If you volunteered at a soup kitchen for a month and suddenly got religion about helping people, that's not going to fool anyone. If you've been pursuing something with a respectable amount of diligence and have tangible accomplishments over a 3-5 year period (or whatever looks substantial), then you might have a shot if your pitch is convincing -- "Yeah, I built huts in Africa for a year and realized that you can't really get anything done without financing, so I got interested in a career in finance and I've done both over the last 5 years, so now you should take me as a non-traditional candidate because I want to use my MBA to built even more huts in Africa after I graduate." So now you're "hut guy who has a finance background" instead of "finance guy." Or whatever, you get the point.

Mar 28, 2012
Ravenous:

I think it's possible but you have to have a pretty convincing pitch. If you volunteered at a soup kitchen for a month and suddenly got religion about helping people, that's not going to fool anyone. If you've been pursuing something with a respectable amount of diligence and have tangible accomplishments over a 3-5 year period (or whatever looks substantial), then you might have a shot if your pitch is convincing -- "Yeah, I built huts in Africa for a year and realized that you can't really get anything done without financing, so I got interested in a career in finance and I've done both over the last 5 years, so now you should take me as a non-traditional candidate because I want to use my MBA to built even more huts in Africa after I graduate." So now you're "hut guy who has a finance background" instead of "finance guy." Or whatever, you get the point.

Fascinating. Thanks

Mar 30, 2012
UFOinsider:
Ravenous:

I think it's possible but you have to have a pretty convincing pitch. If you volunteered at a soup kitchen for a month and suddenly got religion about helping people, that's not going to fool anyone. If you've been pursuing something with a respectable amount of diligence and have tangible accomplishments over a 3-5 year period (or whatever looks substantial), then you might have a shot if your pitch is convincing -- "Yeah, I built huts in Africa for a year and realized that you can't really get anything done without financing, so I got interested in a career in finance and I've done both over the last 5 years, so now you should take me as a non-traditional candidate because I want to use my MBA to built even more huts in Africa after I graduate." So now you're "hut guy who has a finance background" instead of "finance guy." Or whatever, you get the point.

Fascinating. Thanks

This is a really good treatment of the way they look at it. Me personally, the visual I think of is someone building a kick-ass aquarium. You want all sorts of different fish and animals in the tank, not just a bunch of the same. Also, I can't stress enough how high the "high-horse" is the ad-coms ride. I got a great book back when I was applying (http://www.amazon.com/Best-Business-Schools-Admissions-Secrets/dp/1402212135/ref=cm_lmf_tit_4) that gives you work sheets to fill out and really create your personal brand, and honestly I think it helped me quite a bit. Like others have said, the scores get you past the first cut, your "Story" gets you in...just like any interview.

Also I wanted to say that putting a face to your application by visiting the school and meeting students and having a lot of meaningful things to write about after my official visit was probably why I got in, because my GPA was shit.

Mar 28, 2012

I think you can probably compete coming out of MO, but you need to have a pitch -- again, don't be the common place finance guy who is simply worse because he lacks front office experience. I'm not an expert on b-school (never sat on an ad com) but I've talked to a lot of people out of m7 and a lot of this stuff is pretty common sense. They get 7,000 applications or whatever the number is. The first cut is on stats. After that, it's probably broken out by subject area -- "let's look at all the finance people" -- then they make another cut. The last cut is probably interview / fit / subjectives -- "okay, this guy has good experience, but he seems like a douche, let's go with someone else" (or in the case of HBS, "let's take him because he's a douche"). They just are not going to evaluate 7,000 applications in full detail -- whatever they say about that, it's wrong. There isn't that much time or interest, they just want to make cuts and get down to the wheat. So be the best or be different in a compelling, just like any other competitive advantage scenario.

Mar 28, 2012

looks up programs with hut building in Africa

Mar 28, 2012

Sounds good, thanks Booth.

Mar 28, 2012

How much do they care about GMAT score breakdown? There's the overall score, where I'm sure top schools are looking for 690-700+, but do they look at quant / verbal scores individually?

Mar 28, 2012
charlie 09:

How much do they care about GMAT score breakdown? There's the overall score, where I'm sure top schools are looking for 690-700+, but do they look at quant / verbal scores individually?

They definitely do. And this changes based on school. Last year Wharton emailed applicants with Q49 whom they had already interviewed and said they need to work on their quant skills...(I know one of those guys)

Some programs (Wharton and MIT for example) want to see really high quants. Having too low of a quant can definitely be an application killer. Also, they look at your undergrad/work experience. So if you're a banker with a total score of 720 but a Q42 then there's something seriously wrong. However, somebody applying from a PR firm with a 720 total but Q42 could get away with the low quant. Same applies to your undergrad. If you're an engineer with a Q45 you're toast for most top schools.

Mar 28, 2012
EngBanker:

They definitely do. And this changes based on school. Last year Wharton emailed applicants with Q49 whom they had already interviewed and said they need to work on their quant skills...(I know one of those guys).

Fuck. I thought 750+ with Q49 would easily check that box. Who exactly gets in to these schools...

Mar 28, 2012

Booth or Bust, love the username.

I agree, stats standardize and your story differentiates from there. Stats will get your foot in the door. Now, whether you can pry it open is another story all together.

Mar 28, 2012

Keep in mind that it's Kaplan doing the survey.

Mar 28, 2012
markhobbus:

Keep in mind that it's Kaplan doing the survey.

THIS cannot be overstated.

Mar 28, 2012
Boothorbust:
markhobbus:

Keep in mind that it's Kaplan doing the survey.

THIS cannot be overstated.

HAH! this is like an ad ending with an asterisk:

  • study sponsored by Phillip Morris & Co**

** this footnote bought to you by Matt Levine***

*** I call this one "it was late and I was tired" :)

Mar 28, 2012

How good/bad does it look if you have a low GPA (<3.0) but have solid WE and a 700+ GMAT (and possibly CFA)? Especially if GMAT was taken within the last year and your undergrad GPA is 5 years old. It seems shitty that your GPA stays with you for so long even if you were a completely different (ie: lazy) person at the time.

My name is Nicky, but you can call me Dre.

Mar 28, 2012

How much does a good GMAT compensate for other things? If I totally geek out for six months and get a near perfect score, can I leverage that as a bargaining chip for, say, a weak GPA? The thinking being "hey, I'm smart and hardworking but sucked at life for a few years"

Mar 28, 2012

Is this GRE Score good for B Schools:

Previous Version
Q:800
V:610

Thanks!

Mar 28, 2012
nori90:

Is this GRE Score good for B Schools:
Previous Version
Q:800
V:610
Thanks!

Let's not turn this into a "is this good enough" thread. That said, I'm not familiar with GRE scores. What's percentile for those? Your Q is maxed so that's definitely good.

    • 1
Mar 28, 2012

Thanks a lot for your answer
Q 94%
V 86%

Btw a lot of people are telling me to do the GMAT because BSchools won't give the same attention to the GRE

Mar 28, 2012
nori90:

Btw a lot of people are telling me to do the GMAT because BSchools won't give the same attention to the GRE

Obviously they would never say this but it's true. The focus and the material is different. Also, there's an issue with GRE math being easy to ace (relatively of course). Using your own scores:
Q 94%. In GMAT that's 50. Eventhough you got the max score there's no way for them to know if you would have gotten 50 in GMAT or 51.
V 86%. In GMAT that's 39.
So your score is roughly Q50 V39. In 2011 that would have been 720-730.

    • 1
Mar 28, 2012

Also, you can read more about this Wharton madness:
http://poetsandquants.com/2011/11/15/wharton-email... They also specifically talk about applicants with Q49 who got an email. (and no, my friend is not the Nikki girl they're talking about)

Mar 28, 2012

I see. However, studying Engineering, won't they give less attention to this difference? But I get your point

Thanks again

Mar 28, 2012
nori90:

I see. However, studying Engineering, won't they give less attention to this difference? But I get your point

I feel like my answer would be biased. But yes, it definitely helps. Don't get me wrong. The GRE (especially considering your score) is not a deal breaker. I would focus on other aspects of your application.

    • 1
Mar 28, 2012

Great! Thanks a lot! Good night

Mar 29, 2012

EngBanker, that quant thing was ridiculous and was one of Wharton's screwups. However, Wharton said that they based their recommendation on the candidate's profile, including not only GMAT scores, but also transcripts, coursework, etc. So it's possible that these people with good quant scores got the email because something in their background (like a B in stats) was a cause for concern. And it's entirely possible that they just screwed up sending mass email to people who weren't meant to receive it. The assumption that Wharton didn't like the 49 or below score is far fetched as we don't know if that was the cause at all. If that were true, it would mean that more than 50-60% or even more of the incoming class was deemed quant-deficient by the adcom, which seems hilarious. Knowing the quant "rigor" at these programs, I would say that even with a score below 45 you could do pretty well.

Mar 29, 2012
N.R.G.:

EngBanker, that quant thing was ridiculous and was one of Wharton's screwups. However, Wharton said that they based their recommendation on the candidate's profile, including not only GMAT scores, but also transcripts, coursework, etc. So it's possible that these people with good quant scores got the email because something in their background (like a B in stats) was a cause for concern. And it's entirely possible that they just screwed up sending mass email to people who weren't meant to receive it. The assumption that Wharton didn't like the 49 or below score is far fetched as we don't know if that was the cause at all. If that were true, it would mean that more than 50-60% or even more of the incoming class was deemed quant-deficient by the adcom, which seems hilarious. Knowing the quant "rigor" at these programs, I would say that even with a score below 45 you could do pretty well.

Completely agree with everything you said. There are other factors involved for sure. I brought this up as an example of how the subscores are actually really important and should not be ignored.

Mar 29, 2012

80/80 rule for top schools. You want to be above the 80th percentile for each sub score.

Mar 29, 2012
ke18sb:

80/80 rule for top schools. You want to be above the 80th percentile for each sub score.

Is 80th+ percentile really good enough for Top 10-15?

My name is Nicky, but you can call me Dre.

Mar 29, 2012
aempirei:

Is 80th+ percentile really good enough for Top 10-15?

You can't generalize that way. You have to look at the average and ranges for the schools you're interested in. 80th quant is definitely a little low for top schools.
http://poetsandquants.com/2012/03/27/gpas-gmats-wh...

Mar 29, 2012

If you were to get 80th in both that would probably equal 700s plus. Statically speaking, it is more common for someone to do well in one subject and not the other, thus a combined 80/80 split and up yields good overall scores. There are tons of people out there that can get a 700+ score with a 95+ verbal and a Quant in the 60-70 range. Ideally, you don't want to be one of those, you want a good balance.

aempirei:
ke18sb:

80/80 rule for top schools. You want to be above the 80th percentile for each sub score.

Is 80th+ percentile really good enough for Top 10-15?

Apr 2, 2012
aempirei:
ke18sb:

80/80 rule for top schools. You want to be above the 80th percentile for each sub score.

Is 80th+ percentile really good enough for Top 10-15?

It depends what you mean. 80th percentile overall is not good enough, as that would equate to an overall score in the low to mid 600s. I think people say 80/80 split to mean that if one of your sections is very high, the other can be lower, but still needs to be above the 80th percentile.

Also, 80th percentile verbal and 80th percentile math together are higher than 80th percentile overall.

Mar 29, 2012
shorttheworld:

last year's survey by Kaplan Test Prep of B-school admissions officers showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants.

/

A survey by Kaplan... a company who sells GMAT classes and study material?

Apr 2, 2012

So how bad does one look for retaking the test even if your score goes from 650 to 750?

Apr 2, 2012
PanAfricanBanker:

So how bad does one look for retaking the test even if your score goes from 650 to 750?

Ummm . . . not bad at all. 650 to 750 is remarkable improvement and would show a great upward trend to adcomms. You only look bad retaking if you go down or retake after getting a 750+.

Apr 3, 2012

700 is the magic number, assuming reasonable section breakdowns that are not tilted one way (high verbal low quant or other way around).

Apr 3, 2012
IRSPB:

700 is the magic number, assuming reasonable section breakdowns that are not tilted one way (high verbal low quant or other way around).

This is just not true at all anymore. At 700 you will be solidly below the median for every top 10 school by any definition.

Apr 3, 2012
Boothorbust:
IRSPB:

700 is the magic number, assuming reasonable section breakdowns that are not tilted one way (high verbal low quant or other way around).

This is just not true at all anymore. At 700 you will be solidly below the median for every top 10 school by any definition.

You are probably right. But I am just quoting what I heard from adcoms. I went to a Tuck info session and the adcom said "a good GMAT score won't get you in, but a bad one will keep you out". When a candidate asked what's a "bad" GMAT score, she said "anything below a 700". A collective groan emerged from the class. Take it FWIW. I have a 710. I am not planning to write it anymore. I am so done with the goddman GMAT.

Apr 3, 2012

The adcoms lie. The fact is that the aggregate numbers are around 700 - 730 for the top schools. But that includes all the "one off" candidates that bring unique experiences to the table. The average for pure finance people will be higher than the overall average for most if not all of the top schools. Same thing with consulting most likely. So if you're under, say, 730 GMAT from a finance background, you are one of the weaker tadpoles. You really should be aiming for 750 if you fit within the demographics of this site, not 700.

In other words, a "good" or "bad" score is only good or bad relative to the people you are directly comparable to. Hate to beat a dead horse here, but finance people are basically commodities to b-schools -- they're going to take brand and high stats, or something very unique, and they're not going to lose a lot of sleep over whether Joe Smith is a better banker than Fred Jones if they look pretty much the same on paper.

Apr 3, 2012

When a candidate asked what's a "bad" gmat score, she said "anything below a 700". A collective groan emerged from the class.

lol

I feel like this question has been asked again and again and again by candidates, with the hope that some of these adcoms will say something like "anything above 650 checks the box, but even if it's below that, it's not a problem as long as it's above 500", which never happens.

Apr 3, 2012

I personally think anything above 700 is good, atleast for schools outside M7+Tuck. If you check out GMATclub threads for M7+ Tuck schools, there are quite a few candidates who had sub-700 GMAT who got in. It's oh-so confusing.

Apr 4, 2012
IRSPB:

I personally think anything above 700 is good, atleast for schools outside M7+Tuck. If you check out GMATclub threads for M7+ Tuck schools, there are quite a few candidates who had sub-700 GMAT who got in. It's oh-so confusing.

As someone else said it depends who you are and what your background is. At places right outside M7+Tuck like Darden, Ross, Fuqua, Stern, Johnson, McCombs - if you are white or asian male from a traditional (e.g., Finance) backgound without ridiculous ECs you will need to shoot for higher than 700 to differentiat yourself. It's not about what you "personally think" - it's about reality.

Apr 4, 2012
Boothorbust:
IRSPB:

I personally think anything above 700 is good, atleast for schools outside M7+Tuck. If you check out GMATclub threads for M7+ Tuck schools, there are quite a few candidates who had sub-700 GMAT who got in. It's oh-so confusing.

As someone else said it depends who you are and what your background is. At places right outside M7+Tuck like Darden, Ross, Fuqua, Stern, Johnson, McCombs - if you are white or asian male from a traditional (e.g., Finance) backgound without ridiculous ECs you will need to shoot for higher than 700 to differentiat yourself. It's not about what you "personally think" - it's about reality.

For me the reality was that I got invited to interview by Ross with a 710 GMAT. And I am an Indian electrical engineer, which is as competitive as it gets.

Apr 4, 2012
Comment