The Mother of all International MBA FAQs: How important is the GMAT score?

Editor’s note: Starting today, PG oldie Sameer Kamat will write a weekly column answering frequently asked questions related to the international MBA application process. Feel free to comment with questions of your own, which he will try to answer in the next weekly post.

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MIT Sloan School of Management (Photo: Vitor Pamplona)

International business schools have been increasingly figuring on the radar screens of Indian professionals hoping to take their careers to the next level. Check out the various threads in the MBA Studies Abroad section of the PaGaLGuY forums to understand the level of interest. However, there are major differences between these international options and our Indian MBA programs starting from the very rationale behind pursuing the degree to the kind of career options one can explore after graduating.

An international program can be very expensive. So its only fair to have a ton of questions before candidates are comfortable with the idea of shelling out all that money to essentially get the same three letter acronym on their CVs that a lot of their friends and colleagues have already got from India.

For the last six years that I have been active on PaGaLGuY (as MartianOnEarth), there are some questions about MBA abroad that come up more frequently than the others. This series is an attempt to collate those questions and provide useful perspectives on each. Use them to get started up on the basics and then follow it up with further research of your own. An excellent (and free) starting point is to start participating on the relevant discussion threads on PaGaLGuY, where some really helpful folks (students, alumni, consultants and fellow aspirants) are already hanging out.

We start off with a few questions related to the GMAT, an important component of the application process.


The role of the GMAT in MBA applications

Q1. Im not very good at standardised tests (Or Im really short on time or Id prefer an easier way around this or ). Are there any schools that accept applicants without a GMAT score?

Yes, there are schools that dont require a GMAT score or substitute it with an alternative test score.

Some top schools have started acceptitheng GRE as an alternative to the GMAT score for their management programmes. This trend of schools accepting both the GMAT and the GRE scores will possibly increase over time, as it expands the applicant pool for b-schools substantially. A few others may have their own aptitude tests.

For certain executive and part-time MBA programs, a few schools have done away with the GMAT and started focussing on other aspects (like undergraduate academic performance, work-experience) to judge the candidates potential to do well in the program and after graduating.

On the other hand, a large number of b-schools will grant you an admission based on an English proficiency test (like the TOEFL or the IELTS) and maybe a short Statement of Purpose followed by an interview. Others might even skip that formality. As long as you can pay the fees, the doors will remain open. Its incorrect to make general assumptions, but if you are targeting schools that make it extremely easy for every Tom, Diksha and Haridas to get in, carry out a thorough research about the calibre of students in the class, the quality of the degree youd get from the institution and its market value.

For now the fact is, almost all the top-ranked schools offering full-time MBA programs would need a GMAT score. If you dont have it, then you are going to have a tough time creating your shortlist of options worth applying to.

Q2. As a child I have always dreamt of getting into XYZ university. What GMAT score should I aim for, that will guarantee an admission offer from this b-school? What is the minimum cut-off for this b-school?

Almost all the good b-schools publish some basic statistics about their current class. The average GMAT is one of them. Others could include average age, average work experience, pre-MBA industries/roles/nationalities. Check out the websites of the individual schools to get this data. Along with the average GMAT, many schools also publish an 80th percentile range for the GMAT score (for example, 650 750).

You would hardly find a school that tells you the minimum cut-off or any threshold that will guarantee you a seat, or for that matter even get you an interview call. Many of the top schools reject candidates who have scored a perfect 800 on the GMAT as the rest of their profile isnt as impressive. Youll also find students whove got into extremely competitive schools with a very low GMAT score.

As a general approach, aim for the highest GMAT score you can possibly achieve. Then forget about it and focus on the other important parameters that are really critical from the admission officers perspective (more on that later).

Q3. I was consistently scoring between 730 and 750 in my practice GMAT tests, but I dont know what happened in the real test. I ended up with a low GMAT score of XXX. What should I do now?

First things first. Most of the mock tests that private companies create can never give you an exact idea of how much you can score on the real test. The scoring algorithm, the level of difficulty for the questions and the degree to which these companies can mimic the adaptable nature of the GMAT can and does vary substantially.

MBA.com offers a couple of free tests to download and these are considered to provide the best estimates. Then there are a whole lot of non-technical aspects at work your nerve, an unfamiliar test center, pressure that can impact your performance on the test day. Be aware of these differences before you analyse your D-day performance and compare it to what has happened earlier in the practice tests.

The good (?) thing about the GMAT is that you can take it multiple times. Schools generally take the highest score you submit to them. So youve basically got two options retake it or move to the other parts of the application depending on the scenarios described below.

Scenario 1: Your actual score is dramatically lower than your practice test score.

If you have the time, the inclination and $250 to spare, go ahead and re-take it.

Scenario 2: Theres only a marginal (10-30 point) difference between your expected and actual score.

Put a lid on it and move on. Relatively speaking, the GMAT is the easiest aspect to fix. But beyond a certain point, the incremental value is negligible.

This is just a general guideline to help you decide. Whether you re-take it or not would also depend on how strong the rest of your application is.

Are there any other burning questions in your mind that youd like us to address in subsequent posts? Paste them in the comments below!

Author Sameer Kamat is the founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an admissions consulting venture and author of the bestselling MBA book Beyond The MBA Hype where he shares insights and pitfalls that aspirants should be aware of before they embark on their international MBA journey. He completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge in 2005.

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