Is Your GMAT Good Enough for a Top MBA Program?

Well, there’s a whooole lot more that goes into this process.


If we had a dollar for every person who asked us what schools they can get into based on their GMAT score, well, we’d be answering that question from our 200-foot yacht while the staff brought us cocktails and fanned us with palms.

Same goes for:

Can I get into a Top 10?
Am I good enough for Top 20?
Is HBS possible??

The truth is, no one can answer that with 100% certainty based on GMAT score alone. As you know, or as you should know, there’s a whooole lot more that goes into this process. If the MBA adcom only cared about your GMAT score, the application would take a LOT less work (and we would all have to find something else to do with our time).

But, of course, your GMAT score is an important part of the process, and the best place to start when evaluating where you stand in the MBA admissions world.

So, let’s break it all down.

When you are looking at schools there are two numbers to look at:

1. The mean GMAT score of the last incoming class.
2. The “middle 80%” range for GMAT scores of the last incoming class.
[We got that info covered in our MBA School Guides. Check ’em out.]

In the most basic terms, if you want to have a decent chance at a specific school, you should have a score that is higher than the mean. So if Wharton’s mean GMAT for their last incoming class of 2016 was 728, you can feel comfortable applying to Wharton with a GMAT of 730 or above. And, likewise, for Georgetown, you can feel comfortable with at least a 690.

Now, the ‘Middle 80%’ stat is helpful to take your assessment one step further. First, in terms of where your score falls and how you stack up. If your score falls somewhere near the low end of that 80%, the school is a bit of a long-shot for ya. So, since Wharton’s middle 80% goes from 710-750, if your scores is lower than 710, you don’t really have much of a shot, unless the rest of your profile is totally awesome. (More on that in a bit.)

Second, by looking at how restrained the range is, you can get a sense for how important the GMAT score is to a school. So, for Wharton, with only a 40-point range, it’s clear that they care a lot about GMAT scores. On the flipside, Georgetown’s spread (640-730) is larger, meaning they care a bit less about someone’s GMAT score and more about who the person is OVERALL.

Now, you may think this is obvious because Wharton is Wharton and Georgetown is a Tier 2 school. But it’s not always that way. Let’s have a look at Tuck, for example, where the mean GMAT for the incoming class was 716. So Tuck, being a small Top 10 program, could, like Wharton, have a GMAT range of say 700-740. But it’s not the case. The middle 80% of the incoming class at Tuck is an 80 point spread – from 670-750. So Tuck, unlike Wharton and more like Georgetown, is focused more on the overall profile of an applicant than on getting students with insanely high GMAT scores.

So what does that all mean?

It means that at Wharton, if you are a good candidate with a so-so GMAT, your chances of getting in are lower than at a school like Tuck.

Adjustments for Chinese and Indian candidates

If you are a Chinese or Indian candidate, things are going to be tougher for you. Not because anyone has anything against you (promise!), but just because there are SO many applicants coming from China and India, and because many of those applicants have very high GMAT scores. So, unfortunately for you, those are some very competitive waters to be swimming in. And that means that if you are a Chinese or Indian candidate, in general, you will want to have a score that is higher than the average.

How much higher, you ask?

It’s impossible to say, because schools don’t release country-by-country statistics for their average GMATs of their incoming classes. But looking at average scores overall, you will need to figure that you are safe if you have 20-30 points more than the average.

“What?! That’s crazy! You mean to get into Wharton I need at least a 760???”

Not exactly, although the higher your score, the better. Like we said before, a GMAT score is a good indicator, but it’s not everything. And once you get to the very high end of scores (say 730+), the schools are going to care more and more about your profile, your leadership, your passion, your vision, your originality, etc., than they will about 10 or 30 points more on the GMAT. But still, you do want to be on the higher end of that GMAT range so that your profile is more attractive.

Adjustments for minorities

Things work in the opposite direction for minority candidates, or other candidates whom schools actively seek out to create a diverse community with a variety of perspectives/opinions/experiences. (That can be actual minority applicants or people with military or other non-traditional backgrounds, for example.) In order to get that diversity and create a more interesting class, the adcom is willing to forgo a few points on the GMAT.

So if this is applicable to you, and your GMAT score is 20-30 points lower than the last incoming class’ mean, don’t discount yourself just yet.

The “good enough” GMAT

So, using these guidelines above, you can use the GMAT as a quick indicator of where you can get in. And it’s best to take the GMAT as a threshold – meaning that you want to hit the mean score (with the adjustments mentioned above) for the schools you are targeting to have a good chance of getting accepted.

Does that mean that a score 40 points above the average is the Golden Ticket into a top b-school? Or that a score of 40 below is a ticket to Failsville? Nope! Do not get caught in that trap. The adcom is still going to review your WHOLE profile holistically, including your application, resume, essays, and recommendations, which also carry a great deal of weight. So the GMAT is a good starting point, and an important piece of the pie, but it’s never going to be everything. If it were, HBS would have a (very boring) class full of people with 800 GMAT scores.

Looking for more GMAT resources? Look no further!


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