The global coronavirus pandemic disrupted standardized testing, making it challenging for MBA applicants in some parts of the world to secure a seat in a testing center. As a result, test takers could also opt to take an online (at-home) version of the GMAT, GRE, and EA, but this was not an option for applicants with unreliable Internet access. Consequently, the top MBA programs have become a lot more flexible with their expectations regarding standardized tests.
Business schools have had a chance to observe and evaluate the students who were accepted without submitting a standardized test. Interestingly, Michigan Ross recently noted that students who didn’t submit a test score were more likely than their peers to place out of core classes—and they were among the “stars” with respect to career placement. Therefore, in the 2022–23 admissions cycle, Michigan Ross will continue to offer applicants the option to apply without taking a test. However, rather than requesting a waiver before the submission deadline and having it approved, any applicant can opt to provide incremental information to give the admissions committee confidence in their ability to succeed both in the program and beyond.
Every week, I speak with a handful of MBA hopefuls—many of whom have not achieved a standardized test score that they can be at peace with. For some, testing is a challenge. For others, the idea that they could apply to the business school of their dreams without submitting test results motivates them to apply.
In the end, however, every admitted applicant must demonstrate the ability to handle the rigor of the MBA program.
Can you demonstrate preparedness?
About a week before the 2020–21 Round 3 submission deadline for MIT Sloan, an aspiring business school student reached out to discuss his prospects. While he had strong work experience, his undergraduate performance at a second-tier public university was less than stellar. In addition, his GPA was not only outside the 80th percentile range of the MIT Sloan class profile—it was below a 3.0.
Although he could have submitted an application, there wasn’t sufficient evidence in his profile to demonstrate that he would be successful in the classroom. I encouraged him to prepare for and take a standardized test and shoot for a score above the class averages.
Strong test scores can balance out poor undergrad performance.
I shared with this client the story of another client I had worked with in the previous cycle whose undergrad GPA was similar. That client, a first-generation college goer, had been advised to take as many AP exams as possible so he could place out of introductory undergrad courses and graduate in fewer than four years. Following the advice of a well-meaning individual, he studied for and performed well on a number of STEM AP exams for which he didn’t even take the courses because they weren’t available at his high school. The strategy backfired: he was placed into higher-level engineering courses without a strong foundation, and he struggled. Ultimately, he graduated from a “public Ivy” with a 2.9 GPA.
Fortunately, this MBA hopeful opted to use a standardized test to demonstrate his readiness for a top-tier MBA program. His 750 GMAT was solidly above the class averages, and he is now attending the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he was awarded a significant merit scholarship. His strong performance on the GMAT allowed him to overcome the obvious weakness in his academics.
Understand the role of test scores in merit scholarship consideration.
Top business schools are designated as such by rankings, which are driven by things that can be quantified including average GPA (on a 4.0 scale) and average GMAT or GRE score. Consequently, admissions committees are acutely aware of how each test score factors into their averages.
Although merit scholarships are hard to come by at the most elite MBA programs, schools typically ranked 10–25 will often use merit scholarships to woo students who have strong test scores that could increase their averages—and, therefore, their rankings. If you apply without a test score, you may be missing an opportunity to secure funding that would enable you to take out smaller student loans.
But I was an A student as an undergrad…
It is less obvious that candidates who graduated summa cum laude can also benefit from submitting a test score. This is especially true for individuals who studied humanities or social sciences.
One Stratus client had a 3.8 GPA with an interdisciplinary major and had completed coursework in media studies, English, and history. She had great career progression in advertising but wasn’t flexing her quant muscles on a regular basis, and she hadn’t taken a math class since high school. For her, it was important to include a test score with strong performance on the quantitative section to show admissions committees that she was adequately prepared to handle quantitative coursework. (Check out five tips from Stratus on building your quantitative profile.)
English language learners must prove proficiency.
Finally, an assessment of English language proficiency is often required for non-native English speakers. In recent years, some top MBA programs, notably Yale SOM and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, have made these tests optional. Absent an assessment such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS), admissions committees put more emphasis on the admissions essays and video interview to determine whether to invite the applicant to interview.
Candidates who perform well on an English language proficiency assessment should include those scores because they offer admissions committees an extra data point to assess preparedness. On the flip side, during my time on an admissions committee, I saw many candidates submit unimpressive TOEFL scores when no test was required. The softer assessment led me to be concerned about their English language skills and give them a fast pass to the ding pile.
The MBA admissions process is very nuanced, and there is no one right answer for all applicants regarding standardized tests. Admissions committees are truly holistic in their evaluations. A strong assessment can improve an applicant’s odds of acceptance and scholarship consideration if it strengthens their overall profile.
Not sure which test to take or if you should take a test at all? Reach out for a free consultation with a Stratus Admissions Counselor!