The global pandemic has disrupted standardized testing, making it challenging for aspiring MBA candidates in some parts of the world to secure a seat in a testing center. As a result, top MBA programs have become a lot more flexible with their expectations.
Most notably, MIT Sloan waived the standardized test requirement entirely. 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, the assessment is a challenge. For others, the idea that they could apply to the business school of their dreams without submitting assessment 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 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 and his GPA was not only outside the 80th percentile range of the MIT Sloan class profile, it was below a 3.0.
While he could have submitted an application, there wasn’t sufficient evidence in his profile that would 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 him the story of a client I had worked with last year 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 courses and graduate in less than four years. Following the advice of a well-meaning individual, he studied for an 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 struggled. He graduated from a “public Ivy” with a 2.9 GPA. Fortunately, he 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. He is now at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business where he was awarded a significant merit scholarship. His strong performance on the assessment allowed him to overcome the obvious weakness in his academics. Read more of his story: 2.7 GPA – Show Stopper for an MBA?
Merit scholarship consideration
Top business schools are designated as such by rankings which are driven by things that can be quantified such as average GPA and average GMAT or GRE. As such, the admissions committees are acutely aware of how each assessment factors into their averages.
While 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 an assessment, you may be missing an opportunity to decrease the value of the loans you will need.
But I was an A student as an undergrad…
It is less obvious that candidates with who graduated Summa Cum Laude can also benefit from submitting an assessment. This is especially true for individuals who studied humanities or social sciences.
One client had a 3.8 GPA with an interdisciplinary major with 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 hadn’t taken a math class since high school. For her, it was important to include an assessment with strong performance on the quantitative section to show the admissions committees that she is adequately prepared to handle the quantitative coursework. Check out my five tips to build your quantitative profile.
English language learners
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 Test (IELTS), more emphasis is put on the admissions essays and video interview to determine whether or not the applicant is invited to interview.
Candidates who perform well on an English language proficiency assessment should include those scores because they offer the admissions committee an extra datapoint to assess preparedness. On the flip side, during my time on 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 prospective applicants. Admissions committees are truly holistic in their evaluations. A strong assessment can improve a candidate’s odds of acceptance and scholarship consideration if it strengthens the overall profile.