You’ve chosen to earn a master’s degree, and you’ve found the perfect Master of Business Administration program to support the next chapter of your life. Congratulations! Now the real work has begun – starting with the application process.
It’s not as easy as submitting undergraduate transcripts and writing an essay or two. There are several essential questions you must ask yourself before even beginning the application process – and the answers to these questions should inform some of the actions you take before you start applying to your top MBA programs:
- What goals do you want to achieve by enrolling in a graduate school of business? MBA programs differ widely between institutions, so you need to consider your objectives in the context of your needs. Do you plan to attend your MBA program part-time or full-time? Do you want to study online or on-campus? How does your work experience align with the MBA admissions requirements? What other degree programs or graduate specializations, if any, are you considering? All prospective students should have a clear set of goals before applying to earn a graduate business degree – it makes the entire process go a lot smoother.
- Who will you ask for letters of recommendation or to be your references? The relationships you have with your current and former bosses or team leaders will likely differ from the professors you knew while earning your bachelor’s degree. Know what they’re likely to write about you and how that will bolster your candidacy for MBA degree programs before sending emails requesting those letters.
- What are your business strengths and how will you showcase them in your application? From supplementary materials and letters of recommendation to a comprehensive resume illustrating your professional experience, there are many ways to show off your strengths. Identifying what those are early on and linking them to your desire for an advanced degree will go a long way, as will ensuring your application demonstrates your strong quantitative background in your area of study.
- What are the critical details to include on your resume? The work experience you would highlight on a job application may not be the same as those you want to highlight on your MBA application. Again, be consistent about the professional work experience you showcase throughout your application so admissions committees have a clear, strong image of who you are and what you can bring to the degree program.
- How long will it take for you to put together a compelling MBA program application? The answer to this will depend on your schedule, the responsiveness of your recommenders and the application deadlines, to name a few factors. The application process is often a long and drawn-out one, and degree programs have different deadlines; keep that in mind as you collect your materials.
And there’s one more important question you’ll have to contemplate regarding your application: Are you applying to MBA programs without a GMAT requirement? Or will you be submitting test scores as you apply to part-time or full-time MBA programs?
If you’re looking at on-campus or online MBA programs that don’t require GMAT scores – sometimes called test-optional MBA programs – the decision is yours as to whether or not you choose to report your standardized test scores. Many business schools waived the GMAT requirement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and MBA programs that don’t require GMAT or other test scores were beginning to emerge in the years prior. While there are still some MBA programs that retained the GMAT requirement after the GMAT test became available online, many degree programs decided to offer a permanent GMAT waiver for prospective students.
At first glance, the GMAT requirement changes have made applying to MBA programs easier. After all, who wants to pay for, study for and sit for another standardized test? However, deciding whether to submit your GMAT scores can be complicated; a good test score could bolster your application and make you a more appealing applicant. For example, the SMU Cox School of Business online MBA program is GMAT and GRE optional, but taking the test and submitting your scores may still bolster your application.
What Exactly is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a standardized test developed by the Graduate Management Admission Council in 1953 to help business schools select the most qualified applicants.
The multiple-choice, computer-adaptive and computer-based test gets easier or more difficult in real-time based on how well the test taker performs. The GMAT scores test takers on their mathematics, grammar, reading comprehension and critical thinking skills and gauges their problem-solving abilities. Today, universities still use the GMAT test to assess how successful applicants are likely to be in management-focused graduate programs. More than 7,000 graduate programs worldwide require GMAT exam scores as part of the business school application process.
How Does the GMAT Differ from the GRE and Executive Assessment?
The short answer is that the GMAT test measures analytic and critical thinking skills, while the GRE exam measures overall academic readiness for graduate-level studies.
The GRE exam is a two-section test with a writing component. There are also optional GRE Subject Tests that assess technical knowledge in specific disciplines such as mathematics, psychology and physics. These Subject Tests are never required for MBA program admissions. Meanwhile, the GMAT test measures analytic and critical thinking skills and has four sections. There are no GMAT subject exams.
If you’re wondering if the GMAT is better than the GRE, know that the GMAT vs. GRE debate is thoroughly settled. A recent Kaplan survey found that 96 percent of MBA programs surveyed allow applicants to submit GRE scores as an alternative to GMAT scores. Institutions that accept both rarely prefer one over the other and often urge prospective students to report the standardized test scores that most accurately reflect their skills.
Some graduate business schools, including SMU Cox, also accept Executive Assessment exam results in lieu of GMAT or GRE scores. The Executive Assessment is specifically designed to evaluate the business school readiness of seasoned professionals and assesses skills critical to professional success and success in an MBA program: critical thinking, quantitative analysis, problem-solving and higher-order reasoning. The Executive Assessment takes only 90 minutes to complete and requires less preparation than the GMAT test or GRE exam.
Why MBA Programs Are Dropping the Standardized Test Requirement
Traditionally, standardized tests have been used to evaluate applicants’ readiness for graduate-level study, and repeated research studies have found that GMAT and GRE scores can be reliable predictors of prospective students’ academic performance in MBA programs. However, several factors have prompted universities to rethink the standardized testing requirement, and many now offer GRE waivers or GMAT waivers that make submitting standardized test scores optional.
In March 2020, many universities waived standardized test requirements for both undergraduate and graduate degrees due to COVID-19 related disruptions in testing centers nationwide. As the pandemic’s effects linger, many graduate programs are electing to keep the GMAT waivers alive, and some MBA programs have waived the GMAT requirement entirely.
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the fact that only a few socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are consistently represented in graduate programs, and that there must be a proactive effort to recruit a diverse student body into each new graduating class. Studies have found that standardized test results are not necessarily useful predictors of graduate school success in minority populations. Waiving standardized test requirements is one way top business schools have chosen to make the admissions process more equitable.
Standardized test scores used to be a deciding factor when hiring graduates of MBA programs but this has changed. Top companies like Bain, Goldman-Sachs and McKinsey have started putting less emphasis on standardized tests as part of recruiting, and other companies have followed suit. Job candidates who take the GRE exam or a similar standardized test are welcome to submit their test scores, but they are no longer an essential element of the job application process.
Ultimately, research suggests waiving standardized test requirements has no impact on the performance of accepted MBA students and test results don’t necessarily identify who will be successful after graduation.
How Taking the GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment Can Strengthen Your MBA Application
As you begin thinking about what optional materials you will include in your MBA application, keep the purpose of the application process in mind. Your application helps the admissions committees evaluate whether you will be successful in their programs and whether your goals align with the goals of the graduate program to which you are applying.
Each element of the MBA application beyond standardized test scores has a purpose.
- Your resume or CV shows admissions committees that you have relevant experience that will help you complete advanced MBA coursework. It also shows admissions committees how your years of work experience could contribute to the work you’ll do in a graduate program.
- Undergraduate transcripts give universities an idea of whether you can handle the rigorous academic coursework required to succeed in a graduate-level program.
- Essays showcase your communication skills and outline your long-term goals and motivations for enrolling in an MBA program. You can also share real-world experiences that will make you an asset to a graduate program, as well as to elaborate on how your professional work experience has prepared you to pursue an MBA degree.
- Letters of recommendation help admissions committees see you from the perspective of others and gauge whether you will be a good fit for their graduate program.
Given all the elements of the typical MBA application, should you take the GMAT test when it’s an optional portion of the graduate school admissions process? Ask yourself these questions:
- How strong are my recommendations or references?
- How much professional experience do I have?
- How does that professional experience align with my reasons for applying to MBA programs?
- Did I have a competitive undergraduate GPA?
- Will my essays thoroughly articulate the kind of student, employee and person I am?
If you’re unsure of the quality of any of your application materials, taking a standardized test like the GMAT may be a way to boost your application. For example, if your undergraduate GPA is lacking, a good standardized test score shows you’re a different student than you were and are prepared to succeed in graduate school. And if your years of work experience only meet the minimum threshold for acceptance, a solid standardized test score can show admissions committees that you are capable of excelling in an MBA program. The SMU Cox admissions team can help you determine whether including one or more test scores in your application will boost your chances of acceptance.
Strong Test Takers May Have an Edge
Interviews conducted by Kaplan/Manhattan Prep representatives with admissions officers from 96 full-time business schools found that while test-optional graduate schools don’t penalize applicants for opting out of standardized tests, there may be strategic benefits to submitting scores. According to most interviewees, students should take a standardized test and then strategically decide whether to deploy those test scores to schools.
If you feel your application materials don’t adequately demonstrate your ability to excel in an MBA program, good standardized test scores may make your application more compelling. Be aware, however, that just because you take a test does not mean you must submit your scores. Submitting a poor score when a score is not required may lower your chances of acceptance.
The Benefits of Taking the GMAT – Even When It’s Not Required for Admissions
A good score on the GMAT, GRE or EA will always strengthen your MBA program application. At the SMU Cox School of Business, the admissions team assesses candidates holistically. If you feel your application could be stronger – or that your letters of recommendation and references, undergraduate GPA and resume don’t accurately reflect your potential – it may be worth studying for and taking the standardized test of your choice. Additionally, the SMU Cox Admissions team is always willing to speak with candidates about their specific situations and offer recommendations as to what might make their applications more competitive.
And even if your undergraduate GPA, resume and references are stellar, there are certain situations in which submitting standardized test scores will make you a stronger MBA applicant, e.g.:
- When the program you’re applying to is competitive and attracts a lot of quality applicants.
- When admissions officers are deciding between you and an equally qualified prospective student.
- When you don’t have the strongest quantitative background but want to showcase your ability to perform well in an MBA program.
- When you’re hoping to be considered for internal academic or merit-based scholarships. SMU Cox automatically considers all candidates for merit based scholarships, but applicants with strong test scores may receive more financial support.
- When you have fewer years of work experience called for by the admissions requirements and want to demonstrate your readiness for a program.
It’s also worth looking to the future. If you’re seeking an MBA to bolster future job prospects – as many candidates are – there are benefits to having taken one of the above standardized tests. Even though banking and consulting firms are putting less emphasis on GMAT scores when hiring MBA graduates – choosing instead to evaluate professional work experience and degree program performance – a good score can still help you stand out in competitive job markets. Your strong score not only signals your ability to succeed in an MBA program but also shows you have the skills standardized tests evaluate, such as executive decision-making, leadership and qualitative decision-making.
Should You Take the GMAT Even When It’s Not Required?
The decision is up to you, but keep in mind that admissions teams look at applications objectively. Every applicant is different, and admissions committees review their materials with that in mind. Great test scores can strengthen an application but will not automatically get you into your target MBA program. As you begin gathering your application materials and starting the application process, think carefully about how you want to present yourself as a prospective student. If you think your GMAT test, GRE exam or Executive Assessment scores will bolster your application, submit them. But if you’re unsure whether you should take the GMAT as part of your MBA application process, schedule an appointment with the SMU Cox admissions team. They will be happy to help you determine whether a standardized test score would benefit your application and will discuss the admissions requirements and process with you. Remember to review the admission requirements of all your target programs beforehand to gain a clearer understanding of what each school will need to evaluate your candidacy.
If you haven’t taken the GMAT, you can still apply to the SMU Cox School of Business and enroll in the online MBA program today. Remember, your GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment score is never the most important part of your application; a lower score won’t result in an automatic rejection, and a perfect score does not guarantee admission. If the schools you are applying to don’t have a GMAT requirement but will still accept standardized test scores, acing the test might be the competitive edge you need. Don’t shy away from something that could make your application stand out.