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Applying to an MBA Without a GMAT Score

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If you're thinking of applying to a Master of Business Administration program, you've probably heard that some business schools are waiving (or even eliminating) testing requirements.

Hailey Cusimano, Director of TutoringThere's no doubt that skipping the GMAT, and other admissions tests, sounds like a tempting option: studying for the GMAT exam is hard work, and without a standardized exam, you'll have one less thing to worry about as you prepare your MBA application.

Unfortunately, there are some nuances to both test-optional and test-free admissions policies that you should be aware of, and further, there are some good reasons why you should not skip the GMAT exam.

Let's look at the details behind some of the changes in the testing requirements for business school admissions. From there, you can determine if going GMAT-free is really the best option for you.

Full-Time MBA Programs & GMAT Exam Waivers

First, it's important to note the difference between GMAT exam waivers and programs with no GMAT exam requirements, or between test-optional and test-free policies.

This distinction is almost exclusively made when dealing with a full-time program versus an online MBA program, and most of the recent news you've heard about programs waiving the GMAT exam requirement relates to full-time MBA programs.

And while all of the major full-time programs still accept the GMAT, a select number of programs give some or all applicants the ability to skip the exam.

For example, University of Washington's Foster School of Business waived their GMAT exam requirement for 2022 and 2023 for any students who wish to forgo the test.

MIT's Sloan School of Management and Indiana University's Kelley School of Business both allow incoming students to submit a request for a test waiver (with no guarantee that it will be granted).

However, for the vast majority of full-time MBA programs, the GMAT exam is a requirement, and there are some major reasons you'll want to at least try for a competitive GMAT exam score when applying for full-time admission.

3 Reasons You'll Want to Apply with a GMAT Exam Score

Even though the option to apply to a full-time program without a GMAT exam score might seem like a convenient shortcut, going test-free won't generally be to your advantage in the long-run.

Here are three reasons why full-time MBA applicants should aim to submit their application with a GMAT exam score:

#1: Many employers value GMAT exam scores

Did you know that many consulting and finance employers consider GMAT exam scores in their recruitment processes?

This is not to suggest that a certain GMAT exam score is required for employment as an MBB consultant; according to the Wall Street Journal, GMAT exam scores are seen by MBB as just one of many useful metrics in evaluating candidates.

Nonetheless, a strong showing on the GMAT exam helps to signal to your potential employer that you have the problem-solving skills required to work in demanding consulting or finance roles.

#2: Taking the GMAT exam demonstrates a serious commitment to your target programs – and gives them one more reason to admit you

Beyond highlighting your ability to succeed in the classroom, taking the GMAT exam says a lot about your commitment.

Consider how long it takes to study for the GMAT: when preparing with optimal efficiency, students can expect to achieve a competitive score in 10 weeks.

That means for 10 weeks, students must live and breathe the GMAT, and if they are working full-time jobs (as most MBA applicants are) it often requires sacrificing free time and social activities to stay on track.

By taking the GMAT exam and earning a competitive score, the admissions committee will recognize the fact that you found the time in your busy schedule to study, and they'll come to understand that you're serious about your business school plans.

And if you do achieve an excellent score, one that’s above the average for your target MBA program, admissions officers will consider the positive impact that admitting you would have on their average, and therefore on their ranking.

#3: The Graduate Management Admission Test was specifically designed for business schools

The fact is that the GMAT exam was made by business schools, for business schools. As a result, there is a long history of cooperation between the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and MBA programs, and the GMAT exam is well-established as the most accurate measure of future success in the MBA classroom.

The GMAT exam is not the sole measure by which MBA candidates can be evaluated, and some would argue that their professional success is a greater marker of prospective business students' potential for a successful business career post-MBA.

But there's no denying the correlation between MBA candidates who have submitted high GMAT exam scores and MBA graduates who have gone on to achieve great things.

If all this is true, why did some full-time MBA programs waive their GMAT exam requirement?

At the end of the day, the recent changes to some full-time MBA program's admissions policies can largely be attributed to a single factor: COVID.

As COVID was disrupting global life in early 2020, many countries closed standardized testing centers where MBA applicants would normally have completed their GMAT. As a result, several graduate programs changed application deadlines and even began waiving testing requirements.

Whether or not the trend will continue beyond COVID is uncertain but make no mistake: when it comes to full-time MBA programs, the GMAT exam is still highly regarded.

Online MBA Programs

Whereas it is almost always necessary (and always a good idea) to apply to full-time MBA programs with a GMAT exam score, online MBA programs have very different admissions requirements.

According to the U.S. News ranking of the best online MBA programs48% of the entries on their listing do not require a test score, full stop. These programs can be accurately described as no-test.

And while 45% of online MBA programs do require applicants to submit their test scores for either the GMAT exam or GRE, every program allows applicants to waive testing requirements if they meet certain criteria (relevant work experience or a high college GPA).

Different online MBA programs offer different explanations for their testing policies.

For example, #21 among U.S. News' top online MBA programs, the University of Florida Warrington School of Business online MBA states: "...instead of requiring a test score, the admissions committee will rely on other indicators of ability when reviewing your file."

Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business, however, writes that while the GMAT exam is not required, "applicants who have minimal quantitative experience may want to submit a test score to help showcase their quantitative aptitude."

So, What Does All This Mean For you?

When it comes to applying to MBA programs, you need to first determine whether you're interested in applying to a full-time or an online MBA program.

If you're targeting online MBA programs over in-person, full-time programs, then it may be possible to skip the GMAT exam.

But you should think twice before doing so. Read admissions criteria carefully for your desired programs. For some schools (as is the case for Babson, quoted above), it may still be a good idea to take the GMAT exam if you have gaps in your quantitative abilities.

If you are applying to a full-time MBA program, you should try taking the GMAT exam, since a GMAT exam score will give you a leg up in the application process. With professional help and a clear study plan in place, a strong showing is possible on the GMAT exam for most students.

Hailey Cusimano, Director of Tutoring at menlocoaching.com, is an mba.com Featured Contributor.