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Do you need 700+ GMAT score to get into a top business school?

Katie Schenk - February 10, 2017

Do you need 700+ GMAT
score to get into a top business school?

The GMAT is perhaps the most stressful part of any MBA application, doubly so if you’re trying to get into a top business school. The GMAT is scored on a scale between 200 and 800; it’s tough to see average GMAT scores of admitted students and not worry. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, for example, has an impressively high average of 737 for their latest incoming class.

You’ve just got to face those fears

As most universities and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) which owns the GMAT exam will tell you, the GMAT is usually the only factor that allows an apples-to-apples comparison of applicants. Everything else stuffed into applications is personal and subjective. Even undergraduate grade point averages aren’t a strong indicator as universities (and professors) don’t conform to a single set of grading guidelines. It’s much more difficult to achieve high scores in some countries than others.

It’s difficult to dispute the equalizing facets of the GMAT – even though it is only conducted in English. Between 2012 and 2013, the United States had more GMAT test takers than India and China combined and yet the average test scores of those countries during that time were significantly higher than the American result.

  • China: 582
  • India: 577
  • United States: 532

In case you’re wondering, 53 countries fared better with GMAT averages during that time than the US, and many of them don’t recognise English as an official language in their country. (Actually, neither does the US; it doesn’t have any official languages. But that’s another topic altogether.)

It is true that there are business schools that don’t require the GMAT and those that accept the GRE. But, for the most part, you’re just going to need to buckle down and take the test.

Aiming for 700+

Every b-school you apply to is going to see those test results. And, while every one of them is quick to point out that applications involve a lot more than GMAT scores, they’re certainly going to take a look. And, they’ll need to find reasons to keep you in the mix if you have lower results than they would like to see.

A previous member of the Wharton admissions team has confirmed that committees exist to discuss applicants with GMAT scores under 650. There are certainly success stories, but that there all such groups at all shows the importance of high GMAT scores in the context of an application.

How hard is it to get 700+?

GMAC certainly paints it as difficult; two-thirds of test takers score somewhere between 400 and 600. Of all the exams taken in 2013 and 2015, the mean score was 551.94. For the same period, a score of 700 puts a test taker into the 89th percentile; a 710 score reflects the 91st percentile.

Roughly speaking, you need to do better than 90 percent of everyone taking the test if you want to crack that 700 mark. And, if you just want to make it into that 650 discussion, you’ll need to do better than 76 percent of GMAT takers. 

Is it really necessary?

GMAT scores

Top 25 FT 2017 Globally-ranked b-schools and their average GMAT scores 

It almost seems incredible that Stanford has an average GMAT score of 737 (which is around the 97th percentile), doesn’t it? Granted, that programme currently boasts the top average, but only one American business school in the top 25 of the 2017 Financial Times’ Global MBA Ranking has a current GMAT average under 700. That’s Duke’s Fuqua School of Business – and their average is 698. While two extra points on the GMAT exam will mean the world to anyone taking the exam, it’s still worth noting that their average GMAT score is in the 89th percentile.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the top European business schools’ average GMAT scores don’t rival those found in the United States. INSEAD’s average scores have consistently sat between 700 and 710 for the past five years, and London Business School just sneaks over the 700 mark with their 701 average.

The other seven European business schools in the top 25 of the FT 2017 Global MBA Ranking have averages between 660 and 690. (In case you’re keeping score, that’s between the 79th and 86th percentiles.)

Moving further along the globe, the Asian schools in the same top 25 have GMAT averages between 665 and 686. Interestingly, HKUST posts a “typical range” of GMAT scores between 580 and 710 on their class profile page. And that’s quite a massive range if you look at it in terms of percentiles – between the 52nd and 91st markers. Given that they’re currently ranked 15th by the folks over at the reputable Financial Times, that should give some b-school applicants some hope.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should blow off a low GMAT score if you can do better. There’s a big difference between a 640 and a 660 if it means a special committee needs to discuss your merits for the lower score. But, there isn’t much of a difference between 720 and 740; you’re in the elite league anyhow and your time will be much better spent refining the other facets of your application.

Indeed, as much emphasis as the GMAT carries in top business school applications (admissions consultants tend to believe it’s worth about one-fifth of your entire application), the rest of your application is critical. It’s true if your score is 640 or you’ve managed an incredible 750; none of the top universities admit students solely on the strength of their GMAT scores – not even Stanford. 


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