GPAs & GMATs: What You Need To Get In

by on March 30th, 2012

The most reliable indicator of whether you can get into an MBA program at a top business school typically rests with two numbers: Your undergraduate grade point avearage and your GMAT or GRE score. The better those two numbers, the better your chances are of getting into a highly ranked program.

It’s as simple as that. Yes, there’s lots more to an application than those two raw scores, but if you don’t fall within the ranges of each school’s accepted GMATs and GPAs, your chances narrow considerably.

If you want to get into Stanford, that pretty much means you need to have a GPA between 3.36 and 3.97 on a 4.0-scale and a GMAT score between 680 and 770 on an 800-scale. Those are the 10th and 90th percentile numbers for the Stanford class that entered in the fall of 2011. Few schools, by the way, publish the full range, though Harvard Business School is an exception. At HBS, the latest entering class had members with GMATs as low as 490 and as high as 790, though your chances of getting into Harvard with a GMAT below 700 are awfully slim.

If you want to get into Northwestern’s Kellogg School, you’ll essentially need to have a GPA between 3.19 and 3.88 and a GMAT within the range of 660 and 760 (see table for the top 25 school numbers).

The number one MBA application killer? A low GMAT or GRE score

Source: Kaplan Test Prep 2011 study of admissions officers

No matter what admission officials or consultants say, this is unfortunately one of the unshakeable truths of the B-school admissions game. In an ideal world, a GMAT score would just be another data point, perhaps equal to any other in your application, from recommendation letters to how you craft your essays. But a 2010 survey by Kaplan Test Prep of B-school admissions officers showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants. The survey found that 48% of some 288 responding admissions staffers said that a weak score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the biggest application killer. A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 33%, while the lack of relevant work experience followed at just 10%.

While this fact is hardly surprising to most business school observers, admissions officials tend to downplay the importance of any one piece of the MBA application. However, the Kaplan report, which includes responses from the admissions offices of 22 of the top 30 U.S. business schools, confirms that an applicant’s GMAT or GRE score far outweighs consideration of any other factor in a candidate’s chances.

Why your GMAT or GRE score looms so large in an MBA application

One likely reason for the GMAT or GRE’s outsized importance is that it is a recent objective measure of an applicant’s ability to tackle the academics of an MBA program. Another likely reason is that an entering class’s average GMAT score is heavily weighted in rankings of  business schools by U.S. News & World Report, The Financial Times, and The Economist. So some admissions offices often are under pressure to keep those scores as high as possible.

Generally, these scores are highly correlated with a school’s given ranking because they are the easiest and most visible way to measure the quality of the MBA candidates enrolled in an MBA program.

The Raw Stats for the Top 25 Business Schools in the U.S.

Source: Poets&Quants’ 2011 Ranking of the Best Business Schools and School Reported Data to U.S. News & World Report for classes entering in the fall of 2011 Notes: * Reported ranges for both GMAT and GPA are the 10th and 90th percentile. ** Full range of scores



  • Hi John,

    Thanks for the analysis!

    I do have one question here. When we talk about average GMAT/GPA scores is it applicable for candidates for more competitive groups as well such as Indian Male IT pool?
    What should be the GMAT score for the people representing more competitive groups. I have a 710 and got dinged from all the Bschools I applied to. Now clearly this means there were some other flaws in my application but I am trying to evaluate whether this 710 was the reason behind the results?

    Thanks again for your help on this in advance.


    • Hi Aakash

      Even I belong to the Indian IT Male pool and I am equally curious to know the reason. Can you please mention the schools you applied to? It will help in discerning the reason for the dings as you have a reasonably good GMAT score.

  • Dear John,

    Thanks for a great article. What is your take on candidates who have taken GMAT more than once? Schools say they look the best attempt on the GMAT, but is it really what it is, or they actually look at all the scores ?
    Thanks a million,

  • Hi John,

    This is a great article. Thanks!

    I have a 640 on my GMAT and a GPA of 3.26. My target schools are SMEAL, UIUC, Texas A&M (Mays B-schools), & Vanderbilt. I guess my score lies within the accepted median for these schools. However, I am confused whether or not to retake the test. Also, could you suggest some more schools that accept students with GMAT score in this range?

     Please advise.

    Thanks in advance.


  • Hi John,
    I have 2 questions

    1.  I've heard most schools are really only interested on your gap for upper division only. Is that true?

    2. How much does the quality of the undergrad program effect this analysis?  Is a high gap from an 'online university' typically good enough to get over the hump?

  • What about Executive programs? Do you have the ranges for those? Is GMAT weighted as heavily?

  • Dear John, I have taken GMAT twice and scored 600 and 620 respectively. However, I have around 7 years of diversified experience. I am planning to retake the GMAT in July. Can you please tell me whether a third attempt diminishes my chances of making to a B School.

  • Well, did anyone notice that the survey is by Kaplan 'Test Prep' which stands to benefit greatly if the results published increased spending by potential applicants on GMAT prep.

    Disclaimer:  I am an Indian applicant whose peer group averages 730 on the GMAT . I believe irrespective of surveys people should back themselves to score high on the GMAT.

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