Over the past five years, undergraduate grade point averages at the top 50 U.S. business schools have generally crept higher or stayed about the same. So the general inflation of grades has helped many MBA applicants to the best schools keep pace with admissions.
Along with a GMAT score, your undergraduate GPA is one of those vital statistics in MBA admissions that often determines whether you have a real chance at getting into a highly selective business school. If you’re well below a school’s average, you generally need to do slightly better on the GMAT. If your GMAT is below average, you generally need to have better grades on your undergraduate transcript.
A low GPA score is the second most likely MBA application killer
Of course, everyone knows that college admissions is more art than science and certainly an imperfect process. For MBA candidates, GMAT scores are more heavily weighed than GPAs but goofing off during your college years can really hurt your chances of landing in a prestige MBA program. Surveys 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 58% said that a weak GMAT score is the biggest application killer. A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 24%.
At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the average GPA has now reached 3.73, a .07 rise from the average of 3.66 in 2009. The largest rises in GPA have occurred at the University of Virginia’s Darden School (up .13 to 3.51), Arizona State’s Carey School (also up .13 to 3.46), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (up .11 to 3.41), the UPenn’s Wharton School (up .10 to 3.60), and Michigan State’s Broad School (also up .10 to 3.30).
On the other hand, average GPAs of admits fell slightly at some very prominent business schools, including Northwestern University, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Texas at Austin.
All told, the Poets&Quants analysis of GPAs showed that they were up at 25 of the top 50 schools over the past five years and down at 19. So the general view that grade inflation has caused some of this creep upward has certainly helped things. One thing seems certain. If you went to an undergraduate school with inflated GPAs, it’s far more likely to help you than if you have a slightly lower GPA from a university with tough grading standards.
Thanks to grade inflation, the average GPA at a private college in the U.S. is now 3.30, up from 3.09 in the early 1990s (see chart below). Good grades are slightly harder to come by at public colleges where the average GPA is 3.01, up from 2.93 in the early 1990s.
One study of MBA admissions shows it’s better to go to a college with grade inflation
An academic study published in 2013 shows inflated GPAs are better for MBA admission, even if the undergraduate school is less rigorous in its grading policies. The authors of the study say that the bias toward higher GPAs occurs because admissions officers are not taking into full consideration the grading standards of the undergraduate institution.
Grade Inflation At American Colleges & Universities
The study found that applicants from schools with tougher grading policies had an acceptance rate of only 12%. Applicants from schools known for grade inflation experienced an acceptance rate of 72%–a very sizable difference of 60 percentage points. The analysis suggests that “candidates who happen to graduate from schools with higher grading norms may actually have a better chance of being accepted to college or graduate school,” said the authors from Harvard Business School, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, and CivicScience, a polling firm.
Business schools routinely report the 80 percentile middle range of GPA scores, excluding the bottom and top 10% of the scores from public disclosure. In that data set, no top ten business school in the U.S. has a GPA range of below 3.0. The average GPA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is 3.7, while the average at Harvard is 3.66. The highest ranked school, which publishes its GPA range for admits, is Cornell which accepted a student with a grade point average below 3.0.