Battle of the G's: GMAT vs. GRE in Business School Admission

by Vault Education Editors | June 17, 2010

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Battle of the G’s: GMAT vs. GRE in Business School Admissions

Back in the days of yore (i.e. a few years ago), business schools loved filling their student bodies with the likes of this guy: lots of work experience, a proven interest in finance (or consulting), and a very specific understanding of how an MBA fit into future career goals. It was a natural choice, and those students tended to thrive in the business school environment. But these days, a class of exclusively "traditional" MBA students is no longer a viable option. Business schools need to diversify to meet the demands of a Recession-laden world in which finance and consulting are no longer king. As Carolyn C. Wise pointed out in her post on how business schools are struggling to create a new image, "Because jobs are scarce in traditional MBA career paths (i.e., finance and consulting), business schools want students who are going to enter other, nontraditional MBA career paths."

One of the ways that they’ve decided to attract these new, nontraditional students is simple: accept GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores. MIT Sloan, Yale SOM, UVA Darden, Wharton, and Stanford are just a sampling of top schools that have made the move, and the list is rapidly expanding, including schools from all regions of the United States and all levels of prestige. The question, given the existence of the option, is obvious: should you take them up on their offer? If you’re planning on applying to business school, should you take the GRE or the GMAT? What about if you’re planning on applying to both business school and a different type of graduate program? What about if you’ve already taken the GRE? Should you take the GMAT in addition? Well, let’s examine:

Students Taking a CAT (Computer Adaptive Test) Cost

  • GMAT: $250.00
  • GRE: $160.00

Level of difficulty

  • GMAT: Generally considered the harder test. Think of the GMAT as a way to separate the smart chaff from the obscenely smart wheat. If you’re going to ace both the GRE and the GMAT, all else remaining equal, take the GMAT.
  • GRE: If, on the other hand, you take both practice tests and find that you ace the GRE and do only fine on the GMAT, or that you do significantly better on the GRE, then take the GRE. An admissions officer will treat the two tests as roughly equitable. That said, the GRE will be re-vamped for 2011, so we may have to return to this discussion then.

Format

  • GMAT: A verbal section, a quantitative section and a writing section. The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the difficulty of the questions varies directly with how many questions you get right. In other words, the better you do, the harder it is, and the more points each question is worth. The GMAT also does not pre-suppose any prior subject area knowledge.
  • GRE: I’ll cut right to the chase: It’s exactly the same.

Between the lines

  • GMAT: Because the test is only accepted by business schools (and the occasional master’s in finance or economics program), taking the GMAT gives the impression that business school is your one, main plan. That said, an admissions officer most likely won’t be tempted to draw conclusions about your decision to take the GMAT, since it’s still the norm. At MIT Sloan, for example, Director of MBA Admissions Rod Garcia says that fewer than 5 percent of all applicants submit a GRE score, and the majority of those submit both a GRE and GMAT score.
  • GRE: The GRE, on the other hand, could lead an admissions officer to believe any number of things, including but not limited to the following: (A) You took the GRE in order to keep your options open, meaning that business school has not always been (at least exclusively) in your sights. (B) You took the GRE because you’re planning on applying to other graduate programs, making you a somewhat less traditional applicant. (C) You took the GRE because of cost or level of difficulty.

The stats

  • GMAT: Studies have shown the GMAT to be a valuable predictor of success in business school. According to Cassandra Pittman of INSEAD, for its MBAs, if the student scored above a 600 on the GMAT, he/she will do as much as 0.3 GPA points higher. On the other hand, if the student scored below a 600, he/she will have a higher starting salary at graduation.
  • GRE: These studies quite simply haven’t been done yet for the GRE, meaning that an admissions officer may put more trust in a high GMAT score than a high GRE score. (Granted, the reverse should also be true: an admissions officer may be more likely to dismiss a low GRE score than a low GMAT score.)

Keep in mind that not all schools will accept a GRE score. Research your choices before deciding which test to take, just in case your dream school only takes the GMAT. And if it does, look on the bright side: your decision has been made for you. In the end, I would advise you to let convenience be your guide. If you want to keep your options open or have already taken the GRE, one of the only reasons to choose the GMAT instead is that you really want to signal yourself as a traditional applicant. And, to be honest, if you are seriously considering taking the GRE, chances are you’re not totally a finance and/or consulting type in the first place. Representing yourself as such will only be counter-productive in the admissions process. On the other hand, if you are positive you want to go to business school, and you do have the extra $90 to spare, then go ahead and take the GMAT, all else being equal. In short, consider your options but don’t worry too much about the repercussions of your decision, because, let’s face it, this is only one part of the super fun application process that awaits you.

--Written by Madison Priest

Filed Under: Education

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