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by Mike Chen | August 10, 2007

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Application Components: GMAT (continued)

Last time, we discussed the importance of the GMAT in the application process, as well as how your score will be evaluated in the context of your overall application.  With that accomplished, I'd like to discuss perhaps the most important topic: whether to retake the GMAT to improve one's score.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again...right?

Well, it depends.  Two factors should drive your decision: Do you have a score which is competitive against the application pool for the schools which you are targeting?  If you don't currently have a competitive score, do you believe you can realistically raise your score enough to justify taking the exam again? 

Only you can answer these questions, but I do want to provide some rough guidelines which would apply to the "Top 10" schools:

  • If you have a 650 or lower, I would definitely work on improving your score.  Do what you can, such as taking a prep course, but if you have given it your best effort, then don't obsess about the GMAT.  I would give it two tries, but definitely no more than three.  At some point, realize that you scored the best you could.
  • If you have roughly a 700, I might try to shoot for a higher score only if the following apply: I have the time to study more and can still dedicate myself to creating my best application.  Another possible reason is if one of your subsections falls below a certain percentile threshold, such as the 80th percentile.
  • If you have roughly a 750, I would say that you would be crazy to even think about retaking the GMAT (and so would most admissions officers).

If outstanding GMAT scores will not automatically admit you to the top schools, then what are they useful for?  In a nutshell: money.  Many business schools will award merit scholarhips to first-year admitted applicants based strictly on GMAT scores.  (Second-year scholarships, in contrast, typically focus on first-year business school grades.)

A special note to international applicants

In my opinion, one group of applicants which over-emphasizes the importance of the GMAT, in comparison to the other components of the application, is international students.  This is partially a reflection of the heavy importance that many countries outside the United States places on performing well on standardized exams, such as college entrance tests.

If you are an international applicant applying to U.S.-based business schools, be aware that while most Americans also study hard for standardized tests, most Americans are traditionally better at crafting the more subjective portions of the application, particularly essays.

Most AdComs are looking for the most well-rounded applicant, not the one with the highest GMAT score.  This is a reflection of the social norms in the United States as well as the culture of business schools.  Keep this in mind for the GMAT and - even more importantly - for the rest of your application.

The GMAT: It's not a matter of life or death

One final comment: If you (or others you know) have applied to graduate schools in disciplines other than business - such as medicine or law - then you probably know that the GMAT carries less weight overall in the admissions process than the equivalent exams in those other disciplines.

This difference in emphasis reflects the priorities these types of schools have in selecting students.  Business schools are generally looking for well-rounded applicants whereas law schools, for instance, are looking for the most academically proficient, as reflected by its heavy emphasis on the LSAT (Law School Admisssion Test).

In summary, the GMAT is just one part of the business school application.  Take it seriously and do your best, but don't obess about it.  If you score an 800, congratulations.  For the rest of us mere mortals, realize that how you execute the rest of your application is just as important.

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