Admissions officers will often tell you to go ahead and apply to their programs, even when your test score is at the low end of their GMAT range. To some degree this is worthwhile advice; you can’t get in if you don’t apply. But applying is time consuming, expensive, and sometimes even emotionally taxing, so you also want to be level-headed when assessing which schools will be a “reach” versus a “target” or “safety” school in the context of your admissibility. Here are some things to consider when you’re trying to figure out where your GMAT/GRE score needs to be to get into a program:

The Good News

Most top MBA admissions offices use some form of holistic assessment when considering admissibility. This means that your test score is only one of many considerations in the process, so a lower score might be offset by your professional track record, letters of recommendation, knockout interview, or superior academic performance in undergrad. It also means that typically schools do not have a minimum or threshold score that must be hit in order for your application to be assessed. Somewhat frustratingly to many candidates, this holistic approach also makes it impossible to state the exact weight of the test score in the admissions process.

Be Realistic

Whether we like it or not, test scores do matter. To have a stronger chance for admission at a given school, your test scores need to be at or above the program’s average, or in the top half of their score range. This is a very general rule that often varies for individuals depending on personal and professional background and can be tricky to assess. We recommend speaking with an admissions professional to better assess how the test score impacts your specific candidacy.

Also keep in mind that at some of the most competitive, top-ranked programs, where the acceptance rates are as low as 7%, a high test score is not enough. Based on the extremely high quality and volume of applications, for your app to get serious consideration at one of these schools, you have to have a great score AND have done something truly exceptional prior to business school. Bottom line: an 800 GMAT is not guaranteed admission anywhere.

Quant Counts

One aspect of the test that deserves special focus and attention is your score in the quantitative section, whether you take the GMAT or GRE. Business school is very quantitatively rigorous and programs want to make sure you will be able to handle the content and workload once you enroll. This is especially true if your undergraduate major was not in a quantitatively demanding field (e.g. English, History, Fine Arts, etc.). As a general rule, if your GMAT/GRE quant score is near or below the 50th percentile, you might want to take a prep course and then retake your test.

Remember that Testing Is an Indicator

Test biases aside, GMAT or GRE scores help MBA admissions officers compare candidates’ academic aptitude along one, single measure. Clearly, testing is not the only, or necessarily best, way to measure academic ability; academic records from undergrad and previous graduate programs are critical too. But test scores do give admissions officers a lens through which to somewhat more clearly size up thousands of candidates alongside one another.

It’s an indicator for you too. If you’ve given the GMAT or GRE your best shot (or multiple shots) and just cannot get a competitive score for admission to your dream program, it may be an indicator that the program is not a good academic fit. And that’s okay! You want to go to a school where you will thrive and not struggle in the classroom. Of course you can still apply to your dream school, but you should do so with the expectation that admission will be a reach.

Certain Uncertainty

As we mentioned above, the application process is holistic and there are many considerations taken into account when assessing a candidacy. Additionally, every school has its own institutional priorities, which means sometimes schools have to turn down amazing candidates based on considerations completely outside the applicant’s control. This is all to say, don’t give up hope if your scores aren’t quite where you want them, and also don’t expect that an 800 is an automatic admit. There are so many factors at play in admissions, and your test score is just one of them.

If you have special considerations and/or want to get a firmer sense of how your test scores may impact your admissibility to particular programs, complete our free consultation today.

Sarah DeGraaf
Having earned her MBA from NYU Stern, Sarah served as an MBA admissions officer for nearly a decade at NYU. She has a deep knowledge of top-ranked MBA programs and what’s required of applicants who hope to earn admission.