Should Business-School Hopefuls Skip the GMATs? Some of Their Power May Be a Myth


For years, M.B.A. students and admissions experts believed that top consulting firms and investment banks wouldn’t let job applicants even interview if their score on the GMAT—the standardized test required for most graduate business and management programs—was below a certain threshold. In recent years, that may have become a myth.

As many business schools across the country began waiving test requirements last summer for the GMAT, some prospective students began wondering what skipping the test would mean for their chances at landing a job at a top firm.

“Candidates are anxious about this,” said Petia Whitmore, a former dean of graduate admissions at Babson College and founder of admissions consulting firm My M.B.A. Path. Some students, she added, are concerned that getting a test waiver from a school will be counted against them in the hiring process. “Even those who got a waiver are saying: Should I take a GMAT later, so I’m not out of the MBB [McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain, the Big Three strategy consulting firms]?”

Now, firms such as Bain, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey say that’s not the case. They, too, have put less emphasis on standardized tests as part of their recruiting in recent years.

That change may not have trickled down to applicants and admissions officials.

Linda Abraham,

founder and president of admissions consulting firm Accepted.com, says the view still prevailed that most top-tier consulting companies and banks, which annually hire droves of top M.B.A. students, used as screening tools the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) or the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations, a general graduate school admissions test). “I certainly thought it was true,” Ms. Abraham says, “but I assumed it was changing because the schools weren’t going to have it and improve on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Some top M.B.A. programs, including the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, temporarily changed their testing policies last year, allowing test waivers, though it’s unclear which, if any, of these changes will become permanent. The pandemic was making testing difficult, and for many people, last spring’s racial protests underlined the need to recruit students from a wider range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. M.B.A. admissions-training courses, used to coach students on how to get into the most selective programs, can cost thousands of dollars.

“I don’t mind one bit campuses waiving the GMAT requirement,” said Keith Bevans, a partner who leads recruiting for Bain. “Business schools are admitting a much broader range of talent, and I expect to find strong candidates this fall in places I wouldn’t normally see them.”

Bain has steadily de-emphasized the importance of an applicant’s GMAT score in its hiring over the past couple of years, and there’s no threshold for who gets an interview or job offer, Mr. Bevans said.

The firm still asks for the score from M.B.A. applicants, but it’s not used against them, he added. Instead, the firm uses the score in an internal analysis it runs. But the analysis indicates that a higher score doesn’t always correlate to being a more productive Bain employee, Mr. Bevans said.

“If you’re at a top B-school, you probably have something amazing going for you anyway. If you were training for the Olympics rather than taking the GMAT, that tells me more about your competitiveness than if you can tell me the angle of this triangle,” Mr. Bevans said.

To be sure, the GMAT can still be crucial to get into some schools or earn a scholarship. Some elite M.B.A. programs, such as Harvard Business School, still require the GMAT or GRE for all students. Though if employers are emphasizing it less, that makes it easier for schools to continue de-emphasizing it, Ms. Abraham said.

“There is talent employers thought they were missing out on, and ultimately the schools did too,” she added.

GMAT and GRE test scores haven’t been part of Goldman Sachs’s recruiting process for potential M.B.A. hires for the past several years, a firm spokeswoman said. She declined to provide more details about when the screening process changed.

As for Boston Consulting Group, there is no one metric used to assess a candidate, said Brian Myerholtz, a BCG partner who leads its North America recruiting. Historically, the firm has used test scores to help evaluate candidates, but over time that has become much less of a priority, he said.

At McKinsey, test waivers haven’t affected its recruiting, said Danielle Bozarth, the firm’s lead partner for North America recruiting. The firm views test scores as an interesting metric but doesn’t require them from job candidates, she said.

The trend of making tests optional “is aligned with our recruiting approach that [tests] are one of many ways to help assess a person’s skills or knowledge,” she said. “We look for people who are good problem-solvers,” but the many indicators of that can include winning a scholarship, doing a fellowship or case-study interviews, she added.

Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com

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