GMAT: How Low is Too Low for Top B-Schools?

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on August 3, 2011

When it comes to GMAT scores it’s the high scores that get all the press—but what about the merely average, or even the well below-average? What about the guy who fell asleep halfway through the test and the only question he answered correctly was his name?

Turns out there’s hope for these folks—even at top schools.

The average GMAT score is 544, according to the GMAC. But applicants with scores near or below the average get admitted (not frequently, but fairly regularly) to top-ranked schools including Harvard Business School and the Wharton School.

Harvard’s lowest accepted GMAT score for the class of 2013 was a 490; the lowest possible score on the GMAT is 200. The median Harvard GMAT score is 730, near the test’s maximum score of 800.

At Chicago Booth, the estimated bottom 10th percentile of admitted students for the class of 2013 is 671: 57 incoming students had that score or below. When shaping a Booth incoming class, the admissions office doesn’t just look for smarts, said Stacey Kole, deputy dean of the full-time MBA program. It also looks for evidence of intellectual curiosity, which Kole says can be found in the applicant’s undergraduate coursework and response to one of the school’s three essay questions—four blank pieces of paper to answer the question “What else should we know about you?”

Kole said her office interprets the GMAT score as the ability to do work and won’t let in applicants with scores that are too low “because it’s a disservice to set them up to fail.” But a mediocre score doesn’t mean a mediocre time in school or career. She said some of the school’s most successful young alumni applied with lower-quartile GMAT scores and are now successful entrepreneurs or venture capitalists.

Kole shared a few tips for aspiring applicants to top-10 schools with low GMAT scores, based on her experience at Booth:

- Know yourself and the school. Understand what you can bring to that school in terms of desired traits and characteristics, and what it is about that school that is right for you.

- Consider taking the GMAT again. Booth doesn’t penalize students for submitting another score.

- Verbal skills matter, at least at Booth. Booth’s own studies of alumni show high verbal scores are more predictive of post-graduation success than a high quantitative score.

“Poets who can knock verbal out of the ball park should go for it [apply to Booth]. They have a real shot,” Kole said. “Verbal skills are incredibly valuable in business school. We can teach you quantitative.”

Below is a list of publicly available information (or information obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek) on the most recent lowest score or lowest range of scores for our top ten schools. All information is for the Class of 2012. Where available, we’ve provided links to current class profiles.

1. Booth School of Business
Median score: 720
Lowest 10 percent: 660 or below
Source: Booth spokesperson

2. Harvard Business School
Median score: 730
Lowest score: 550
Class Profile

3. Wharton School
Median score: 720
Lowest 10 percent: 540
Class Profile

4. Kellogg School of Management
Median score: 720
Lowest 10 percent: 670 or below
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek survey

5. Stanford Graduate School of Business
Median score: 730
Lowest score: 580
Source: Stanford GSB spokesperson

6. Fuqua School of Business
Median Score: 700
Lowest 10 percent: 640 or below
Class Profile

7. Ross School of Business
Average score: 704
Lowest 10 percent: 650 or below
Class Profile

8. Haas School of Business
Average score: 718
Lowest 10 percent: 680 or below
Class Profile

9. Columbia Business School
Median score: NA
Lowest 10 percent: 680 or below
Class Profile

10. Sloan School of Management
Average score: 717
Lowest 10 percent: 680 or below
Class Profile

If you've overcome an average or below-average score to gain admission to a top 10 school, how did you do it?

--Kiah Lau Haslett

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