Online Extra: Looking Beyond the GMAT

For years, the GMAT has been a key factor in evaluating a student's preparedness for an advanced degree in business. But at many of the top B-schools, the GMAT requirement has been waived for applicants looking to be admitted into their Executive MBA programs.

Leading the way is Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, the top-ranked EMBA program in the 2003 BusinessWeek rankings. Instead, administrators base their decisions for enrollment on work experience and past academic records.

Recently, Julie Cisek Jones, director of the Kellogg EMBA program, spoke to BusinessWeek's Geoff Gloeckler about the value of the GMAT and why Kellogg does not require the test. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Why do you not require the GMAT?

A: It's not a simple answer. If we see any cause for doubt in the transcripts or have any questions with regard to a student's quantitative aptitude, or just a raw ability to succeed at a Master's level course, we ask them to go back and take the GMAT.

But we don't require it for those people whose undergraduate transcripts pass the sniff test because really, when you get down to it, the GMAT is intended to be a predictor of your ability to succeed in the first year of graduate school. If you can succeed in the first year of graduate school, theoretically you will walk out at the end of two years and succeed in your professional career.

We're much more concerned with the professional career and the value and diversity that those experiences bring into the classroom [than with GMAT scores]. If we had questions about their academic aptitude, we absolutely would send them back to take the GMAT, but it seems unnecessary in the vast majority of cases.

Q: Do you lose many students between the first and second years?

A: Our attrition rate in negligible. Falling back on something like the GMAT almost absolves the admissions committee of part of their job, which is really scrubbing through those applications and making sure that you're bringing in the right people -- and people aren't so easily defined by rote, standardized test scores. They bring in so many interesting and diverse experiences that the GMAT simply doesn't showcase in any way, shape, or form, and that's what we're most interested in.

Q: So if not the GMAT, what are you looking at?

A: We look at professional experience. And we probably look at that most heavily. We want people from different industries, a variety of different functional experiences -- very, very large companies; very, very small companies; entrepreneurs; for-profit; not-for-profit; publicly held; privately held; and everything in between.

The professional experience is by far the driving factor. Everything beyond that is supplemental. We all know people who have dynamite career paths and the esteem of their organization, the respect of their peers, solid academic background, but if they're infinitely more comfortable in a position that allows them to be an individual contributor rather than an active member of the group, they're probably going to be better suited at another school.

Q: How many Kellogg EMBA students end up taking the GMAT?

A: Probably about 15% end up taking the test. It's not uncommon for people to apply to more than one program.

Q: Do you find that students might not apply because the GMAT isn't required?

A: It certainly hasn't manifested itself. If people bother to understand how we in particular run the admissions process and our reasoning for what we require, it's incredibly sound. I hang my hat on our proven results, as opposed to what we should or shouldn't be asking for.

Q: So why not just require the test?

A: There's a strong quantitative edge for doing an MBA. Then again, if you had a 3.7 in accounting and are now the CFO for your organization, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to require the GMAT. Each institution does what it needs to do to build the class and the culture that it envisions.

It's the reason why we and Wharton aren't the same program. Are we both amazing programs with bright, talented students? Absolutely. But we're not the same school. And it just stands to reason that we would potentially, due to cultural differences, do things differently. EDITED BY Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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