Online Extra: Why EMBAs Need to Test

Many Executive MBA programs have removed the GMAT as an admissions requirement. But this trend isn't supported across the board. In fact, the EMBA world is split almost down the middle on the GMAT issue.

Schools such as Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business wonder how other colleges can claim that their EMBA degree is the same as their MBA if the requirements for admission aren't the same. The GMAT is essential, its supporters say, in order to determine whether students have the analytical skills the test measures. If students are missing those skills, they will flounder in the program and devalue the experience for their classmates.

Recently, Howard Kaufold, director of the Wharton EMBA program, spoke to BusinessWeek's Geoff Gloeckler about the value of the GMAT and why Wharton requires the test. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Why do you think schools are pulling the GMAT requirement?

A: I think it's about trying to compete for [students] and to make sure that schools meet their admission numbers. There are people who apply to our program and get into another program and try to get us to move up the admission decision.

As a result, we have their record. We see what their GMAT score looks like, and we find it kind of remarkable that some of these schools are admitting some of these people, given what we see.

Q: So how many students take the test, do you think?

A: Our guess is that a lot of the students take the test, then if they don't do well, they make sure they limit their applications to certain places.

I think there's this division in the EMBA world. There are programs -- and I'll put our program into this camp -- that say they're going to be strict constructionists: "We're going to give the Wharton MBA, we're not going to differentiate [between the MBA and the EMBA] at all." It's two programs, one degree.

And then there's another school of thought that says an Executive MBA is different from the full-time MBA program, and they're going to emphasize more "what is your career experience?" We emphasize that, too, but they're going to emphasize that more at the expense of whether the people have the technical capability of succeeding in an undiluted MBA program.

Q: Is there room for two schools of thought on this?

A: I think so. We don't look down our noses at the other types of programs, we just think they're different. I think there are definitely people out there who have no intention of applying to a program like ours. They look at the requirements for a program in the other category, and they say, "No, I don't have to take the GMAT," and they never think about it.

Then I think there's also this group of people who, if they do well on the GMAT, they say, "Hey, I have a shot at a Wharton," and if they don't do well, they kind of pull themselves out of the running.

Q: Of the requirements for admission, how important is the GMAT score?

A: It's very important. Our approach is that in our full-time and EMBA programs, you're getting the same degree, with the same instructors and faculty. The same admissions standards in terms of academic horsepower are required. The GPA figures prominently into that, but we think the GMAT has the ability to forecast what people are going to do in those technical courses.

The bottom line is that at the schools that aren't requiring the GMAT, there has to be an impact on the technical content of their MBA. You couldn't get away with teaching certain skills in statistics and optimization and analytical content across the core courses if you didn't know that people had a certain level of skill measured on the GMAT. That's what it comes down to.

Q: Do you get applicants who feel they shouldn't have to take the test?

A: It's interesting to hear the stories that people will tell in different professional fields. [They'll say,] "These programs are pretty demanding." So as soon as we hear that, it's usually a signal that they aren't going to want to do the work in our program.

Q: Do you find applicants are scared off by the test requirement?

A: I think that people who know everyone in the class has passed this bar as well as the other bars know that their colleagues have what it takes to really sink their teeth into the content. If you're asking are some people scared off who in principle you might want to have in your program, that certainly could happen.

This is the program we offer. We're filtering [people] in a number of ways before the applications even come in, but it's working. There are still a ton of people who feel like they need an MBA, but want the real thing. Our view is that it's a real MBA. It's the state-of-the-art thinking. EDITED BY Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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