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“Should I Retake the GMAT?”  Expert MBA Advice

I had the opportunity this week to attend a seminar hosted by MBA consultant Hillary Schubach, founder of Shine MBA Admissions Consulting, for the Harvard Alumni Club in Denver, CO. She shared lots of useful tips and strategies for successfully getting into some of America’s top business schools, and she had some particularly interesting things to say about the GMAT.

Here are three key takeaways that I think you’ll find useful and help you to maximize the GMAT portion of your MBA application:

1. There’s No Such Thing as a Deal Breaker

Have you already taken the GMAT and you’re concerned that your score is too low for the schools you want to apply to? You might find this graphic (below) as interesting as I did:

Get in to Harvard Business School

What does it mean? It means that despite the fact that you should be shooting to crack 700 on the GMAT if you’re planning to apply to HBS, there’s hope if you have a lower GMAT score. In fact, for the class of 2013, Harvard admitted someone with a score of 490! In other words, at least as long as you bring enough other things to the table to make yourself a desirable candidate, a low GMAT score doesn’t have to be a deal breaker for you.

Now, does this really mean that if your GMAT score is a 490, you have a shot at Harvard? No! Let’s be honest, that’s an outlier statistic. Possibly that person was on track to find the cure for cancer, or started a non-profit in Uganda that’s saved the lives of millions of people, or has done something else equally incredible to make Harvard want him/her among its alumni. Nevertheless, it illustrates an important point when applying to B-school: Admissions officers evaluate your entire application, not just your GMAT score.

Note: If you need to brush up on the difference between mean, median, and range, check out our lesson on GMAT Arithmetic.

2. Should You Retake the GMAT?

Several months ago I wrote an article titled “Should I Retake the GMAT?” Hillary Schubach echoed many of the issues I raised in that article in her talk. While a low GMAT score doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, nevertheless it’s ideal to have a score that’s well within the expected range of your target business schools. In fact, here are some questions Hillary raised that you should consider when deciding whether or not to retake the GMAT:

  • Where are you within your target schools’ 80% GMAT score range?
  • What is your quant vs. verbal score breakdown?
  • Do other aspects of your application demonstrate your high analytical/quantitative ability?
  • Are you a native English speaker?
  • Does your AWA score match your application essay quality?
  • How many times have you already taken the GMAT?

In terms of that last question, Hillary suggests that taking the GMAT three (3) times is acceptable (admissions officers only consider your highest score submitted), but taking it 4-5 or more times shows a lack of professional judgment. At that point, you may need/want to consider augmenting other parts of your application, looking for alternative schools to apply to, or trying your hand at the GRE instead.

Note: Of course, you could also just improve your GMAT score and get it into the school’s 80% range by taking one of our Comprehensive GMAT Prep Courses backed by our industry-leading score improvement guarantee!

3. You Can Lessen the Impact of A Poor GMAT Score

There are several things you can do to help make up for a low GMAT score when applying to a school where your score may be outside its expected range. In general, your goal should be to beef up your application by showing a high quantitative aptitude in other ways. One way you can do this is to sign up for (or create) projects at work, in your extracurriculars, or in your volunteer work where you will have extra quantitative or analytical responsibilities. Another thing Hillary suggests is to do some independent coursework at a local college or university. For example, enroll in a statistics, finance, or calculus class just for fun! The one caveat here is that you need to make sure to give it your full attention to ensure that you get an A; there’s no sense in taking a quantitative-type course that’s supposed to show you have strong quantitative abilities, only to get a B in it. Regardless of what you do to go above and beyond the call of duty to help compensate for a lower-than-expected GMAT score, these are the types of things you’d want to make note of in your optional or supplemental application essays.

Here’s a closing thought for you, from Hillary, about what top business schools are really looking for in a quality candidate. At the end of the day, in addition to high GMAT scores, solid essays, impressive work history, and a compelling resume, ultimately they’re looking for people with a curious mind who want to make a difference in the world. In fact, this is summed up by an engraving featured at Stanford Business School that reads:

“Dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up.”

When to Take the GMAT

For more information on any of the topics or questions raised in this article, feel free to e-mail Hillary Schubach at hillary@shineadmissions.com or Brett Ethridge at brett@dominatethegmat.com.