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GMAT or GRE? It shouldn’t be a question for aspiring MBAs

Test

If you plan on applying to business school, you have two options when it comes to admissions tests: the GMAT, which business schools have been relying on for decades as their standard exam, and the GRE, a test historically taken by non-MBA graduate school applicants. However, since it was redesigned in 2011, the GRE is now accepted by most every business school. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should be taking it over the GMAT, though, especially if an MBA and a career in finance is your clear end-goal.

GRE gaining traction

The popularity of the GRE has increased substantially as more and more business schools have accepted it along with the GMAT. More than 1,100 business schools now accept the GRE, up from less than 600 in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. For some business schools, as many as 30% of applicants now provide GRE scores.

The main reason for the mass adoption of the GRE is so that business schools can diversify their candidate base and have access to blue-chip applicants who are considering both an MBA track and other non-business related graduate programs, which only accept the GRE. Some would likely not apply to a particular business school if it requires them to take an additional exam, goes the theory.

That’s all fine and good. But, as the GRE has become more accepted, many applicants who are clear in their ambition to earn an MBA are making the mistake of choosing the GRE over the GMAT.

An issue of perception

“MBA applicants are better served by staying with the tried and true GMAT,” said Wendy Flynn, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm, MBA Admissions Coach. Unlike the GRE, which is taken by liberal arts students, for example, the GMAT is designed specifically for business students. And it’s been validated over the longer-term to ensure that the exam accurately predicts first year academic performance for MBA programs, she said. “The relative validity of the GRE for business school admissions has yet to be fully explored,” Flynn said.

Perhaps more important, in the eyes of the beholder – business school admissions committees – the GMAT is looked at more favorably, no matter what schools say publicly. “The [admissions] committees are more familiar with it,” said Dan Bauer, CEO and founder of business school admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange. Plus, it shows more commitment to business school, rather than just graduate school in general, he said.

Non-quant majors in particular should always take the GMAT, Bauer said, as they need to prove to business schools that they’re competent in areas that may not have been tested during their undergraduate studies.

Not as challenging

Whether true or not, the GRE is known to not be as rigorous as the GMAT, at least when it predicting success in business school, experts say.

“I become increasingly uncomfortable with the GRE when I hear candidates assert that they are taking the GRE because it is not as difficult as the GMAT,” Flynn said. Surely, some business schools have the same fear, and may not put quite as much stock in a strong GRE score. Bauer only recommends the GRE if a prospective MBA did poorly on the GMAT at least twice.

“That kind of candidate attitude towards the GRE will keep it as a ‘second class’ factor in the admissions process in my view,” Flynn said. “For financial services candidates, my advice is to stick with the GMAT.”

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