Among the major disruptions of the coronavirus era was last year’s shuttering of nearly all colleges and universities, as well as in-person admissions testing centers. For MBA hopefuls, online-proctored GRE and GMAT tests experienced technical difficulties, calling into question many of the test results. Additionally, online test results seemed to produce lower scores than in-person tests taken by the same people.
As a result, last year some MBA programs accepted applications without these foundational GRE or GMAT scores. Despite the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, several schools now offer test waivers on a case-by-case basis, including Darden, CMU Tepper, and Michigan Ross. So far, the only top-ranked program that is totally test-optional is MIT Sloan.
Test-optional applications will certainly invite a more competitive landscape. So if you still have the option, should you or shouldn’t you still take the GMAT or GRE? Under what conditions should you apply for a waiver? Many applicants don’t do well on timed tests for a variety of reasons—should they only apply to fully test-optional programs?
Accepted’s MBA consultants helped many clients navigate these questions during last year’s application cycle. In general, consultants urged clients whose academic and/or work experiences were weaker to invest in test preparation and to take one of the tests. The reason is simple, according to Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted. “If your undergrad record and subsequent academic record and work experience are lackluster, the school won’t have the confidence that you will be able to handle the demands of top graduate management education,” she explains.
“I honestly think people should try to take the test,” agrees Natalie Grinblatt-Epstein, Accepted consultant and a former Director and Dean at three top business programs. “The whole point of these exams is to help the school know if you can succeed, and the quant portions of both tests are solid predictors of academic success in the core classes. The correlations are very strong.”
Not all schools will go test-optional, and applicants who don’t test well or have trouble with timed tests can do things to help themselves prepare for success. “If you are learning disabled, plan far enough in advance to request ‘reasonable accommodation,’ which provides additional time to complete the test,” Grinblatt-Epstein urges. “Hire a tutor and bolster your quant abilities by taking higher level business courses, such as statistics. You can surprise yourself with how well you can do,” she adds. If, despite solid preparation, the test score disappoints, you don’t have to report it. This is where the optional essay can be leveraged to offer other evidence that you can succeed academically in the program.
There is far more leeway to request a waiver for applicants with a stronger quant profile, says Accepted consultant Esmeralda Cardenal, former Associate Director of Admissions at Yale SOM, Director of MBA Admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the UK. “If an applicant is missing a test score but has a strong quant background, including certifications such as a CPA or CFA, he or she is a perfect candidate to apply for a waiver,” Cardenal says.
In the last application cycle Cardenal noticed a pattern regarding who among her clients received waivers and who did not: “Time and time again I saw that those who got waivers also had many other things going for them, such as a solid 3.7 GPA from a respected institution, an engineering or computer science background, and as much as five years’ work experience. Those who were denied waivers had only 3-4 years’ work experience, and no quant-oriented certifications on the side.”
Still, being refused a waiver wasn’t necessarily the kiss of death for those applicants–even at top schools. Cardenal had clients who were accepted with low GMAT or GRE scores to schools they were happy with, including some top-ranked programs including Darden and MIT. In two cases, the admitted applicants had several years’ experience in construction management or engineering.
“My take from the 2021 application cycle is that no one should assume they can get the waiver,” Cardenal says. “If you are applying to a test-optional school, everything else in your application, the essays in particular, must be outstanding.”
Grinblatt-Epstein notes that applicants may be asked to explain why they are requesting the waiver. If the schools are dissatisfied with the reasons, requests are denied. Last season, a client with learning disabilities and weak grades applied to 6 top-20 schools, requesting waivers from all.
“Although he applied very late in the game, four programs gave him the waiver,” Grinblatt-Epstein reports. “Of those, two accepted him, and one even offered a generous scholarship.” Though his grades were less than stellar, the applicant had strong work experience, substantial and interesting community service and strong writing skills. “He really knew what the schools were about and could articulate clearly what his goals were and how he would excel in and contribute to the program. It’s so important to get the right messaging through,” she says.
With or without test scores, your top-choice MBA is within your reach. Just as we have helped hundreds of applicants get into the MBA program of their dreams, Accepted can help you, too, through professional assessment of your profile, expert honing of your application, and confidence-boosting, targeted interview prep. Check out our MBA Services Packages to get the personalized, one-on-one attention you need to GET ACCEPTED!By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!