The road to securing a spot in your dream MBA programme involves meeting many requirements, and a high GMAT score will definitely move you closer to your goal. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is an influential factor in your overall application, so the higher you score, the better. 

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But test scores are only part of the story when it comes to MBA admission. Many aspirants fall into the trap of believing that a stellar score would all but guarantee them admission. This is a myth. The process of selecting the participants for a particular programme involves much more than just comparing GMAT scores.

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"One of the biggest misconceptions"

Ask admissions committee members and most will tell you that considering the GMAT to be the most important part of the application process would be simply wrong. Harvard Business School’s MBA Admissions Director Chad Losee said in a blog post: “One of the biggest misconceptions about applying to HBS is that admissions decisions are based largely on your GMAT or GRE score. That is not how it works. We consider every element of your application to get to know you as a whole person, and we know that you are more than a standardised test score!

This does not mean that the GMAT is not important. It is an element of the business school application that gives admissions officers key information, such as your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas. The score also reveals how good you are at analysing data and evaluating information. But the GMAT says little about the type of person you are.

And while marvelling at the impressively high GMAT average scores at top business schools, it is worth paying attention to an often overlooked fact: not all applicants admitted to top programmes have magnificent scores. Let’s take the MBA Class of 2021 at Stanford Business School (US) as an example. The average GMAT score for the class is 734 (the score range is 200-800). However, the range of the scores submitted by those who gained admission is 600-790. This means that someone got into one of the most competitive MBA programmes in the world with a GMAT score of 600. 

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Commitment to diversity

To understand why the GMAT cannot be the leading criterion for MBA admission, we need to have a general idea of how programmes are shaped. Business schools are keen on forming a diverse group of fellow students, which they would be unable to achieve by simply admitting the applicants with the highest scores. Some business school participants may not have outstanding exam results, but are able to demonstrate other ways in which they excel in their professional and academic life.

There are many reasons why admissions officers insist on diversity. Above all, diversity guarantees multiple perspectives. A class consisting of people of different nationalities and backgrounds is capable of examining a problem through different prisms and suggesting a wider array of solutions. Besides, a global class is better equipped to tackle the challenges associated with business in an increasingly globalised world.

Diversity and inclusion are not just trendy words used by business schools that want to demonstrate modern ideas and beliefs. A diverse classroom benefits students by fostering a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of business. And that is one of the main reasons business professionals enrol in MBA programmes, isn’t it?

What matters most, then?

In a word – everything.  

When it comes to the evaluation of MBA aspirants, graduate business schools often use a holistic approach. This means they want to find out who you are as a person. Your GMAT and GPA demonstrate your academic achievement and ability to make quick decisions, but admissions professionals want to know the you beyond the numbers. They want to see your leadership potential, your willingness to share your knowledge with your classmates, your social awareness, your global mindset, and even your natural mental and emotional outlook.  

That’s why, in addition to academic transcripts and exam score reports, MBA programmes require a CV/resume, essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews.

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A sensible strategy for MBA applicants is to consider all parts of the application as equally important and to focus on their so-called "weakest" part -- the element of the application package that they feel most insecure about. So, for instance if you believe your work experience is unlikely to impress admissions officers, think about ways you can compensate for it. Can the extracurricular activities you have participated in demonstrate your passion for a particular field? Or maybe you founded a successful startup? Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean of admissions at Yale University School of Management (US), advises applicants to address their weak spots and be open about them. "Everyone has weaknesses. We will see them, so you are better off acknowledging them and incorporating them into your application than hoping we will miss them."

The GMAT is just one of the many components of a successful business school admission. It is not uncommon for applicants with high GMAT scores to get rejected or, conversely, students with lower scores to get admitted. Ensure that your application package presents the best (yet authentic) version of yourself, the one that the admissions committee will deem worthy of their programme.