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Should You Take the GMAT or the GRE for Business School?

Jul 12, 2018
Everything you need to know about the entrance exams for business school

By Kara Sherrer

Years ago, there was only one answer to what exam you should take when applying to business school: the Graduate Management Admissions Test, commonly known as the GMAT. Over the past few years, the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, has become accepted at more business schools as well.

Preferences for the GMAT vs. the GRE vary from school to school, and even program to program. After all, MBA, Master of Science in Finance, Master of Marketing, and Master of Accountancy are looking for slightly different applicants, so it stands to reason that they have slight different guidelines for test scores as well.

No matter what business schools or program you’re applying to, here’s what to keep in mind as you choose a test and prepare to take it.

You don’t have to take both tests

Bailey McChesney, Director of Vanderbilt MBA Admissions

Bailey McChesney

The GMAT is pretty much accepted universally at all business schools. However, admissions committees have come to realize that applicants may also be applying to other non-business graduate schools that require the GRE and do not accept the GMAT. For this reason, more than 1,200 business schools now accept the GRE to help applicants avoid taking both tests.

“For example, they might be choosing between a Master’s in Health Care Management or a Master of Public Policy… (This way) students that are interested in applying different types of programs only have to take one exam,” said Bailey McChesney, Director of MBA Admissions.

Your GRE score will probably be converted

Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company behind the GRE, offers a conversion tool to translate GRE scores into equivalent GMAT scores. This conversion allows admissions committees to accurately compare scores from applicants who took different tests using the same scale. If you’re submitting a GRE score, know that there’s a good chance it will be converted during the admissions committee process.

Not every business program prefers the GMAT

More quantitative programs, such as MBA and Master of Science in Finance (MSF), usually do prefer the more quant-heavy GMAT exam. However, other programs, such as Master of Marketing, actually like the way the GRE emphasizes verbal reasoning and creativity. Others, such as Master of Accountancy, don’t necessarily have a preference between the two exams.

Cherrie Wilkerson, Vanderbilt Dean for Young Professional Programs

Cherrie Wilkerson

“There’s more quantitative work on the GMAT, so given that the MSF program involves more quantitative courses, that makes a difference,” said Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean for Young Professional Programs. “(However,) for the Master of Marketing, they favor the GRE because it’s more qualitative and verbal-based and it makes more sense for students who are choosing the marketing function…a quant score doesn’t measure (creativity).”

All the sections are important

High scores on one section don’t compensate for low scores in another. Some programs — such as MBA or Master of Science in Finance — will place more emphasis on the quantitative scores, while other programs like Master of Marketing will look more closely at your writing and reasoning sections. However, a really high score in one section will not offset a really low score in another, no matter what program you’re applying to — and admissions committees for business schools normally don’t superscore (which involves taking the highest scores from multiple tests), so keep that in mind.

Take the GMAT or GRE for business school while you are still in college

Whichever test you take, the GMAT and GRE quantitative sections involve high school level math — so the more time away from high school you’ve had, the more you’ll have to study. Plus, if you’re still an undergrad, you’re already in studying mode and have more control over your free time. The longer you wait, the more you’ll have forgotten and the less time you have to study, so take the test in college if you can — GRE and GMAT scores are good for five years.

Give yourself plenty of time to study

Vanderbilt Business Rob Schickler

Rob Schickler

Whether you’re still in school or not when you take the test, you should give yourself plenty of time to study for the GMAT or GRE. Most students, especially those who haven’t taken a math course or test in a few years, find that between six and 12 months is enough time to feel really confident about taking the test. There are other benefits to extra time as well, such as the ability to retake the exam. “For the majority of applicants, they should give themselves time to potentially take the test a second time. Almost everyone does better on the test on their second go once they’re more comfortable with the testing environment and testing format,” advised Rob Schickler, Associate Director of Recruiting and Admissions.

It’s about whether or not you will succeed in the program

In many cases, admissions committees are looking for reasons to admit applicants — but they won’t be helping the school or the student if they admit candidates with low tests scores who will struggle with the academic load, or (even worse) fail out. “There is a high correlation between how well students perform on the test and how well they do academically in quantitative classes during the first year,” Schickler pointed out.

“You want a student to be successful when they get here. If they’re not over 50 percentile, they’re going to struggle, and we’re taking their money and their time…that’s where we are at the end of the day: Can we help this student in their career? If they can’t do the quant work in most of our programs here, they’re just not going to be successful,” Wilkerson explained.

The GMAT or GRE for business school is just part of your application

Admissions committees for every business school program evaluate candidates holistically, so if you didn’t get your ideal score, remember that you still have your essays, rec letters, and the interview ahead of you. As long as you’re within the school’s middle 80% range of test scores, you still have a good shot at getting in. “The test score is one component among many,” Wilkerson emphasizes.

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