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MBA Admissions: Backing Up a Strong GMAT with the Personal Touch

Say hello to our friends at TopMBA! They’re offering Magooshers free attendance to their World MBA Tour, and they’re sharing tips to improve your b-school applications.

The GMAT is often seen as the ‘gatekeeper’ for top-tier business schools around the world – such is its importance to the MBA admissions process.

Nine million tests have now been sat since GMAC, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, introduced the paper as a standardizing force for fairness in business school admissions some 60 years ago.

In taxing candidates’ reasoning, analytical writing and ability to use and interpret data to solve business problems, the GMAT is seldom taken lightly by applicants. In fact, it has a reputation for difficulty that certainly seems deserved – but then, its purpose is fundamentally to ascertain a person’s academic suitability for a challenging program of study, so it shouldn’t be easy!

Of course, GMAT scores are considered alongside other essential admissions criteria and, occasionally, business schools will overlook a lower test score for the right candidate. However, this is very much the exception and not the rule.

Indeed, a quick glance at the average GMAT scores of students admitted to top programs leaves the resounding conclusion that a strong score is almost certainly needed – and that average scores, particularly among leading business schools in the US, have been creeping steadily upwards.

The GMAT’s importance in the MBA admissions process is underlined by IMD’s director of corporate development for Europe, Stein Jacobsen, when he says: “Get the GMAT right – don’t let this ruin your opportunities!”

What to aim for

So what, pray tell, is a top GMAT score? – Well, circumnavigating regional differences for a moment, a basic threshold to aim for would be 700 (out of 800).

QS research holds that coming close to this mark would put you on a par with the average scores of students admitted to programs at almost any leading institution outside of the US.

For a top US program, however, you’re going to have to exceed 700 and target closer to 730 – if you want to be considered by the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.

This can be a daunting prospect for many students, particularly when English is not an applicant’s first language. That’s why any resources, study guides or expert opinion you can get hold of as you begin your preparation can be invaluable.

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GMAC itself, for example, is on hand to give candidates advice on how to improve their score in presentations and seminars taking place on the QS World MBA Tour. In the meantime, here are three quick tips when it comes to preparing for, and taking, the GMAT:

1. Build a timetable for GMAT study: not only should you make a plan of when you can study for the GMAT and for how long, but it’s also a good idea to make your timetable exponential – allowing more study time the closer you get to your test date.

2. Aim high: If you want to come away with a score of 700, aim for higher than this in your preparation. If you can get into the habit of exceeding your target in practice, a sub-par on-the-day performance is much less likely to affect you.

3. Stick to a schedule: Set yourself time milestones for when you’re sitting the exam – and keep them. Don’t be the person that runs out of time!

The bigger picture

As much as the GMAT is a crucial hurdle to overcome for a majority of business school applicants, it’s probably more of a deal-breaker than a deal-maker.

Putting the standardized test aside, you’ll still need to secure yourself an interview through a school’s own admissions requirements and then to impress your candidacy upon those you meet on campus. In this, taking a proactive and personal approach to your dealings with a specific school can go a long way – not just in securing your place, but also in determining whether or not the school’s program is right for you – just because a school has a top ranking doesn’t mean it’s automatically the best MBA program for you:

“Get to know the school – it may take a bit of time, but ultimately you’ll choose the right school for you,” advises Christopher Smart, European recruiting director for MBA programs at Hult International Business School.

In the eyes of a business school, moreover, the personal approach can show a person’s passion to join their community. Therefore any chance to strike a rapport with admissions teams beyond the paperwork should be seized upon.

Recently, in an interview for, MIT Sloan’s Dawna Levenson, director of the school’s MBA & MFin admissions office, highlighted the value in visiting a school’s campus, meeting and getting advice from school representatives at an event – such as the QS World MBA Tour – as well as connecting with students and alumni via a school’s various online platforms.

“This is a competitive process, and sometimes is more of an art than science. We can easily fill the class with high test scores & GPAs, but we really want people who want to be at MIT Sloan,” Levenson points out.

Yes, a good GMAT score is important – the higher the better – but leading business schools are full of extraordinary academic achievers and, consequently, you have to put a little extra effort in if you want to stand out. For attendance at your dream school, this shouldn’t be a chore but rather an opportunity to share your enthusiasm for the course of study you can’t wait to become a part of.

To attend the QS World MBA Tour this Fall, please register here for free entrance exclusively available through Magoosh.

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