How to overcome a low GMAT score?

Last year, a candidate with a GMAT score of 490 was accepted at Harvard Business School. In Stanford, a student who received 530 points was enrolled, and in Wharton, the lucky one who scored 560 slipped through.

These are the lowest GMAT scores of incoming candidates, according to business school information published in the rankings. But who can enroll in the leading program with a result that, in the case of Harvard , 240 points below the school average – 730?

Representatives of the admission committee and consultants answer: a candidate with exceptional qualities and only one drawback – a lousy GMAT score.

Let’s consider the situation in more detail: 490 points fall into the 32nd percentile (the candidate passed the exam better or the same as 32% of participants), while the average GMAT for students enrolled in Harvard, it means the 96th percentile. This is even less than the average result, 544, and in some schools the candidate would be immediately rejected.

Surprisingly, sometimes it is easier to enroll in a leading school than in a second-grade one. The fact is that second-tier schools attach more importance to the GMAT score and take as a basis the published average scores, which are sometimes calculated in the ratings of MBA programs, for example, U. S. News & World Report. Some consultants recommend that candidates take the GRE if they have too low a GMAT score. After all, U. S. News does not publish the GRE results, and a candidate with a low score for this exam will not be able to damage the position of the school in the ranking.

Still, a low GMAT score prevents us from moving forward. The reality is that enrolling in a top school with a low exam score remains the exception, not the rule. “It seems to me that it has become more difficult to enroll today after unsuccessfully passing the GMAT than a few years ago,” says Chioma Isiadinso, a former assistant to the head of the admissions committee of Harvard Business School, and now the head of the consulting company in the field of business education EXPARTUS.

“There were cases when candidates received a result below average, but entered the HBS. You can’t just look at the scores for the standardized exam,” she continues. – Schools consider the applicant’s application as a whole: academic achievements, leadership skills, as well as what new things he can bring to the set. That HBS candidate had everything but the GMAT score just fine. He studied well at a well-known university, constantly showed leadership qualities at work and in the community, his advisors really admired him and gave hundreds of examples proving how strong a candidate he is. And the low score, in fact, was out of the picture.”

“What do candidates who are accepted into leading schools have in common? They vehemently protest against a set of numbers determining who they are and what they can achieve both in business school and beyond,” said Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange, a consultancy for admission to leading schools.

How do I convince the admissions office? Usually, a low GMAT score is positioned as a deviation from the general direction. “Candidates demonstrate their significant achievements and high performance in other aspects,” says Bauer. “They maintain a sincere relationship with the admissions committee, write deeply personal essays that penetrate into the heart – so that it is simply impossible to refuse a candidate without meeting him personally.”

The result of 490 in the fall set of Harvard is surprisingly low, but Bauer met successful candidates with an even lower score. For example, he helped a Wall Street analyst enroll in a school from the top ten at the Ivy League University, although he, having passed the GMAT five times, could not surpass 410 points. Complicating the situation was the modest GPA result – 3.0 – in a university program not related to mathematics.

Bauer emphasizes that this candidate was successful in all other areas, but due to the low learning ability of the GMAT, it turned into an insurmountable obstacle: “We chose a strategy of openly confronting the complexities caused by the GMAT, emphasizing that the candidate’s personality is far from limited to this exam. We advised him to 1) provide documents from a third party about his reduced learning ability, 2) meet at the university where he intended to enroll with a specialist in learning problems and get his opinion, 3) personally meet with the head of the MBA admissions committee and explain the situation to him in a human way, 4) write excellent essays that focus on aspects related to personality and study, rather than work, 4) reapply after rejection.”

“It’s critical that a candidate’s expectations match a low GMAT score,” said Jana Blanchette, president of Inside MBA Admissions. – If he has a low result and high expectations, then I insist on choosing lower-level schools, where he has a better chance of entering. If such a candidate has experience that compensates for a low score, I will be more willing to work with him, but I will still slightly change the list of selected educational institutions: it should include two or three schools with strict selection criteria, one or two where he can enroll and, possibly, another one for safety. “

“From my observations, the most successful aspect of the customer experience is active participation in the life of the community,” Blanchett continues. For example, one of my clients designed a safety belt for wheelchairs so that children with Tourette syndrome (a disorder of the central nervous system, in the form of tic-like twitches of the muscles of the face, neck and shoulder girdle) could not damage themselves. Another client led a team of solar-powered car racers who competed in the national championship. There were also those who took a big risk, for example, opened their own business before entering the university, participated in the selection for a professional dance group or became an Olympic athlete – this is an impressive and unusual experience. “

“Low GMAT students who are accepted into business school have similarities,” said Shawn O’Connor, founder and CEO of Stratus Prep, who recently helped a candidate with GMAT 510 enroll at Harvard Business School. – Almost without exception, they have a high GPA (3.6+) in the university program of a good university, solid, although traditional experience in a leading consulting, financial or marketing company. If they fail in the mathematical part, they will demonstrate knowledge of mathematics in the course of study or work. Most of them do not have extraordinary experience, although, of course, there are those who grew up in a war zone or professionally engaged in sports. “

Stacy Blackman, head of Stacy Blackman Consulting, says he advises candidates to take the GRE rather than the GMAT in some cases. “Schools are willing to take risks and accept strong candidates who have received a low GMAT score,” she explains. – However, they are confused by the ratings. But while the GRE results are not published, we advise a client who received low scores for both exams to indicate GRE in the application. “

Blackman admits that this is a risky strategy, because GRE began to be adopted only recently, and the client’s result is still low. One candidate had the highest GMAT score of 600, while he got the 40th percentile for the mathematical part, half the required. Then he sent the GRE result to the school: firstly, unlike the GMAT, a low score will not cause concern related to ratings, and secondly, although in general his GRE result was low, the scores for the mathematical part were much higher. ” Eventually, he enrolled in HBS.

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