GRE for MBA: Should You Take the GRE for Business School?

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Is it a smart choice to take the GRE for MBA programs? Even if a school accepts GRE scores, do they still favor students who submit GMAT scores?

For decades, if you wanted to get an MBA or apply to another type of business school program, the only standardized test scores you could submit were from the GMAT. However, in recent years, the number of business schools accepting GRE scores has skyrocketed, and more and more applicants are taking advantage of it. Still, many students wonder if taking the GRE puts you at a disadvantage in MBA admissions.

Applying to business school can be a confusing process, but we’re here to make at least one part clear. Read this guide to learn exactly how business schools feel about the GRE, average GRE scores for MBA programs and what you’ll need to get accepted, and how to make the final decision on whether or not you should use the GRE for business school applications.

 

Can You Take the GRE for MBA Programs?

Before we dive too far in, let’s first go over the basics: is it even possible to use GRE scores to apply to MBA programs? Yes! It used to be that the GMAT was the only standardized exam accepted by business schools, but, in recent years, more MBA applicants are applying with GRE scores, and more business schools are accepting them.

Not every business school will accept GRE scores (we’ll discuss that more in the next sections), but most of them will. About 90% of business schools in the US will accept both GMAT and GRE scores. You can check to see which MBA programs accept the GRE and which business programs accept the GMAT.

Business schools have begun to realize that accepting GRE scores can help them receive more applications, and since there’s overlap in the skills the GRE and GMAT test, and studying and scoring well on either exam is a good predicator of future success, accepting scores from either exam will help them create a stronger class. However, the issue is not as simple as all business schools suddenly viewing GRE scores and GMAT scores the same way. In the next sections we’ll dive deeper into the issue of how good the GRE really is if you’re applying to business school.

 

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How Do Business Schools Feel About the GRE for MBA Admissions?

More and more business schools are accepting GRE scores in place of the GMAT, but does that mean they view the two exams equally? Does taking the GMAT give you an advantage? Let’s look at a few numbers first.

Each exam is accepted by well over a thousand business schools around the world. You can see the specific business schools that accept GRE scores and the specific schools that accept GMAT scores by looking on their websites. Currently, about 90% of business schools in the US and Europe accept both GRE and GMAT scores, and this number has been rising steadily.

As for the people applying to business school, the majority still submit GMAT scores rather than GRE scores. As an example, in 2015, 12% of students admitted that year Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business applied with GRE scores, while 16% of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business were accepted with GRE scores and 9% of Harvard’s Business School.

So, the vast majority of business schools accept scores from both the GRE and the GMAT, but since most applicants still submit GMAT scores, does that mean schools really view the two tests equally? In 2015, Kaplan Test Prep conducted a survey of over 200 business schools and their exam preferences. Some of their key findings were:

  • 74% of business schools said they had no preference between the two exams. This includes some of the country’s most prestigious business schools, such as Harvard Business School, Yale School of Management, and Stanford Graduate School of Business, who have made it a point to specifically state that they view the two exams equally.
  • 25% of business schools said submitting GMAT scores over GRE scores gives the applicant an advantage. (This number rose from 18% in their 2014 survey.)
  • 2% of business schools said submitting GRE scores over GMAT scores gives the applicant an advantage.

The majority of schools state they view GRE scores the same way they view GMAT scores. Therefore, taking the GRE wouldn’t put you at a disadvantage if you applied to one of those programs.

However, it’s important to note that, because most business school applicants submit GMAT scores rather than GRE scores, those schools may subconsciously prefer the GMAT slightly since they are more familiar with it. Additionally, a sizable number of business schools, a full quarter of those surveyed, still preferred the GMAT, even as more and more schools accept the GRE for MBA and other programs. Why do these schools favor the GMAT? There are three main reasons which we discuss below.

 

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Why Do Some Business Schools Prefer the GMAT to the GRE?

Reason 1: Some business schools feel the questions on the GMAT, particularly the Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning sections, test skills more directly related to what students need to know in order to do well in business school, such as more multi-part reasoning and data interpretation.

Reason 2: Many of these schools also believe that submitting GMAT scores shows you’re more committed attending business school and following that career path. “The GMAT is the test that shows that they’re serious about going to business school,” says JoAnne Goldberg, a former assistant director of admissions at the Stanford University business school. The GRE is used for admissions to a much wider variety of grad school programs, so submitting GRE scores could make it seem like you’re not sure which grad school program you’re interested in and are trying to keep your options open.

Reason 3: The majority of business school candidates still choose to submit GMAT scores over GRE scores, and many business schools are more familiar with the GMAT. So these schools are better at interpreting GMAT scores and what they indicate about your skill levels in certain areas. If a business school receives GRE scores from an applicant, they may not get as much information from those scores because they aren’t as familiar with the exam, and/or they may have to convert the scores to the GMAT scale in order to interpret them.

 

What Are Good GRE Scores for MBA Programs?

After looking over the data in the previous section which shows that most schools view GRE and GMAT scores equally, but a quarter of them prefer GMAT scores, and the vast majority of business school applicants still submit GMAT scores. However, if you decide to submit GRE scores, either because you’ve already taken the test or because you prefer it over the GMAT, you’ll need to have strong scores in order to get into your top schools. What GRE score should you be aiming for if you’re applying to business school?

First, it’s important to know that not all parts of the GRE are viewed equally by business school admission officers. The GRE has three sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning each have a score scale of 130-170 in one-point increments, while scores for Analytical Writing are from 0-6, in half-point increments.

Of these three, your score in Quantitative Reasoning is the most important to business schools since it tests many skills you’ll need to do well in their program. Verbal Reasoning, while less important than Quant, is still important, so you should aim to do well on that section as well. Analytical Writing is the least important section, and many business schools aren’t very interested in how well you score on it. As long as you don’t completely bomb this section, how well you do won’t affect your business school admission decision.

According to the ETS, people who took the GRE from 2012-2015 with plans to attend business school had the following average scores:

  • Quantitative Reasoning: 153
  • Verbal Reasoning: 150
  • Analytical Writing: 3.5

Those numbers don’t tell you about the scores you need to actually get into MBA programs however. To get a better idea of the GRE scores you should be aiming for, below is a chart with average GRE scores for MBA programs. For each of the 15 programs, it’s 2016 US News & World Report ranking is included, as well average Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing scores for the admitted students.

The programs below are all in the top 50 business school programs, as ranked by US News & World Report. Many business schools either choose not to release GRE scores or don’t have enough data for GRE score averages. We chose schools of varying ranks to give you a better idea of the types of scores accepted by different schools.

Program/School Name Ranking Average Quantitative Score Average Verbal Score Average Analytical Writing Score
Stanford University 2 164 164 4.8
Northwestern University (Kellogg) 5 165 162 4.8
Yale University 8 162 164 4.7
Duke University (Fuqua) 12 (tie) 160 160 4.1
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ross) 12 (tie) 159 162 4.5
Washington University in St. Louis

(Olin)

21 156 159 4.5
Georgetown University (McDonough) 22 (tie) 160 159 4.0
Indiana University (Kelley) 22 (tie) 156 161 3.9
Vanderbilt University (Owen) 22 (tie) 156 158 4.0
University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) 25 156 158 4.1
University of Illinois—Urbana- Champaign 39 154 158 4.0
University of Maryland—College Park (Smith) 41 154 155 4.1
University of Iowa (Tippie) 45 158 161 Not available
University of California—Irvine (Merage) 48 155 156 4.3
Boston College (Carroll) 50 154 155 4.0

 

As you can see, many top schools require Verbal and Quant scores in the low to mid 160s, while schools with lower rankings (but still within the top 50 business schools) accept mid 150s and up.

If a business school you’re interested in applying to isn’t included on this list, you can get an estimate of its average GRE scores by finding its ranking on US News & World Report and then looking at the scores of a school with a similar ranking. It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that your school will have similar average GRE scores.

 

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Should You Take the GRE for MBA Programs?

Now you’re up to speed on how business schools feel about the GRE and what scores you would need in order to get in. For most people applying to business school, the GMAT is the best exam to take since business schools are more familiar with it and it tests knowledge more directly to the program you’re applying to.

However, some people may still want to submit GRE scores, perhaps because they already took the exam, they’re not only applying to business programs, or they feel more comfortable with the GRE. If you’re still undecided about which exam to take, ask yourself the following three decisions in order to make the best decision for you.

 

What Are the Policies of the Programs You’re Applying To?

This is the most important factor to consider, and you’ll need to do some research in order to get your answer. For each business school you’re thinking about applying to, research whether or not they have a preference for the GRE or the GMAT. You can often find this information on the admissions page of the program’s website, but if you can’t, it’s worth calling someone at the admissions office directly and asking them if the program has a preference for which score they’d prefer. It’ll only take a minute or so, and it’ll give you a piece of potentially very important information.

Once you have this information for all of your schools, take some time to review it. What did you find when looking at exam policies? Did a lot of schools prefer the GMAT? Did they consider both exams to be equal? If one or more schools you’re interested in have indicated they prefer GMAT scores over GRE scores, that’s a strong reason to take the GMAT because it can give your application a boost.

If the schools that you’re looking at have no preference between test scores and you’re stilling considering the GRE, keep reading.

 

What Are Your Grad School Plans?

The GRE is the most widely-accepted graduate school admissions exam, and it can be used to apply to a wide variety of programs, from a Master’s in Russian history to a PhD in chemistry, and many programs in between. The GMAT is only used to apply for business schools. If you’re certain that you want to attend business school and have no interest in other programs, it may be best to take the GMAT because it will show schools that you’re committed to attending business school and only business school.

However, if you’re interested in business school but also thinking about non-business grad programs as well, taking the GRE can help you keep your options open. You’ll be able to use your GRE scores to apply to most grad school programs in any discipline. Additionally, taking the GRE can be helpful if you’re applying to dual-degree programs, with one business program and one non-business program (although some dual-degree programs do accept GMAT scores for the non-business program).

Applying to non-business programs in addition to business programs is one of the strongest reasons to apply to business school with GRE scores since it likely means you’ll only have to take the GRE, as opposed to both the GRE and the GMAT. This can save you a couple hundred dollars in test fees and dozens of hours of studying since you only need to prepare for one exam instead of two. This is also true for people who’ve already taken the GRE but are now thinking about applying to business programs and aren’t sure if they need to take a new test.

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Which Exam Can You Get a Better Score On?

Some people who take both the GMAT and the GRE find one exam to be easier than the other. If you’re struggling to decide between the two tests, you may want to think about taking a practice exam for each and comparing scores using our score conversion chart. You can download software for both official GMAT practice exams and official GRE practice exams.

In terms of content, the GMAT is generally considered to have more challenging quantitative questions while the GRE has slightly more challenging verbal questions. If your score for the GRE is significantly higher than your score for the GMAT, it may help your applications to apply with your stronger GRE score. For an in-depth look at the similarities and difference between the exams, check out our guide to the GRE vs the GMAT.

 

Final Thoughts: Will Taking the GRE Put You at a Disadvantage for MBA Admissions?

So, now we’re back to the million dollar question: How good is the GRE for business school? Will submitting GRE scores instead of GMAT scores put you at a disadvantage since most people applying to business school submit GMAT scores?

Looking over the data we’ve just gone over, the simplest answer is no, using the GRE for business school applications will not put you at a disadvantage. The majority of business schools, including many top tier ones, make it clear that they have no preference between GRE and GMAT scores.

However, there are some business schools, roughly 25%, that prefer GMAT scores over GRE scores, as well as a small number of business programs that don’t accept GRE scores at all. If a school you’re very interested in attending will only accept GMAT scores, you don’t have much of a choice other than to take the GMAT. But what if the school accepts both scores and just prefers GMAT scores? How much will submitting GRE scores put you at a disadvantage.

In most cases, submitting GRE scores when a school prefers GMAT scores will likely only have a small impact on your chances of admission since your test scores are only one part of your application. What’s much more important is how strong your test scores and the rest of your application are.

To conclude, for most people applying to business school, it’s better to apply with GMAT scores since they are far more common for business school applications. However, if you’ve already taken the GRE, aren’t only applying to business programs and/or score significantly higher on the GRE than the GMAT, it’s still completely possible to apply to business school with GRE scores and get into top programs.

 

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about the differences between the GRE and the GMAT? Check out our in-depth guide comparing the two exams.

Have you decided to take the GRE? It’s important to properly register for the exam so you get the test location and date you want. Read our step-by-step guide to GRE registration for everything you need to know.

Still trying to decide if you should take the GRE? Learn how hard the test really is and get an estimate of how challenging it’ll be for you.


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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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