The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not an especially well-rounded group.
These days, business schools seek a diverse array of students to fill their classes, knowing that the unique life and career experiences they bring will enrich the classroom experience for everyone.
Applicants with undergraduate degrees in the humanities are welcomed at all of the elite business schools, but, unlike their business major peers, will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.
Your GMAT or GRE score is the first and most obvious piece of the puzzle that indicates your ability to handle MBA-level course work, so allow yourself plenty of time to study for the exam.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, the average amount of study needed to achieve a score between 600 and 690 is 92 hours and getting above that brass ring score of 700 is 102 hours.
What can you do if you’ve put in the time, taken the test and still receive a so-so score? Schools look favorably upon taking the GMAT more than once.
In my experience, this dedication to improving your score is often interpreted by the admissions committee as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school. So sign up for that prep course or hire a GMAT tutor to help you bump up your score a few notches.
At Harvard Business School, the median GMAT score was 730 out of 800, but the lowest accepted GMAT score for students entering in fall 2014 was 550. If you find your score has settled at the lower end of the spectrum, I would encourage you to find other ways to demonstrate your quantitative competence.
Take a college-level calculus class and score a B-plus or better. Focus on the essays, extracurriculars and working with your recommenders so that they support your quant aptitude in their recommendation letters with real-life examples.
If you have strong quantitative work experience and can show a solid grasp of quantitative subjects, then a weak GMAT score may not be overly problematic. The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling.
An MBA Podcaster episode on MBA quantitative skills notes that business schools regularly report that many soon-to-be first-year students lack some basic quantitative skills. To remedy this, several top MBA programs offer so-called math camps for accepted students during the summer as a refresher of critical concepts.
Carolyn Sherry, a first-year student at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who attended math camp last summer, wrote a blog post in the fall addressing precisely this topic.
“If you’re worried about your quantitative skills, here’s my advice,” she writes. “Most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself. Did you do well in college? Do you have a demanding, complex job where you excel? Can you grasp concepts pretty quickly? … These attributes will see you through a rigorous curriculum!”
Ultimately, the GMAT or GRE is just one component of the application, and a high score doesn’t guarantee success in business school. MBA hopefuls should do all they can to offset a lackluster test performance by demonstrating they can handle the work, highlighting a high GPA from a respected undergraduate school and wowing the admissions panel with their compelling extracurricular and leadership activities.
Convince your target business school why an MBA is the best next step in your career progression, and prove to them that you have what it takes to succeed.
This article has been re-published as per the terms of LEAP Partners Program with Stacy Blackman Consulting.
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