Top MBA Programs That Don’t Require the GMAT – Which Are They and Does It Matter?

As MBA admissions consultants, a question we often receive is which top MBA programs don’t require the GMAT or GRE and whether taking one of these tests is really necessary to gain admission. We get it! Taking the time to prepare for and take the GMAT or GRE (often multiple times) is a lot of work. It would be great if you could prove your academic prowess another way. So, can you?

Yes, there are top MBA programs that don’t require the GMAT. When the pandemic hit, many business schools made taking the GMAT / GRE optional. Testing centers were closed, and an online version of the test was still under development, making this a very reasonable accommodation. Unfortunately, it also opened the door to cheating and other unfortunate challenges.

Top MBA programs have gradually eased off granting these access-related waivers, as it’s hard to argue that the issues still exist at the same magnitude. However, many do still offer them for legitimate situations where the pandemic has severely impacted an applicant’s ability to sit for a test.

Is Test Optional the ‘New Normal’?

Flexibility does seem to be here to stay. As with many facets of our post-COVID world, some schools’ policies do seem to have changed in a more permanent way. A number of top MBA programs allow applicants to use an MCAT or LSAT score instead of the GMAT / GRE. The Executive Assessment or EA (essentially a shortened GMAT) is also gaining acceptance.

Further, a small number of top full-time MBA programs allow applicants to request a test waiver for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. UVA Darden, for instance, says that ‘waiver applications will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and our Admissions Committee will consider a number of factors when evaluating these applications. Particular regard will be given for indicators of academic and professional accomplishment.’ Duke Fuqua says that ‘while scores from standardized tests such as the GMAT or GRE are a beneficial way for our Admissions Committee to evaluate the likelihood of academic success in our Full-Time MBA program, we recognize that some candidates can build a strong case for admission [without one]’.

Even If a GMAT / GRE Waiver Is Fair Game, Is It Smart to Request One?

Ok, so say you are applying to one or more of the top MBA programs that don’t require the GMAT. Does it make strategic sense to request a waiver? To be blunt, in the vast majority of cases, we advise against it.

In all honesty, these top MBA programs are only apt to seriously consider your request if your other credentials (GPA, early career, etc.) massively impress them. If you are that competitive of an applicant, why limit yourself to the small number of programs that allow for a waiver? You might end up with more or better options (even scholarship dollars) if you cast a wider net by applying to a greater number of schools with a test score.

On the flip side, there is real risk that you appear uncompetitive (even if you aren’t!) by requesting a GMAT waiver. The admissions committee is apt to think (even if unfairly) that you were either uncommitted to the MBA process or unable to score well, both of which don’t look good, right?   

What If I Can’t Score Well on the GMAT or GRE?

That said, there are some incredibly intelligent, accomplished candidates who are simply poor test takers and worry that submitting their scores will make them uncompetitive. That’s a fair concern and we sympathize with the frustration. However, we would still argue that putting in a few solid attempts and submitting those scores is better positioning. You can use the optional essay to share that, while your scores may be below average, you have a multitude of other data points (list them) to prove that you can succeed in a rigorous MBA environment. Yes, you’ve validated their concern that you can’t score well (they would have assumed this anyway!) but you’ve assuaged the concern that you aren’t committed to the MBA process.  See the logic?

If you are planning to apply to business school next year (or even the year after that, to be honest), now is a great time to begin preparing for the GMAT or GRE in earnest. In this vein, here are a few other articles that might be of interest:

GMAT and GRE Myths Debunked – Vantage Point MBA

Should You Retake the GMAT/GRE? Answer These Five Questions to Find Out – Vantage Point MBA

How Much Time Does It Take to Apply to B-School? – Vantage Point MBA

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