What GMAT Score Do I Need for Harvard? Answers to Your Most Pressing GMAT and GRE Questions

As an MBA admissions consultant, I find that clients and prospective clients, especially those early in their MBA journeys, are often fraught with anxiety and indecision about standardized testing – namely the GMAT and GRE exams. Should I take the GMAT or GRE? When should I prepare and sit for the exam? What GMAT score do I need for Harvard?

These are the right questions to ask but, as with nearly everything in the MBA application process, the answers aren’t cut and dry. To clarify things as much as possible, below are three commonly held beliefs about the GMAT and GRE exams that aren’t as straightforward as they seem.

FAQ #1: Since I come from a non-quant background, should I take the GRE as opposed to the GMAT?

According to GMAT/GRE experts in our network, the GMAT is a more rigorous exam, plain and simple, especially from a quantitative standpoint. So, some may reason that if they have never viewed themselves as a ‘quant person’, they will fare better on the GRE. Unfortunately, the logic isn’t that straightforward.

Particularly for those with non-quant work experience, a liberal arts undergrad, or a low GPA, the biggest question in the adcom’s mind might be whether you can ‘hack it’ in an MBA-level curriculum. What better way to prove that you can and differentiate yourself in the process than by attaining a competitive GMAT score? Further, if you can attain a solid GMAT quant score and have strong verbal capabilities, leaning into the latter strength and excelling on the verbal portion of the test will actually be a better ‘bang for your buck’, as each incremental point on your verbal score translates to a larger jump in percentile and overall score.

All of that said, obtaining the strongest score possible should be your ultimate goal when deciding whether to take the GMAT or GRE. Someone with a liberal arts background is much better off submitting a solid GRE score than a below average GMAT. In a nutshell, be strategic about your choice of test based on your specific circumstances and don’t jump to a conclusion based on your perception of what ‘type of person’ takes each one.

FAQ #2: When is the best time to take the GMAT or GRE?

Many prospective MBAs assume they should study and sit for the exam the summer before they apply. You certainly can do this, but should you? I would argue not. Schools typically release their applications (i.e., essay questions) in the summer. Ideally, you want to have the GMAT out of the way at this point as there is A LOT to do once you get into the thick of things. Here is a little more detail on our recommended application timeline.

GMAT/GRE experts recommend beginning your test prep 10-12 weeks before you plan to take your first test. And, while this may not be pleasant to hear, you should leave time for two or three attempts (each spaced a minimum of 16 calendar days apart for the GMAT or 21 days for the GRE, as required by the testing agencies). With all of this in mind, we recommend starting your prep no later than early April.

Honestly, it’s almost never too early to get your testing out of the way. GMAT and GRE scores are good for five years and many of our clients achieved their best results while still in college or shortly after graduating since they were still in ‘study mode’.

If you didn’t have this much foresight (I know I didn’t!) and particularly if you work long hours, it is essential to start early as well as to work with intensity, momentum, and efficiency. Investing in a top GMAT or GRE prep course or even private tutoring can help immensely; we would be happy to share the resources that have been most helpful to our clients.

FAQ #3: No really, what GMAT score do I need for Harvard? I achieved a 730, so I am ‘done’, right?

While an awesome score like 730 is right around average for the top programs (like Harvard), the decision on when to set your test prep materials aside is a little more nuanced. As you may have guessed, if your undergrad GPA is lower than your target schools’ averages and/or you come from an overrepresented applicant pool (bankers and consultants, I’m looking at you), you should think long and hard about whether you have more to give in the test department.

How do you know whether you are short-changing yourself? First, consider how many times you’ve taken the test. If you’re on your third or fourth attempt and your previous scores did not demonstrate measurable improvement, it might be time to move on. Before you do, think about whether you really gave it your all. Did you create a study plan and follow it religiously? Also, look at your official GMAT / GRE practice tests, particularly your third through sixth ones. If your scores were materially higher than your results on test day, perhaps something fluky happened (nerves got the best of you, etc.) and another attempt would be worthwhile.

At the end of the day, of course schools care about more than just your GMAT or GRE score. Even the strongest test score won’t guarantee you admission into your dream program. So, to directly address the question ‘what GMAT score do I need for Harvard’, the answer is that there really isn’t such a score. However, as you’re well aware, the MBA application process is a major undertaking if done right and you want to make sure you give each component your all. So, start your test prep early, strategically plan your approach, and follow your plan. Once you do those things and hopefully attain a GMAT or GRE score you are proud of, move on to crafting a stellar application!

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