How to build a strong MBA application with no GMAT

BY Meghan MalasMarch 08, 2022, 6:12 PM
Students work on campus at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., U.S., as seen in September 2021. (Photographer: Stefani Reynolds—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A decade ago, it would have been difficult to imagine getting into business school without a GMAT score. Today, things have changed and testing requirements are more flexible than ever, with MBA programs providing options for waivers, wider acceptance of the GRE and other tests as substitutes, and some schools even nixing test requirements altogether. 

Some business schools started doing away with test requirements before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic expedited the trend as test facilitation became complicated. Now, it seems some of the amended policies are here to stay. In 2021, 45% of graduate business programs waived admission tests for their application process, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2021 Application Trends Survey

“MBA programs are looking holistically for well-rounded candidates that have proven themselves across multiple spheres—professional, personal, extracurricular—so they’re eager to look past stats like GPA, college brand, and test scores because they want people that have a valuable, interesting, compelling perspective to offer the incoming student class,” says Esther Magna, a principal MBA admissions consultant with Stacy Blackman Consulting.

If you have your eye on a top-ranked MBA program and don’t want to take the GMAT or GRE—or worry your score is not bettering your chances of admission—there are ways to strengthen your application in lieu of a high GMAT score. Fortune spoke with two MBA consulting experts to find out how prospective students can boost their odds. 

Applicants still need to prove their analytical skills

“The MBA historically has been, and still is, an analytical and data-driven degree,” Magna says. “There is still the expectation that the applicant demonstrates somewhere that they can handle the coursework, because every business program wants their students to thrive within the academic coursework.”

It’s important that students can succeed in a rigorous academic setting so they can also be busy outside of the classroom pursuing leadership opportunities, attending recruiting events, and networking with peers, students, and professors, Magna explains. 

Students can opt for other, less-demanding assessments and courses to show their analytical skills. Programs like Harvard Business School’s Online’s Credential of Readiness, which is specifically designed for applicants to prove they can manage MBA study, are a solid option, says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, an MBA consulting firm.  

Additionally, if you have passed Level 1 of the CFA exam or if you have a 3.5 GPA or higher in economics, management, engineering, or any quantitative course of undergraduate study, then you have demonstrated the necessary skills, Shinewald says. 

Good grades in calculus and statistics classes at a reputable college can also be an indication of a student’s ability to handle the coursework. 

“Of course, applicants who struggle with tests are the ones most likely to try to avoid taking them,” Shinewald says. “Still, there have to be some out there who have proven their analytical abilities and are shaking their heads at the need to take a test.”

It is helpful to highlight data-driven work responsibilities to illustrate analytical thinking in your initiatives or projects. If applicants worry their quantitative strengths will be missed by the admissions committee, then they should be sure to call out their experiences in the optional essays that are offered by most programs.

“Applicants don’t need to write at length or plead with the admissions committee,” Shinewald says. “In a very direct way, they just need to reveal the courses they have taken and their strong performances therein.”

Top schools are vying for diverse, well-rounded candidates

Top programs are much more flexible around GPA and test scores than they ever have been,” Magna says.

Diversity, across multiple dimensions, is imperative for a robust MBA class experience, she adds. This includes socioeconomic diversity but also diversity in nationality, industry, job titles, and career paths.

Students can indicate their compelling and multi-faceted experiences by including recommendation letters, completing any application essay prompts, and mentioning attendance of information sessions or conferences. In other words, your most unique experience or perspective is likely your greatest superpower. 

Applicants should also keep in mind that programs are not only interested in people that will succeed academically, but also students who are a good match for companies that are recruiting for internships and full-time positions.

“Recruiters for many of these jobs follow the headlines in terms of what’s going on with the career path and it is clear that data is becoming increasingly important,” Magna says. Therefore, recruiters want to ensure that the people they are hiring are comfortable and effective in their analytical skills, on top of bringing a well-rounded perspective to their company.  

“The measure of analytical aptitude won’t go away. It’s here to stay because it’s fundamental to the MBA experience, but it might reinvent itself in different ways,” Magna says. 

One example of this test score requirement paradigm shift is the University of California system eliminating its undergraduate test requirements for decisions involving admissions and scholarships in 2020. While the previous requirement was nixed, the UC plans to have another test in place for freshman students enrolling in the fall of 2025.

Additionally, schools like University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business offer test waivers for students who prove their analytical abilities through their GPA or CFA Level 1. And even without a waiver, applicants can take tests like the MCAT, LSAT or Executive Assessment instead of the GMAT or GRE. 

The GMAT and GRE remain the status-quo

While some schools are maintaining their relaxed testing policies, it is important to note that the GMAT and GRE are still a part of the standard for most traditional MBA programs.. 

“The number of applicants applying without scores quickly rose during the first wave of the pandemic when test waivers became inevitable because test centers weren’t open,” Shinewald says.

However, as test centers have reopened and the GMAT and GRE have been offered online, some MBA programs have reverted to mandatory testing, he added.

As the GMAC Application Survey Data shows, there are still schools showing flexibility, so there are some options for competitive applicants who want to opt-out of testing. If applicants want to keep their options open, they basically have to take the GMAT or GRE, according to Shinewald.

“Testing analytical aptitude is still relevant and it’ll always be something that’s an important element of an application,” Magna says.

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.