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4 Ways to Overcome a Low GMAT Score When Applying to Business School

by Hannah Smith

Your GMAT score plays a critical role in the MBA or EMBA admissions process. With varying undergraduate institutions, majors, and school grading systems, the GMAT is the one piece of your application that can be completely standardized. But not all students are great test takers, so how exactly can you overcome a low GMAT score when applying to business school?

To start, most business schools use a holistic approach in reviewing applicants. This means that admissions offices are looking at the whole picture – not just your GMAT and grades. So, what are some of the key factors to think about when trying to overcome a low GMAT score?

1. A Good GPA

While the GMAT is supposed to be a strong indicator of your ability to perform in your first year of business school, your GPA is a better display of your abilities in an actual school setting. A strong GPA shows diligence and academic capability. Especially if you’re coming from a reputable undergraduate institution, good grades can carry a lot of weight.

While a strong GPA can help balance out a lower-than-expected GMAT score, it won’t completely override the test. For example, if you graduated from Stanford with a 3.8, but you only received a 690 on your GMAT, that doesn’t mean you can’t get into HBS. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle, but at least you have clearly demonstrated an ability to succeed academically. If you received a 670 or a 650, then you might have more of a climb. There are other ways – outside of academics – to pick up slack from a low GMAT score. Again, your hard statistics (grades and test scores) do not make up the whole picture of who you are as an applicant.

2. Exceptional Work Experience

While applying to business school, a demonstrated ability to work and succeed in the business world is key. Your leadership or management experiences, projects you’ve worked on, and initiative you’ve shown are all great attributes to point towards on your application.

You should be applying to business school once you have a few years of work experience under your belt. And whether you’ve worked in a more traditional finance or consulting job, or whether you’re coming from a non-traditional background (such as nonprofit or education work), a strong resume with great experience is key. Even with a lower GMAT score, you should show your ability to function and succeed in the real world.

3. Glowing Letters of Recommendation

This comes naturally with strong work experience. As an integral piece of your business school application, you want your letters of recommendation to add a new element to your candidacy. Your recommenders will be able to speak towards your work ethic, drive, initiative, and ability to function in a team. These letters are hard evidence that you are capable of succeeding in the working world as well as in business school.

In the case that you have a low GMAT score, glowing letters of recommendation will help balance out that lacking piece of your candidacy. For example, if you scored poorly on the quantitative section, have your recommender write about your quant ability as demonstrated in your current or recent job. Finally, choose recommenders who have known you in a work setting, but who also have known you in a capacity outside of work. Schools are looking to admit students that will contribute to the incoming class in a number of ways, and your personality, perspective, and the way you interact with others are all important factors of consideration.

4. A Strong Answer to: Why are you applying to MBA programs?

A strong answer to this question is extremely important. If your answer is along the lines of “because you will make a lot more money with an MBA,” then you should rethink your decision. Rather, if you’ve been working hard at a finance firm, specializing in tech investments and want to take your skillset to Silicon Valley to start your own company, you’ll need an MBA to fill in your gaps in knowledge. This is a much more compelling story. Admissions officers want to see clearly what your goals and motivations are for your degree, even if you might be lacking in other aspects of your candidacy.

Having a low GMAT score when applying to MBA programs is not necessarily the end of the world in terms of your application. There are always ways to combat the numbers, and the admissions office will take everything into consideration – from your GPA to your letters of recommendation. Of course, building a business school list that encompasses reach, fit, and safety schools is always a good solution. So, consider retaking the GMAT, build out your resume, and put together a compelling story in your application.

Hannah Smith is a graduate of Stanford University and an Admissions Expert at InGenius Prep.

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