You may have seen the headlines over the past year that application volumes at American business schools have dropped since 2016. While that’s true, it’s overlooking a critical fact: Application volumes at the subset of TOP schools that all of you are interested in went UP over the same period. Here’s some GMAC data to reveal what’s driving this.
As you can see, Americans are still taking the majority of the GMAT tests. That makes sense, when there are so many seats to fill in American programs. The MBA is an American invention, a majority of the business schools considered “the best” in the world are in the U.S., and the student bodies of those schools typically are 60% or more American. It also makes sense that there are huge numbers of Chinese test-takers, given the emphasis on education in that country and the more recent proliferation of quality graduate programs in China and throughout the region. More and more Asian bschools are well established or gaining further traction, including HKUST, CEIBS, Nanyang, ISB, INSEAD Singapore and others. There are more and more available seats at quality programs and a lot of Chinese nationals taking the GMAT have no intention of leaving their home country for their MBA. That’s the pattern most everywhere: A university is an institution of the country it’s in, and they will be admitting a majority of domestic applicants over those from other countries. The GMAC report that 57% of applications to all U.S. business schools are from international candidates.
But let’s look at this one:
That’s where an international applicants from certain parts of the world might start to freak out just a bit.
It’s important to remember that these data are reporting the number of tests taken – not the number of people taking the test. About ten years ago, GMAC reported that globally, there were about 15 to 20% more tests taken than there were individuals taking the tests in a given reporting period (which goes from July to June). Many BSers who take the test more than once do so over an extended period, so if your first attempt is in May, and your second attempt is in July, it’ll be reported in two different testing periods, and you will show up as just one test for a given year, even though on a calendar year basis you took it twice that year. Sometimes, too, a BSer ends up reapplying, and they retake the GMAT in the lead-up to the next season, which could be reported in a different GMAC reporting period. Also, the data aren’t exactly comparable; pre-2015 date do not include canceled scores, which were only about 1% of the tests anyway; from 2015 and onwards, the GMAC started including canceled scores in the aggregate data, even if the individual canceled scores were not reported to any school on the applicants’ behalf.
So, you can assume that the number of actual test takers is around 80% of the total GMAT tests taken — but hold up.
This ratio varies radically by region.
We had trouble digging up recent statistics, and these figures pre-date the modern and quite liberal cancel policy in effect on the GMAT today, so who knows if they hold true still. Back in the 2012 testing year, the unique examinee ratio for US GMAT tests was 87%, and it was only 67% for GMAT tests taking in most Asian countries.
So what can we make of all that?
Well, it says that more GMAT tests are being taken in, for example, China and India, however these tests are not necessarily correlated to more PEOPLE taking them. It’s just that these two countries especially have more of a test-taking culture. Testing and retesting until you get the score you want is more common. As a group, this pushes test averages significantly higher among that pool.
Which leads us to two possible conclusions:
1) It’s necessary to have a high score if you’re an applicant from one of these countries who’s trying for a very selective American school, because those schools have limited seats for people from your region, and most of your competition from that region will be presenting a high score
2) A high score alone is not enough to let you stand out
The high GMAT is basically a necessary pre-requisite, a ticket to play the game, but it by no means ensures that that alone will bring you a successful outcome. Unless you have a significantly differentiated profile in life story or work experience, it’s going to be tough for the U.S. admissions teams to overlook a GMAT score that’s only average.
The other open secret is that the essays matter a lot too.
Ever year, we see a handful of BSers with stratospheric GMAT scores who have flailed and floundered in their apps, and didn’t make it in. When they come to us asking for insights after the fact, it’s near-100% of the time due to some craptastic essays.
You may also be interested in:
- Are Asians discriminated against in bschool admissions? (2015 post)
- Do bschools have quotas in admissions? (2015 post)
- More on Indians applying to bschool (2017 post)
- The most challenged of the challenging profiles: The Indian MBA applicant (2012 post)