We totally understand the stress and frustration that can go along with a GMAT or GRE result that wasn’t at the level you expected. You’ve probably tested multiple times, and you also took multiple practice exams, and thought you were going to be fine. Yet still, for whatever reason, that score has not soared to the level you thought. Maybe one of the subscores has barely eked out an existence in the range of “average” for the schools that you’re targeting.
You know what, Grasshopper?
Don’t worry about it.
Now is not the time to beat yourself up about it.
At this stage of the season, as long as there’s a level of proficiency on the test, then put that behind you. Yes, test scores matter, we’re not trying to say they’re immaterial to your outcomes. But they are also not the deciding datpoint in any application. Presumably, you did okay on the test, or you wouldn’t be here focusing on getting those apps done. But even if you flailed mightily on any single subscore on the GMAT or GRE, if the other scores showed competence, then you’re going to proceed with your apps*. So what you should do is maximize what you have available to you.
Focus on the factors you have full control over.
Those are, quite obviously, the essays.
Going full speed ahead on developing excellent essay content is where you want to be placing all of your attention and energies.
The other obvious point of strategy (that apparently is sometimes overlooked) is your school targets.
We’ve previously advised on how many schools to be applying to for Round 2 and depending on progress made on that list, you may or may not want to revisit exactly which programs you’re gunning for.
If your GMAT or GRE really is rocky, and you really really really want to be sitting in an MBA classroom in the Fall, then that needs to go into your strategy on schools.
Round 3 is unlikely to pop for most people — especially for those with a shaky test score. Round 3 is not impossible in a softer admissions environment like this year seems to be at certain schools. But as you know, Harvard doesn’t even have a Round 3 anymore, because they are being honest with the admissions marketplace (that’s YOU!) and are owning up to the fact that they hardly ever admitted many strong students in that round. That’s true at other schools also, though you have more opportunities with Round 3 the further down the list of competitiveness you travel.
So that means that now is your window of opportunity, and now is what must be maximized.
Including a few of the less-competitive schools in your mix might make a lot of sense. Which schools are those?
Places like Ross. Cornell. Darden. UCLA. Maybe NYU, depending on how you pitch them. These schools are definitely not easy to get into, but they are definitely easi-er. If you really want to increase your odds of starting your MBA in the Fall, then add a school like Tepper, UNC, or UT-Austin to your list. Again, you still need to play your cards right at those, but the competition is much, much less at such programs.
Obviously only target one of these programs if they actually get you excited about what they offer. That means doing some research, even though there’s hardly any time for research right now.
The schools that have proven to be still very difficult to break into even when other schools are softening are places like, as expected, H/S/W, and also MIT, Kellogg, Columbia. Then there’s a bunch in the middle territory, of still competitive, but not quite as competitive as they were a few years ago, with Booth, Duke, Tuck, Berkeley and Yale in that category. So hopefully this lets you validate the competitive level of schools you’re planning for, and making sure it matches up with how competitive (or, err, challenged) your profile may be. A low GMAT score, with a not-great college GPA? Just be realistic. You can certainly still try for Kellogg and Columbia and Duke, but you may want to add another school to the set, to round things out. Ya know?
And, making some hard choices sometimes is really worthwhile. You have a finite amount of time and energy available to get it all done. Yes you want to go to Harvard. But do you have a shot at Harvard? Obviously nobody can know except Harvard… but we’re pretty good at being able to tell if Harvard is going to take a nibble on an app, or if the profile really isn’t showing much of a shot. You can get this assessment along with a full-blown discussion of all other aspects of your profile in the appropriately-named Comprehensive Profile Review. Or on a tactical level, go for the Sanity Check Pre-Submit App Review, to get a discussion of how you’re pitching one school with the essays and resume and transcripts and the rest.
At this stage, with this finite level of resources, then crossing HBS off the list completely could make sense for a lot of applicants, especially if you haven’t yet started on that nightmare of a project called writing your HBS essay. (Or even if you have, if your efforts to date have not proven to be very effective. Not sure if they are or not? Find out if your current draft has a chance!)
And, we’ve now managed to write 1,000 words without actually satisfying the promise that we started with in the title of this post, so we will return to this topic of navigating your app strategy with a low GMAT score (and you can see this as a case study in a post not fulfilling its promise to the reader — which you never want your essay to do).
*If you actually did not do that great at all on the GMAT — like, a GMAT quant raw score of 44 or lower, or a GRE quant of 155-ish — then we’re not sure it makes much sense to submit apps right now. Unless it’s to a carefully selected list of schools that take your actual profile into account. Otherwise you’re going to be throwing away A LOT in app fees. A total GMAT in the 650 range is still tough to swallow for most schools, even in an era of loosening admissions standards. We suggest bringing your test score up first and then taking your chances in Round 3. Or, follow the strategy we’ll be proposing for you in the follow-on post on GMAT — but the stakes are higher for you.