I want to apply to the ISB. Should I retake the GMAT if I have a score of 690?

I want to apply to the ISB. Should I retake the GMAT if I have a score of 690?

Over the course of my career, and as an independent consultant, many candidates have asked me what score they need to get into the ISB. Candidates view the GMAT as a make or break situation, often considering it the most important part of the application. It is a very important part, but reality is somewhat different from what students have traditionally thought.

My own experience working with candidates has given me reason to believe that there is little correlation between the GMAT and academic performance during the MBA, as long as the candidate achieves a certain hygiene factor on the GMAT.  I also feel that there is little correlation between the GMAT and success in placements or interviews, as long as the same minimum score is met.  The key here is – “As long as a certain score is met.”

The Admissions Committees are evaluating potential for success. When they look at an application, and all its individual elements, they want to answer one question first – Can this candidate succeed?  To answer this, AdComs will evaluate evidence of past success and evidence of brilliance.  Every school has its own evaluation criteria, and certain schools will place more weight on past performance, while others will tend to bend in favor of brilliance. For example, a candidate with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA from a top college and a 700 GMAT will have a better shot at certain schools in comparison to a candidate with a 3.3 GPA from a lesser known college and a 770 GMAT, and visa versa. Both these candidates have provided some level of reassurance to the respective admissions committees. Having said that, I don’t think that a candidate with a 3.5 GPA (or a comparative undergraduate background) will significantly benefit from a score of 760, when she already has a 710.  This is because she too has established acceptable requirements for both evidence of past success and evidence of brilliance.  Once such evidence is established, AdComs will move away from the question, ‘Can she succeed,’ to ‘Will she succeed,’ and look at your overall story, and other elements of your application.

So what do you do if your score is a 690? If you are applying to the Indian School of Business, you could avoid taking it again as long as you can establish some level of past performance.  As I have mentioned, B-Schools will view the application as a system, and will put a check mark on elements that give them reassurance.  The more boxes you tick, the higher your likelihood of admission! High scores in 10th and 12th – check, Bachelors from a top college – check, solid GPA – check, work experience in a well-known company – check, good GMAT – check, and so on. Once these quantifiable elements are evaluated, AdComs will look at the softer elements of your application i.e. your story, and ultimately, your interview.  The GMAT is only one element, and for the most part, cannot get you in by itself (although it can keep you out).

Hence, if you are applying to the ISB, and you have a good academic background and experience, you can avoid taking it again.  But if you went to a lesser known college, have experience which is difficult to explain, unimpressive grades, and are making more effort to bring flow and consistency to your story, you may benefit by taking the GMAT again, for a higher score will establish brilliance, and compensate for the lack of other elements in your application. A high score will give evidence of potential when it cannot be measured by past success.

For the ISB, the minimum score I recommend is as follows:

For male applicants – 650

For female applicants – 620

 For the top 20 US schools, I recommend that you aim for at least 700. There are a ton of articles and statistics on the web that are in favor of a higher GMAT score, and I tend to agree with them.  Especially for Indian male applicants, getting into a top US school is arguably more difficult than getting into the ISB.  Given the sheer volume of applications, increased pressure from rankings, and soaring average GMAT scores, AdComs will tend to give the GMAT the benefit of doubt when comparing domestic and foreign candidates.  Having said that, even for most US schools, I doubt whether you’ll significantly benefit with a 760 if you already have a 720.

 In the end, I would like to state that you should apply your own intelligence and judgment to your situation.  Every candidate is unique, and while we all love to obsess over the GMAT (and GRE), you should really consider the merits of your overall application.  If there is only one piece of advice you need to take away from this article, it is this – try to get the highest score that you can, but do not refrain from applying if you have a lower score, or a less pedigreed background. Admissions Committees realize that socioeconomic factors play a role in who you are, and they are only striving hard to evaluate your potential for success. There are times in which a candidate’s potential cannot be evaluated from prior backgrounds alone, because not all have had access to the same opportunities.  In such situations, the GMAT, your essays and ultimately your interview play a bigger role. Everyone has the right to an education, and if you are passionate about learning, you should not be deprived of it – there is a school and a program for everyone.

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