GMAT Waiver vs. No GMAT Requirement

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Prospective business school applicants who have concerns about taking admissions tests like the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) have a lot of company. One in five MBA program applicants feels so resistant to taking entrance examinations that they only apply to business schools that do not require these tests, according to an educational consultant quoted in the Financial Times.

Andrew Crisp, a co-founder of the London-based education marketing consulting firm CarringtonCrisp, told the publication that business schools are catching onto the trend and making adjustments. “Schools are saying, ‘If we can get interesting candidates we don’t need to make them take the GMAT.’”

Moreover, at the University of North Carolina, senior associate dean for MBA programs, Sridhar Balasubramanian, wrote a letter to students and alumni where he explained that “the GMAT score is an inferior way of measuring student quality for the experienced student,” according to the school’s analysis. “We found that the need to take the GMAT was holding back many of our highest-potential applicants with many years of work experience from even applying to the MBA@UNC program.”

Despite the assertions by Crisp and Balasubramanian, many business schools continue to require the GMAT or the GRE. However, there are ways MBA applicants can bypass admissions testing. This guide briefly considers the strategies available to MBA candidates.

To simplify the discussion below, when we mention programs that require the GMAT, we are referring to programs that need either the GMAT or the GRE. The U.S. News and World Report explains that just under half of all online MBA programs ask candidates to provide either GMAT or GRE scores. Only 9 percent of schools specify a GMAT requirement and will not accept the GRE.

GMAT Waiver or No GMAT: A Critical Distinction

Generally, the substantial proportion of MBA program applicants who are resistant to admissions testing find themselves with a choice of two general strategies. One strategy involves applying to MBA programs that do not consider admissions testing in their candidate evaluation criteria. Another strategy entails applying to MBA programs that require the admissions tests, but grant waivers exempting qualified candidates from sitting for these exams. It is critical for MBA aspirants to understand the distinction between the two for multiple reasons.

First, a tremendous amount of misinformation exists online that blurs the distinction between these two options. It is not unusual to observe independent websites unaffiliated with business schools reporting that particular MBA programs do not require the GMAT or the GRE when in fact those schools do want those tests but offer waivers instead.

Admissions consultants tend to maintain higher, more professional standards than some online information providers, so lists of programs that offer bypass options that appear on these consultants’ sites tend to display better accuracy. Admissions consultant Aringo compiled an accurate list.

That said, it is crucial to check directly with a particular business school about their current admissions examination requirements and waiver policy. Even though some business schools do not make this policy easy to find, most schools display their policy somewhere on their websites and the ones who do not will usually answer email inquiries.

The second reason why this distinction is critical is that waiver requests often require drafting a request letter—i.e., a petition in university academic lingo—arguing in favor of the school’s granting a waiver to the candidate. These documents take time and effort to draft. Applicants should assume that all schools need this document so that they are not surprised at the last minute. The only exception lies in the case of automatic waivers, which is covered below.

As schools cater their application requirements to their applicants, prospective students can bypass admissions testing. The below covers the strategies available to MBA candidates.

MBA Programs Without Testing Requirements

The first option includes those programs that do not ask applicants to take the GMAT or the GRE under any circumstances. The U.S. News and World Report explains that about 45 percent of MBA programs reported requiring neither the GMAT or the GRE. In these cases, the schools dispense with the tests and waiver requests, focusing their admissions decisions strictly on evaluations based on several years of work experience and prior academic performance. More online MBA programs admit students without testing than many applicants realize.

Arguably, the best of these programs include executive MBA (EMBA) programs geared to senior executives aspiring to top management roles with as many as 15 years of experience or more. However, nothing is stopping otherwise strong test-averse candidates from applying to these test-free executive programs if that would mean winning admission to a much better MBA program affiliated with a more powerful university brand and alumni network than other test-free alternatives. For more research and analysis about executive MBA programs, see our guide: Is a Part-Time MBA Program Worth It?

It is important to distinguish between MBA programs and business schools in general. Some universities dispense with admissions testing requirements for some of their MBA programs but not others. Applying to one of these programs exempts applicants from testing, and the applicant does not need to satisfy any other conditions besides applying to that particular program.

A good example involves Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a unique business school highly ranked alongside Stanford University for Babson’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and new venture creation. Babson does not appear to require the GMAT or GRE for its “blended learning” or “fast track” MBA configurations but does want one of these tests for applications to the school’s other programs.

Here are a few examples of online MBA programs without entrance exam requirements:

Here are a few examples of executive MBA programs without entrance exam requirements:

MBA Programs That Grant Testing Waivers

The second option includes programs that do not require applicants to take either the GMAT or the GRE through an admissions testing waiver. To identify conditions under which schools will likely grant such waiver requests, BSchools examined the current waiver policies from a diverse sample of 12 online MBA programs across the country.

We recognized patterns that indicate specific circumstances where the schools would likely grant these exemptions. Below we briefly summarize those findings which appear in greater detail in our guide, What is a GMAT Waiver and When Might the GMAT Requirement be Waived?

In general, most admitted students did not provide test scores. At five of the schools studied—George Washington University, the University of North Carolina, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the University of Delaware, and Syracuse University—less than 14 percent of admitted students provided scores. Pepperdine University had the highest share of admitted students who provided GMAT scores, but they still only accounted for one-third of all students.

Discretionary and Automatic Waivers

This second option involves two kinds of waivers, discretionary and automatic waivers. Most often, schools grant test exemptions at the discretion of admissions officers. However, at several institutions, waivers are automatically granted to those who qualify, meaning that applicants do not have to request waivers.

For example, admissions committees at the University of North Carolina automatically grant waivers to applicants with seven years of work experience or more. Similarly, George Washington University automatically grants waivers for applicants with five years of work experience. At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, applicants with an advanced degree are automatically excused from submitting GMAT test scores. Although Syracuse University requires waiver applications, the school always grants requests from candidates with five years of relevant work experience, according to published statistics in the U.S. News and World Report.

Work Experience and Academic History

In order of importance, the two most influential factors that determine whether a student receives a waiver are work experience and academic history. However, work experience encompasses the main qualification for GMAT and GRE waivers. Work experience needs to be of a specific caliber that is relevant to the applicant’s career goals. Beyond that generality, each school defines “relevant work experience” in their own way.

For example, waiver candidates need to demonstrate management responsibilities with budget authority to the University of Alabama, along with roles in determining strategic direction. By contrast, Syracuse University provides a broader definition of work experience:

Whitman defines professional experience as time spent working in a business environment with significant individual responsibilities. Employers can be corporate or nonprofit, but we are looking for applicants whose work experience demonstrates skills in independent problem solving, teamwork, personal accountability for results, critical thinking, some authority for decision making, time management, and management of individuals or teams.

In general, most waivers desire candidates to have been working for several years. According to BSchools research, the most typical number of years of work experience required to win a GMAT or GRE waiver is five years. Moreover, at two highly-ranked schools, the University of North Carolina and Washington State University, candidates need at least seven years to win testing waivers.

The second essential criteria for GMAT waivers is university education. The schools mainly consider undergraduate grade point averages along with advanced degrees. According to BSchools research, most schools consider outstanding undergraduate academic performance at accredited universities when granting waiver requests and about half impose minimum GPA thresholds ranging from 2.8 to 3.4 on a four-point scale.

Applicants with GPA scores below the thresholds may be asked to submit GMAT or GRE scores. Many schools use these admissions tests as a proxy for validating a candidate’s quantitative ability, which is why about half of the schools BSchools studied consider or specifically need evidence of prior quantitative coursework before they grant waivers. Those schools include Johns Hopkins University, the University of Delaware, University of North Carolina, and George Washington University.

Pepperdine University and Johns Hopkins need students to have completed specific quantitative coursework such as statistics, finance, or quantitative microeconomics before granting waivers. Pepperdine even expects waiver candidates to have degrees in quantitative economics or science, engineering, technology or mathematics (STEM) disciplines, or a B or above in quantitative university coursework like calculus or economic statistics.

Occasionally, schools also consider the rigor of undergraduate programs, and many schools consider advanced degrees when evaluating waiver requests.

Finally, professional certifications can also be significant to schools. Four schools surveyed by BSchools consider Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) and similar licenses when awarding waivers—three of those four were also private institutions.

For more related research and analysis, see the following BSchools guide: What is a GMAT Waiver and When Might the GMAT Requirement be Waived?

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark
Writer

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.