GMAT scores percentile distribution in MBA admissions

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GMAT score percentile distribution – How it works

Imagine that you are buying a car, looking for the option that will suit you best. What factors will you consider? Price? Design? Fuel economy? Comfort? Accessories? All these factors matter in determining the fit between you and your new car. Price and fuel consumption matter because you simply cannot afford some cars; design is important if you don’t want to drive an ugly vehicle; comfort is more important to some of us than to others, but most likely you will look for a well-balanced combination of all these factors.

Now imagine that you are part of an admissions committee  looking for the students best suited to your graduate school of business. What factors will you consider? Academic ability? Professional potential? Personal characteristics? All these factors can indicate how well applicants are going to do in the program and after they are graduated. Academic abilities matter if you want students who will be able to handle the academic demands; professional potential and personal characteristics matter if you want successful graduates to add to your school’s reputation.

Your GMAT score is your price

Most schools publish the average GMAT scores of applicants they accepted, but this is just an average; applicants with lower scores nevertheless were accepted, and some applicants with higher scores were rejected. Buying a cheaper car may seem attractive because it saves you money, but do you just buy the cheapest vehicle no matter what? Probably not. Just like the price of a car, your GMAT score is a crucial part of the puzzle but still only a part. Two widely held beliefs about GMAT scores are thus mythical.

Myth #1: High GMAT score guarantees acceptance

This is as wrong as it gets. Even a perfect GMAT score does not guarantee admission to any school. It will increase your admission chances for sure, and perhaps it can compensate for a sub-par GPA or insufficient post-graduate work experience, but it’s not a free pass.

Myth #2: Low GMAT score guarantees rejection

A score as low as 200 probably would disqualify you, but if you take the GMAT seriously, prepare for the test, and then score that low, would you still consider going to business school? Why torture yourself?

Let’s take a look at a situation if your score is lower than the school’s average, though. Suppose you are serious about applying to INSEAD, and the first thing you want to know is whether your GMAT score is good enough. A three-minute Google search produces two interesting tables of INSEAD data:

GMAT Score Percentile Distribution (applicant pool)
10th percentile 640
25th percentile 670
50th percentile (median) 700
75th percentile 720
90th percentile 740
Average GMAT Score 692


GMAT Score Percentile Distribution (incoming class)
10th percentile 660
25th percentile 680
50th percentile (median) 710
75th percentile 730
90th percentile 750
Average GMAT Score 704

(Remember that percentile indicates how many results were worse than yours were, so 90th percentile means that your score was better than that of 90 percent of applicants.)

These tables demonstrate two points.

First, even though the average score of those admitted was 704 points, 25 percent scored below 680 and half scored below 710. So, if your score is within 40 points of the school’s average, you could still be accepted. Instead of repeating your test preparation and retaking the GMAT, you could focus on strengthening other parts of your application and still have a solid chance to be admitted.

The second point is probably even more important, though not as intuitively obvious. Twenty-five percent of applicants scored below 670, and 25 percent of those admitted scored below 680; half the applicants and nearly half of those admitted had scored below 700. This means that GMAT score alone was not the deciding factor. If it were, then all those applicants with higher scores would have been admitted. These tables show that high GMAT scores may confer a competitive advantage, but applicants scoring somewhat below their peers’ average have almost an equal chance for admission.

You can see, therefore, that while GMAT score is extremely important, it is not decisive. If your GMAT score is 50 or more points below your school’s average, your chances are probably slim, and you should either retake the test or consider less selective schools. On the other hand, having an above average GMAT score doesn’t mean the rest of your application package is less important. If your GMAT score is within 40 points of your business school’s average, however, and the rest of your application is stellar, you stand a good chance of being accepted.

Good luck!

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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

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