Generally, we think of the GMAT as an evaluation of our own qualities, a measure of our readiness for business school. However, the exam works just as well as an evalution of business schools – a report card on their efforts to be the best school they can be.
A recent analysis by Poets and Quants argues that trends in the average GMAT score of a program’s admitted students reveal the health of the program. A consistent increase in the average scores of a program signifies a successful attempt on the school’s part to attract the best MBA candidates while a decrease indicates the opposite and is possibly symptomatic of administrative apathy.
In the analysis, the average GMAT score of admitted students at the top 50 U.S. business schools were aggregated over a five year span in order to uncover trends. Score trends are not always apparent at first: An increase one year often accompanies stagnation or a decrease the following year. However, over a five year period trends begin to show themselves, and inferences can be drawn about the program’s health and direction.
The report, which is detailed in an article here, showed that in general, the top ranked programs continue to push themselves to attract the top candidates. Since 2009 the average score at Harvard Business School has risen 8 points. This paralleled increases at Harvard’s peer schools, with increases of 6, 9 and 7 points at Stanford, Chicago Booth and U Penn Wharton respectively. Out of the top-10 U.S. business schools, Booth’s rise of 9 points was the greatest, taking its average score from 714 in 2009 to 723 in 2013. The highest average score belongs to Stanford at 732. This represented an increase from an average of 726 in 2009.
The only top-10 school to report a decrease in its average score was the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, which fell 4 points over the five years. As explained by the article, the decrease is not surprising given the recent economic crunch experienced by UC schools as California has had to cut back on education funding. This likely caused the similar drop in scores at UCLA’s Anderson School, which went from 711 to 706.
However, the scores for both these schools have remained stable over the past few years after experiencing a significant drop between 2010 and 2011. Perhaps the schools have made strides to counteract the strain caused by the economic situation or their reputation has helped buoy the scores despite decreased funding.
The numbers hold less optimism for other schools. The Foster School of Business at the University of Washington shows the greatest decline for top-25 ranked programs, and unlike the UC schools, the decline has been more consistent. Between 2011 and 2010 the average score dropped 6 points and between 2011 and 2012 the score dropped another 5 points to stay at 670. For top-25 schools, Yale and Cornell also show a decline in scores, a 1 and 9 point loss respectively, though the ramifications of these declines are more debatable (In Yale’s case, how significant is a one-point decrease? and in Cornell’s case, average scores have oscillated widely over the five years).
Below the top score increases and decreases for top-25 schools have been summarized in tables.
Poets and Quants’ analysis contends that a decline in GMAT scores reveals a slump in a school’s commitment to its business program, stating that such programs are often “milking the cow” and using business school revenues to fund other university programs. While it’s difficult to make a conclusive link between score trends and the quality of education offered at an institution, a decrease in scores can indicate wavering in the will or means to compete for the best students.
It’s difficult to say how such trends affect students’ experiences or career prospects at these schools. Just because Cornell’s average score has fallen, does that mean the quality of its faculty or curriculum has also declined? While you should be wary of overextending the implication of these trends, they may show the direction these schools are heading, and you should consider whether that direction is something you want to become a part of.