Finding the right graduate schools, writing seemingly endless essays, and filling out more questionnaires than you want to think about — these are all part of the b-school application process. Before you tackle any of those things, however, you must first contend with a standardized test.
Prospective doctors have to take the MCAT; those with dreams of practicing law suffer through the LSAT; MBA students have the GMAT; and all other graduate school candidates have to sit through the GRE. Right?
Actually, an increasing number of MBA programs accept both the GMAT and the GRE; so, which one should you take?
What’s the Difference? The GMAT vs. the GRE
The GMAT is more expensive than the GRE and is used almost exclusively in the business school admission process, while the GRE can be used to apply to business school as well as other graduate programs. The GMAT is longer than the GRE by about 20 minutes and currently costs $250, compared to $195 for the GRE.
Students can repeat either exam as often as they choose, and both GRE and GMAT scores are valid for five years. Some business schools will accept a student’s highest overall score from either test, while others allow applicants to submit their highest scores from multiple test sittings. Note that school policies vary, so check the website of each program to which you’re applying.
Typically, liberal arts students have an easier time with the GRE than the GMAT. For a comprehensive comparison between the two, read Noodle’s in-depth look, "GRE vs. GMAT: The Showdown." In a nutshell, the GMAT uses word problems and logic to assess test-takers’ understanding of math concepts. The GMAT verbal portion tests students’ knowledge and use of grammar rules and includes only one essay.
The GRE, on the other hand, has two essays and a lot of challenging vocabulary. Students need to be able to calculate quickly for the math portion of the GRE, though the concepts tested are comparable to those on the GMAT. That said, the GRE is generally acknowledged to be an easier test than the GMAT, particularly for native English speakers with strong vocabulary skills or if math is not your strong suit.
Because business schools have only recently begun to consider the GRE, standard acceptance scores aren’t as well established as for the GMAT. For this reason, Educational Testing Service (ETS), the creator of the GRE and the SAT, offers institutions a comparison tool to benchmark students’ GRE scores against the GMAT.
Does It Really Matter? What B-Schools Say
In October 2014, Kaplan released survey results indicating that 78 percent of MBA programs view the two tests as comparable. Students, however, are slow to stray from the GMAT; Kaplan reported that only one in 10 (or fewer) applicants opted for the GRE when applying to b-school.
ETS pitches the GRE to business schools as a way to attract a more varied pool of students. Christine Betaneli, the head of public relations at ETS, says that the two tests are generally held in the same regard by business schools. “At ETS, we know anecdotally that business schools find great value in accepting GRE scores, as it helps them attract a larger and more diverse applicant pool for their MBA programs,” Betaneli said.
“We've also gotten great feedback from business schools that say they are pleased to see the number of applicants with GRE scores rise with each admissions cycle,” Betaneli said. She added that some schools saw up to 30 percent of their applicants submitting a GRE score in lieu of the traditional GMAT.
The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the creator of the GMAT, has an established reputation that has become synonymous with the MBA. The test’s 60th anniversary took place in 2014, and business schools have had a long, reliable history with the exam. Moreover, many b-school applicants consider the GMAT to be a rite of passage on their path to attaining an MBA.
While 85 percent of MBA programs accepted GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT in 2014 (an increase of 24 percent since 2009), it’s important to understand that some schools — such as UCLA’s Anderson School of Management — express a firm preference for the GMAT over the GRE. Others make clear that the trend is shifting toward a level playing field for both exams. To quote Harvard Business School’s website FAQ section: "We promise you, we are really neutral on the two tests, so please take one that works best for you."
What’s Better for You? Weighing Your Options
The GMAT is a test designed for business school, just as the LSAT is a test specifically for law school. If you know without a doubt that you have no interest in going to graduate school in any field other than business, then the GMAT may be a good bet for you. While the GRE is widely recognized, the GMAT is the only test that is universally accepted by all business schools.
Taking the GRE is a sensible option for students who are applying to a variety of programs, to dual-degree programs, or who are certain that their GRE scores will significantly top their GMAT scores. To learn more about how well each test aligns with your core strengths, read this article for a breakdown.
When deciding which test you should take, consider the following questions:
- Which graduate programs do I plan to apply to?
- Do the b-schools on my list have a preference for the GMAT or the GRE, or are they neutral?
- Do I intend to apply to business and other graduate programs, or only MBA programs?
- Which test better aligns with my skills?
While the number of MBA programs that actively accept both tests is quite high, applicants should consider each of the four factors above and make a balanced decision after weighing all of them.
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Betaneli, Christine, Senior Director, Public Relations at Educational Testing Service. Email interview February 5, 2015.
GMAT vs. GRE. (2014, January 1). Retrieved February 5, 2015, from The Princeton Review.
Harvard Business School FAQ. (2015, January 1). Retrieved February 5, 2015, from Harvard Business School.
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