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Should You Be Taking the GRE Instead of the GMAT?

The GRE is enjoying a surge of popularity among prospective MBAs, with about 10% of applicants choosing that test over the more traditional GMAT in the 2012-2013 application year. The most remarkable numbers come from institutions like the Yale School of Management, where GRE test-takers made up 21% of the 2013 application pool, or Notre Dame’s Mendoza School, which reported 25%. For a more complete school-by-school breakdown, see Poets & Quants.


The GRE has several advantages that are increasingly drawing MBA applicants. As the standard test for most graduate programs, the GRE provides more flexibility to candidates who are wavering between an MBA degree and other grad programs. It is also a bit more flexible with its score options. Applicants who take the GRE multiple times can use their ScoreSelect option to submit their best set of scores, not just the most recent. (Do note, though, that all submitted scores must be from the same test day) Finally, major ranking systems use GMAT scores to rank top MBA programs. These rankings are highly coveted, so admissions officials might be more likely to overlook a lower GRE score than a lower GMAT score. New admissions data supports this hypothesis. Poets & Quants used a comparative tool to equate scores from both tests, and reports, “The gap between the predicted GMAT score of admits from GRE exams and average GMATs can be 100 or more points wider at many prominent schools.”

These decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, but in general, there are a few scenarios where I would advise students to strongly consider taking the GRE over the GMAT.


  • You are unsure if you want to pursue an MBA or another graduate degree. It is perfectly okay to still be deciding, and taking the GRE will give you more flexibility and free you from studying for two very intensive tests. You will likely be better off concentrating all of your effort on obtaining stellar GRE scores that will serve you well whichever program you choose.
  • You have a strong transcript but mediocre GMAT scores. It is tempting to take the GRE simply because the data suggests that schools will accept a lower comparative score. However, I would only advise doing this if you have a strong transcript that proves your competency in core MBA subjects. In that case, if you have not done as well on the GMAT, higher GRE scores could improve your chances.

Similarly, there are a few scenarios where I would suggest that applicants stick to the traditional GMAT option.

  • Your transcript is less-than-average in key areas. If you are lacking stellar grades, especially in quantitative subjects, you need to focus on acing the GMAT, as the more traditional quantitative MBA test. Otherwise, admissions officials will question your ability to handle rigorous MBA coursework.
  • You come from a very traditional MBA background and are clearly targeting an MBA. Admissions officials are less likely to question non-traditional applicants who take the GRE. However, if an applicant with a typical MBA background (business studies, blue-chip firm, etc.) takes the GRE, they might wonder why you did not go the more traditional route.

If you would like to discuss which test is best for your particular qualifications, I would be happy to talk with you. Feel free to drop me a line at

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