How to Choose: GMAT versus GRE

With the GRE changing on August 1st, 2011, and an increasing number of business schools accepting the GRE for the application process, we thought it might be a good time to discuss the two to help people make a decision about which test to take.

There are a number of factors that should influence your decision about which test to take. Before we get into those, we’d recommend that your first order of business should always be to contact the admissions office(s) at the program(s) you’re interested in to gather information on how each test is weighted in the admissions process. At present, very little information is given about how the two tests stack up in the admissions process (for example, Columbia provides a link to the GRE Comparison Tool on their admissions website, while Darden at the University of Virginia simply says the GRE is accepted in lieu of the GMAT; neither school, it should be noted, gives any specific info on how the tests are weighted). Given this circumstance, any information you can gather from the programs you’re interested in would be beneficial in informing your decision on which test to take.

So, here are some considerations in deciding which test to take:

1) The Practical Facts – The GMAT is accepted by 4,800 programs at over 1,500 universities. Comparatively, the GRE is currently accepted by several hundred business schools. Chances are good that regardless of which schools you wish to apply to, they will accept the GMAT, meaning that if you go with the GMAT you only need one test. The same, at present, can’t be said for the GRE. Consequently, if you plan to apply to multiple universities, your GMAT scores can be submitted to all of them.

To underscore this point, take a look at the following table, which lists the top-40 business schools according to US News & World Report (2011) and whether each accepts the GMAT, GRE, or both. Several schools on the list currently do not accept the GRE, which means if you’re interested in applying to any of those, you’ll need the GMAT. Also included in the chart are direct links to schools’ respective admissions pages. Simply click on the school name to go to the admissions page.

Rank University Name (Program/School)
#1 Stanford University Both
#2 Harvard University Both
#3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Both
#4 University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Both
#5 Northwestern University (Kellogg) GMAT
#6 University of Chicago (Booth) Both
#7 Dartmouth College (Tuck) Both
#8 University of California–Berkeley (Haas) Both
#9 Columbia University Both
#10 New York University (Stern) Both
#11 Yale University Both
#12 Duke University (Fuqua) Both
#13 University of Virginia (Darden) Both
#14 University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) GMAT
#15 University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) Both
#16 Cornell University (Johnson) Both
#17 University of Texas–Austin (McCombs) Both
#18 Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) Both
#19 University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) Both
#20 Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) Both
#21 University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Carlson) GMAT
#22 University of Southern California (Marshall) GMAT
#23 Emory University (Goizueta) GMAT
#24 Indiana University–Bloomington (Kelley) GMAT
#25 Georgetown University (McDonough) GMAT
#26 Ohio State University (Fisher) Both
#27 Arizona State University (Carey) Both
#28 Georgia Institute of Technology GMAT
#29 University of California–Davis GMAT
#30 University of Wisconsin–Madison GMAT
#31 Vanderbilt University (Owen) GMAT
#32 Brigham Young University (Marriott) GMAT
#33 Texas A&M University–College Station (Mays) Both
#34 Boston College (Carroll) Both
#35 Boston University GMAT
#36 Rice University (Jones) GMAT
#37 University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign Both
#38 University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) Both
#39 University of Washington (Foster) GMAT
#40 Pennsylvania State University–University Park (Smeal) Both

2) Available Information – Most business schools normally publish the GMAT score ranges and averages for recent incoming classes. However, similar information, at present, is not readily available for the GRE. Knowing what accepted candidates at your choice schools scored is a great barometer for determining what you need to have a reasonable shot at getting accepted. This knowledge allows you to focus on the score you need for a solid chance at admission and to better plan your preparation. Knowledge, as always, is power, and taking the GMAT allows you to work from a place of more knowledge. Below are the published GMAT score ranges for a number of schools around the country:

School GMAT Range GMAT Average
Stanford University 700 – 750 728
Harvard University 550 – 790 724
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 660 – 760 718
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 540 – 790 718
Northwestern University (Kellogg) 650-760 714
University of Chicago (Booth) 690 – 740 715
Dartmouth College (Tuck) 660 – 760 716
University of California–Berkeley (Haas) 700 – 740 718
Columbia University 690 – 730 712
New York University (Stern) 700 – 740 715
Yale University 722
Duke University (Fuqua) 640 – 750 697
University of Virginia (Darden) 640 – 750 699
University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) 680 – 750 710
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) 680 – 730 704
Cornell University (Johnson) 660 – 720 687
University of Texas–Austin (McCombs) 660 – 710 684
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) 670 – 730 694
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) 650 – 720 686
Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) 660 – 720 695
Syracuse University 580 – 650 635
Georgia State 570 – 640 600

3) Perceptions of Difficulty – For years one of the principal knocks on the GRE was its perceived ease. People routinely score 800 on the Quant, while both the Quant and Verbal Reasoning sections were significantly shorter than those of the GMAT. Whether the GRE is an “easier” test is largely irrelevant. What matters is the perception, and the most recent perception of the test is that it is easier and less grueling than the GMAT. Consider the ramifications for this if you’re thinking of taking the GRE. What will an admissions officer or committee think when they have two equally qualified candidates but one took the GMAT and one took the GRE if for years the GRE was seen as easier? It remains to be seen how the changes to the GRE will affect those perceptions, but it’s likely that some time will have to pass until people get a better understanding of the GRE and its difficulty.

4) Personal Best Performance – Regardless of all other considerations for which test to take, you always want to put your best foot forward. While the GMAT and GRE do test many of the same concepts and topics, they also differ in a number of ways (click here to see differences between the two). Consequently, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that a person could score significantly better on one than the other. If you’ve demonstrated a better ability with one test or the other, you’ll seriously want to consider submitting your scores from that test. Keep in mind that both tests can be prepared for, however, and scores on both tests can be improved through practice and instruction.

So what’s it all mean? Well, at the end of the day you’ll have to make a decision about which test will give you the best shot. In most cases schools want one or the other, not both, and often they leave the choice to you. Consider how you’ve done on each (or how you’d do), what your choice schools ask for, and give it a go. Regardless of which test you choose, keep in mind you can always improve with time, effort, and instruction. Whichever test you choose, make sure you’re submitting the best score you can achieve.

Good luck!


If you’re planning to take the GMAT or GRE in the next 2 to 6 months, let Bell Curves help you maximize your score with our comprehensive curriculum, sophisticated methodologies, and unlimited support. We’ve got a prep plan to fit your needs. Visit us here for more information.

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  • LeTica F-T

    This topic really needs to be understood more so this is a great article. It does seem that the author doesn’t like the GRE as much as the GMAT so I have to wonder if the GRE was given a fair shake here. There must be some positives. Why are schools taking the GRE now? won’t they consider your background when looking at which exam you took? Do the schools have a way to “equalize” scores since a 700 GMAT is probably very different from a 700 GRE? Even if the perception of ease is accurate these are still businesses and if the barriers of entry are too high they lose $. GRE acceptance = revenue generating strategy.

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