We reported a few months ago on the relationship between the average GMAT score of a business school’s incoming class and the overall health of that school’s MBA program.
Consistent change over time in average scores gives a candid view of a program’s commitment to improvement.
Schools either invest in the quality of the students they attract and the opportunities they offer or let talented students slip away to other schools because of stymied funding, focus or commitment to their MBA program. Trends in average GMAT scores are a vital sign of the direction in which a school is moving, and for some schools, the future looks brighter than ever.
Before we discuss the specific schools investing the most in improving their MBA programs, let’s take a step back to understand why average GMAT scores are a useful metric to assess a program’s direction.
If you’ve done your research for applying to business school, you know that GMAT averages aren’t particularly useful for predicting admission chances. The GMAT scores of admitted students rarely match that school’s average score. Instead, the actual scores of admitted students fall within a range, and such ranges (like the 80 percent range) provide a better indication of what kind of score it takes to get accepted.
Average GMAT scores, however, do give an idea of the caliber of student a school attracts, and when the average score at a school increases year after year, it shows that higher caliber applicants are choosing that school over others – possibly other schools that have a better rank or more famous name.
This type of student selectivity isn’t random; it’s the outcome of a dedicated effort on the school’s part to attract top applicants. Often, generous scholarships and engaging curricular and extracurricular opportunities lead students to choose an up-and-coming program over one that’s more established.
In the last few years, three schools have been building excellent programs capable of competing with long-established names. Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and Michigan State’s Eli Broad College of Business have all engineered a dramatic change in their admitted classes.
The table below displays the increase in average GMAT scores for each school’s incoming class between 2008 and 2013 as well as the school’s current rank according to U.S. News.
|School||Change in Avg. GMAT||2013 Avg. GMAT||2008 Avg. GMAT||Ranking for 2015|
|Illinois - Urbana-Champaign||+27||661||634||35|
|Michigan State (Broad)||+15||655||640||35|
Most notable is Vanderbilt’s jump of 35 points between the class of 2008 and the class of 2013. Fueling this rise has been a substantial increase in the amount of scholarships awarded to applicants. In a single year, the average scholarship has grown from $17,662 to $25,402. According to school figures, over 70 percent of students have some form of scholarship.
Likely bolstering Owen’s increased popularity among high scoring GMAT applicants is its growing reputation as a premiere program for healthcare management. Similarly, Illinois Urbana Champaign and Michigan State’s MBA programs have attracted students due to curriculum specialties distinct to each program.
In addition to the traditional business disciplines such as finance and marketing, the MBA program at Illinois Urbana Champaign allows students to mix their business interests with other career fields. Joint business degrees are offered with architecture, engineering, social work and many other professional degrees. The MBA curriculum balances classroom discussions and case studies with real-world projects and core classes with a variety of electives.
Michigan’s Eli Broad College offers a special emphasis on leadership and teamwork. Classes are small and focus on team projects and heavy collaboration with faculty while the curriculum seeks to instill the interpersonal skills needed for effective leadership.
For each of these schools, the carving out of a unqiue identity and emphasis has combinded with funding and adminstrative focus to grab top business school applicants.
Deciding which school to attend must take into account many factors, many of which, besides whether you’re admitted, are personal. A program must not only be a good match for helping you achieve your career goals but must also match the type of person you are – a school’s personality and environment should motivate you. These considerations cut across any debate between choosing a big name school or lesser known but up-and-coming school.
While rising schools may not have the power of famous name, they can have some advantages, not the least of which are increased opportunities for scholarships and specialties like the ones described above. Rising schools can also be more open to student involvement and direction. Since they’re dedicated to making their schools more attractive to high-achieving applicants, student feedback and ideas are welcomed by the administration, which can help foster a richer, happier campus environment.
Regardless of which school you wish to attend or plan on applying to, do your research and scrutinize schools as much as they’ll scrutinize your application. Make sure the adminstration is dedicated to making their program the best at what it does.