Despite emerging in the late 1940s, the Graduate Record Exam—more affectionately known as the GRE—took time to be seen as a viable MBA admissions exam alternative to the more standardized GMAT. But growing numbers of business schools accepting the optional test has eased the way for more non-traditional MBA students to apply by simply taking the same test they might use to apply for any number of other master’s degree programs.
Just seven years ago, test preparation education company Kaplan Inc. found that only 24 percent of business schools accepted the GRE instead of the GMAT. Today, that figure has soared to 92 percent, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2016 Business School Admissions Officers Survey.
The differences between the GMAT and GRE tests themselves, as many have experienced, can be striking. Both are computer-based examinations, but many similarities stop there. The GMAT was designed for applicants with more traditional business, finance and banking experience. The GRE is usually taken by applicants gearing toward other varieties of graduate programs. As a result, the backgrounds of those taking the exam is often completely different.
According to The Economist, each test highlights a specific strength. “The GMAT is considered tougher in the math department due to its data sufficiency questions, while the GRE Verbal section’s emphasis on vocabulary can make it tougher for non-native speakers and those who don’t regularly read complex literature.”
The uptick in business schools accepting the GRE has to do in part with the alternative backgrounds of applicants who have historically taken one test over the other. More and more, schools have made a concerted effort to diversify their application pools, looking to admit qualified female and under-represented minority students as well as students with engineering or computer science experience, for example.
Looking exclusively at applicants with business-centric backgrounds may force schools to overlook transcendent talent. Brian Carlidge, Kaplan Test Prep executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs, notes that the importance of diversified backgrounds has become more crucial as the economy evolves.
“One reason acceptance of the GRE continues to grow,” Carlidge said in a statement, “seems to be because it generally broadens the application pool to include prospective students who might bring a different set of experiences and skills to business school and the business world, which is important as the economy continues to diversify. It’s also possible that business schools that don’t offer the GRE option may lose excellent prospective students to schools that do.”
The expanded acceptance of GRE scores, however, has not completely changed the pool of talent applying for MBA programs yet. The aforementioned 2016 Kaplan survey found that business school enrollment for female, minority and low-income applicants still hovers at or below 25 percent.
There is also a slight persistent bias in favor of GMAT scores, the survey found. Around 26 percent of admissions officers at the 224 surveyed schools reported that applicants who take the GMAT do have a slight advantage over those who submit only GRE scores. But an overwhelming 73 percent report that both tests are equally suitable for admission.
Despite increasing numbers of schools stating publicly that they are happy to receive either GRE or GMAT scores, applicants have been slow to embrace the GRE option. Clear Admit’s own LiveWire data reveals that fewer than 10 percent of applicants who share scores on the site submit GRE scores instead of GMAT scores.
“We continue to stress to students to understand that some schools are still reluctant to give both tests equal cachet, even though they accept both exams,” Carlidge acknowledged. “Our advice is to gather intel and ask admissions officers if their program has preference for one exam over the other.”
The Kaplan Test Prep’s 2016 Business School Admissions Officers Survey was conducted between August and October 2016.