Executive Education

Do You Need to Take the GMAT to Pursue an Executive MBA?


The dreaded standardized test—a relic of our academic lives that we hope to leave behind once we enter the working world.

For managers considering whether or not to pursue an executive MBA, the mere thought of having to take the GMAT can be a deterrent from taking that next, potentially game-changing career step.

Why the GMAT seems unfair for EMBA admissions

For a seasoned, career veteran, there’s no test that can succinctly quantify all of the learned-on-the-job wisdom that’s been acquired over the years. From working under the pressure of an immoveable deadline to coming through for a boldface name client, the day-to-day skills an EMBA applicant might possess might be better expressed in essay form or in an interview.

The GMAT is most typically associated with admissions for MBA programs–according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, 24% of business school applicants were under the age of 24 in 2009. By 2010, some 40% of MBA program applicants had less than three years of work experience. For those younger applicants entering an MBA program where a GMAT score is required, scoring in a top percentile could help them shine where actual experience in the working world is lacking. Furthermore, younger applicants coming directly from college are better-primed for frequent testing and have more recently completed their studies in the type of mathematic and quantitative reasoning skills that the GMAT assesses.

Where use of the GMAT comes into debate is in assessing candidates for mid-career self-advancement through EMBA courses. If you’re a mid-career, senior leader in your company, your years of taking standardized tests may be far behind you and your skills in doing so may be long gone rusty. With a mindset more suited to solving the real world tests a corporate leader encounters daily on the job, you might find that the GMAT fails to capture your most valued skills and abilities. In fact, you may fear that a low GMAT score could hurt your EMBA admissions chances.

The question of whether or not to require more seasoned EMBA applicants to take the GMAT comes down to the individual philosophy of each school. After all, deciding what emphasis to place on the various qualities that make a great business leader is somewhat subjective: are analytical skills more important than an innovative mindset and an ability to creatively think outside the box? Many schools now do say that they tend to weight the value of an EMBA applicant’s work experience more heavily than the GMAT—whereas the same consideration is not generally used for MBA applicants.

Who doesn’t require it

Of the top EMBA programs (as ranked in 2015 by US News and World Report), four out of five require the GMAT. Here’s the breakdown:

#1. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

  • GMAT score required unless applicant has a waiver. Waivers are only granted to “very senior level managers, usually with twelve or more years of management experience.” The admissions home page lists several C-Suite positions as examples that could merit a GMAT waiver.

#2. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

  • GMAT score required. The admissions home page explains that while there is no formula to weight the individual sections of the application, GMAT scores are an important tool used to “evaluate scholarship.” The site goes on to say: “If you have been out of school for several years, or you do not feel that you have a strong quantitative background from your academic or professional experience, we recommend that you take advantage of GMAT preparation resources and allow enough time to take the test more than once…If you’re disappointed with your test results and believe you can do better with additional preparation, we encourage you to retake the test. We also encourage you tocall us to discuss your scores.”
  • Upside: Wharton allows applicants to retake the GMAT as many times as they feel necessary and will consider test scores up to five years old. Also, the admissions officers will only take the highest score into account.

#3. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

  • GMAT not required
  • Kellogg’s admissions website says that the admissions council takes into account work experience above all other metrics.
  • EMBA applicants must have at least eight to 10 years of work experience.

#4. The Fuqua School of Business at Duke

  • GMAT or GRE accepted
  • The admissions website does not give an average score for acceptance and allows applicants to retake the test multiple times. If an applicant does take the GMAT multiple times, he or she must indicate which score the admissions council should consider.

#5. Columbia Business School

  • GMAT required
  • The admissions council will consider only the top score submitted and will not create a composite score from multiple tests.

Bottom Line: Fair or unfair, most of the top business schools offering EMBA programs still want to see a GMAT score. If you’ve taken the test up to five years ago, you’re in luck as most universities will still honor that score. If not, most of the top schools say that they take the whole picture into account when assessing an applicant’s merit—so perhaps a somewhat lacking GMAT score can still be overlooked with stellar job performance to fill in the gaps.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.