How to decide whether to apply for a GMAT/GRE test waiver

The pandemic and test centers closures of 2020 prompted many MBA programs to find ways to accommodate MBA candidates who couldn’t get access to take the GRE and GMAT tests. This year, despite both tests now being available online, some schools are maintaining their test waiver options. Understanding who is a good candidate for a test waiver and how the test waivers work is critical before you consider one. In this article, MBAGRADSCHOOLS residence admissions consultant and founder of My MBA Path Petia Whitmore spoke with two admissions directors from schools with comprehensive test waiver policies – Dawna Clark, Executive Director of Admissions of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and Diana Economy, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions at the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

In short

The need for a comprehensive test waiter policy

“The inception of having more flexibility around tests and the test waivers was an acknowledgment that we are ultimately looking for high-impact leaders,” says Dawna. (0:09) “Not all stellar applicants are stellar standardized test-takers.” Moreover, “In this day and age, there are multiple ways in which an applicant can demonstrate academic readiness for Darden,” Dawna points out. (1:10)

Darden School of Business has been looking into a more holistic approach of academic assessment for a while. The admissions team did some analyses with the enterprise analytics team to determine what predicts success in the first year of the MBA program. While the teams are still in the process of learning, they made insightful discoveries such as the interview having a high correlation with academic success. “The undergraduate GPA had a higher correlation than the GMAT and the GRE,” says Donna. (2:01) “The GMAT and GRE, of course, do have a correlation but what we are learning is there are what we call ‘alternative pieces of evidence.’” (2:08

Who should apply for a waiver?

Dawna suggests that you should only apply for a waiver “if you have tangible alternative evidence that you can do well academically at Darden.” (3:23) Darden lists a CPA or CFA as examples but also an array of other certifications or courses candidates can take at Darden or other schools. Dawna points out that she is personally “a big fan of the HBS Online CORe.”  (4:00) And of course your GPA – either from your undergraduate degree or from a previous master’s degree, given that about 10% of the Darden full-time MBA class is comprised of students who have completed a master’s degree already – could serve as such evidence. 

“This policy is relatively new and the first class that came under this policy just finished their first year so we will look at the correlations even more closely now,” Dawna explains. (5:08)

Are there any negative implications of a test waiver?

“If you are granted a waiver, then we feel comfortable in terms of the academic portion of your application,” Dawna explains. (7:33) “And if you are not granted a waiver, that is in no way indicative that you are not going to get admitted,” she reassures candidates. (7:47)

How is the Stephen M. Ross School of Business approaching the test waivers this year?

In determining their waiver policy, the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business took a very student-centric approach. As Diana Economy, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions, shares, “We heard from many candidates over the past year about some of the struggles they’ve been having, taking the test and with life in general, and we already know that the admissions process can be very taxing. We adjusted our process mid-cycle last year in response to what we were hearing from candidates.” (8:33

The process this year is very similar to last year. Diana explains, “You apply for a waiver given a certain set of criteria that you will provide to us. That includes showing us your undergraduate track record, showing us your professional experience, other elements might be an expired GMAT or GRE tests, the Executive Assessment, maybe a CPA or CFA, or other credentials that could give us confidence of your likelihood to be successful in the classroom.” (9:51)

Ross is also interested in hearing your story about the situation that led to you applying for a waiver. Every candidate’s circumstances are different and the Ross admissions team is interested in knowing the context for each student. 

Who should use the test waiver option at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business?

According to Diana, “It depends. We know there are people in situations where their Wi-Fi is unstable and they can’t take a four-hour long exam or they don’t have an at-home work environment that is conducive to being able to take the test. So it will be based on your circumstances and whether or not a test waiver is warranted for you.” (10:52)

If a candidate is granted a waiver, will this impact their competitiveness?

“When the admissions committee reviews applications with waivers and without standardized scores, we review everything else we have. It is not a negative indicator,” says Diana. (11:32)

But she also points out that for candidates who are in a position to take the test, “It certainly can be additive to your candidacy and be one more data point that we will be able to evaluate. It can very well be the factor that helps us understand whether you can be admitted or not.” (12:19)

“Keep in mind that there is a difference between receiving a waiver and being admitted,” Diana advises. (12:37

Are candidates who get a waiver eligible for a scholarship?

Candidates who have applied with and been admitted with a test waiver are still eligible for scholarship. “We still want the best candidates to attend Michigan Ross so scholarship will still be considered,” Diana points out. (13:15)

She also offers some helpful statistics for the Ross MBA class enrolling this year: “About 15-20% of the class is coming on a waiver. This means that 80-85% of those who were admitted did take the test.“ (13:22)

The test waiver policies of schools will vary so make sure you check the official process published on each school’s website. 

In the last year, test waivers helped many candidates who otherwise would not have been able to fulfill their dream of applying to business school. Because of the waivers, many schools saw an increase in applications for graduate degrees but even more importantly – an increase in the diversity of strong candidates.  

But as you can see from the conversation with two leading schools, this opportunity should not be taken without having a comprehensive plan for demonstrating the indicators of academic ability schools continue to look for in each candidate they consider for admission. 

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