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My Target School Just Made Standardized Testing Optional – Is this my chance to apply?

September 26, 2020

Disruptions in standardized testing due to COVID during the recent Round 3 application cycle caused some schools like Columbia and Kellogg to waive standardized testing requirements, and MIT Sloan recently made standardized testing optional for this upcoming application year.

So, does that mean you should apply?

Before assessing the impact on you, first remember that the pool of applicants for top-20 MBA programs is exceptionally competitive each year. Columbia and Kellogg both noted significant increases in applications after they waived/deferred standardized testing requirements. We would expect the same for any other school that makes that decision. While there are school and COVID-related factors in those numbers, many applicants we talk to see a green light to apply if standardized testing requirements are relaxed.

The bottom line: relaxed testing requirements often leads to far more competition at top schools

Consider your candidacy as a whole. Typically, schools who relax standardized testing requirements won’t hold the lack of test scores against a candidate. That simply means they won’t think worse of you if you don’t submit a score. However, it doesn’t mean they will think better of you. If you’re applying with a 3.9 GPA from a top college, have a quantitative/analytical degree, and/or have a strong track record of performance at work in a quantitative/analytical field, then their impression of you may be strong enough to gain admission. However, if you have an average GPA, the lack of standardized testing may limit your differentiation from the majority of candidates each year who don’t get offered admission. Ditto for a lack of recent, easy-to-calibrate, work experience. 

If considering whether to apply to a school with relaxed standardized testing that you ordinarily wouldn’t have, consider the following:

  1. Is there enough about your application that differentiates you? Are you in a unique career where you will stand out fully from other applicants? If so, not submitting a test score might be fine. Otherwise, we would strongly suggest targeting schools that are consistent with your test scores.
  2. What is driving your lack of standardized testing? If it’s not available in your jurisdiction, then that can be a reason to go ahead. If you have taken the test a few times and underperformed, then you may have test anxiety that could be explained and worked through. If, however, you view the lack of a test as a shortcut towards applying, we strongly suggest taking it unless you have a 3.8 GPA or higher from a top-ranked college.
  3. Do you have other strong evidence that you can handle the academic rigor? Have you taken pre-MBA math classes with strong grades? Do you have another advanced degree in a technical discipline (i.e. MSc) or some other academic certifications that signal your ability to succeed during your MBA studies?
  4. What other schools are you applying to? If you are “stretching” into a program that has waived their standardized test scores, consider other schools in your portfolio of choices.