Friday, June 15, 2012

Should I retake the GMAT?

"Should I retake the GMAT" is a common question we receive around this time of year. Usually it's the case that somebody got a decent GMAT score after extensive (and exhaustive) studying - has the time to retake it - but is really hoping to hear that it's not necessary so he can focus on the essays and the actual applications.

The median GMAT at a top business school is a 720-730, and from my experience, successful military applicants average around the same GMAT score as everyone else. Scoring a 720-730 is therefore merely average for a successful military applicant. To be clear, if you got a 720-730, I don't recommend you retake it unless you think you can do a lot better somehow, but if you are well below the average and choose to only take it once, you are basically choosing to leave a vulnerability in your application.

There are always stories of people getting in with low GMAT scores, but for every one of those there are probably a hundred rejections. Furthermore, if you take the GMAT three times and get a sub-par score as your best score and apply R2, that might be perceived differently than somebody who got that same score after taking it once and applying R1. Schools do get to see your entire GMAT history, and may give you less benefit of the doubt if they see you had plenty of time to improve your score but didn't bother.

Other factors to consider:

Quant Score. Not all GMAT scores are the same, and you can get a 700 or 710 for example with a very low quant score. It may not be worth it to retake the GMAT if you get a well balanced 700-710, but if your quant score is low, and especially if you don't have strong undergrad quant grades, I would still recommend retaking the GMAT just to bring the quant score up. Successful military applicants to top MBA schools tend to be in the 80s quant percentile, though many get in with a score in the 70s percentile as well. It's just a matter of how much vulnerability and risk you are willing to leave on the table.

Undergraduate GPA. A higher undergraduate GPA (high 3s) will help mitigate a lower GMAT. If you have a low-ish GPA (3.3 or less), then it may be even more important for you to do well on the GMAT. Certainly a low GPA and a low GMAT is not a winning combination, and a higher than average GMAT score is always preferred to an average GMAT when trying to mitigate a lower GPA.

Time. It's better to apply in R2 if you can put together a stronger packet than R1, and that includes your GMAT score. Therefore, don't feel that you have to apply to R1 with whatever you got... work on the GMAT if you need to. I know how hard this is to do... the GMAT sucks and you just want to get on with the application. When I personally applied to HBS, my entire application (essays, recommendations, etc.) was completely uploaded and done... I just had to put in my GMAT score... and I took the test one day from the application deadline hoping to just drive home, put in my score, and hit the submit button. I unfortunately got a disappointing score, and as tempted as I was to hit the submit button and get it over with, I put in another 6 weeks of  intense GMAT prep and improved my score by 100 points. I then applied in R2 with essentially the same application, and I am fairly sure I would not have gotten in if I just applied R1 with my first score.

Just do your best. If this article is stressing you out - try to not to worry. Many people will not achieve an ultra high GMAT score and will still get in to the school of their choice. The most important thing is to make sure you have really done your best. Few people are lucky enough to have truly done their best on their first test. If you have, then great. If you have taken the test three times and am sure you are not going to improve, that is also fine. At the end of the day, if you are sure you have done the best you can do, then you have no room for regrets.

In summary. There is no universal answer as to whether you should take the GMAT again. It depends on how many times you have taken it already, what your quant score was, what your GPA is, your undergrad quant experience, undergrad institution, and how much time you have before applications are due. It may also depend on what else is going on in your life, such as getting married or deployments. There is no one right answer, but hopefully this article will help you weigh in on the decision a bit better.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Which officers are most likely to apply to HBS?

As a reader of this blog, you probably already know that I try to always facts, data, and statistics whenever possible to provide information. With the growth and success of our admissions consulting service, we are receiving applicant assessments on a daily basis now, and that can allow for some interesting insight. I went through the last 12 months of submissions and tracked the branches of service writing in to MilitaryToBusiness. Since the blog does not bias towards any one branch in particular, I interpret these numbers to generally reflect the level of interest in top MBA programs from among the services.

The following compares the percentage of inbound assessment inquiries we receive versus the size of the respective branch:

Definitions: "MtB Submissions" is the percentage of the applicant assessment inquiries we receive, and "Size of Force" is the proportional size of the active duty component.

What we see here is that the Army an the Navy, and to a lesser extent the Marine Corps, over-represent in their interest in pursuing top MBAs. In turn, this means the Air Force is significantly behind the other branches of service in MBA interest. This is very much consistent with the fact that Air Force personnel are significantly under-represented at top business schools. I believe this is largely because of the extended contracts that many Air Force officers are constrained to, which means they are both older (and hence out of the MBA sweet spot), and also more experienced and perhaps less likely to want to go back to graduate school - or perhaps are more likely to pursue other careers.

The above data is pretty compelling, but I think we can do even better. Since over 95% of applicants are officers, comparing the size of the overall force is not actually as revealing as comparing the size of the officer corps in each branch of service, since that is the predominant potential applicant pool:

When comparing just the officer population of each branch, we see an even more skewed result away from the Air Force. This is because while the Air Force represents approximately 23% of the active duty US military, it represents 28% of the overall active duty military officer population. Similarly, while the Marine Corps represents approximately 14% of the active duty military, it represents only 9% of the active duty officers.

Putting this all together, and comparing the percentage of MtB Assessment Submissions to the percentage of the officer corps, reveals the following:

We see that a Marine Corps officer is 1.66x more likely to be interested in a top MBA than the overall armed forces officer population, followed by the Navy at 1.26x, the Army at 1.08x, and an Air Force officer is about half as likely to pursue this path. Also, please remember that these numbers compare a branch of service versus the average statistical armed forces officer... for example, there is still nearly 2.8x as many Army officers writing in to MtB than there are Marine Corps officers, but there are actually 4.4x as many Army officers out there overall as Marine Corps officers.

All this is assuming three things:

1) MilitaryToBusiness blog is read proportionally among the different branches.
2) MilitaryToBusiness submissions have been sufficient in number to be statistically significant.
3) Submissions to MilitaryToBusiness actually represents overall interest in top MBA programs.

Since this data spans over 12 months, with a high number of inquiries, I have no reason to not believe the that the first two assumptions are true, and the third one seems intuitive. However, it is important to explicitly state the assumptions with the data.

If you want to help represent your own branch, you can submit an applicant assessment for yourself here.