What Does Top 10 MBA Mean?

Top 10 Business Schools

How many times have you heard someone say that they’re looking to get an MBA from a top 10 program? In fact, I’m sure at least half of you who read this are guilty of the thought (and the thought of getting into a “top 10” MBA program is probably what drives you to get an elite GMAT score), but what exactly does “top 10 MBA program” mean?

Sure, there are some schools that leap into your mind immediately when you think of “top 10 MBA programs”… business schools like Harvard, Wharton, Booth and Stanford… but how about the other schools that would round out the top 10? I’m sure that for each person that you ask, they’ll have a different set of 10. Whatever top 10 a person comes up is usually based off the rankings list of Businessweek or U.S. News and World Report but the fact is the rankings from Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Businessweek, and US News and World Report will all be different meaning that there’s no real consensus on  “top 10”, which also means that you may want to broaden your willingness to apply to other business schools based off of other criteria other than a “top 10” list.

Don’t believe me?  If you look at the listings from 2012, you’ll notic that Columbia is listed as #12 in Businessweek but according to Forbes is listed as #5. Dartmouth ranges anywhere from #2 (Economist) to #14 (Businessweek). We sometimes forget that the ranking systems is somewhat arbitrary which is why each business school and its MBA program is ranked differently, according to the group that’s giving out the rankings, meaning that rankings in general should be taken with a grain of salt. (Only Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and Booth are among consensus among all these various publications for being top 10).

While having an idea of rankings is great, sometimes applicants take them a bit too seriously, even though as we just showed, there is some huge inconsistencies depending on which ranking system you choose to look at (all 5 of these systems are well respected and none is considered better than the other). So, if these publications can’t agree on the “top” schools, does it make sense for you, as an applicant, to be rigid with your definition of a “top” school?

If you’re really serious about maximizing your career prospects, I would encourage you to discard your obsession with the rankings, and take a good, hard look at a variety of MBA programs. Be open-minded with your research and don’t just base your decision on rankings… instead visit the various campuses, speak with people who have your dream job post-MBA to find out how important rankings really are… though if you’re still obsessed with prestige. check Poets and Quants, which does a composite from the five ranking programs.

Dealing With Disappointment With Your GMAT Score

How to deal with GMAT disappointment

As the great Winston Churchill one said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” A failure that many people looking to get an MBA deal with is what they consider to be disappointing GMAT score. Before discussing how to handle your disappointment, let’s first set the parameters for such a discussion.


We all know that person who is disappointed with their 780 score because they were hoping to hit an 800. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to attain perfection and so we shouldn’t diminish the disappointment that they’re feeling, but let’s face it, with a score like that, they have nothing to worry about when applying to business school, at least from the GMAT side of things and they’ll be the envy of almost every b-school applicant.

In that regard, if you’re a person who has gotten above a 700, then the best way to deal with your feelings of disappointment (if you are actually feeling that way) is to realize just how lucky you are to be in this elite region already. With a score above a 700, you’re already in at least the 90th percentile and at this point don’t have to worry about your GMAT score being the limiting factor of getting into the business school of your choice (see my post What is a Good GMAT Score for more info).

Those people who are reading this and score below a 700 have some analysis that they need to do in order to figure out if it’s worth retaking the GMAT so that you can get into the b-school of your choice, which means we’ll need to look at it from the perspective of the business school which wants to know “can this candidate handle the academic demands of our school?”.

A strong GPA is a factor that strongly weighs into this decision, as well as your work experience, letters of recommendation, and your essay. These are all things that a business school will look at to figure out whether you’re a candidate that they can envision being a future leader and therefore being a desirable candidate. Think about the time and effort you would need to spend to achieve a higher result on your GMAT and its cost in terms of other aspects of your application.

If you end up deciding that a better GMAT score will increase your chances of getting into the business school of your choice, then it’s time to figure out how to get to that goals. As Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

For your second pass at the GMAT, you may want to look at using additional materials as part of your overall study strategy. For example, you may want to consider using online prep material; 800score is considered one of the top in this regard as they are the largest online GMAT preparation website, giving clients hundreds of practice questions to work with, five CAT exams to use, and a load of other resources.

Aside from using a GMAT prep website, something else to consider is either taking a GMAT class, such as those that are offered by Kaplan or Veritas, or getting yourself a one-on-one tutor.

Finally, make sure that you get plenty of rest, not just the night before the exam, but during the entire studying process. Your brain’s ability to sore new information depends partially on you getting enough REM sleep.


What’s a Good GMAT Score?


According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the lovely company behind the GMAT,  the GMAT score percentiles correlates GMAT score with the percentile of everyone who takes the GMAT, which will give you an idea of the score you need to land to get into the business school of your choice. See below to see what scores show up on your report and what reports business schools will see.


  • Quantitative score (out of “51 questions” and percentile)
  • Verbal score (out of “51 questions” and percentile)
  • Your overall score (out of 800 and percentile)
  • Essay score (out of 6.0, increments of .5 and percentile and which is a minor blip on the report as long as you don’t bomb the essay)

So first off, you’ll notice that your score is based out of 51 “questions”, even though the verbal really only has 41 questions and the quantitative has only 37 questions.   The reason for this is that the raw score takes into account degrees of difficulty for the questions your answering as part of the computerized adaptive testing (CAT), where the computer adjusts its difficulty according to your performance on the test.

ImageIf you look at the results above, you’ll see that the GMAT is rewards those with a stronger performance in the Verbal section as far few people are able to score in the top percentile for verbal as opposed to quantitative, therefore the test those who have a strong performance on the verbal section get rewarded with a higher score.

In terms of overall score and percentile, here is the breakdown:

  •  540 is the mean & median score on the GMAT, which means that 50% of GMAT test takers score better and 50% do worse
  • 650 is the 78th percentile
  • A score of 700 is in the 90th percentile
  • Getting a 730 enters the top test takers as it’s the 96th percentile
  • Scoring a 750 basically gets you to elite status as you’re in the 98th percentile, meaning only 2% of test takers have done better
  • 760 and up is the elite class as it’s in the 99th percentile.

So now that we’ve broken down the scoring, let’s get down to what is considered a good score which really just depends on what your goals are. For example, getting a 650 already will get you into some respectable business schools. The question though is what if your have set your sights on something higher, like a top tier business school. While the GMAT isn’t everything, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be in the 98th percentile…

What’s a good GMAT score for top business schools?

Visiting the US News and World Report will give you a list of what’s considered to be the top business schools, which typically has Harvard and Stanford at the top the list.


You’ll see that the average score of people getting into Harvard is 724, while those getting into Stanford have an average of 730. Looking at the score for what’s considered to be the top 10 schools, you’ll see that people that are admitted have an average of 715 on the GMAT. It’s important to remember though that these are average GMAT scores, meaning that there are people getting admitted who are scoring higher and lower than the numbers you see in the image above.

For example, scoring a GMAT score of 760 (99th percentile) means that you’ll have an above average score for any of the business schools you apply to and at this point admission into the school will depend on other factors such as your work experience, references and interview. It also means that if you bomb these other aspects, such as poor references or not having valuable work experience, an exceptionally high score won’t help you get in, whereas someone with a score of 700 (90th percentile) which is below average for all the top 10 schools (other than Duke) but who excels at the other aspects of the application process will most likely find themselves getting admitted into the school of their choice.

How to Decide if You Should Retake the GMAT

Again this all depends on your goals and your current score, but to give you an idea of whether you should consider taking the GMAT or not, let’s consider the following scenarios:

  • If you are currently getting around a 600, taking the test again to get a 630 would be a huge push, moving yourself from the 62nd percentile up to the 72nd percentile.
  • If you’re scoring a 680, pushing yourself to get to 700 would be a great move, as you’re moving from the top 15% of GMAT test takers to the top 10% of GMAT test takers.
  • This is where things get a bit tricky. If you’re already scoring above a 700, adding another 20 or 30 points, most likely won’t do much for your application. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t retake it, but you’re now entering the laws of diminishing returns. Getting a score over a 700 shows business schools your academic ability, which means that they’ll now be focusing on other factors to decide whether you would be a good fit for their school – they’ll look at your work experience and reference letters, they’ll evaluate your interview, your application essay, etc to figure out  a person they can imagine with a promising leadership potential. Few people, if any, who score above a 700 will benefit from retaking the test in order to increase their score. Once you get a 700+ GMAT score, it’s ridiculous to spend time, money, energy, and your sanity in hopes of pushing it up – instead use that time to figure out how you can round out the rest of your application to show that you’re the best applicant for the school you’re looking to be admitted to. Getting a 770 may give you some bragging rights, but it won’t do much over a 720 GMAT score in terms of getting you into business school.

Want a Higher GMAT score?

If your GMAT score is one that would benefit from improving on, such as being in the low to high 600’s, then you may want to consider using a GMAT prep course like 800score, Kaplan, or Manhattan GMAT. In future articles, I’ll be sharing my thoughts as well as reviews to these courses to help you decide what’s best for you.  Remember that your personal best GMAT score may not necessarily be a perfect score which is okay – instead it’s what you can score when you’re fully prepared, which is why a GMAT prep course or a private tutor might be helpful as they can figure out your weaknesses and help you fully prepare.