Should You Take the GMAT Even If It's Not Required?

Now that so many business school programs are GMAT optional, you may be thinking of skipping the exam. Here's why you should consider taking the GMAT, GRE or EA, even when it's not required.

A student writes with a pencil on a white piece of paper
This blog post was originally published in May 2022, and was revised in June 2023.
  • Your resume or CV shows admissions committees that you have relevant experience that will help you complete advanced MBA coursework. It also shows admissions committees how your years of work experience could contribute to the work you’ll do in a graduate program.
  • Undergraduate transcripts give universities an idea of whether you can handle the rigorous academic coursework required to succeed in a graduate-level program.
  • Essays showcase your communication skills and outline your long-term goals and motivations for enrolling in an MBA program. You can also share real-world experiences that will make you an asset to a graduate program, as well as to elaborate on how your professional work experience has prepared you to pursue an MBA degree.
  • Letters of recommendation help admissions committees see you from the perspective of others and gauge whether you will be a good fit for their graduate program.

Given all the elements of the typical MBA application, should you take the GMAT test when it’s an optional portion of the graduate school admissions process? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How strong are my recommendations or references?
  • How much professional experience do I have?
  • How does that professional experience align with my reasons for applying to MBA programs?
  • Did I have a competitive undergraduate GPA?
  • Will my essays thoroughly articulate the kind of student, employee and person I am?

If you’re unsure of the quality of any of your application materials, taking a standardized test like the GMAT may be a way to boost your MBA application. For example, if your undergraduate GPA is lacking, a good standardized test score shows you’re a different student than you were and are prepared to succeed in graduate school. And if your years of work experience only meet the minimum threshold for acceptance, a solid standardized test score can show admissions committees that you are capable of excelling in an MBA program. The SMU Cox admissions team can help you determine whether including one or more test scores in your application will boost your chances of acceptance.

Strong Test Takers May Have an Edge

Interviews conducted by Kaplan/Manhattan Prep representatives with admissions officers from 96 full-time business schools found that while test-optional graduate schools don’t penalize applicants for opting out of standardized tests, there may be strategic benefits to submitting scores. According to most interviewees, students should take a standardized test and then strategically decide whether to deploy those test scores to schools.

If you feel your application materials don’t adequately demonstrate your ability to excel in a prestigious MBA program, good standardized test scores may make your application more compelling. Be aware, however, that just because you take a test does not mean you must submit your scores. Submitting a poor score when a score is not required may lower your chances of acceptance.

The Benefits of Taking the GMAT – Even When It’s Not Required for Admissions

A good score on the GMAT, GRE or EA will always strengthen your MBA program application. At the SMU Cox School of Business, the admissions team assesses candidates holistically. If you feel your application could be stronger – or that your letters of recommendation and references, undergraduate GPA and resume don’t accurately reflect your potential – it may be worth studying for and taking the standardized test of your choice. Additionally, the SMU Cox Admissions team is always willing to speak with candidates about their specific situations and offer recommendations as to what might make their applications more competitive.

And even if your undergraduate GPA, resume and references are stellar, there are certain situations in which submitting standardized test scores will make you a stronger MBA applicant, e.g.:

  • When the program you’re applying to is competitive and attracts a lot of quality applicants.
  • When admissions officers are deciding between you and an equally qualified prospective student.
  • When you don’t have the strongest quantitative background but want to showcase your ability to perform well in an MBA or graduate program.
  • When you’re hoping to be considered for internal academic or merit-based scholarships. SMU Cox automatically considers all candidates for merit based scholarships, but applicants with strong test scores may receive more financial support.
  • When you have fewer years of work experience called for by the admissions requirements and want to demonstrate your readiness for a program.

It’s also worth looking to the future. If you’re seeking an MBA to bolster future job prospects – as many candidates are – there are benefits to having taken one of the above standardized tests. Even though banking and consulting firms are putting less emphasis on GMAT scores when hiring MBA graduates – choosing instead to evaluate professional work experience and degree program performance – a good score can still help you stand out in competitive job markets. Your strong score not only signals your ability to succeed in an MBA program but also shows you have the skills standardized tests evaluate, such as executive decision-making, leadership and qualitative decision-making.

Should You Take the GMAT Even When It’s Not Required?

The decision is up to you, but keep in mind that admissions teams look at applications objectively. Every applicant is different, and admissions committees review their materials with that in mind. Great test scores can strengthen an application but will not automatically get you into your target MBA program. As you begin gathering your application materials and starting the application process, think carefully about how you want to present yourself as a prospective student. If you think your GMAT test, GRE exam or Executive Assessment scores will bolster your application, submit them. But if you’re unsure whether you should take the GMAT as part of your MBA application process, schedule an appointment with the SMU Cox admissions team. They will be happy to help you determine whether a standardized test score would benefit your application and will discuss the admissions requirements and process with you. Remember to review the admission requirements of all your target programs beforehand to gain a clearer understanding of what each school will need to evaluate your candidacy.

If you haven’t taken the GMAT, you can still apply to the SMU Cox School of Business and enroll in the online MBA program today. Remember, your GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment score is never the most important part of your application; a lower score won’t result in an automatic rejection, and a perfect score does not guarantee admission. If the schools you are applying to don’t have a GMAT requirement but will still accept standardized test scores, acing the test might be the competitive edge you need. Don’t shy away from something that could make your application stand out.