Earning a master’s degree in business administration is a special accomplishment that can help you secure a better job and higher salary. But first there is the challenge of finding a graduate school that is right for you. Start your search by investigating MBA prerequisites and other requirements for MBA programs such as taking the Graduate Management Admission Test.

If you have been out of school for a while or suffer from test anxiety, you may be wondering if you can get into an MBA program without taking the GMAT. With a little effort, you can find reputable, high quality programs that don't require test scores as part of the admission process. MBA prerequisites vary by school and program. There are many part-time and full-time pathways for earning an MBA online or in the classroom that can allow you to balance work, school and family responsibilities.

Examples of MBA Prerequisites

Looking at the eligibility criteria for MBA admission may seem a little confusing at first because undergraduate course prerequisites and other admission requirements vary by school and program tracks with the MBA degree. Program specializations are available in areas such as executive leadership, accounting, nonprofit management, logistics, production, finance and information technology. The courses in each specialization can differ significantly, as well as the needed course prerequisites.

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For instance, if you're seeking an Executive MBA, admission to many schools will be based primarily on your managerial experience in the field, rather than GMAT scores, GPA, undergraduate major or MBA prerequisite math or business courses. On the other hand, if you're pursuing an MBA in Marketing Analytics, you may need prerequisite coursework in algebra, calculus or statistics to handle graduate courses like customer analytics and predictive financial modeling. Increased reliance on social media has spurred demand for business executives to be trained in analyzing social media statistics and algorithms.

Is GMAT Mandatory for MBA?

You can find schools that don't require the GMAT or other entrance exams, but taking standardized tests offers you a greater selection of schools. Most MBA programs require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Test. As an alternative to the GMAT, some schools give students the option of submitting scores from the Graduate Record Examination or the newer Executive Assessment standardized test.

There is no need to panic if you don’t do well on the GMAT because admission boards say they look closely at other factors, too. So unless the school flatly states that all applicants must take the GMAT and achieve a certain minimum cutoff score to be considered, your application will still be thoughtfully reviewed. By excelling in other categories, you may be able to offset unimpressive GMAT scores. Also, make sure your admission essays are insightful, well-written and error free.

Even if you're not required to take the GMAT or prerequisite classes, consider taking undergraduate college classes in subjects like statistics if your math skills are rusty, and you worry about competing with peers who have a solid math background. Many of the emerging jobs in business and technology require an ability to analyze and interpret data. Study the curriculum of MBA programs you're considering, and note whether you meet the prerequisites for the MBA classes you must pass to graduate.

Review a School’s MBA Prerequisites

Schools admit students who are likely to succeed and graduate in a timely manner. Requiring certain MBA prerequisites is one of the best ways of ensuring that students are adequately prepared to understand and apply business concepts in school and on the job when employed in a management position. Most MBA programs do require an undergraduate degree in business or economics as part of their MBA prerequisites.

However, non-business majors are sometimes conditionally admitted pending completion of certain undergraduate courses. Examples of undergraduate classes you may be expected to take, before or just after entering the program, include accounting, statistics, calculus, information technology, marketing, finance or microeconomics. The specific prerequisites required, if any, will depend on your intended area of specialization within the MBA program.

Substitute Experience for MBA Prerequisites

You can find schools that waive MBA prerequisites such as GMAT scores or undergraduate prerequisite business courses if you can show that you already possess this knowledge through on-the-job training or successful entrepreneurial endeavors.

For instance, MBA students at Northern Michigan University with skills acquired on the job may be exempt from taking undergraduate course prerequisites in accounting principles, financial management, marking and statistics even if they're seeking admission to a specialty type of MBA, such as an MBA in financial accounting. Schools recognize the upward mobility that a career can take when an ambitious individual learns through on-the-job training.

Younger applicants with limited work history are valued because they grew up with technology, but many older workers are also highly skilled in technology due to their ready access to industry training and familiarity with the latest software. Therefore, MBA admissions committees take a holistic approach to reviewing applications. They look at many factors when judging who would be a good fit for their program rather than basing decisions on stereotypes or assumptions.

Compare Requirements for MBA Programs

Along with undergraduate course prerequisites, admission committees look at supporting evidence of an applicant’s drive, skills, aptitude and previous accomplishments. Admissions committees are impressed by characteristics such as a high GPA, evidence of leadership, strong letters of recommendation and business acumen. Many schools actively recruit applicants from diverse backgrounds who can add interesting perspectives to case study analysis and class discussion.

You may find information on the school’s website disclosing the demographic profile, GPA and average standardized test scores of students accepted into their MBA program in previous years. Applying for graduate school costs money and time, so use admitted student profile information to weigh your odds of being accepted. For example, competition is high for getting into the highly-ranked Wharton school of business at the University of Pennsylvania.

The fall 2019 incoming class of Wharton students has a cumulative GPA of 3.6 and an overall GMAT score of 730. The scores of entering Wheaton students range from 530 to 790. Most people who take the GMAT score between 400 and 600. If your grades and scores are average or below, other factors such as running a company, may tip the scale in your favor when seeking admission to MBA programs.

Consider Online MBA Programs

Online MBA programs attract working adults with real world experience in business. Requirements for MBA programs that are online tend to be more flexible because they're designed for adult learners who are ready to take their successful business career to the next level. Online schools generally believe that tests aren't necessary because nontraditional aged applicants’ possess a solid work history demonstrating an ability to perform well in business.

Online degrees provide convenience for professionals balancing multiple business, personal and family responsibilities. Working adults may not have time to study for tests or miss work to take the test required for traditional MBA programs. You can find excellent online MBA programs at regionally accredited schools with MBA programs that are nationally accredited by professional business organizations.

Many online MBA programs either don’t require the GMAT at all, or the test is waived for those with extensive work experience. Look for schools that are reputable but flexible in MBA admission criteria. Research the MBA program's graduation and placement rates to discern if the school is producing quality MBA graduates who attained the skills needed in today’s workforce. Many online programs offer slower part-time options, as well as accelerated full-time programs to earn an MBA as quickly as possible.

Ace the GMAT

To expand your choice of schools, consider taking the GMAT, which is a common MBA prerequisite for admission. Preparation is key to mastering the challenging GMAT, which has four sections that assess your quantitative and verbal skills. The test itself includes familiar exercises such as logical sentence completion, reading comprehension, writing, interpreting graphs and applied math.

Test scores tend to predict who has the competencies to excel in classes and who would struggle to keep up with their peers. Some applicants study 10 hours a week or more for several weeks before taking the GMAT. You can download free practice tests and a test handbook on the official GMAT website that also provides information on thousands of schools offering an MBA. You may also wish to consider prep classes, individual tutoring, library books and online resources to help you prepare for the exam. The GMAT is taken on a computer at a local testing facility. Afterwards, you can cancel your scores and repeatedly retake the test, if you wish. As of 2018, the cost of the GMAT was $250.

Submit an MBA Application

The application process for admission to an MBA program is fairly similar regardless of whether you plan to study full-time, part-time, online or on campus. You'll complete an online application asking for background information that includes your academic history and work experience. It's not unusual for programs to require two to five years full-time work experience to gain the maturity and understanding of the workforce.

You may also be asked essay questions about your reasons for pursuing an MBA and applying to that particular school. Your goals and values should align with the mission and vision of the program. For example, some schools seek individuals who want to be change agents and improve the world. Supporting information commonly includes letters of recommendation from instructors or supervisors. Additionally, you must submit transcripts verifying your GPA and bachelor’s degree.

Understand Competition in MBA Admissions

“Can you get into an MBA program without taking the GMAT?” is a frequently asked question, particularly by applicants who don't have an undergraduate degree in business. The answer depends on many variables such as your GPA, past experience, aptitude for business, interest in management and motivation to complete a graduate degree. Even if schools require GMAT scores, it's often just one factor that is considered. But realistically, the odds are stacked against you if your GMAT scores are below average, and you're seeking admission to a highly selective college.

For example, almost 90 percent of applicants to the MBA program at the Harvard Business School are typically denied admission. Only 11 percent of the 10,351 applicants for 2019 admission were accepted from the U.S. and countries around the world consistent with Harvard’s interest in the global economy. The most recently admitted class of MBA students had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.7 and a median GMAT score of 730. GMAT scores of successful applicants ranged from 580 to 790. The average age of applicants was 27, and only 19 percent majored in social sciences or the humanities. Harvard considers evidence of analytical and quantitative skills a precursor to success in the MBA program, therefore STEM and business majors seemingly have an advantage.

Find Hot Jobs for MBAs

Good jobs for new MBA graduates are available in many sectors including business, banking, health care, industry and technology firms. Recent MBAs generally enter the job market as a mid-level manager although it's possible to land a job as a chief executive. Demand for MBAs proficient in finance and general management remains strong, but employers highly seek those with skills in technology, marketing analytics and operations analysts, making those hot job fields. MBAs in places like Silicon Valley are helping technology firms maximize their capacity to grow and innovate.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students who holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Minnesota State University. Dr. Dowd has also led many administrative offices such as affirmative action, women’s center and student conduct. She enjoys teaching, writing and advising students on how to succeed in college. Dr. Dowd's literary accomplishments include published research, training materials and hundreds of practical online articles. Her writing reflects years of professional and personal life experience. As a parent of two adult children with master's degrees, Dr. Dowd authentically understands the many challenges, milestones and decisions that parents and their college age students face from admission to graduation.