Harvard GMAT Scores
Photo by Florian Pilz
When you’re applying to business schools, shooting for a Harvard acceptance can feel like seeking the holy grail of MBA admissions. There are so many factors that go into business school admissions. Getting your GMAT score around the average Harvard GMAT score is difficult—but possible. After all, the admissions office did accept nearly 1,000 students in its class of 2021.
So what does this mean for you and your GMAT score? Take a look.
GMAT Scores for Harvard: The Range
The average GMAT score for admitted students in Harvard’s class of 2021 was 730. And, actually, the median GMAT score for Harvard’s incoming class of 2020 was also 730. Therefore, to get a good GMAT score for Harvard, you need to score a 730…right?
Not necessarily! Average scores can be misleading. Score ranges are more telling. Harvard Business School admitted—and has historically admitted—students with a huge range of scores. In this year’s class profile, students scored between 590 and 800.
Shocked? Surprised? Excited? Remember that 50% of students admitted to Harvard Business School got lower than the average score of 730. In fact, in previous years, students with 480 and 510 scores on the low end have gotten in, though in both cases, this was so exceptional that it was newsworthy.)
Harvard GMAT Scores: The Bigger Picture
With all of that said: It’s not unusual for Harvard to admit a very small number (we are talking a handful) of students in the 500s or low 600s; it’s done this consistently over the years. But these are students who are exceptional. The few success stories I have heard have come from students who have academic or career accomplishments so extraordinary they make me feel like I do when I watch 16-year-olds win Olympic gold medals: woefully inadequate.
So, the answer is yes, someone can get into HBS with a 510 GMAT score. Whether or not you can get in with a score in the 500s or 600s is a different matter. This is also true of other top programs. Wharton’s average GMAT score for the class of 2021 was 732, but the class had a range from 540-790. Stanford’s average was 734, with a range from 600-790.
But Harvard (and other top schools) can do this kind of thing because it’s Harvard (/are other top schools). Schools just a little bit further down in the rankings often won’t publish the full range of accepted student scores; presumably this helps preserve an image of high-scoring students. Harvard doesn’t need to worry about its clout. So it can gain some good PR by admitting a low-scoring student without damaging its reputation as one of the top B-schools in the country, giving us all the pipe dream that Harvard is saying “Hey, test scores aren’t everything here!”
So the 2021 range of Harvard GMAT scores, from 590-800, is slightly misleading. Admitted students’ scores aren’t evenly spread across that range. Instead, it looks more like a bell curve. The bottom half of admitted students are still mostly in the low 700 range—in other words, a score in the low 700s still puts you below half of new students that are above the golden 730-number.
So let me break it down with some score ranges to better answer the question about what GMAT scores you need for your Harvard dreams.
What’s a Good GMAT Score for Harvard?
The safe zone: 750-800. If your scores are in this range, as long as your work experience, GPA, resume and recommendations are on track with the average HBS hopeful, you have a good shot. A score in this range is a good score for Harvard. Keep in mind, though, that even an 800 doesn’t guarantee admissions; at a school with an acceptance rate of around 10%, students with perfect scores get rejected every year. Even in this range you need a dash of luck or some pull. You need to hope that you don’t turn the admissions committee off somehow or that there aren’t too many “yous” in the applicant pool.
The go-for-it zone: 690-740. You are definitely in range here for a chance at admissions, but other aspects of your application are going to need to also A) impress or B) help round out the diversity of the class. Will a higher score help? It depends–if you have one or more other stand-out factors in your application, there’s probably no need to re-take the exam. Otherwise, boosting your score above other test takers’ will probably help.
The questionable zone: 650-690. Your application is likely going to face some serious extra scrutiny. You must have something to offer HBS that no one else is bringing. Given the info that Harvard’s given us about that middle 80% range, you can expect that only about 10% of admission offers are doled out to applicants scoring below 690.
The shot-in-the-dark zone: 450-650. In case you are wondering, the lowest score ever admitted to Harvard was a 480. Again, those admitted in this range are the superstars; the individuals whom Harvard is willing to let impact its published GMAT score median and ranges because they are that special. But you can bet there aren’t going to be too many people Harvard considers special enough to be in this category.
If your scores are in the “questionable” or “shot-in-the-dark” ranges, I highly recommend you do some serious GMAT prep or consider the GRE as an alternative, a test that is now well-accepted at HBS. Although statistics show there is still a slight bias towards GMAT applicants, if you can score much better on the GRE, that is without a doubt the way to go. Your extra laurels may be able to get your foot in the door, but why not make their decision easier by giving them scores that are going to raise fewer eyebrows?
Harvard Business School Class of 2021 Profile (Composition of Accepted Student Data)
Some other Harvard programs that accept GMAT scores: