Harvard Business School yesterday said it is dropping a standardized examination as a requirement for admission, a decision that other schools appear unlikely to emulate.
The school becomes the first highly selective masters in business administration program to abandon the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), an examination that measures mathematical and verbal skills. Officials at several other business schools said they would continue to rely on the test as a useful predictor of the academic performance of applicants.
Harvard's move comes amid growing controversy over the utility of standardized tests, some of which have been criticized as inadequate reflections of academic potential and as biased against certain minority groups.
But Harvard Business School's director of admissions, John Lynch, said the school's decision reflected no unease over the quality of the GMAT as a test. He said, rather, that the test had relatively small value to Harvard, because the school believes that grades and essays are better indicators for selecting candidates who will turn out to be good managers.
"In the admissions process, we evaluate a great deal of information, looking at what each applicant has accomplished in the last 20 or 30 years," Lynch said. "Given what we try to do, which is to pick people we think have potential to be outstanding managers, we are able to do that without looking at GMAT scores."
Lynch said that Harvard's business faculty has become concerned in the past several years about a perceived emphasis on test scores, although in practice, he added, the admissions committee has never relied on GMAT to a significant extent.
Harvard has one of the most selective and prestigious M.B.A. programs in the country, along with Stanford, Columbia, the University of Chicago and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Harvard accepts about 950 to 975 candidates out of 5,500 total applicants, with some 785 ultimately matriculating, Lynch said.
Admissions officials and testing officials said they would be surprised if either these selective schools or their smaller counterparts followed Harvard's suit. More than 200,000 business school applicants take the GMAT yearly, and more than 600 schools use it in their admissions deliberations, said William Broasamle, president of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which sponsors the test.
Broasamle said the GMAT's "goal is to help schools predict the academic performance of students. It does that pretty well, better than any other single measure."
Other officials concurred with Broasamle's assessment, and said they still consider the test one of a range of valuable factors to take into account in admissions decisions. "Essays, test scores, grades -- all of these things play a role in helping to understand an applicant and his ability. None in isolation would be that good," said Joyce Cornell, dean of admissions at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.
Philip E. Jacoby, associate dean at American University's Kogod College of Business Administration, said the standardized test probably is the second-most-useful indicator of academic performance after grades. But he stressed that the committee does not use a "rigid mathematical process" in its deliberations and makes numerous exceptions.
Harvard also is able to drop the GMAT because of its extensive application essays, which can take up to 100 hours to complete, Lynch said. In addition, the high quality of the school's applicant pool makes the GMAT less important than for some other schools, he said. However, officials at other schools said they intend to keep using the GMAT because it is the one common standard that can be used to compare all candidates.
"Smaller schools may not have the staff or the admissions procedures to screen a wide pool of candidates," said Charles Hickman, director of professional development at the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business in St. Louis. Hickman said the assembly is the sole accrediting agency for business schools in the United States.
Stanley Kaplan, the head of the well-known test preparation company, said he was not aware of plans at other business schools to drop the GMAT as an entrance requirement.
Kaplan said that Johns Hopkins University medical school recently announced that it no longer would require a standardized medical school admissions test. However, Kaplan said he does not expect a large number of schools to follow suit in dropping standardized tests.