The Cambridge MBA uses GMAT as one criteria for selection, the MFin does not. Why?
GMAT is a standardised test aimed at management students. It is supposed to test a range of skills or aptitudes suitable for the varied course content of an MBA or similar management course. The GRE is a similar test used for more academic graduate school admission and is needed in the US where students commonly do a broad ranging first degree and may not be able to show a high level of prior attainment in the subject of specialisation at masters level.
The MFin is a Cambridge degree that is highly analytical and frankly very hard work (at least that’s what every year of students tells me). It requires first of all a good analytical mind. This is also what the finance industry wants above all. The best guide to success on a degree like this is prior academic attainment. An MBA or similar degree is not such a good guide to success, though we would obviously take the result into account.
The GMAT is of very limited value, in my view, in selection for the MFin. In my personal and obviously somewhat limited experience, the GMAT score is a very noisy signal. I have met MBA students with high GMAT scores who were not analytically at all impressive. And I have met students with quite poor GMAT scores but who were obviously very smart. In the latter case the explanation was usually that they were working in a very hard finance job and took very little time off to prepare so they got a mediocre result.
But we know that some GMAT applicants take months off work and go to schools to prepare them. The GMAT creators are aware of this and take great steps to try to avoid such efforts being rewarded but there is no such thing as an unbiased and uncorruptible standardised test. Arguably a very high GMAT score cannot be faked so must contain some useful information about a candidate’s intelligence and we do take this into account if it’s offered.
Our guidance is that students should have the equivalent of a UK first class degree or high upper second. This roughly translates into a GPA of 3.6 or better and most of our successful applicants are at 3.7 or above. There are school-specific differences arising from the problem of grade inflation, especially at Ivy League universities. We therefore use the University of Cambridge Board of Graduate Studies guidance on how to translate to a UK first. They have very detailed and expert knowledge on this, based on thousands of applications every year to the University of Cambridge, so we think we’re using the fairest and most accurate method.
A former boss of mine (a US head of research at Salomon Brothers) used to say that he was a “self confessed academic snob”. He only hired people with excellent academic scores from well known schools. Inevitably he must have turned down some good people as a result of this policy but he made very few bad hires and the team were extremely impressive. It’s tempting to follow his lead but I want to make sure we are open to a much wider range of universities than this would imply.
And at interview, all the GPA in the world will not compensate for someone’s inability to show that they can think and argue well. Ultimately that test protects us and them from a very costly mistake.