Data-Driven Decisions: Reconsidering GMAT at Dalhousie University’s MBA Program

We often hear about the importance of making admissions more equitable and breaking down the barriers that have hindered marginalized applicants for generations. It’s a noble goal that resonates with all of us who strive for a fair and just society. But how do we go about turning this vision into a reality? What steps must we take to challenge and ultimately replace the standard admission tests and processes that have long been ingrained in our educational systems? 

This week on The Holistic Success Show we welcomed Jenna Downey, Associate Director, Graduate Recruitment and Admissions at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management. Jenna shared how the department revamped their admissions process for the upcoming academic year, implementing a more holistic, equitable, and reliable process – which includes removing the GMAT as a long-standing requirement of application and introducing Casper into its admissions process for the Corporate Residency Program.

Want to see what progress looks like? Keep reading.

Why did Dalhousie University’s Corporate Residency MBA program remove their GMAT requirement?

In 2018, Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management initiated a process to upgrade their MBA program. This involved creating a new program and submitting a proposal, which had to go through the standard approval process, including approval from the University Senate and the provincial governing body.

During this period, they were prompted to evaluate their admissions process comprehensively, including the GMAT requirement. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred during this process, highlighted issues related to inequalities in the admissions process.

The need for a holistic review of admissions was raised at various points, but it primarily stemmed from the aim to ensure that their new MBA program had a thorough admissions assessment.

The evaluation process and getting stakeholder input

The Faculty of Management underwent a thorough evaluation of their MBA program’s admissions criteria, coinciding with a review of the GMAT requirement. 

This evaluation process involved three main steps:

  1. Analyze admissions data from 2018 to 2022.
  2. Extensively review relevant academic literature regarding the effectiveness of GMAT in MBA programs. 
  3. Engage with stakeholders, including the program committee and academics from within the faculty, to gather diverse perspectives. 

The third step in the process, stakeholder engagement, was challenging due to differing views on whether to remove or keep the GMAT requirement. Some stakeholders believed GMAT was essential, especially for quantitative courses, to ensure high-quality student intake. Despite initial hesitations and resistance, the faculty successfully navigated these challenges and proceeded with the comprehensive evaluation.

What were the key findings from the evaluation?

By closely examining their admissions data, Dalhousie University discovered that an applicant’s GMAT score had a correlation similar to their undergraduate GPA, indicating redundancy in these data points. Furthermore, they found that the GMAT quantitative score was less predictive of a student’s final graduation GPA compared to the undergraduate GPA.

This information was crucial for convincing internal stakeholders that the GMAT requirement needed reevaluation. The COVID-19 pandemic also prompted discussions about equity in admissions.

The cost of the GMAT test, which was around $650 to $1,200, was identified as a potential barrier for some applicants, highlighting the need for a more inclusive and equitable admissions process. The team considered not only the effectiveness of the GMAT but also its cost to ensure that the admissions process was accessible to students from various backgrounds and experiences.

Presenting the findings

The key findings were driven by data, both internal and external, which aligned in highlighting the need for a reassessment of long-standing practices, particularly regarding the GMAT requirement. This data-driven approach also factored in the cost implications for applicants and a holistic examination of admissions processes, with a strong emphasis on equity considerations.

Securing stakeholder buy-in

Discussions about the MBA program and the admissions process coincided with the proposal being presented to the Senate. This provided ample opportunities for input and buy-in at the faculty level. The longer time frame of the process gave many opportunities for stakeholders to have their questions and concerns answered, before coming on board.

Why did Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management bring Casper into their admissions process?

Empowered by their findings that the GMAT test replicated other data points as well as increased barriers to marginalized groups, Dalhousie University ultimately removed the GMAT requirement.

The department also decided to implement the soft skills assessment, Casper, in an effort to create a more holistic review of the applicant and support an equitable admissions process. This was driven by university-level discussions and a commitment to serving diverse equity deserving groups.

Data driven decision-making that leads to a more holistic admissions approach

Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management used data to rethink how they measure success in their program.

It’s not just about GPA anymore; it is critical that programs consider the whole applicant – which includes evaluating soft skills and personal experiences that shape who a person is, beyond grades. Dalhousie’s MBA program developed an admissions process that cultivates fairness and diversity in admissions and ensured that their admissions criteria match their values – while showing the data to support these choices.

To listen to the full episode with Jenna Downey of Dalhousie University, visit our YouTube channel.