scorecardSome business schools are waiving GMATs as a requirement
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Some business schools are waiving GMATs as a requirement

Graham Rapier   

Some business schools are waiving GMATs as a requirement
EducationEducation2 min read
A Harvard graduate sits at the university's commencement ceremony. Graduations in 2020 looked vastly different than before.    Brian Snyder/Reuters
  • Many elite MBA programs have relaxed their exam requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The GMAT won't be required at many schools in 2021 either, as schools grapple with an economic reckoning.
  • University programs across all levels have begun to re-think testing requirements in recent years, and the pandemic could accelerate those changes.

The coronavirus pandemic could upend universities as we know them.

While other economic downturns were a boon for graduate programs, especially at elite business schools where young professionals — at least, the ones who can afford to — could await a better employment prospects while bolstering their resumes, this recession will be different.

Universities are bracing for online learning to continue through the fall (if not longer), and that's a hard sell for semesters that can easily run $40,000 per semester. That's on top of an entire recruitment cycle of exams that's been upended by the virus.

Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, many schools have further relaxed their timelines for requiring the the Graduate Management Admission Test — or GMAT — into 2021. University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, the Wisconsin School of Business, Rutgers, and Northeastern are among those going test-optional.

More broadly, the at-home learning shift could help accelerate a trend toward optional admissions testing that's also making inroads at undergraduate schools, where the ACT and SAT exams were once ubiquitous.

In many cases, the pandemic forced institutions into grappling with the exam process, the high costs and rigid structures of which can dissuade many high schoolers — and entirely bar others from lower income families. That's why more than two dozen states have begun paying the testing fees for high school students and, in some cases, baking the exams into graduation requirements.

The University of California went a step further, and voted in May to phase out the test for admissions at many of its main campus centers.

"Testing in admissions has assessed not just what kids know, but the opportunities that they've had access to," Michal Kurlaender, a professor of education policy at the University of California, told NPR in June. "They reflect a lot of deep inequalities that we have in our system," she says. "So, it means that when they're used, they have to be used with incredible caution."

Academics and tech moguls have long theorized the death of graduate schools, especially MBA programs, which are in many cases a cash cow for universities.

Marc Benioff, the Salesforce founder who's become the unlikely face of "capitalism 2.0" in recent years, says the degree programs largely miss the mark on what's important for leadership today.

"I didn't take any classes on equality," Benioff told Fortune in 2019 of his MBA, "Or on sustainability. Or on stakeholderism.... The classes I took were on accounting, marketing, organizational behavior, leadership. That's what business was. Well, that's not what leadership and business is today."