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14 December 2023

7 minutes read

Navigating the GRE for Harvard Business School Admission: A Comprehensive Guide

Harvard Business School (HBS) stands at the pinnacle of business education, attracting a global pool of applicants. A vital component of the application process for HBS is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Understanding the significance of the GRE and its role in securing admission to HBS is critical for any prospective student aiming for this prestigious institution.

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Demystifying GRE Requirements for Harvard Business School

When it comes to the application process at Harvard Business School, GRE scores play a pivotal role. However, it’s essential to remember that HBS takes a holistic approach to admissions.

This means that while your GRE score is a crucial factor, it’s only one part of a larger picture that includes your work experience, academic record, extracurricular activities, and personal essays.

Understanding how your GRE score fits into this broader context is key to crafting a compelling application.

The Importance of a Strong GRE Score

A competitive GRE score is undeniably beneficial when applying to HBS. While the school does not set a minimum GRE score requirement, high scores can significantly enhance your application.

The GRE tests your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills – areas that are pertinent to the rigorous academic environment of HBS. A strong GRE score can demonstrate your readiness to tackle the challenges of the MBA program.

Balancing GRE Scores with Other Application Components

However, it’s important to balance your GRE preparation with other aspects of your application. HBS looks for well-rounded individuals who can contribute to the diverse and dynamic environment of the school.

This means your professional achievements, leadership experience, and personal qualities are just as important as your academic prowess. Striving for excellence in all these areas will strengthen your application and increase your chances of admission.

The 2+2 Program and GRE: Special Considerations for Younger Applicants

Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program is a unique pathway into its prestigious MBA program. It’s designed for students in their final year of study or recent graduates, offering deferred admission contingent on acquiring two years of full-time work experience.

For these younger applicants, the GRE plays a slightly different role compared to traditional MBA candidates.

GRE in the Context of Limited Work Experience

For 2+2 applicants, the GRE is often a more critical component of the application. Since these candidates typically have less work experience, their academic performance and test scores are weighed more heavily.

A strong GRE score can compensate for the lack of extensive professional experience and demonstrate the applicant’s potential to succeed in a rigorous academic environment.

Crafting a Compelling Application for the 2+2 Program

However, just like with the regular MBA program, 2+2 applicants should ensure their entire application is robust. This includes showcasing leadership potential, academic achievements, and a clear vision for how the HBS MBA will contribute to their career goals.

Essays and recommendations should reflect the applicant’s maturity, intellectual curiosity, and readiness for the challenges and opportunities that the program presents.

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GRE or GMAT: Choosing the Right Test for Your Harvard Business School Application

One of the most common questions among MBA applicants is whether to take the GRE or the GMAT. Harvard Business School accepts both, providing applicants with the flexibility to choose the test that best aligns with their strengths and skills.

Understanding the Differences Between GRE and GMAT

Primary FocusBalanced emphasis on verbal and quantitative skills, with a strong focus on vocabulary and analytical writing.Strong focus on quantitative skills and integrated reasoning, alongside verbal and analytical writing skills.
Test StructureVerbal Reasoning (2 sections)  – Quantitative Reasoning (2 sections)  – Analytical Writing (2 tasks)Quantitative Reasoning  – Verbal Reasoning – Integrated Reasoning – Analytical Writing Assessment
Question FormatMultiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, and essays.Multiple-choice questions, data sufficiency, problem-solving, and an essay.
Scoring SystemScores range from 130 to 170 per section, with a separate score for Analytical Writing.Total score ranges from 200 to 800, with separate scores for the essay and integrated reasoning sections.
AdaptivenessSection-level adaptiveness; the difficulty of the second section is based on your performance in the first.Question-level adaptiveness within the quantitative and verbal sections.
Test DurationApproximately 3 hours and 45 minutes.About 3 hours and 30 minutes.
SuitabilityPreferred by applicants who are stronger in verbal reasoning and varied graduate programs beyond business school.Favored by applicants with strong quantitative skills and those specifically targeting business schools.
Global RecognitionWidely accepted for various graduate programs, including business schools.Primarily recognized and preferred by business schools globally.
Preparation MaterialA broad range of official and third-party preparation materials are available, focusing on a wide array of topics.Extensive preparation materials are available, often with a strong emphasis on quantitative and reasoning skills.
Retake PolicyCan be taken once every 21 days, up to five times in any continuous rolling 12-month period.Can be taken once every 16 days, no more than five times in a 12-month period, and eight times total.

Strategic Considerations in Test Selection

It’s also worth considering the broader implications of your test choice. For instance, if you’re considering applying to a range of graduate programs beyond business school, the GRE might be more versatile.

On the other hand, if you’re solely focused on business school, the GMAT could be a better choice as it’s specifically designed for MBA admissions.

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Insights into Harvard Business School’s Evaluation of GRE Scores

Understanding how Harvard Business School evaluates GRE scores can give applicants a competitive edge. HBS does not have a cutoff for GRE scores, but admissions officers look for scores that align with the overall strength of the incoming class.

The Contextual Evaluation of GRE Scores

The admissions team at HBS evaluates GRE scores within the context of the entire application. This means that a lower GRE score can be offset by exceptional achievements in other areas, such as significant professional accomplishments or extraordinary leadership experiences. Conversely, a high GRE score can bolster an application that might be weaker in other aspects.

Using Your GRE Score to Highlight Your Strengths

Your GRE score is an opportunity to highlight your analytical and verbal skills. A strong performance in the quantitative section can demonstrate your ability to handle the rigorous financial and analytical coursework at HBS, while a high verbal score can indicate strong communication skills, crucial for leadership and management roles.


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Preparing for the GRE: Tips for Aspiring Harvard Business School Students

  1. Understand the GRE Format and Content: Familiarize yourself with the GRE’s structure, including its verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing sections. Knowing the format and types of questions asked will help you strategize your study plan.
  2. Develop a Personalized Study Plan: Assess your strengths and weaknesses in each GRE section. Allocate more time to areas where you need improvement while maintaining proficiency in your stronger areas. A balanced study plan tailored to your needs is key.
  3. Utilize Official GRE Preparation Materials: Start with official GRE preparation materials, as they offer the most accurate representation of the test. These materials include practice tests, sample questions, and study guides.
  4. Incorporate Diverse Study Resources: Expand your preparation with third-party resources, such as GRE prep books, online courses, and tutoring services. Different perspectives and teaching styles can enhance your understanding and readiness.
  5. Practice with Full-Length Tests: Regularly take full-length practice tests under timed conditions. This not only helps with time management but also accustoms you to the test’s duration and intensity, reducing exam-day anxiety.
  6. Review and Analyze Practice Tests: Carefully review your answers to practice tests, especially the questions you got wrong. Understanding your mistakes is crucial for improvement. Analyze your performance trends to adjust your study approach accordingly.
  7. Build Your Vocabulary: For the verbal section, systematically build your vocabulary. Use flashcards, vocabulary lists, and reading materials to enhance your word knowledge. Consistent daily practice is more effective than cramming.
  8. Sharpen Your Quantitative Skills: Focus on basic math concepts and problem-solving strategies. Practice with a variety of quantitative questions to improve your speed and accuracy.
  9. Enhance Analytical Writing Skills: Practice writing essays on different topics. Focus on structuring your essays clearly, developing your arguments coherently, and providing relevant examples. Seek feedback on your writing to improve.
  10. Maintain Consistency and Discipline: Regular and disciplined study is more effective than irregular, intense bursts. Set aside dedicated study time each day and stick to your schedule.
  11. Stay Updated on Test Changes and News: Keep informed about any changes in the GRE format, dates, or policies. Staying updated ensures you won’t encounter surprises that could affect your preparation or test-taking strategy.
  12. Prioritize Your Health and Well-being: Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular physical activity can significantly impact your study efficiency and test performance. Stress management techniques such as meditation or yoga can also be beneficial.
  13. Seek Support When Needed: Don’t hesitate to ask for help. This could be from peers, tutors, or mentors. Joining study groups or forums can provide moral support and valuable insights into effective study strategies.
  14. Simulate Exam Day Conditions: To get comfortable with the test environment, simulate exam day conditions during your practice sessions. This includes following the same time restrictions and taking minimal breaks.
  15. Stay Positive and Confident: Maintain a positive attitude throughout your preparation. Confidence in your ability and hard work is crucial for success on the test day. Remember, the GRE is just one step in your journey to Harvard Business School.

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Beyond the GRE: Crafting a Holistic Application for Harvard Business School

A successful application to Harvard Business School goes beyond test scores. The school seeks candidates who demonstrate leadership, intellectual curiosity, and a commitment to their career goals.

Showcasing Leadership and Professional Experience

Your professional experience and leadership roles provide a glimpse into your potential as a business leader. Illustrate how your experiences have shaped your career goals and how an MBA from HBS will help you achieve them. Be specific about your achievements and the impact you’ve made in your professional and community engagements.

Personal Essays: Telling Your Unique Story

Your personal essays are a vital component of your application. They offer an opportunity to present your story in your own words. Reflect on your motivations, challenges, and aspirations.

A compelling narrative that connects your past experiences with your future goals can make a powerful impression on the admissions committee.

Recommendations and Interviews: Building a Comprehensive Profile

Recommendations provide an external perspective on your abilities and potential. Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your strengths and areas for growth.

Additionally, the interview process is a critical component of the HBS application. It’s an opportunity to articulate your vision, demonstrate your interpersonal skills, and reinforce why you are an ideal candidate for Harvard Business School.


Securing admission to Harvard Business School is a competitive and challenging process, where your GRE score plays a significant but not sole role.

A successful application is a blend of strong academic credentials, professional achievements, personal insights, and the ability to articulate your vision for the future.

By understanding the nuances of the GRE and its role in the broader application process, you can position yourself as a compelling candidate for one of the world’s leading business schools.


Does Harvard Business School accept the GRE?

Yes, Harvard Business School accepts GRE scores for its MBA program, including the 2+2 Program.

Is there a minimum GRE score required for HBS admission?

Harvard Business School does not specify a minimum GRE score, but a competitive score enhances your application.

Can I apply to HBS with just a GRE score, or do I need a GMAT score as well?

You can apply to HBS with either a GRE or GMAT score. You do not need to submit scores for both exams.

How important is the GRE score compared to other aspects of the application?

While the GRE score is important, HBS evaluates candidates holistically, considering work experience, academic background, and personal essays.

For the 2+2 Program, is the GRE requirement different?

The GRE requirement for the 2+2 Program is similar to the regular MBA program, but candidates are evaluated with an emphasis on their potential and less on their work experience.

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