She boasts a degree in molecular biology from a top U.S. university and has spent the last four years working in product management works for a renewable energy company. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.9 grade point average, this 27-year-old woman is now eager to get an MBA to start her own company in the developing world.
He has spent the past five years working for Procter & Gamble in Spain. A 29-year-old Spaniard with an impressive 770 GMAT but a seemingly mediocre 2.5 GPA, he wants an MBA degree to help him set up his own company.
This 25-year-old woman spent her teen years in a low-income neighborhood as an immigrant to the U.S. She now works for an advertising agency doing research and analytics, but hopes to use the MBA to land a marketing job for a multinational company in the emerging markets.
What these MBA applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?
Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants. This week, the 27th time we’ve run this highly popular series, the witty and irreverent Kreisberg delivers some important advice: To one applicant keen on a school with an entrepreneurial focus, he advises, “My advice to you and everyone: Go to the best school you get into. ‘Focus’ is pretty meaningless–both for your experience and for employers.”
To yet another applicant who submitted his profile, the consultant asks bluntly why in the world would a female minority from a public ivy take her first job for a financial advisor. Says Kreisberg, That’s a fine job for an ambitious white guy who discovered he was serious about life after getting a 3.2 at a Tier 2 school and his girlfriend knocked-up???”
As usual, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)
Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is assessment:
Ms. Software Management
- 700 GMAT
- 3.9 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in molecular and cellular biology from a top 20 university
- Work experience includes four-plus years in first sales and marketing and now software product management for a renewable energy company
- Extracurricular involvement as president of an organization that ran freshman orientation at my college, held offices in sorority, volunteered for a nonprofit that aspires to do solar energy in developing countries
- Goal: “To repeat the success of my current company but in the developing world” in a for-profit model
- Why MBA? “I’ve witnessed one highly successful example in the corporate world but a broad business education would really accelerate my professional development. A school with a strong entrepreneurial focus is a must.”
- 27-year-old female
Odds of Success:
Stanford: 20% to 30%
Harvard: 30% to 40%
MIT: 40% to 50+%
Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm, a 3.9 in molecular biology and a 700 GMAT plus 4.5 years of solid work in what appears to be an exciting and successful start-up—and a woman? That could make most schools wink at the low Q score on your GMAT. And added course work is another plus. The fact that you’ll be 28 year old and have six years of work experience when you go to school is on the high side for Harvard and Stanford, but they maybe they will wink at that, too.
Not sure what first job was, or if you have had one job or two—sounds like two and first job could be important as just some filter of what you did right out of college. All that said, you are on the bubble for a place like HBS and Stanford. They take and ding people like you, depending on execution, recommendations, luck, and luck, and not blowing the interview. Execution will count a bit more in your case, since you don’t have a full blue chip background. But if your current company is a leader in its field, stress that.
Also make the most of your non-profit work for solar in developing countries since that links with your goals. As to goals per se, you say, “deploying renewal energy in developing world with a for-profit model.” That is probably OK, though pointing to some companies who have done that would help. Since you work for a successful version of that model, that is also strong evidence of your bona fides.
You say, “A school with a strong entrepreneurial focus is a must”—kiddo, today that is every school. My advice to you and everyone: Go to the best school you get into. ‘Focus’ is pretty meaningless–both for your experience and for employers. Sure on the margin, if you are interested in banking, maybe Tuck is good at that, and has connections, but as a rule, applicants should just attend the best school they can get into.
If you had to pick between HBS and Stanford with this story, well, maybe Stanford is more up your alley since a lot of renewable activity is in California. But I would not choose Berkeley over HBS for that reason.
Mr. Oil Driller
- 690 GMAT (will retake)
- 3.3 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai
- Work experience as a project leader with Halliburton Offshore Services for the past 16 months, managing a group of up to ten people, and for the prior ten months with ITS Energy Services, another oil field company, where he had been promoted to sales engineer
- Extracurricular involvement as a member of my university’s cricket team, president of the engineering students’ association, leader of several college festivals, participant in intercollegiate quizzes and fashion shows
- 25-year-old male
Odds of Success:
Dartmouth: 20% to 30%
Duke: 20% to 50%
Michigan: 20% to 50%
Yale: 20% to 40%
Sandy’s Analysis: Oil and gas guys are the same black box to B school adcoms as the military — and that includes guys working for the majors such as Shell and Exxon/Mobil or the service companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger. Adcoms have very little idea what you actually do (assuming you are not in corporate development in the home office). Everyone has stories about working on rigs with lots of people from different countries, many of whom are low-paid laborers, and dealing with emergencies, cultural diversity, and alleged marvels of increased production brought about by your hands-on expertise.
Thus, very often, like the military, issues like GPA and GMAT and even extras, schooling and pedigree of any kind really count since you actual experience gets homogenized. The oil and gas Desis who get into Harvard Business School frequently went to IIT or other top Indian schools and have real high GPA and GMATs as well as some X factor like super-duper recommendations from someone who can write one, or powerful extras, or just 10% less than that and some luck. You are off that model by more than 10% since you got a lower GPA, started at a non-blue chip company, ITS Energy Services (well, seems non-blue chip to me, I’m no expert and I hope I am not insulting anyone), seemed to have changed jobs rather quickly, and extras like quizzing and fashion are not impactful in this game.
I realize quizzing is a big deal in India, but adcoms don’t get it. And if they do, they merely view it like intramural athletics: something you do for yourself and not others. Also, as you perceive, the 690 GMAT is not helping you fight above your weight, either. I’m not sure how Mumbai U stacks up in the Indian school hierarchy, but it is not IIT. So I ain’t seeing this as HBS.
At other schools you note, this begins to look a lot better because Halliburton is a well-known company, your GPA and GMAT numbers begin to fall into their range, and hey, it looks like you will get a job back in the energy patch when you graduate, given your background. All that puts you in the running there. Get a 730 GMAT and get lucky, and you could maybe slip into Wharton, even though you did not ask.
- 640 GMAT (suffer from severe ADHD)
- 3.4 GPA
- Law degree from Tel Aviv University
- Work experience includes two and one-half years as a junior associate in the largest law firm in Israel, five years as the manager of a competitive tennis club, four years as an agent in the Prime Minister’s office, and three years of military service in the intelligence corps
- Extracurricular involvement includes the founding of a non-profit tennis program for underprivileged children, also offered legal assistance to those without means and currently teach elementary children from Ethiopia
- Short-term Goal: To join an energy/infrastructure company
- Long-term Goal: To further develop family business (infrastructure consulting) and merge with a large corporation
- 29-year-old male
Odds of Success:
Sandy’s Analysis: Here is some tough love–retake the GMAT, either with accommodations, if they give it for ADHD or with medication, or with luck. Keep taking it until you get a 680+ if that is possible. I cannot really puzzle out your career path or the timing of when you did what, or what exactly you are doing now, or if you are mixing extra currics and full-time jobs.
Maybe it is one guy with ADHD (me, non-clinical, just extreme impatience) trying to make sense of scrambled account of another guy with same. Are you currently doing this full-time: “Today teach Elementary School Children of Ethiopian origin theories in law.” Or is that an extra? Or is that what you are doing? Anyway, it is not all that important to sort this out. The only way you are getting into business school is the same way I told the guy last week about family businesses. If your family business is BIG enough, some school might let you in, if you make a plausible case that you want to transform it and they believe you.
Otherwise, no offense, but this crazy-quilt career path and age and low-ish GPA and GMAT make you a real tough sell. I’d be very creative about how you describe your career so far, stressing the traditional stuff like Army and working for the government, and lawyering, and going light on managing tennis clubs. Then, really stress what you plan to do with family business AND DO NOT SAY SELL IT. You don’t need an MBA for that. Being a lawyer should be enough to at least put you in touch with other smart lawyers who do stuff like that.
Ms. Job Changer
- 720 GMAT
- 3.6 GPA
- Undergraduate degree from a West Coast public ivy
- Work experience includes a stint with a financial advisor working at a regional independent RIA in my first job after college, mostly in client service; quit job to enroll in intensive summer business program at a top B-school to transfer into the marketing field and then did stints at boutique marketing strategy firm, a marketing research firm, and a university serving well-known clients. Also worked as an online content writer at a tech startup and currently do research and analytics at top advertising agencies for CPG companies, among others
- Extracurricular involvement includes leadership positions in various student groups and honor societies on campus, volunteer at soup kitchen, tutor high school students, mentor young people and am a member of an elite professional women’s organization founded by Goldman Sachs executives
- Fluent in three languages
- Goal: To work at a multinational company in Asia or the emerging markets in a marketing role
- 25-year-old female minority who struggled as an immigrant in a low-income neighborhood, having come to the U.S. during her teen years
Odds of Success:
Stanford: 10% to 15%
Harvard: 20% to 35%
Northwestern: 40% to 50+%
I think you got a solid story here and need to focus on the thread of this which is marketing and advertising to CPG clients (Consumer Packaged Goods, to those of you out there who never use soap, toothpaste, or cereal or those of you who do and just never knew those were called CPG’s by insiders.)
The real mystery here is what a female minority from a public Ivy with a 3.6 — and later a 720 GMAT — was doing taking her first job out of college with a “Financial advisor working at a regional independent RIA in West Coast . . . did mostly client service, but licensed and sold securities and insurance . . .” which is a fine job for an ambitious white guy who discovered he was serious about life after getting a 3.2 at a Tier 2 school and his girlfriend knocked-up???
We expect you to be working at some kind of consulting firm or management rotation program at a Fortune 500 company. So that may take some explaining. As will some of the other gigs you list (“online content writer!!!” Kiddo, that is what I DO!!), but once you find your footing, this becomes a solid story of someone who is now in engaged in something hip and traditional. That may be a strong enough anchor to make your other five jobs and checkerboard and odd career not count against you so much. Your extras are better than average, and more than average, so that is another plus.
The confusion noted in career paths may sink you at HBS and Stanford, who have a window for minority females, but prefer them to be really clearly packaged from Blue Chip companies or blue chip small companies, and not have as much baggage as you do in a career path. Just a feeling I am getting, despite all your positives and excellent stats.
One thing you can do at those schools to really better your odds is to get some support from that elite woman’s organization you belong to (founded by Goldman Sachs). If you can get someone at that organization who is on speaking terms with Dee Leopold or Derrick Bolton to be your champion — that could help. SERIOUSLY!
Otherwise you are close. I think you stand a good chance outside HBS and Stanford just based on your stats and compelling story, especially at schools like Wharton, MIT, and Columbia, who are always looking for minorities with high stats, especially MIT. But I’m not sure MIT would be your cup of tea and marketing is not their strong suit. I think you are really in line at Fuqua and Kellogg. I would not bother with Insead unless you want to work in Europe afterwards.
Your stated goal, to work in a Fortune 500 company in marketing is right on. I would not say you want to work in Asia/emerging markets, that does not fit this picture. Unless you are Asian, and if so, well, I got some bad news for you, that could change this picture a bit, since that is not as much as an in-demand minority as the Latino/Afro-Am/Native American trifecta. Although you have a strong adversity story as well, so that helps in the crazy calculus of B-school admissions. Getting your career path to make sense will be one necessity and telling your adversity story (and perhaps braiding it with your career path) will be another.
- 770 GMAT
- 2.5 GPA (top 5% of my peers)
- Undergraduate degree in engineering from a top engineering school in Spain
- Work experience includes five years with Procter & Gamble in Spain, half as a business analyst on a business development team and half as a marketing manager; also worked for six months in France in R&D
- Extracurricular involvement includes the leading the university drama club for several years, slight collaboration with NGOs
- Goal: To acquire business knowledge to set up my own company.
- 29-year-old Spanish male
Odds of Success:
Stanford: 10% to 30%
******all premised on your claim that a 2.5 GPA at your top school in Spain is also in the top 5 percent. Otherwise, all bets are off.
Sandy’s Analysis: You really, really need to prove that a 2.5 GPA is also in the top 5% of your class, if that is what you are saying above. Get the registrar of your university to make that clear. This is absolutely critical.
After that, this brightens considerably: We got a 770 GMAT, and five years at P&G, a company all B-schools respect. Play up the NGO connections or build them up. The rest of your extras are all college stuff, and while interesting, they don’t impact adcoms much, especially since you are now 29. Guys at P&G are expected to have more extras because it is not exactly like working at an Investment Bank in terms of spare time.
OK, all that said, HBS and Stanford take P&G guys, even older ones, and especially from Spain, which is not a frequent supplier of admits. For example, in a typical HBS class there will be seven to eight kids from Spain versus 12 from France and 14 from Germany (and five from Portugal). Most of those Spaniards will be from Blue Chip companies like yours or international IB and consulting companies. I’d say your chances at Stanford are weak because there is no do-gooder jive driving you in, and they are less interested in international P&G–type applicants per se, versus using companies like P&G as a source of talented minority candidates (along with Big 4 auditing companies).
HBS is bigger and feels a kinship with P&G in terms of size and age. So chances there are better, although age and lack of extras could be an issue. MIT will just about admit anyone with a 770 GMAT with a pulse who can also make a credible case that they want to come, which actually might be difficult for you because although you say you want to start a business — which they like — you don’t have much cred in that field given your resume and long-ish history of working for a “stodgy” company.
Kellogg will go for you and so too will Chicago just based on marketing background and stats (again, assuming you get a YouTube tape of Registrar of your University swearing on a Bible that 2.5 is top 5 percent). I might tell those places you are interested in product management and marketing and not starting your own company so you don’t sound like a burn-out, which is a real issue with a story and too-long career like yours.