Can You Get Into A Great B-School?

by on March 18th, 2012

After graduating from Harvard College with a degree in psychology, she did a one-year stint in brain research on hardened criminals and then joined a firm that specializes in community service travel for students. She now wants an MBA to pursue her dream of doing something entrepreneurial.

This 26-year-old graduated magna cum laude from an Ivy League university and is a marketing manager at a Bay Area startup. With a 740 GMAT score, he wants to gain an MBA to help him move into higher-level strategy roles and eventually into venture capital.

He’s a professional musician and songwriter who works as an acoustics consultant. With a 3.87 grade point average from a top university in New Zealand, he is hoping to use the MBA degree to transition into clean tech.

What these would-be MBA candidates 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.

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 assessment:

Mr. Music

  • 800 Quant GRE
  • 670 Verbal
  • 3.87 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in physics and music from a top New Zealand university
  • Work experience includes two years at a world-class acoustic consultancy, dealing with acoustics in major industrial, environmental, architectural projects.
  • Extracurricular involvement as a professional musician and songwriter; also coordinator in climate change organization and volunteer for a non-profit that supports young disabled performers
  • Goals: “Would like to leverage my physics background and diverse exposure to many industries in my job, as well as experience in climate change movement, to be a business leader in clean tech”
  • “I am considering deferring application to work in a developing country for a year (probably on a volunteer basis). Ideally I
would like to volunteer with sustainable small business development. Would this benefit my application?”
  • 24-year-old white male, with dual citizenship in New Zealand and the U.S.

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40+%
Stanford: 20% to 35+%
Wharton: 50%+
Chicago: 50+%
Northwestern: 50+%
MIT: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is a real attractive profile with a high GPA, high test scores, plus the combination of turning a passion, music, into a career in industrial acoustics. Adcoms love stuff like that. They love arty guys with real jobs, and that is certainly you. It confirms one of their big wet dreams — that Art and Commerce are somehow braided together. And while that is rarely true in the big bad world, it is certainly true in your case.

Coming from New Zealand is also a plus. It has all the exoticism and good feelings of coming from Australia, with the added virtue of possibly being sober. Your extra curriculars are solid and involve helping people with disabilities, music and green causes, and your goals in clean tech seem connected enough to what you’re currently doing professionally (which is minimizing noise pollution) so that your desire for an MBA is a perfect “pivot” of the type Adcoms like to think their schools provide in the best case situations. You’d be a strong applicant whether or not you took the one-year internship in a developing country. If you do that, it would help to get connected to some organization/NGO versus going freelance. “Sustainable small business development” is a wonderful-sounding idea, whatever it really means. So sure, that would also be a plus. If that does not come through, well, just apply next year. You can also skip the NGO experience and apply now, your story is complete enough for adcoms as is.

Mr. Phi Beta Kappa

  • 740 GMAT
  • 4.0 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in English from an Ivy (but not Harvard, Princeton or Yale)
  • Graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa
  • Work experience as a marketing manager at a successfully growing Bay Area startup. In three years went from intern to marketing coordinator to current job
  • Extracurricular involvement in sketch comedy as an undergrad, serve on a task force for a progressive Bay Area independent school
  • Goal: “Interested in moving toward higher-level strategy roles, eventually in venture capital”
  • 26-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 35% to 40+%
Stanford: 30%
MIT: 50+%
Dartmouth: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, an Ivy 4.0 and a 740 GMAT is a good way to start a discussion. A lot will depend on what firm you work for and what B-schools think of it. Your extracurricular with a progressive independent school could be a big plus, depending on what you do and what impact you have made. Adcoms like education reform in all its facets, from Teach for America to Khan Academy to educational technology.

What I don’t fully get is your goal in venture capital, which does not flow clearly from what comes before. Compare yourself to the guy directly above you from New Zealand, where the whole story is braided together. Your story could sound like you’ve been reading too many glossy business magazines featuring VC titans, so that is something to avoid. You claim the transition is based on wanting to move “toward a higher level strategy role,” which is the right type of generic  baloney to be slicing in this situation. But you will need to make it more personalized and refined and maybe focused on helping firms grow in areas similar to the one you are now working in.

It might help to have a road map of some kind, involving consulting in a similar industry, and then name leaders who walked a similar path. There are many.  It would help if the  guys who started your current company have Harvard, Stanford or Wharton backgrounds and VC funding so their recommendations will have some added credibility (not strictly necessary).

It would also help if your marketing manager role gets you savvy about social media. Schools are beginning to catch on that students who actually know about that stuff are valuable. It was a frequent Dee Leopold question in Harvard’s last round of interviews, viz. “How do you use social media?”– updating (or supplementing) other Leopold favorites like “How do you get your news?” and the  ancient and quaint question of hers, “What books do you like to read?” (Well, she still asks that too, along with similar questions about newspapers and magazines).  All that aside, you got a solid profile and an almost-solid story.

Good question for our readers—pretend you are  an admissions officer and could only take one of these two very qualified candidates, the New Zealand guy or this VC-bound guy.

What is your choice and why???

Mr. IT

  • 710 GMAT
  • 3.32 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in marketing and finance at a top 60 regional university
  • Work experience as an analyst for the past three years at a Fortune 100 retailer and one year as a project manager in IT security. Have lots of project management experience, but no management of people.
  • “I was hired on to aid in a reporting process, and ended up revolutionizing the way we collect, report on, and manage data.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as a math tutor for two years, active in marketing and finance clubs and college radio as a DJ; helped fiancée launch a jewelry/photography business and active in my alumni association
  • Goal: “My dream would be to work either in market research or brand management in the northeast in consumer products or high tech or for a retailer or vendor in marketing research.”
  • Future goal: To start my own database marketing research company
  • 27-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Northwestern: 40%
Chicago: 20% to 40%
Duke: 40%
NYU: 50%
Virginia: 50+%
Michigan: 50+%
Cornell:  50%
Indiana: 50%
Wisconsin: 60+%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is a pretty simple story: a 27-year-old male from a Tier II/III school with a 710 GMAT and a 3.32 GPA, works in marketing for a Fortune 100 retailer. Your analytical bent on marketing is a real plus, since that is in demand, especially your ability to innovate and  work with  large databases, especially if that involves slicing-and-dicing data being harvested by social media (a very desirable expertise that seems to separate the hip kids from the older marketing types). So that will make you attractive to B-schools and also attractive to employers.

Guys like you sometimes get into Wharton with perfect execution and a bit of luck, and often get into Kellogg and Booth. You got solid stories, a solid goal path and acceptable extras. You say, “I was hired on to aid in a reporting process, and ended up revolutionizing the way we collect, report on, and manage data. Although I do not have anyone under me, I have trained many people on new tools and processes I’ve developed.”

Don’t worry about not having anyone under you (at work). Most applicants don’t either, but do stress how you have revolutionized the way you collect data. I think your chances at Duke, NYU, Darden, Michigan, Cornell are excellent. You are just the type of solid and employable guy those places look for.

Ms. HBS 2+2 Wannabe

  • 780 GMAT
  • 3.87 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree with three majors—math, biology and economics—from a non-Harvard, Yale, Princeton Ivy
  • Work experience includes stints in two neuroscience labs during school, one with a Nobel Laureate chemist; a consulting internship with a pharmaceutical contract research organization; a one-week externship at Deloitte Consulting and a one-month internship with GE Capital; currently working part-time at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
  • Extracurricular involvement includes starting a microfinance club on campus, being chair of an undergraduate research board and a cultural advocacy board, president of an honor society and also led a housing project for immigrant refugees
  • Goal: “Interested in healthcare/biotechnology management and business development, but not sure yet of the specifics (this is where I hope the 2+2 program will help mold my career trajectory).”
  • 20-year-old Southeast Asian female with very low income, first generation college student

Odds of Success:

Harvard 2+2: 50+%
Stanford (sleeper 2+2 program): 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: This looks like a solid HBS 2+2 profile to me. Also note you can apply to Stanford’s “knock-off” 2+2 program (2+2 plus 1 year later than Harvard’s), less well known, but the same deal. You apply as a college senior and then defer for two years. Details are on the Stanford website. A 780 GMAT goes a long way–not the whole way, but a long way, along with what seems like a solid, if zigzagging 3.87 undergraduate record, they will get the idea. The real strength of this profile is that you are a science/math major who can actually show a good deal of  interest in bio-tech–and not writing algos for Hedge Funds (although one cannot predict the future).

Accordingly, your internships at labs should be stressed rather than the work you have done at banks and GE Capital. You need to handle those “finance-type” gigs as ways of finding out how big banks work and not secret trysts with the love cannot speak its name (you want to be a …BANKER). To the extent you did any healthcare etc work while working in those soiled temples of finance, you should highlight that.

You say “ . . . overall I’m interested in healthcare/biotechnology management and business development, but not sure yet of the specifics (this is where I hope the 2+2 program will help mold my career trajectory). .  .” As Dee Leopold sometimes says in interviews, when she hears a really good answer . . .”BINGO.”

You’re also active on campus and coming from poor, first-gen background is another plus. You got a lot of energy from the accomplishments listed above: three majors, two minors, what seems like eight different jobs and heading many organizations. If you can figure out some way to bottle that, well, you can bring down gas prices and get Obama re-elected.

At any rate, this is a solid 2+2 profile.

Ms. Travel

  • 720 GMAT (heavily weighted in verbal)
  • 3.6 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in psychology from Harvard
  • Work experience includes one year of brain research on hardened criminals. Did this right out of college to see if I wanted to go on for a PhD in the field—but “it was not the career path for me.” Then joined a medium-sized business that specializes in community service travel for students “Was hired as part of a two-year management training program where I got to put a solid hand in marketing, management, and sales, hiring and firing people, managing teams in 10 countries (Morocco, Ghana, China, Burma, Thailand). I have also worked on and led community service initiatives in many of these countries.”
  • Goal: To focus on entrepreneurship/growing small businesses (like my current employer).

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%
Dartmouth: 50+%
Chicago: 50+%
Berkeley: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Mostly traditional profile of a kid who spends one year after college figuring out X is not for her and then lands in semi-random, but respectable job and does well there. A lot will turn on what company you work for and its history of sending kids to business school, and how much support you can get from recommendation writers.

On the basics– a 3.6 from Harvard College and a 720 GMAT (even with odd splits) –sometimes gets peeps into HBS. In your case, more than most, a lot will depend on the  execution of your story and how you explain how you got your 2nd job and why, and what you have done there, and how that fuels goals.

All of your story hangs together in some baggy but clear way: 1. psych major, 2. brain research project working with hardened prisoners (HBS likes hardened prisoners and those who work with them—as long as they stay in their seats and cooperate with their minders, it is a dystopian model of HBS itself), 3. consulting for community-service type organization (I am not sure I understand exactly what they do, but projects sound very much like HBS FIELD program, which is a plus, plus what seems like steady career advancement and a mix of do-gooder field work with actual marketing, management and sales.

Harvard interviews kids like that, and often admits them. Make sure you cap it off with some goal statement that continues the string. I’d apply to Wharton, as well as Booth, Tuck and Haas. You are in the running at those schools as well, and might sneak into Stanford, if you can 1. Put all this together in some Stanford-y way, and/or 2. Find someone with a wire into the place (as noted often, the side-door at Stanford is pretty wide, e.g. for qualified peeps like you with friends who make sure it happens).  Also of note, although not the issue in your case, the back door at Stanford– for admits with real powerful friends — is bigger than a cat flap. Well, it is at all schools but Stanford is the most sanctimonious about its admissions process, so they get the tweak.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds–Latest Posts

Part XXVI: Calculating Your Odds of Getting In
Part XXVII: Breaking Through The Elite MBA Screen
Part XXVIII: Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

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