With a Wharton undergrad in her pocket, this 26-year-old woman has been working for the past five years in real estate private equity and mentors underprivileged high school students. She now wants an MBA to move into a deal sourcing role at a private equity or venture capital fund.
He’s a 30-year-old Jordanian who has spent ten years working for a Big 4 accounting firm, half the time in audit and half in mergers and acquisitions. He wants an MBA to help him launch an advisory company to help family businesses.
Adopted by a lesbian couple at the age of 10, she’s the chief of staff for a state legislative committee. This 27-year-old woman wants an MBA to become a consultant, though her long-term goal is to run for major public office.
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.)
Ms. Dancing Engineer
- 740 GMAT
- 3.2 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from a top school of engineering
- Work experience includes two years as a consultant at a McKinsey/Bain/BCG firm on strategy and operations for the health care industry, although also experienced in financial services. Expect a promotion and sponsorship to be determined. Also worked on health care delivery start-up that ultimately failed
- Extracurricular involvement as board member of a contemporary dance group; also into dancing, yoga, scuba diving
- Looking at joint MBA/MPH-type programs
- Asian-American female
Odds of Success:
Harvard: 30% to 40%
Stanford: 20% to 30%
Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmmmmm, this is a M/B/B (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) profile plus dancing and a 740 GMAT and a 3.2 GPA from some top school in chemical engineering, with a bit of traction in health care, both in project work and with a start-up (was that on your own? not likely but a plus if so).
First, the mantra: M/B/B kids get “in” and get “dinged” from HBS and Stanford depending on execution, support from firm, luck, and some intangibles. Most M/B/B kids have high GPAs and GMATs, but not all, especially GMATs (M/B/B firms often require high GMATs, ~720, to be hired FROM B school, I’m not sure if they ask about your SATs during interviews at colleges, anyone???).
Not sure what to say about the 3.2 GPA. That is low, and the issue will be whether they will blink because you were majoring in chemical engineering and not puppetry (a favorite major of future Goldman tigers, who must learn to manipulate their “Muppets”). I think what you got going for you is the thread –your science background, your health care practice work at a Big 3 consulting firm, and your goals.
As noted, B-schools like the idea of a narrative arc, almost as much as Hollywood. That, plus being a female in science (a small but real plus) and possible firm sponsorship (another plus, but a good sign if it happens because it is a proxy for strong recommendations). Put all that into a beaker, and either shake it or stir it, and you got something in the top half of the Big 3 martini, which is a position that often leads to an admit.
The only shortcoming in this profile is your lack of do-gooder extracurriculars, which would make for a nice plus, but is not strictly necessary. Your desire for a Masters in Public Health dual degree is neither here nor there, although mentioning it might increase your bona fides. I’m against dual degrees (except MD-MBA) but that is a personal bête noir, others may disagree, my thinking is, you can get most of the value of the MPH by shrewd course selection your 2nd year in B-school, and save yourself about $200,000 in missed income and tuition. I’d be happy to hear from anyone who disagrees.
Ms. Real Estate
- 710 GMAT (92% Verbal, 71% Quant, 92% total)
- 3.4 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in business from the Wharton School
- Work experience includes three years at a real estate private equity fund largely working in distressed asset management, completing over $220 million of loan workouts, and two years at a real estate private equity secondary fund, working on $190 million of secondary market acquisitions
- Extracurricular involvement with a philanthropic organization to host bi-annual fundraisers to benefit underprivileged children; career and college prep mentor for underprivileged high school students; tutor grade school kids, both at the office and on the weekend, through a literacy organization. Was women’s rugby president and captain
- Goals: To move into a deal sourcing role at a private equity (real estate or traditional) or venture capital fund.
- 26-year-old white female
Odds of Success:
MIT: 30% to 40%
Columbia: 40% to 50%
Sandy’s Analysis: Close call at HBS and Stanford, but I think you will be a couple of bricks short of a load at those schools. Hard to pinpoint why but a 3.4 versus a 3.6 and a 710 with a 71% quant and two OK but not prestige sounding jobs (regardless of what you have accomplished, which sounds like a lot, but is mostly just gray noise to the people who read apps) all conspire against you.
Sounds like extras with under-privileged kids is more serious than most PE extra-curric stories but that is not going to change the see-saw. What could is if the firm got behind you in some strong way and had back channels to either Harvard or Stanford — and was willing to use them. Also, a lack of innovative or inspiring goals (on Planet Adcom, your goals are fine with me) is another potential negative. If you will be matriculating with six years of PE experience, that is also another cloud on horizon, potentially a big one at H and S. Once we get past H and S, you begin to become a stronger candidate: Haas and Columbia are both picky about keeping up their GPA and GMAT averages (you a shade low on both) and their high yields (and strong Quant scores) but you are in the running at those places because of employability and general likeable profile.
I would signal to both places, and especially Columbia, that you are really interested by 1) Visiting (and having your attendance noted at Columbia, don’t just sniff around. Go to a formal info session) and 2) Applying early. You could really help yourself by applying ED at Columbia but even if you don’t decide on that route, get application submitted by end of October at the latest.
Somewhere in the archives of adcom interviews (I think on BusinessWeek), Linda Meehan, the recently retired, long-serving adcom head at Columbia, is on record as saying they don’t like December applications (although they may take a few) — so-called ‘rolling admissions’ be damned. Well, she did not put it that way, but that was the clear inference.
MIT is always looking for smart females, and despite the fact that there is not a “whole lotta shaking going on” in your past or projected future in terms of their key buzz term, “innovation” (and a slightly-off Q GMAT), they do claim (not too loudly) to be interested in the intersection of real estate and finance, which is where you seemed to have pitched your tent. So they could surprise you. LBS should be in-line for you. The place is not that hard to crack, especially for Yanks, but why would you want to go there? Isn’t real estate, like politics, local? Even in private equity?
- 710 GMAT
- 3.35 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in government and international relations from a small research university
- Work experience as chief of staff for legislative committee (two years, supervising five staffers and up to ten interns. Campaign manager for state legislator. Was also a store manager during college
- Extracurricular involvement as a local elected official for six years, with lots of political campaign volunteer experience (mostly local and state). Also active in party politics (elected town committee and state committee member and started a local organization for young Democrats, several years as board of director for state-wide young Democrats organization). Also volunteer speaker on being straight in gay rights movement
- Goal: To transition to business as a consultant, potentially in sustainable corporate practices. Eventual goal is to run for major public office
- 27-year-old white female adopted at age 10 by a lesbian couple
Odds of Success:
Sandy’s Analysis: How come you are not going to law school or the Kennedy School of Government (or its sister public policy schools)? HBS is open to political operatives and even elected officials. Those folks usually are federal level, White House staffers and congressional aides. I hope, at least, you come from a big and important state in terms of both population and impact. This story does not sell as well if it all happened North Dakota (not that there is anything wrong with ND, or similar states). Anyway, I’m not seeing this as HBS, but Kennedy School does go for this, and HKS will give you the silver plating you need, and, dirty little secret, lots of kids who go to K school (and Woodrow Wilson etc) wind up working in the private sector, at least immediately post graduation.
Another huge suggestion concerns your stated goals: “Immediate goal is to transition to business as consultant, potentially specializing in sustainable corporate practices.” Huh? That is often done by lawyers and practiced lay people. It actually sounds a bit like burnout, so I would avoid it. You might say instead that you want to join regular consulting shop with public practice division, or whatever they call it, focusing on issues like the following (from this press release), advertising a government efficiency Pow-Wow given by McKinsey:
“The Summit focused on two important questions governments face around the world:
1. How can government do more with less in a time of great fiscal uncertainty—improving not just efficiency but also effectiveness?
2. How can government change under pressure and what can we learn from others’ experiences?”
That sure sounds like what you should be doing. And for more buzzwords and “best-in-class” BS on this topic see the whole agenda. It is linked to the above press release.
Once you get your story straight, you become a good deal more attractive to most schools, but I’m not seeing this as H or S because of your lack of college and work pedigree. Although being raised by a lesbian couple is summa cum laude on the PC-meter, it will only get you so far. It is hard to get a read on your extra currics, and political work, which sounds substantial, that and your academic and GMAT story (which is actually pretty good, once it gets explained), and those extra courses, could push you over the top at other schools. Sloan might be convinced to pick you in a wildcard round, and Tuck is pretty PC and cares about good government. Saying you want to run for public office as a long-term goal is OK, just make it real long-term.
My question still remains: Why not try for Schools of Public Policy, which often send graduates to consulting firms?
- 700 GMAT
- Undergraduate degree in commerce in India
- Received average scores in a tough charter accounting program
- Work experience includes being a corporate banker for six years at Citibank and HSBC; set up a small mortgages credit shop for Citi and then moved to a sales role. Have since moved to HSBC to a risk analysis unit and now work for a standard chartered bank as associate director for mid-market. Set a new record in my region for the number of clients on-boarded and played an instrumental role in a record year for revenue
- Extracurricular involvement winning prizes at acting for skits, including best actor for a contest held at my bank
- Goal: To work in consulting/venture capital/private equity
- 31-year-old Indian male
Odds of Success:
Sandy’s Analysis: Both your age and what appears to be a LOT of so-so banking jobs (from Adcoms perspective) are holding you back. You are 31 with what you are say are average scores in a tough charter accounting program with a 700 GMAT and not much extra currics or other powerful factors. Your biggest asset seems to be great career advancement over your banking career, starting off in retail banking and then moving up the ranks at several banks doing landmark deals and bringing in record new customers.
That record of solid, day-in and day-out accomplishment is something greatly valued in the real world, and deeply discounted on Planet Adcom. They got you pegged, rightly or wrongly, as some excellent second-tier commercial banker from backwater banks and cities. The fact you want to use B-school to transition from that into the more sunlight precincts of venture capital and private equity will only confirm their impression, rightly or wrongly. Plus, those gigs are hard to get for a guy with not much pedigree graduating B school at age 34 or so.
I would not mention the PE/VC wet dream in your app, and focus on transition to consulting, which you also mention. Given your solid banking background–unlike most kids at B school from Goldman, Morgan, etc, you actually do know how to cash a check or issue a real mortgage –you might be able to get a job at consulting firms which specialize in financial institutions, and that is what you should say, and only that.
Given iffy-ness of grades and marginal GMAT, I might recommend taking GMAT over. You are going to be a close call at INSEAD, Columbia, Kellogg, Stern, Tuck, and Darden, although those are right choices, along with Michigan, Duke, and other schools in 7-15 range on most rankings. You are also heading into EMBA territory, which is an option, but one which probably will NOT make your dreams come true. If any reader had evidence of using an EMBA as a way to transition from commercial banking to consulting, let me know.
You need to clarify your story as one of increasing success and responsibility and then work up some soap bubble of a goal statement about wanting to help financial institutions in Asia increase efficiency, lower costs, blah, blah as some kind of consultant to the industry, and allude to specialist firms in Asia which do that (do any?) and hint that you already have spoken to people doing that, and employment prospects are solid.
- 315 GRE
- 3.1 GPA
- Undergraduate degree from a university in Jordan
- Work experience includes ten years in a Big 4 firm, half in audit and half in M&A services, currently a senior manager; have had assignments with the public and
- Sectors, for companies listed on the New York and London Stock Exchanges and
- for governments in Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and the U.S.
- Extracurricular involvement as a member of Seeds of Peace and clean tech champion in my office. Currently working on launching an auction website and helped several entrepreneurs with their business plans
- Goal: To launch advisory company to help family businesses grow and empowering women in the Levant area (Jordan, Iraq, Syria & Lebanon) in addition to promoting peace through businesses in the Middle East area.
- 30-year-old white Jordanian citizen
Odds of Success:
Cornell (one year): 40%
Columbia (accelerated program): 40%
Sandy’s Analysis: Despite your many accomplishments over your career, including what seems like crossing the Jordan River from audit to M&A services (is that still in audit or more advisory work?), 10 years of work experience is a large pill for most B-schools to swallow. HBS and Stanford are no go. You really belong in an EMBA or part-time program, and you also need to rethink your goals, which currently, are, “to launch advisory company to help family businesses grow and empowering women in the Levant area (Jordan, Iraq, Syria & Lebanon) in addition to promoting peace through businesses in the Middle East area.”
Hmmmm, that is three things, all of which are admirable, but I would cut back on the last two (female empowerment and peace in the Middle East) on the grounds that MBA programs are 1) in favor of those goals, and 2) they usually don’t expect candidates with 10 years of Big 4 experience to focus on that. You would do better sticking with being a consultant to family businesses, especially if you have done that type of work in the past.
Or more promising, you note you have worked with governments, I might suggest that as a stronger goal to play. Perhaps you want to be a consultant to governments in the Middle East at the intersection of governance, accounting, business development advising, etc. Sorta the same song-and-dance from this press release about making governments work better that I suggested Ms. Politician, the above candidate, should study. You can then mention your work with refugees, Seeds of Peace, as supplementary to that calling, and not a new career, per se. You need to craft yourself as someone who is not radically changing functions after 10 years. B-schools don’t think they can really help you with that. You need to compose some narrative which combines the best of what you have done with your aspirations.
I don’t think your long-ago GPA of 3.1 and new GRE score of 315 will be an issue, although the GPA is low-ish. Schools will look more closely at your long work history and record of success. As to the new GRE, the percentages are really important, since no one really knows how to read the new scores, see this blog for a pretty good explanation. If anyone can understand that, let me know.
The fact that you are ‘only’ 30 is a plus (for someone with 10 years of work experience, that is really young) and you could be a “wild card” at the schools you note, viz. “1-year MBA Cornell, Yale, Chicago, Kellogg, Columbia (accelerated program)” if you clarify your story, stress employment contacts (especially for the one-year and 16-month January Columbia programs), and focus on your core story. Leave out your auction website and helping entrepreneurs. That just sounds like you are bored and looking for a way out. You need to convince schools that you like what you do, you have vast experience in the Middle East, both with governments, NGO’s, and established businesses as a result of your Big 4 work, and that you want to actualize all that expertise and passion as an impactful leader and advisor. Middle East governments need skills like yours (plus MBA).
You totally know the lay of the land and need LEADERSHIP and STRATEGIC skills, which is why you are not applying to EMBA or part-time programs. How come you want the MBA needs to be part of your presentation. If you do not need the summer internship, the Cornell and Columbia programs might really work for you. Also look into the Sloan Fellows one-year program given by both MIT and Stanford business schools, which take older people. Links are Stanford and MIT. Kofi Annan got that degree from MIT, and you can use him as a role model of how you want to help governments.