Getting Into Your Dream School
To gain top-secret security clearance, this 26-year-old went through an eight-month background check with a polygraph interview. He passed muster and works directly with agents on behalf of the U.S. Now wants an MBA to start a consulting business focused on intelligence.
They are a married Brazilian couple who want to come to a top MBA program in the U.S. He’s 27 and works in planning for Anheuser-Busch. She’s 29 and a quality specialist for one of the world’s top ten steel companies.
At 25 years of age, he’s a manager in the finance department of a software company. He’s also a Boy Scout Master with a 770 GMAT who wants to use an MBA to transition into investment banking or consulting.
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.)
Mr. Secret Agent Man
- 700 GMAT (expected)
- 3.7 GPA
- Undergraduate degree from a public ivy
- Work experience includes four years for the Department of Justice/FBI/CIA as an analyst working directly with agents; promoted after 18 months
- “I have quite a few ‘interesting’ stories to talk about in the essays. To be hired, I went through an eight-month background check with a polygraph interview to receive a top secret security clearance.”
- Extracurricular involvement as the founder of the first sports and entertainment club on campus; paid half of my college expenses through an import business launched with friends
- Goal: “To start a consulting business specialized in the intelligence community where my pre-MBA expertise lies (something international). Backup: rejoin the government agency in a field position”
- 26-year-old male with dual citizenship in the U.S. and a South American country (my mother is South American)
Odds of Success:
Harvard: 10% to 15%
Columbia: 30% to 45%
Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmmmmm, adcom officers, in their official capacity, are not interested in cloak-and-dagger stories, polygraphs, body cavity searches as part of your prolonged security clearance, or the spy business in general, however spun, nor is the “intelligence community” a good way to project your goals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to hear your stories and so would everyone else, but that is not at issue here. You need to make what you do more analytical and strategic than exciting. A 3.7 from a public Ivy, a Latin American mom (identify as Hispanic, if you can, that could really help, and make it clear how, if you do not have an Hispanic surname), and ~ 700 GMAT, along with “analyst role” in an selective government agency could get you far. But don’t sound like a government lifer, which your goals (consulting to ‘intelligence community’ what does that mean?) and excitement about working for the man, sound like.
You do not need an elite MBA to re-join the agency, so never mention that again. I’m not seeing this as HBS or Stanford. They prefer their gov’ment types from the military, the White House, and elite congressional staffers. Columbia and Wharton could go for this on stats alone and some PC rewrite of your experience and goals. Assuming you get a 700+ GMAT. INSEAD might think you are a mole of some kind, and might be too unaware to realize that a real mole would come more camouflaged. I am not totally joking, but they may see you as odd, and the CIA is not a good monogram on your blazer in Europe. Nor is the FBI or whatever agency you actually work for.
So my general advice is to dial down the James Bond stuff and make your experiences more about analysis, strategy, and the type of vanilla stuff that consultants do. To the extent you are interested in re-joining the government, try to position yourself in some consulting, strategy, public policy role, after a gateway career in management consulting. Adcoms like to think of themselves as running the ‘black box’; they are not interested in someone who may have real black box or black ops experience.
Mr. & Mrs. Brazil
- 740 GMAT
- 3.4 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from a Top 10 university in Brazil
- Fluent in Portuguese, English and Spanish
- Work experience includes five years at an Anheuser-Busch International subsidiary in Brazil with some history of sending employees to top U.S. schools; joined as a management trainee and moved up to become a distribution analyst, then logistics coordinator, then logistics manager, and now work in a planning and performance role
- Extracurricular involvement as marketing manager and then CEO of a junior enterprise in college, leading consulting projects at listed companies; also helped high school students develop a company through Junior Achievement
- Goal: To join a general management consulting company and eventually move into a family business (medium-size company, with over 1000 employees)
- 27-year-old Brazilian male
- 700 GMAT (expected)
- 3.3 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in industrial engineering
- Master’s degree in metallurgy
- Work experience includes six years at one of the ten largest steel companies in the world; joined as management trainee, then begun working in quality lab. After couple years, became coordinator of the lab; two years later, moved to another city to become Brazil specialist in quality for downstream mills
- Extracurricular involvement in junior enterprise in college and a participant in several consulting projects; volunteer supporting children from poor families and also part of Junior Achievement at a public school
- Goal: To move into consulting, and then to a consumer goods company
- 29-year-old Brazilian female
Odds of Success:
Harvard: 30% to 40+% (Him); 20% to 30% (Her)
MIT: 40% (Him); 30% (Her)
Sandy’s Analysis: Correct me about those Brazilian GPAs: yours is 3.4 and your wife’s is 3.3—those are slightly low by U.S. standards but we have seen that Latin American and Spanish GPAs run low. Is that the case here, or are those 3.4 and 3.3 better compared to U.S. GPA’s? If so, to the eyes of the adcom, you are the stronger candidate, since you are younger, have a 740 GMAT, and work for an International Consumer Brand. One could make the case that a woman in a technical/managerial role for a steel company is more rare, and I would agree, at some adcoms, your wife might trump you as a wild-card (it could depend on execution of your apps, if she really plays up the woman thriving in a macho environment, that could be very attractive).
There is a chance you could get into HBS and your wife could get into MIT. MIT is always looking for women, but it would help if her GMAT really was above 700. Good looks only get you so far there. If so, she becomes a very attractive candidate–a woman with an Industrial Engineering degree and another one in Metallurgy PLUS actually using those degrees in a steel mill . . . it’s B-school movie stuff.
All that said, I’m seeing your wife as a reach at HBS, based on her age, bronze and silver stats . . . unless HBS also falls hard for the “woman with a hard hat in the steel plant story.” Her saying she wants to do consulting is OK, but her ultimate goal of leading/working for a consumer goods company seems to be throwing away her greatest asset. I would strongly suggest she reconsider that.
HBS as a rule does not give a lot of weight to two-fers (e.g., the school will admit both partners of a marriage or long-term relationship as a small courtesy to one of them), although being a spouse of an admit could tip the balance maybe late in the Wait List season , when the adcoms want to close out the year, and like who cares, why not? MIT is more open to two-fers, so that is another option. For the record, there are about 6-10 married couples per class at HBS, i.e., couples who arrive married, and both are matriculated. There are a lot more married couples where one spouse is a student and the other is what they call a ‘partner.’ Mitt and Ann Romney, to take one famous example.
At Wharton, I think you both have a solid chance. I am not sure how open they are to package deals. Your chances get better in Chicago—both of you could get into Booth or Kellogg, or one each, since both of you, in terms of stats, extras, good jobs, etc. are “in-line” for both schools. Tuck is open to couples, and you both seem the Tuck-y type, in terms of extras, international background and likeability. Might be the best place for you both actually. It’s a real solid school with tight community.
So your school choices are real smart, in terms of winding up in the same city, if not the same school.
Your goal of running your medium-sized family business (1000 employees) will be effective depending on what family business is, and how much you can make a case that you could transform and expand it, and make it into job and value creator, etc. If it is in manufacturing or some high-value part of the service economy, your case becomes easier.
Mr. Boy Scout Master
- 770 GMAT
- 3.6 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in finance from a top-50 ranked school
- Work Experience includes three years in the finance department of a mid-size software company. Started as an analyst and was recently promoted to a managerial role and have 10 direct reports. Also spent two years in Japan on a Mormon mission
- Fluent in Japanese and comfortable with written Japanese
- Extracurricular involvement as a Boy Scout Master for a group of more than a dozen 12- and 13-year-old boys. Actively involved in church community.
- Goal: “I would like a career change (maybe I-banking or consulting), and am very interested in opportunities where I could use my Japanese-speaking ability.”
- 25-year-old white male.
Odds of Success:
Harvard: 10% to 20%
Wharton: 30% to 50%
Sandy’s Analysis: This will be a tough call for you at HBS for reasons you note: three years in no-name software company is off their radar and they will have nothing to compare you with in terms of job selectivity or other applicants from the same firm. I take it that not many from your firm apply to B-school and that is another issue.
The LDS mission, especially to Japan, where the language is remote (vs. Europe or even English-speaking countries) is a plus but not a dealmaker. Being a Scout Master is another small plus, but it’s not going to change the outcome. There is nothing really driving you “in” to HBS, and they prefer finance guys to work for finance companies, like banks, or Fortune-100 companies in rotational roles, not medium-sized software companies. I would stress any strategic role you have at your company and its growth– the fact you have been promoted so fast and now have 10 direct reports is a plus but adcoms may be saying to themselves, the equivalent of “that’s Chinatown,” e.g. that is what happens in spiking software companies with a hot product.
Chances at Wharton, Duke, Berkeley, and UCLA are on the solid side because of real solid stats and OK work pedigree with some success there. (Your job is not “Chinatown” to them, but try to make bona fides of your company in terms of size, revenue, publically traded, etc. real clear and be especially clear about what you do there, and how that is a foundation for your goals and your need for an MBA.
You’d be better off saying you want to do consulting rather than I-banking, and with 770 GMAT, you will have a door opener at most consulting shops, who tend to put some real cred on high GMAT scores, assuming you pass the sniff test. I-banking is not a beloved goal at most B-schools, and it just makes you sound predatory and eager to catch-up on the earnings curve. Stick to talking about strategic advice and management consulting. Transitioning into I-Banking is not a smart goal for (almost) anyone, IMHO. I’d be happy to hear from applicants who said that is what they wanted to do, and succeeded, and how.
Mr. Naval Aviator
- 720 GMAT
- 3.81 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in math statistics and economics from the University of Rochester, with a minor in Arabic and a semester abroad in Jordan
- 3.91 GPA
- Master’s in international relations from George Washington University
- Work experience as a naval aviator, flying an F/A-18, to enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq. Military career began via ROTC and also served as a professor of naval science at GWU
- Extracurricular involvement as a member of the finance and economics council at school, the political science and international relations council, and an intern to local Congressmen for two summers
- Goal: “To get involved with emerging markets overseas, maybe work in private equity to encourage a healthier business climate in less fortunate countries.”
- Near fluency in Arabic
- 30 years old
Odds of Success:
Stanford: 35% to 45%
Chicago: 50% to 60%
Dartmouth: 50% to 60%
Wharton: 40% to 60%
Sandy’s Analysis: Ready for take-off, captain. A 3.8 GPA in math and economics, a 3.9 GPA in International Relations, a 720 GMAT, and a naval aviator? Guys like you get into HBS and Stanford all the time. It is a matter of not screwing up the application or the interview (well, not screwing the interview at HBS because the interview at Stanford is not worth much, unless you start telling bawdy sailor stories). The near-fluency in Arabic and study abroad in Jordan are added pluses.
Schools don’t focus much when considering military applicants between service academies and ROTC and take a fair share from each. Your stated goal, “looking to try to get involved with emerging markets overseas, maybe work in private equity to encourage a healthier business climate in less fortunate countries” could be sharper. I’d play up Arabic language skills and say you want to work in consulting in the region as a gateway to helping developing nations. “Less fortunate countries” is not the preferred lingo these days, as I am sure you found in your International Relations masters program, but maybe you just lapsed into lazy blog talk by writing quickly on… a… blog.
Have your game face on while doing the application and especially the interviews. Military guys also often say they are thinking, long term, of running for elected office. You could do that, too, given political experiences and masters degree. At HBS and Stanford, this is a matter of execution in some non-offensive, non-gung-ho jet pilot way, stressing leadership and cultural awareness.
For schools you mention outside of HBS and Stanford, it is that too, and a matter of convincing them you want to come. Your impressive stats and experiences should result in lots of blue skies.
Mr. Varsity Baseball
- 700-720 GMAT
- 3.6 GPA
- Undergraduate degree in economics from a top 100 university
- Work experience includes an internship at boutique investment bank, a year and one-half at a large well known healthcare IT company, a six-month stint in BPO sales, and two and one-half years with another large, well-known health care provider, working on reform strategy and collaborative care partnerships. Current company frequently sends employees on par with my role to top 5 schools, and also recruits from them
- “I’ve built good rapport in all my roles, could probably get good recommendations from some “heavier” hitters (VPs, SVPs, bishops). What would you recommend?”
- Extracurricular involvement during college as captain of the varsity baseball team, co-founder of students in philanthropy, founder and president of a Catholic athletic group, led a dozen students to Honduras for two week long service trips. Currently
- Developing chapters for the same Catholic athletic group at high schools and colleges nationally, a Big Brother mentoring at-risk youth, a volunteer at a non-profit helping to plan the annual 5K fundraiser to promote entrepreneurship and community leadership for at-risk youth
- Goal: ”To bridge the gap to private equity, working in growth strategy specific to healthcare. (Is this appropriate, or should I go the entrepreneurship route? Consulting? PE is what I want, but I understand I need the story to fit)”
- 26-year-old Hispanic male (25% Hispanic but with surname)
Odds of Success:
Harvard: 30% to 35%
Stanford: 15% to 25%
Wharton: 30% to 45%
Sandy’s Analysis: Dunno man, you say GPA was 3.6. That is pretty close to average at HBS and Stanford (3.67 or so, roughly speaking) and above the average GPA of the rest of the Top-10. If you get (or have gotten, unclear from your note) a 700-720 GMAT, that should do you fine. With a Hispanic surname, major athletics, lots of volunteering, and continuing extracurrics, you got a chance at all schools. Your real weakness is mildly zig-zagging career and three instead of two jobs. But schools will blink at that if they otherwise like you. The fact that current firm sends kids to top-5 schools is real positive. Why not you?
Your stated goal, “Bridge the gap to private equity, working in growth strategy specific to healthcare,” and your question, “Is this appropriate, or should I go the entrepreneurship route? Consulting? PE is what I want, but I understand I need the story to fit?” is well asked, and the answer is, say you want to do consulting. Stay away from PE. You don’t have any full-time, prolonged IB or finance background, and your zig-zagging pre-MBA career (including a stint in Business Processing Outsourcing sales) is not the kind of resume PE firms look for, even if you are interviewing from H/S/W.
You cannot go wrong saying you want to be a consultant, and possibly becoming a leader in reforming Health Care, by helping other companies, joining a start-up after consulting or starting your own. Recommenders should be from supervisors in first instance, and folks who actually know your work first-hand; heavy hitters and bishops are OK for one out of three at HBS, or should be saved for emergency phone calls, etc.
If you get the 700+ GMAT, get counted as a Hispanic (should happen), clarify this shaggy dog story, and present some sensible goals based on that clear story, you got a shot at HBS, although you will need to sound like more of a success than above sounds like. Stanford may go for this, given the high level of do-gooder stuff, and Anderson Cooper trips to crisis zones. Other schools will be impressed by the same issues and they have wider doors.