Profiles of Real HBS, Wharton, Stanford Admits: How do you Compare?

by on June 24th, 2012

Earlier this week, we had the pleasure of hosting a chat outlining real successful profiles of admits to HBS, Wharton, and Stanford. Dr. Shel Watts, founder and CEO of, provided some extraordinary insights into this whole process. Dr. Watts is a Harvard College (A.B.) and Oxford University (Masters/Ph.D) graduate with a background in banking and consulting. She was also a faculty member at Harvard for 4 years.

If you’re aiming for the top U.S. and European business schools, it would do you well to review Dr. Shel Watts’ advice below (you can also read the entire event transcript here). I’ll feature first half of the chat here, but I strongly encourage you to check out the full discussion by going to the Event Transcript in MBA Watch!

Let’s hear about a couple of very strong candidates who had multiple successes.


CANDIDATE 1:  American female with a military background

This candidate only applied to two schools, Wharton and Harvard, and I felt very certain she would gain admission at both, which she did.  She was a terrific candidate.

  • 27 year old American female
  • Industry: Military
  • Years of Full-time Professional Experience:  3
  • Promotions/ Workplace Honors:  Yes, 2 “promotions”
  • College:  Top-20 U.S. college
  • GPA/GMAT:  High GPA (3.8), GMAT 700
  • College Academic Honors:  Magna Cum Laude
  • Extracurricular activities: Captain of a varsity college sport; on the executive team of a second college club
  • Personal:  Strong story about going against the grain of her ethnic culture to enter and excel in the military
  • Long-term goal: To lead a company in the finance arena

This candidate was an American female of a very traditional ethnic culture who decided she wanted to go into the military, which was very unusual given her ethnic background. She had excelled in college as a notable student leader.  She served as captain of a varsity sport for 3 years.  She led her team to championships.  She also served on the executive board of a service-focused college club.  She achieved an A average.

In the workplace, she excelled, receiving promotions.  She led two special projects and received accolades for their successes.

MBA Strategy

As always, even with these strong credentials, it is important to put together an outstanding application.  This candidate could have derailed her chances of success, for instance, if she had failed to communicate the business-relevancy of her experiences in the military.  MBA’s strategy was to showcase her top credentials in her application and to highlight her courage in making the career choices she had made, regardless of the disapproval she felt from many people in her ethnic community.  We also made certain to highlight how her military experience had allowed her to develop her leadership and we spoke of her work in business terms.

We also took care to present her as very directed in her long-term goals.  The image she projected of her future was very compelling.

I was convinced this candidate would easily sail into all schools to which she applied, and with an outstanding application, she did.  She gained admission to the two schools she applied to: Harvard and Wharton.

Great.  How about another example of a super strong candidate.

Let me just provide a brief profile of another candidate who would be in my mind a top admit candidate, regardless of his or her ethnic background or nationality.

CANDIDATE 2:  27-year old African American Summa Cum Laude Graduate working for McKinsey & Company (consulting)

  • Industry:  Management consulting
  • Years of Full-time Professional Experience:  3
  • Promotions/ Workplace Honors:  None (is not typical to have a promotion in this sort of company after 3 years)
  • College:  Non-Top 20 U.S. college
  • GPA/GMAT:  High GPA (3.9), GMAT 720
  • College Academic Honors:  Summa Cum Laude
  • Extracurricular activities: President of the Engineering Club, Senator in the Student Government; post-college, on the Board of a national charity
  • Personal:  Strong story about prevailing against hard economic conditions growing up
  • Long-term goal: To become a director in a management consulting company and then launch his own business

A candidate like this is strong across the board, and as long as he or she puts their application together, they should have great outcomes at multiple schools.  Let’s go into more depth, though, with candidates who had a weakness in their candidacy or who had to overcome some challenge in order to gain admission.

That’s a good idea, as many people participating in this chat today may feel they have a weakness to overcome.


I will focus on candidates by school in this section of the chat.  I will note for each of them what the weakness was in the application, and then I can help to explain how they were able to override the weakness.

Let’s start with a Columbia candidate.

Candidate: 26-year old American woman of East Asian descent

  • Industry: Three companies that did not seem related at all – her career trajectory did not make much sense
  • Years of Full-time Professional Experience:  4
  • Promotions/ Workplace Honors:  None
  • College:  Top-20 U.S. college
  • GPA/GMAT:  GPA 3.4, GMAT 660
  • College Academic Honors:  None aside from Dean’s List
  • Personal:  Strong story about excelling against the odds in high school; story of setback during college (personal challenges) that explained the lower-than-desired GPA
  • Long-term goal: To lead a company in the Internet services space

When this candidate first came to MBA, she thought she would not have access to top MBA programs and was aiming for second-tier MBA programs. We certainly saw many challenges to overcome.  One of the biggest challenges was making sense of her career choices, as she had moved from company to company, with the work at each largely unrelated to each other.

We chose to focus on her long-term vision and explain how each of her jobs had helped equip her with relevant skills.  We helped her garner great recommendations that helped us present her work as a success. We told her strong personal story of excelling against the odds in high school.  We helped her build up in the extracurricular arena before applying so that this was also a strength of her application.

While her candidacy certainly had flaws, we successfully redirected attention away from her weaknesses to her successes.  She gained admission to Columbia and other top MBA programs.

Great, how about a profile for a Stanford GSB admit?

Stanford is considered the hardest full-time MBA program to gain admission to, in part because of its very small size.  This candidate was a solidly “top choice” candidate who received multiple acceptances from top MBA programs (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia).  Let’s see what made him attractive to Stanford.

Candidate: 28-year old male from a European country

  • Industry: Doctor who began some health-related businesses (entrepreneurship focused on addressing health crises in Africa)
  • GPA/GMAT:  High GPA, GMAT 680
  • Years of Full-time Professional Experience:  3 after transitioning from medicine to business
  • Promotions/ Workplace Honors:  Not applicable, as he was an entrepreneur
  • College:  Top German medical school
  • GPA/GMAT:  High GPA (3.8), GMAT 700
  • College Academic Honors:  Many awards during college and medical school

Personal:  Strong story about growing up with a single mother; strong personal values that showed up clearly in his entrepreneurial work; strong stories of making a positive impact through his entrepreneurial work

Long-term goal: To launch and lead a private equity fund that would help develop other healthcare-related entrepreneurial businesses in developing countries

MBA Strategy

This candidate was most distinct because he was a doctor who became an entrepreneur in a crisis-health arena.  He was a go-getter and great leader.  His prior applications, which he had put together without the assistance of MBA, had been awful! They had poorly written essays that focused on all of the wrong content; his recommendations were weak and did not support the application; his long-term vision was not well-defined.

After working with MBA and getting guidance, and after having his recommendations reviewed, he had an outstanding application. He gained admission to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Wharton and MIT (with scholarship).

Wonderful.  Can you walk us through a profile of an INSEAD admit?


27 year old male from India

  • Industry: Engineer in a multinational manufacturing-type company in India
  • Years of Full-time Professional Experience:  5
  • Promotions/ Workplace Honors:  Yes, 2 promotions
  • GPA/GMAT:  First Class Honors, GMAT 720
  • College:  A good Indian college (ranked lower than IIT)
  • College Academic Honors:  First Class Honors
  • Personal:  Overcame impoverished background to gain access to a top college education in India; excelled in a multinational company
  • Long-term goal: To lead a top manufacturing company in India

Results from first applications (applied without the help of MBA Rejected from all top-10 schools he applied to and rejected from 2 European programs.

Problem to be fixed in his prior applications: Recommendations were lukewarm. His resume did not look like a business resume and thus presented him as “tech guy.” His essays needed to focus more on strategic content – by which I mean, his most impressive credentials.  His work experience was in reality relatively boring; he likely came across as a boring candidate to choose to add to the MBA classroom.

MBA Strategy

After working with MBA and getting guidance for re-writing his essays and resume, and after having his recommendations reviewed, he had an excellent application. Through the editing process, we helped him make his work look much more exciting and he articulated clearly what he could bring to the classroom.

We emphasized his personal story, which helped him to stand out from the pack.

He gave good definition to his long-term career vision, turning his long-term goal into an asset in his application.  This candidate gained admission to INSEAD in Round 2.

Read about other successful profiles and the rest of the transcript on MBA Watch.


  • Thanks for the article. I was wondering whether you have similar stories for students who are white, male, and had an intact family growing up? I'm guessing a plurality of MBA applicants fit that description- how much does that hurt in the application process?

  • Hi, 
    I am a fresher I.T. Engineer under grad from Top 20 University of India. I am persuing my job as a business Analyst in an I.T. Telecome Sector Multinational Company of India, since last one year. My GPA is around 3. And I am preparing for Gmat, to be given in november 2014. What should be my GMAT Score for Tier1-2 Business Schools ? What kind of universities I can aim? Can You Please brief me on what I can do to improve my Application?

  • i m fresher. I do mms in mumbai university nd side by side i do gmat preparation nd i wanna to apply harvard nd wharton university for mba course .

  • Hello Kim,
    Thanks for information on admit into Ivyties. Does an year drop(did a course on Windows server and Red hat Linux certifications )and having GPA less than 3.0 has impact/hindrance getting an admit into Hbs 2+2 /Yale silver.If so could you please advice me how to improve my profile as I am interested pursuing MBA and what factors are considered apart from GMAT &toefl score,GPA. Your response would be greatly appreciated.

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