Handicapping Your Personal MBA Odds

by on December 9th, 2012

She’s managing the social responsibility program for a renewable energy developer. With an expected 700-plus GMAT and a 3.67 grade point average from UC-Berkeley, this 27-year-old woman hopes an MBA degree will allow her to work for a company with large investments in Africa to “bridge the divide between for profit and non-profit sectors.”

With undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics under his belt, he currently works for Accenture as a business analyst. This 29-year-old Hispanic American hopes an MBA degree will smooth his transition to work in portfolio planning for a small-to-mid-sized biotech company.

After a two-year stint with Ernst & Young, this 26-year-old professional works as an investment analyst for the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank. He wants an MBA to eventually run a developmental financial fund aimed at supporting investments in green energy.

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.

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 on Poets & Quants, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature., 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.) This feature typically appears weekly on Fridays.

Sandy’s candid analysis:



  • 700+ GMAT (expected)
  • 3.67 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in development studies from UC-Berkeley, with emphasis in economics and a geographical focus on sub-Saharan Africa
  • Work experience includes three years with a start-up renewable energy developer; initially based in London but now in West Africa, managing the corporate social responsibility program and local operations
  • “I was a part of the company from inception (started as an independent consultant evaluating the potential investment in West Africa before the company officially existed), was brought on full time as employee No. 2 when the initial contract was signed with the government. The company will have IPO’ed by the time of my application. It’s been a wild ride.”
  • Extracurricular involvement includes a strong background of volunteering with NGOs; currently spend weekends as a volunteer helping street kids; widely traveled throughout the world, avid sports fan and coffee snob
  • “Homeschooled through high school (self motivated and independent, not weird and nerdy)”
  • Goal: To work within companies with large investments in Africa to help them bridge the divide between for profit and non-profit sectors
  • “Interested in developing new best practices in CSR for companies working in developing countries (particularly in Africa), and in how the NGO world can complement the growth spurred by investment in infrastructure”
  • First in family to graduate from college
  • 27-year-old white female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20%
Stanford: 20%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Berkeley: 40%
Yale: 50%
Columbia: 50%
Chicago: 50%
Dartmouth: 50%
UCLA: 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, get that 700+ GMAT. The rest is impressive and potentially solid, but see notes. A 3.67 from Berkeley and your current job at a “start-up renewable energy developer with projects in Africa” where you were employee #2 in a company that has now grown to 75+ staff in three countries is pretty good.   Working in London,  and now West Africa is also a plus.  The part I don’t fully understand is when you say, about current duties, “managing the corporate social responsibility program and local operations.”

I’m just not sure how someone who is employee #2 in a renewable energy developer winds up managing the corporate social responsibility program, or even what the corporate social responsibility program at a firm that size is?  You say, “started as an independent consultant evaluating the potential investment in West Africa before the company officially existed” which strikes me as an odd job for recent college grad, even one with a degree in “Development Studies  with an  emphasis in econ and a  geographical focus on sub-Saharan Africa . . . .”

Anyway, my point is, you need, in your application, if not here, to make this job seem legit and conventional. What does managing local operations in a renewable energy developer in Africa mean? Isn’t that a job for some techie in steel-tipped boots?? It just does not compute.  So make that clear.

Assuming you can, well, you got a solid and exotic background with some trendy touch points — to wit, renewable energy, Africa, NGO’s, home schooling, first generation college.  You say your goal is to work “within companies with large scale investments in Africa to bridge the divide between the for profit and non-profit sectors.” Hmmm, that needs work. It just seems like a bunch of fashionable jargon thrown together, which quite frankly, I do not understand.

You add, “interested in developing new best practices in CSR for companies working in developing countries (particularly in Africa), and in how the NGO world can complement the growth spurred by investment in infrastructure (particularly energy) . . . “ OK, I sort of understand that, but is that a job?  Who does that now?

You might allude to what titles the heads of CSR have now in established Western companies, and say you want to do that, and cite examples, but to be deadly honest with you, at some point, all the odd parts of this story—what you do, how you got this gig, what company does (soon to be an IPO? with 75 employees?)  begin to collect into a real bump in the road.

You’ve got a swashbuckling story of sorts, in a fabled setting, and while many are attracted to do-gooder, alternative energy, home schooled, free spirits in Africa managing both local operations and CSR  (me for one! in my pre-hermit mode, now I look for people who can do CPR not CSR), B-school admission committee members can be skeptical sorts under all that wonderful and empty blather. You really need to pull this together more clearly.

Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Dartmouth, UCLA—could be all or nothing. If you work for a real company in a real role, if you get your goals into some normal format, if you get a 700+ GMAT, well, you are certainly in the running at all those places, with serviceable execution.  Given the iffi-ness of some of this, clear and solid recommendations will also be important.


  • 720-750 GMAT (expected)
  • 3.34 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in management from Boston College
  • 3.39 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in accounting from Boston College
  • Work experience includes three years in the audit practice of a Big Four firm focused on investment management clients and three years in the corporate accounting group at a leading global mutual fund in Boston
  • Extracurricular involvement mostly in sports and run-of-the mill charity work; trying to launch a financial literacy program for in-patients and their families at Cambridge Health Alliance
  • Goal: To transition to an investment bank and later to a growth oriented private equity firm that provides capital to growing health care services companies
  • “Interviewed at two leading boutique banks in the past two years through networking efforts and was explicitly told by these banks and PE shops I’ve also interviewed with that I need top MBA as I’m too old for analyst role”
  • 27-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 20% to 30%
MIT: 10% to 30%
Chicago:  20% to 30%
Columbia: 20% to 30%
Northwestern: 20% to 30%
Dartmouth: 20% to 30%
Virginia: 30% to 40%
Michigan: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: A 27 or 28 year-old CPA with a 3.4 B.S. from B.C. and a 3.39 MS in accounting, also from B.C. with 3 years at Big 4 and 3 years in Corporate Accounting at Big Mutual Fund=????? I take to heart the remarks you got from those boutique investment banks and PE shops you spoke to, to wit, that they don’t hire dudes your age as analysts, and I fear they don’t hire guys like you at age 32, 33 with an MBA as associates either, although I am willing to listen to any reports contra.

You are almost heading into EMBA territory (well, with 6 or 7 years of work experience, it may not be almost) and your desire to break out of the lowlands of corporate accounting into the sunny penthouses of IB and PE is understandable.

My advice would be to keep that not-so-dirty little secret to yourself — and present yourself to business schools as a serious young man interested in becoming an impactful force in the mutual funds management field, where you now reside as a shining light of the corporate accounting department.  Once you get in, well, you will not be the first person to try to hustle into IB or PE, but that could be hard.

Anyway, as to what you should say, find some leader in your firm with an MBA (or any competitive firm), and say you want to do what that person does, to wit,  help manage the eager-beaver staff of Port Managers, Acct Execs, all with the idea of making investing more available to the Woman in the Street, Middle Class Families, and the underserved.

As to schools:  Wharton, Sloan—probably not, they got too many guys sorta like you with better stats who are younger with better schooling and jobs. Booth, Columbia, Kellogg, Tuck —see above, but maybe. Darden, Ross—could happen if you execute along the lines I suggest and keep your PE  dreams in your pants and not in your app.

Mr. Physics

  • 750 GMAT
  • 3.65 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in chemistry and physics from a tier three U.S. school
  • 3.40 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in physics from a top ten U.S. school
  • Work experience includes more than one year as a business analyst at Accenture, working mostly in pharma; more than two years as a research assistant/research fellow in physics
  • “I was a doctoral candidate during this time, but never defended my dissertation bc my adviser kept moving the goal post once I told him I was leaving academia to go into business”
  • Extracurricular involvement includes mentoring students in math and science
  • “I lived in a housing project as a kid, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Many of my family members on my mother’s side still live in that neighborhood. Both of my parents are immigrants and I am the first in my family to graduate from college.”
  • Goal: To join a biopharmaceutical company, preferably a small to midsize biotech, working in portfolio planning; and eventually reach a director-level position
  • “My fiancée is also looking for post-doc or lectureship positions and of course we’re trying to end up in the same city.
  • 29-year-old Hispanic American

Odds of Success:

Dartmouth: 50%+
Harvard: 30% to 45%+
MIT: 50%+
Columbia: 50%+
New York: 60%+
Duke: 70%+
Stanford: 30%
Chicago: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: What we got here is an Hispanic dude (29 years old) from a deprived background, with a 750 GMAT, 3.65  GPA from a tier-three school in science, lower grades in tier-one physics PhD program (try to explain what your grades were vs. department average, re: your note “The physics department grades very hard and has the lowest average GPA in the graduate school . . .”), a bunch of pre-Ph.D. research gigs, a couple of publications, and then a shrewd move to Accenture where you do (for the past two years, at matriculation) mostly pharma, including product launch, clinical development, and lifecycle management i.e. minimizes sales lost when a blockbuster goes generic . . .”

Sounds solid to me, man. The only small glitch is your low graduate school grades (which you can explain), backed up by a 750 GMAT.  Most grad school GPAs are high because, well, you’re supposed to be an expert by that point (if anyone has MY grad school transcript, well, stop smirking but English Lit is way harder than physics. It’s way more complex than physics. It’s meta-physics! Ever try threading your way through a poem by George Herbert?).

I don’t have a granular understanding of your goals, “I want to join a biopharmaceutical company, preferably a small to midsize biotech, working in portfolio planning” which you explain later as,
 “a great area to gain useful knowledge about all aspects of a pharma company . . .[it]  requires knowledge of R&D, sales, marketing and analytics . . . .” Well, I still don’t know for sure but it sounds like brand management, and a good choice. You don’t have to be that precise about the size of the company or the function, although you should mention portfolio planning as one road to your ultimate goal: to be leader of new developments in pharma such as blah, blah, blah (whatever they are—cost containment, generics, research initiatives, new regulations, aging population, etc. (Not a bad set of guesses from an amateur, see below.)

Read an annual report and do some Google work to get the right buzzwords and concepts. It is amazing how many industry insiders cannot clearly articulate the big picture challenges facing their own industry (not saying that is you, but just saying). Here is what you get after 3 minutes of Googling:

A 2011 Wakeup Call for Pharmaceutical Companies

Today’s Pharma: Big Challenges, Big Expectations

and many more, usually presentations, with power point slides, by consulting companies.

This phenomenon (of actually doing research as part of your business school application process)  is also worth keeping in mind as you do interview prep, which often (especially at HBS) asks you “What problems are facing your industry?” I often do a better job improvising on this than the kid who is getting a mock interview and actually IN that industry. HBS also often asks, “What do you want your classmates to know about [your country]?” and, again, I can often do a better job of listing macro problems facing China, Germany, Brazil, etc. than the natives I am mock-interviewing.

OK, back to you –your entire story synchs up, go lightly on reasons for dropping out of the PhD program. Just say you got more interested in business applications of science  than in research.

As for your target schools, Hispanic male physics majors with 750 GMATs are pretty rare, and you have a shot at all those places, especially when we add in your background and extracurriculars.  At Stanford, the trick will be to make your goal statement more do-gooder tilted –which should be easy in your projected line of work -– and crafting a “What Matters Most” essay which leverages your “for-real” identity politics strengths..

HBS takes kids like you all the time, it is “just” a matter of execution and recommendation massaging (if your rec writers have not done this before) and not blowing the interview. Other places should be in-line.  MIT will take ANY minority with a 750 GMAT (barring something very, very odd) and at other places, it is just a matter of convincing them you want to go. You don’t seem like a natural Fuqua applicant, so that could be an issue.  If it comes down to you wanting to attend  an unintuitive school like Fuqua because of issues with your fiancé, it might help to mention that directly in some way.

Ms. Entrepreneur

  • 650 to 720 GMAT (expected)
  • 2.8 GPA
  • Currently a Class of 2013 student working toward a bachelor’s degree in business management; plan to get a master’s in marketing in 2014
  • Low grades due to illness in past year resulting in a hearing disability and trouble concentrating
  • “Both diplomas are to improve my skills, knowledge, and application for an MBA”
  • Work experience includes having served as a manager in a sports club and then launching own sportswear company in the past three years with two other entrepreneurs
  • Extracurricular activities include serving as a child camp counselor every summer; helping children in difficulty by learning values in sport; training a team that has been a two-time France champion; working with association and school to help disadvantaged families
  • “I grew up with a single mother who was a professional dancer and rhythmic gymnast”
  • 28-year-old French black woman

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 10%
Harvard: 10%
Columbia: 10%
Berkeley: 10%
Northwestern: 10%
New York: 10%

Sandy’s Analysis: If I understand this correctly, you do not yet have a B.A. and are 28 years old. You have been attending college for the past three years, and thus the low GPA (2.8). Prior work history is managing a ‘sport club” (gym?) for seven years and then, at some point 3 years ago, you started your own “sportswear company  . . . with two other entrepreneurs.” You also plan to get a master’s degree in marketing after your B.A. and then apply for your MBA?

I acknowledge your unusual and challenging background — French, black, raised by a single mother, excellent extracurriculars, start-up company,  and recent, serious-sounding hearing disability.  Those elements will not get you into HBS or Wharton, largely because you do not have a traditional work history, and from what you write, are not really a big-time entrepreneur.

Those schools like something solid to anchor an opinion on, and with no Brand Name jobs, low GPA, and a very unusual career path, well, they just almost never admit profiles like that. Also, for the record, for you and others reading this, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you do not get counted as a “minority,” although your circumstances will still register with the adcom. But you won’t get whatever push that status might have granted you.

I’m also unclear about your goals, why do you want an MBA?  I support your idea of getting an M.A. in marketing after you finish your B.A. Why not use that as a gateway to getting a job with a BIG company for a couple of years, earn some money, get some cred, and then apply to top schools for EMBA programs. You have a lot to offer with a career in marketing, a history of working in sports, black, French, disability . . .I can see the Nike campaign you will run already . .  .but what is missing is some brand-name work history.

You also noted Columbia, Haas, Kellogg, and NYU as target schools. Those MBA programs are going to be difficult as well following your current plan, especially if you don’t get a real solid GMAT (680+) and even if you do.

Some brand name work experience after you complete your M.A. will really change your whole story.  Get into the best marketing program you can , and once there, start hustling for a Fortune 500 job.  After that, you will be a much stronger candidate. I would suggest, at that point,  some kind of certificate program or EMBA (those programs will credit your prior work history as part of the 6+ years of work experience they usually require). Or even an MBA, if you are still set one at that point, which may not be the case.

But it you do  get a marketing M.A. and then work at Nike or some big sports company for 2 years, get a 700 GMAT, and then apply to HBS and Wharton, well, you’d be an interesting reach case with a real powerful story. You’d be 33 or so, but they might blink at that if the rest were compelling, which it might be.

Mr. World Bank

  • 710 GMAT
  • 4.6 out of 5.0 GPA (Top 10 of class)
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from a top Russian university
  • Work experience includes two years as a senior consultant in transactions advisory services for Ernst & Young, working on fundraising projects for the largest Russian banks and oil & gas companies; and three years as an investment analyst for the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank
  • “I’ve closed a number of high-profile deals in health care, agribusiness and manufacturing industries in Eastern Europe and Middle East (Belarus, Greece, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine)”
  • Extracurricular activities include volunteering at the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace; founding member of the Moscow IB (investment banking) club; have been playing soccer and hockey for more than 15+ years (was a captain of the university soccer team); black belt in martial arts
  • Goal: To continue career at IFC as an investment officer but to eventually run a developmental financial fund such as the IFC Cleantech Fund aimed at supporting investments in the green energy technologies
  • 26-year-old Russian

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40%
Wharton: 50%
Chicago: 50+%
Dartmouth: 50+%
New York: 50+%
London: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Come on down. Smart Russian guy with top 10 percent grades “in Finance from a top Russian university” 710 GMAT, two years at Ernst & Young (Transactions Advisory Services),  which is a tier-one gig in Russia btw says Sandy, “fund raising” for the largest Russian banks, followed by International Finance Corporation (IFC), The World Bank Group for three years, with high-profile deals in healthcare, agribusiness and manufacturing  in such trendy hot spots as Eastern Europe, Belarus, Greece, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine . . .works for me.

Long term goal: head and manage “a developmental financial fund such as the IFC Cleantech Fund  . . .” that is good too, even if I don’t fully know what it means, I can sense it sounds right, and all you need to do is explain it correctly in the app.

You got a real solid and integrated story (education, work, interests). With solid execution, guys like you get into Harvard, Wharton, Booth, Tuck, NYU Stern and LBS.  At HBS, you will be competing with internationals and some U.S. kids with similar solid grades, OK GMATs and impressive IFC-type gigs, so it will be a matter of executing clearly on the application and not blowing the interview.

But even saying that, this is a real solid story which almost writes itself. Guys like you usually get into Wharton, and at other schools it will be a matter of convincing them you want to come.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds – Latest Entries

Part XLV: Your Odds of Getting Into A Great School
Part XLVI: Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA
Part XLVII: Your Chances Of Getting Into An Elite School

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