Your Chances Of Getting An Elite MBA

by on January 6th, 2013

A 25-year-old Indian male, he has a strong personal story but a less-than-sexy work history. He’s currently employed in the Big Four trenches of transfer pricing, but climbed out of the slums to become the first in his family to graduate high school and college while caring for a depressed mother who was on complete bed rest. With a 750 GMAT, he wants to get an MBA to move out of accounting and into consulting or private equity.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he’s a submarine officer who teaches Sunday school and mentors younger sailors on financial management. With a 670 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA, this 30-year-old officer is married with two children and wants an MBA to transition into the energy or financial services industries.

Having scored a 740 GMAT and a 4.0 GPA from the University of Utah, he has spent more than three years in operations for Goldman Sachs. This 27-year-old wants an MBA to transition into strategy consulting, with the ultimate goal of becoming an executive at a global manufacturing firm such as John Deere or Boeing.

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 an invite? Or are they likely to end up in a reject pile?

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. HIs witty and incisive commentaries on each applicant’s chances at their target schools has become of the most popular features at Poets&Quants and the subject of our first published book.

If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments on Poets & Quants (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature. Our handicapping series usually runs weekly and appears every Friday morning on the site.

Mr. Transfer Pricing

  • 750 GMAT
  • Unknown GPA (“10th standard”)
  • Undergraduate degree in accounting from an Indian university
  • Work experience includes two years with a Big 4 accounting firm in its transfer pricing division, planning inter-company pricing policy; recently promoted as an assistant manager
  • “Chartered Accountant (All India 16th rank out of 23,000 candidates–considered one of the toughest exams in he world), 
Chartered Financial Analyst cleared all 3 Level (Flunked level 3 last time, didn’t study much, though not a good excuse)
”
  • “No extracurricular involvement in college due to poor financial condition (used to live in slums) and the need to take care of my mom who is on complete bed rest. So basically managed all household work, studies, plus helped my mom conquer her depression.
” Now volunteers for an organization that advocates financial self-sufficiency for poor and disadvantaged women
  • Goal: To get into management consulting or private equity and after four years start my own micro finance institution
  • 25-year-old Indian male, first generation high school and college graduate

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20%
Stanford: 10%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Chicago: 30% to 40%
INSEAD: 50% to 70%
London: 50% to 70%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, a compelling story, if told correctly, and if you get recommendations from your Big 4 partners to back you up. I seem to have missed your undergrad institution, but that could be important. I’d say the majority of Indian students with Indian degrees at HBS and Stanford are IIT or possibly a few other schools (private Catholic schools, St. Stephens? Sorry if that is wrong, someone correct me). I’m also a bit unclear about your GPA and how bad it is, that could also be an issue.  Most American adcoms don’t have a real feeling for competitive Indian exams, and saying things like, “Chartered Accountant (All India 16th rank out of 23,000 candidates–considered one of the toughest exams in he world) . . .” is probably more impressive in reality than it is to a normal adcom reader, who often imagines thousands and thousands of not very prepared students sitting for those exams, although sure, 16th out of 23,000 is impressive for most anything.

My point is, the one thing adcoms do understand is GPA, so that could be an issue. Another thing they do understand is GMAT, and your 750 is real good, obviously. At HBS, your fate will turn on what they think of your college, how bad your grades are, how much intelligent and detailed backing your rec writers can give you (real important since your last several years at Big 4 is your real calling card). You really need to make sure those rec writers take the process real seriously. It might be hard to fit a lot of your powerful personal story and extras into the HBS “skinny” application in the full way you would like, but get all of your many extras on your resume, go to two pages, and spell those extras out in full there, as well as in the 200 character slots they give you for extras in the app itself.

You say, as to goals, “to get into management consulting or private equity and after four years start my own micro finance institution . . .” Hmmmm, that is too all over the place and shows desperation, inexperience, and premature ejaculation. Not a pretty picture, which along with some of the more manic elements of your story, viz. “Chartered Financial Analyst cleared all 3 Level (Flunked Level 3 last time, didn’t study much . . .” makes us distrust you a bit. You need to clear all those off-message elements out of your narrative and present yourself as humble, hard-working and thankful, and someone who wants to be an impactful consultant, that wonderful job that adcoms love to hear about, especially from poor lads like you, who have worked their way up  from the slums, supported their families, and are on track to become humble, hard-working, prudent and successful.

Private Equity and starting your own micro finance institution are for rich kids who are already IN private equity, and not working in the stinking trenches of Big 4 “transfer pricing (it’s more of planning inter-company pricing policy, advisory and litigation)” which is similar to sorting out manure (both in fact and in the jaded eyes of most adcoms). An excellent place for a slum dog Big 4 like you to work and earn your ticket out, but don’t try to rise above your station in the application. Adcoms are quite conservative and don’t support fairy tale goals or romantic aspirations. Your consulting goals are good enough for them.

Stanford, which is even more class and caste conscious than HBS, may not get past the Indian Big 4 (and the low grades). They do admit Big 4 worthies, but they are usually USA minorities. Wharton, oddly, is the most meritocratic (well, not so odd, they don’t belong to a duopoly) and you have a real good chance there with “humble” and straightforward execution. Chicago, INSEAD and London should be doable with serviceable execution and no saliva stains on the app.

Mr. Submarine Officer

  • 670 GMAT (taken twice, not taking again)
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in systems engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy
  • Work experience as a submarine officer and a department head on his second sea tour; will have nine years experience when he applies to business school next summer
  • Extracurricular involvement includes teaching Sunday school and mentoring younger sailors on financial management and budgeting
  • Goal: To attend a top ten business school in order to attain a position in either the energy industry or financial services
  • 30-year-old male, married with two children

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 10%
MIT: 15%
Wharton: 15%
Dartmouth: 20%
Chicago: 20%
Duke: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: As often noted, one real important element of service academy applications is your GPA, even if it was 10 years ago, and you got a lot of water, as it were, over that bridge. A 3.5 in Systems Engineering is acceptable and a 670 GMAT is marginal but OK if schools otherwise like you.

I’m not super familiar with service requirements for submariners (do you have to sign up for nine years, like jet pilots? I don’t think so) and spending that much time in the service could be a small negative at places like HBS, where I think this is going to be a reach based on nothing compelling driving you in, old age, marginal GMAT, and, well, that will usually do it.

MIT might go for the system engineering background but GMAT (compared with other military guys who are younger) might be an issue there. Ditto Wharton. Other schools you mention, Tuck, Booth, and Duke are plausible. Tuck and Booth could go either way. You should be strong at Duke and also consider UVA. Both run older and are military friendly, and your dreams can come true at both as well.

Your say your goal is “the energy industry or financial services”—I would go with energy industry, based on your undergrad major in systems engineering and your time spent on nuclear subs. Whatever the reality is, that makes a good background story. Schools got plenty of finance types, but they don’t have guys who work with nuclear energy on an up-close basis. I would think about saying you want to be a consultant in energy, and do some research about what that means. Just search for McKinsey (or BCG, Booz, or Bain) + energy, and you can get a real education in about two hours. E.g. Unlocking energy efficiency in the US economy—A McKinsey report.

Mr. Goldman Sachs

  • 740 GMAT
  • 4.0 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Utah
  • Work experience includes three and one-half years with Goldman Sachs in mortgage/structured product/currency trading operations; will transition into corporate finance with Goldman in New York this fall; also worked full-time in college as a portfolio analyst at a regional wealth management firm
  • Extracurricular involvement includes two years as an LDS missionary in New England; Water for People regional committee member, volunteer with Wounded Warrior Project and Homes for our Troops organizations, founding member of a local non-profit that promotes investor education and fraud prevention in fiduciary relationships, and actively involved in church-related service projects
  • Goal: To transition into strategy consulting. “From there, I’d like to move into an executive position with a large manufacturing firm (John Deere, Boeing, etc.)”
  • 27-year-old white male, married with a child on the way

Odds of Success:

Chicago: 50+%
Dartmouth: 50+%
MIT: 40%
Virginia: 60% to 70%
Berkeley: 50+%
Northwestern: 50+%
Yale: 60% to 70%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, as often noted, saying you want to be a consultant is a good move. Given your 4.0 from Utah and 740 GMAT and operations roles at Goldman Sachs, you should be in the running at Chicago, Tuck, MIT, Darden, Haas, Kellogg and Yale. I’m not sure what you are doing now– you said “transitioning into corporate finance roll (sic! and great typo!) with GS in New York this fall”–does that mean you will be an analyst or continue to do operations, only now in corporate finance. Whatever, either gig is solid although my guess is being an analyst in corporate finance at GS is more selective from a school’s perspective.

Your extracurricular involvement with the Water for People Wounded Warrior Project, and Homes for our Troops organizations are also a plus—getting an in-line chance at your target schools should be a matter of execution and explaining yourself clearly, and sure, solid recs.

Long term goal, to be a leader at a place like Deere or Boeing is also an OK idea, since manufacturing is a hot topic and often consultants do transition to those roles. You might present that in the alternative, as being an impactful consultant to manufacturing companies, and cite people and firms who do that, or transition to leading such a company, like a couple of other candidates in this article.

Mr. Technology Analyst

  • 710 GMAT
  • 3.98 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Illinois
  • Work experience includes one year in the management development program at PNC Financial Services and eight months as a technology analyst at Accenture
  • Extracurricular involvement in college as the vice president of a business honors fraternity (Beta Gamma Signa); volunteer basketball coach in boy’s league
  • “During my junior year, I took time off to train for a singing/acting career in Korea. I was a trainee in a large entertainment company”
  • Goal: To attend a Top 15 business school
  • Korean-American who plans to apply to business school in about two years

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 10%
Stanford: 5%
Chicago: 20%
Northwestern: 20%
Columbia: 20% to 30%
Berkeley: 20%
New York: 30% to 40%
Michigan: 30% to 40%
UCLA: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, let’s summarize: Asian-American male, 3.98 in accounting from Tier Two School, one year at PNC financial services and then a tech-consulting gig at Accenture which will be two–three years when you apply with a 710 GMAT. That adds up to a solid if boring story, which is relieved somewhat by your junior year in Korea as a singer/actor/trainee in a large entertainment company.

This is pretty solid in terms of stats—you should be in-line at places like Berk, NYU, Mich, UCLA, UVA, Duke, and Darden, which are all Top 15 schools. Just keep doing good work at Accenture, line up some recs, figure out why you want an MBA and execute cleanly.  I’m not seeing this as HBS or Stanford, not enough stardust (despite your entertainment background) and nothing else driving you in. Wharton admits kids like you who have really tight stories based on your solid stats, and making work history clearly line-up with goals and solid recs.

You should be a coin-flip case places like Booth, Kellogg, Columbia (try Early Decision) and maybe Yale as well. What you need to do is 1) Really thrive at your tech consulting job at Accenture; 2) Try to make this story more interesting by developing a signature extra –curric story, if you enjoy coaching basketball. Try to develop that into something powerful involving poor kids, or also coaching with school work. But mostly do outstanding work at Accenture, get great recs, and say you want to be a consultant when you grow up. You’d be solid, employable, and  . . . .that is 90 percent of the battle at most schools.

Mr. Market Researcher

  • 650 GMAT
  • 3.38 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from UC-Berkeley in social sciences
  • “Took statistics in college twice – turned it into Pass/Fail the 1st time and passed it the 2nd time with a C-. Took Stats and Econ at UCLA extension after college and got an A for both courses”
  • Work experience as a consultant at the fourth largest market research firm in the world for clients in pharma, financial, automotive, and consumer packaged goods; also had been a consultant for the U.S. government and political candidates; have active top secret clearance as a result of work with the government
  • Extracurricular involvement as a social entrepreneurship fellow for a national organization and board member at nonprofit dedicated to helping minorities become tomorrow’s business leaders
  • Goal: To become a brand manager at a Fortune 500 company (ideally Pharma)
  • 24-year-old Latino male, first generation college student

Odds of Success:

Yale: 20%
Cornell: 30% to 40%
Texas: 40% to 50%
UCLA: 40%
USC: 50%
Columbia: 10%
Dartmouth: 10%
Berkeley: 10%

Sandy’s Analysis: Yale, Cornell, UT Austin, UCLA, USC, Columbia, Tuck, and Haas–those are the correct choices. Your alternative transcript with Stats and Econ at UCLA was a good move, and may give some adcom who likes your basic story (first generation college, Latino, Berk) a reason to blink at some low grades and a marginal GMAT (650).

You describe career as “Currently work as a Consultant at the 4th largest market research firm in the world (pharma, financial, automotive, CPG clients) – previous experience includes consulting U.S. government and political candidates.” A good deal of the value or not of that will depend on how many jobs you had, for how long, and what your current gig is really like. It sounds like you bounced around a bit, and some of the above smells like “contract work,” which is not a plus. Try to present your career as stable, and with an upward progression, even if it means suppressing (or omitting) any marginal contract gigs.

Once you get that straight, your stated goal,  “Brand Manager at a Fortune 500 company (ideally Pharma)” is certainly in the park since that job entails a good number of the quant skills you seem to have, and is something that graduates from the schools you mention often wind up doing.  I think there may be too much shakiness in undergraduate record and job history (and naked stats) for Columbia and Tuck, and Yale is looking to upgrade their stats as well, so those schools could be reaches. UCLA is shorter reach. At Cornell, UT-Austin and USC you are in the mix. Solid execution, good recs and your solid extras, might tip you in there. A good deal is going to turn on how long you have been in your current job and how much of a proxy that is for the fact that after some “this” and “that” you’ve settled down.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds – Latest Entries

Part XLIV: Handicapping Your B-School Odds
Part XLV: Your Odds of Getting Into A Great School
Part XLVI: Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

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