Your Odds Of Getting Into A Great School

by on January 10th, 2013

For the past eight years, he’s done a wide variety of missionary work from earthquake relief to ethnographic research in Chinese villages. With a 770 GMAT and a 3.9 grade point average in math, this 29-year-old now wants an MBA to help him transition to the corporate world.

Before his start-up crashed in the Great Recession, he had built its revenues to $1 million a month and had eight employees on the payroll. Now he works as an analyst for a Fortune 20 company and hopes an MBA degree will allow him to work in micro finance or strategy consulting.

After gaining a degree in Spanish and Classical Civilizations from a top liberal arts college, she landed a job with an online startup in the payment solutions space. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.3 GPA, this 24-year-old professional plans to gain MBA skills so she can start her own business.

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, 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.

Sandy’s assessment:

Ms. Tech Startup

  • 690 GMAT
  • 3.3 GPA
  • Undergrad degree in Spanish and classical civilizations from a top liberal arts college
  • Work experience includes two years at an online payment solution tech startup, where I have evolved in three jobs, from customer facing to coordinating sales and marketing (involving interacting with a lot of different people and profiles) to integrating accounts with banks
  • Extracurricular involvement as an active member of my college alumni club, helping to organize events, such as walks for breast cancer, and raise funds
  • Goal: “I have an enormous appetite for cultural/international experiences. This is what’s driving me. So my long-term goal is to start a technical business with an international perspective. My short-term goal is to develop my leadership skills. I feel like I need that time to reflect and grow these critical skills away from work through sharing experiences.”
  • 24-year-old female

Odds of Success:

(if  you follow my advice)

Dartmouth: 20% to 30%
Berkeley: 30%
Georgetown: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Here’s some tough love. Don’t make this any more flakey than it has to be. You are on the see-saw, the powerful see-saw inside the head of an adcom, which can either see you as:

A serious person from a top liberal arts college with so-so but OK stats (3.3 GPA and 690 GMAT), who is working for a real start-up in the online payments space (a thriving and established if not highly selective or exciting field)


A confused Spanish major with a travel and cultural Jones, with marginal stats (3.3 GPA from artsy school and gut major, and 690 GPA) who somehow flopped into a job at a payments start-up, and got lucky when others took off, which happens in shaky start-ups, and now dreams of starting an international business with a technical basis (something you have marginal background in) after your short-term goal, which, and  I quote, is “to develop my leadership skills. I feel like I need . . . time to reflect and grow . . . critical skills away from work through sharing experiences.”

Allow to me suggest that you stress Persona 1 in your application and put Persona 2 in your underwear drawer for special and intimate occasions with close friends and significant others.

I would drop the international, cultural angle as a goal driver, although sure, you can play that angle in some short essay about what clubs you might join on campus. But you really need to get your main story straight, and that is as a smart person, excited about business, who racked up great experience in your payments start-up, not so much stressing the start-up angle, but stressing the normal business angle, to wit what you said you did, “coordinating sales and marketing (involving interacting with a lot of different people and profiles) to integrating accounts with banks.” THAT is stuff that warms the heart of an adcom, not your–and here I am quoting again –“enormous appetite for cultural/international experiences. This is what’s driving me.” Adcoms don’t like enormous appetites. And while they may like culture, well, for personal consumption (although even here you might be surprised), they don’t like culture as a “driver” in an application.

Say that you are excited about sales, marketing, teamwork, and corporate communication, and after your MBA, you want to work for an innovative, marketing-driven company to learn best practices, blah, blah. A real wise move would be to look up the marketing, customer-facing companies, which hire lots of kids from the very schools you are applying to and say you want to work there. You can find such a list of companies on Poets&Quants, for many schools, and usually for all schools if you sniff around the corporate placement part of their websites.

I can see why INSEAD appeals to you. They like Americans, although usually older ones, but I would think twice about going there, unless you want to work in Europe. That may be my own prejudice, and if there are any INSEAD alums out there who can tell us how often grads go back to work in the U.S.A., please chime in. Tuck, Berkeley, Georgetown? All excellent choices, if you drop the culture stuff and just go with  the marketing, serious person who  wants to learn best practices through the Big-Normal-Cool Company route.

Mr. Politician

  • 770 GMAT (Q50, V44)
  • 3.57 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in accounting from a top 75 B-school in the U.S.
  • Work experience includes Big Four consulting and Fortune 500 internal audit internships with job offers that I turned down; one year as a fleet analyst for a privately owned consumer goods distributor and three years as a policy analyst for a state government’s Economic Development Department
  • Extracurricular involvement as a runner, beer home brewer and in after-work sports leagues
  • “I’ll be seeking a dual-degree, MS in Public Policy, at any university that offers that program and doesn’t require separate GRE scores (HBS/Kennedy is top choice). I want to do consulting in economic development/economic policy immediately after MBA; long term I want to be a politician”
  • 26-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30%
Stanford: 20%
Berkeley: 50+%
UCLA: 50+%
USC: 50+%
Columbia: 40% to 50%
New York: 40%
Northwestern: 30% to 45%

Sandy’s Analysis: You should not have any trouble at Public Policy schools given your solid grades, solid GMAT, and current job in state government. You are the ideal candidate. Your fate at places like HBS and Stanford will turn on how well you execute and, to some degree, what state you work for. Not all states are created equal and being a big deal in New York or California state government is way more impressive than being the same in North Dakota or Nevada. Although dudes from those states get in as well–just saying, the state counts a bit.

It would also help if you had recs from well-known political types. If you cannot snag the Governor, try to get someone from leadership, e.g. House Speaker or Senate President. Another issue is whether, given your goals, you need an MBA at all. A lot of kids from Harvard’s Kennedy School wind up working for Big 3 consulting firms, and during the financial heydays, also wound up at investment banks. Just a thought, although, sure, your chances of landing a Big 3 consulting job go up if you go to a top eight B-school.

Your real issue will be convincingly building a case for an MBA and after that a career map which seems to need an MBA, but anyone applying to a joint-degree program faces that problem. I’m not seeing this as Stanford because your profile, as written, does not have any “wow” factor, unless you work in California and have Jerry Brown put some spit on the ball. HBS takes kids like you if somehow you can convey excitement about your career and goals within the confines of their anorexic application. The joint-degree essay may be a lifesaver there, although I am not sure if HBS adcom ever reads that.

If they do, Jeepers,  giving you 400 words to talk about why you want a joint-degree compared to all those other suckers getting 500 characters to talk about how an MBA will help them with their goals seems deeply unfair, but hey, go with it.

Other schools you mention–Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Columbia, NYU, Northwestern–should be in line if you can craft that convincing stump speech about why you want a joint degree, why the MBA, and the roadmap ahead. Working in Economic Development, as you do, should be a good start for that. Consulting as a first move is also wise.  A 770 will open a lot of doors.

Ms. Buddist

  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.3 GPA due to poor grades in freshman year
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Delaware
  • Work experience includes internships at largest Chinese local private equity firm, a boutique investment bank Houlihan Lokey, a Chinese local investment bank in fixed income department, Baidu (known as the Chinese Google, and at Sequoia Capital in Beijing
  • Extracurricular involvement includes serving as president of an ethnic student organization, run a non-profit website to help various kinds of charities, member of a student-run investment club and a business fraternity; regularly participate in volunteer works; Chinese Martial Arts the Fifth Duan-wei (medium-high level, 5/9); Chinese National Second Grade Sportsmen in swimming;  manage a fund of $50,000 for my friends and my parents’ friends, invest in stock market with an annualized return of 20%
  • Fluent in Mandarin, English, Japanese and basic German
  • “My mother and I are actually Buddhist, I spent a lot of time in Buddhism temple and service, and I spent a year to learn Confucianism. Should I mention this?  Is it possible for me to get into a MBA program without any full-time work experience?”
  • 24-year-old Chinese

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 10% to 20%
Stanford: 10%
Wharton: 20%

Sandy’s Analysis: Your GMAT score will be important — it was not clear in original note if that was 720 or projected to be 720 — because there is a lot about this that is not fishy per se, but classic over-achieving and we begin to suspect there is some other shoe to drop about how you, in fact, got those internships, especially beginning sophomore year, with a low-ish GPA (at that time, I note it has gone up) from the University of Delaware. Not that there is anything wrong with the University of Delaware but it does not seem a natural feeder to top-rung Chinese PE firms.

Also, just from reading your original post (before it was edited for publication), your English seems shaky . . .although people have said that about me.  If you are currently a senior, you should apply to the HBS 2+2 program and find out about it, if you don’t know. Your odds there are WAY better than trying to apply for entry next year since, 1. HBS publishes stats on how many kids they take directly out of undergrad, and I think the number is zero or four, depending on how you read their chart, and 2. Those zero or four kids, my guess, do not have conventional finance careers like you, but are probably entrepreneurs, techies, or something odd.  On the other hand, you are 24, so that could tilt things.

My further guess is that Stanford is similar, since they also have a 2+2 clone program, which admits kids from senior year in college, but defers admission for two years. I don’t have any Wharton data on number of kids they take directly from college (if such data exists, someone please note that), and my guess is, your chances are probably best there, since they have a sweet spot for finance types like you.

Being a serious Buddhist is something worth mentioning. Lots of adcoms like Buddhists, more so, oddly, than in truth, they like these other accomplishments of yours:

  1. member of a student-run investment club, which has $1.2million of portfolio;
  2. member of a business fraternity;
  3. Chinese Martial Arts the Fifth Duan-wei (medium-high level, 5/9);
  4. Manage a fund of $50,000 for my friends and my parents’ friends, with an annualized return of 20%.

Although the cumulative impact of all that solid business and investment activity will be positive.  Just saying, work in the Buddhism stuff, too.

What you should seriously do is apply for HBS 2+2 program – you have an outside chance there, unless those internships are based on being connected in some way, unless on top of that, your connections are so good . . .well, you get the picture.

Mr. Entrepreneur

  • 720 GMAT (lower Quant, higher Verbal)
  • 3.2 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a second-tier state university
  • Work experience includes a three-year stint as an entrepreneur of a start-up that shutdown when the economy went south; at its peak, the business employed eight people and had monthly revenue of more than $1 million; then performed marketing role for a family small business before becoming a government analyst for a Fortune 20 healthcare firm
  • Extracurricular involvement as the founder of a campus political organization, active in a campus parish as well as an active campaigner and volunteer for Congressional campaigns, volunteer at a hospice, captain of a flag football team, committee member overseeing a program to help troubled children
  • Goal: To work internationally as either a strategy consultant or in micro finance
  • Long-term goal: To work for an organization like the State Department, the United Nations or the World Bank
  • 30-year-old
American Latino male

Odds of Success:

Columbia: 20% to 30%
IESE: 50+%
IE: 50+%
Duke: 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: Phew, you got a lot to like, to wit, being a Latino with a 720 GMAT, and a guy who started a business and grew it to employ eight people with monthly volume of over $1 million.  You also currently work for a Fortune-20 healthcare firm as government analyst.  Also, extras are better than average, and you seem like a nice guy. The analytical work might help offset the low quant score on GMAT.

You say goals are to “Use my international business expertise, global perspective and interest in the intersection of business and politics to work for an organization like the State Department, UN, or World Bank.”  Hmmmm, while I see a lot of politics in your background, what I do not see is international experience (maybe you left it out) or gigs that normally lead to State Department or UN or World Bank (those gigs usually being 1. Working for those very organizations already, 2. Working for super-creamy and ultra-selective places like the White House or the Peace Corps).

Soooooo, my suggestion would be to not say that, or anything like it, as your goals — since the type of schools you are interested in are really focused on getting kids jobs. Instead, make goals much more humble, along the lines of working for a consulting company that itself deals with health care companies very similar to the one you are currently working for. That combines your politics, health care management, and most importantly current job, into a neat little package.

And schools love kids who want to be consultants, well, because, they often get those jobs and each  school’s work is done.

1. You paid them.
2. You came.
3. You got a job.

Everyone is happy. So try to make yourself seem employable. And the best way to do that is be realistic and modest and play off your strengths.  One more thing, why are you applying to INSEAD, IESE and London Business School? You got a flakey enough story already with your several jobs and low GPA. Going to Europe just adds another twist in your story that already has too many twists. Retool yourself as a consultant and apply to a mixed bag of schools ranked 8-20 by U.S. News or Poets&Quants.

Mr. Missionary

  • 770 GMAT (51Q, 46V)
  • 3.9 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in math from State University in the Rockies
  • Work experience includes two years of missionary work in China, three years in the U.S. and now three more years in China; currently on a multi-national leadership team overseeing more than 100 staffers
  • “Things I’ve had to do as part of my job: conference program director, speaker at university fellowship meetings (100+ students), fundraising, ethnographic research in villages, earthquake relief coordinator
  • “I think the values that served me well here–integrity, teamwork, servant leadership, and cultural understanding–will serve me well in the corporate world. I love leading others and get more excited about their excellent work and creative ideas than I do my own”
  • Goals: To transition from the mission field to marketplace, preferably in a management position at a non-financial services corporation, preferably technology related
  • 29-year-old white male, married with a daughter

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 20% to 35%
Harvard: 30% to 45%
Northwestern: 50+%
Columbia: 50+%
Dartmouth: 50+%
Virginia: 60+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well a 770 GMAT and 3.9 GPA in math (even at regional university) might open a lot of doors. A good deal will depend on how you talk about your missionary work as a basis for applying to B-school and relate it to your goals. To some degree,  it also matters whom you are a missionary for. If this is some old-line Christian Episcopal service with a long history in China, that could help. LDS (da’ Mormons) is also well recognized as a feeder church to business schools, but your work does not sound like that.

You also seem to have a good deal of leadership within the ‘corporate’ structure of your church [“conference program director, speaker at university fellowship meetings (100+ students), fundraising, ethnographic research in villages, earthquake relief coordinator”], which is also good. The tone of your post is also savvy about what you know and do not know, so this is shaping up to be a tight and in-synch package for schools like Stanford which like humility (authentic is nice, but any kind works over there, and you seem authentic).

The real issue is exploring your motives for MBA. You say: “want to use MBA to transition from mission field to marketplace. I think the values that served me well here–integrity, teamwork, servant leadership, and cultural understanding–will serve me well in the corporate world.” That’s the right idea, although it does not close the deal.

You add, “I love leading others and get more excited about their excellent work and creative ideas than I do my own.” Hmmmm, that might be taking the humility shtick a step too far, but also the right idea. OK, here come’s your closer:  “After graduating from business school, I would like to be in management at a non-financial services corporation, preferably tech-related.” That could work, but I would not select it that way. “Non-financial services . . .” is a wrong touch, as if there is something evil about that (well, there is, but  . . . it is a convention of this ecosystem that you cannot hint at that, let alone say it).

Try to say what kind of impact you want to have, what companies and leaders you admire, and why, and if possible, how your own work links up to that. Oddly, you are similar to military applicants, who often have to project goals after spending five or more years doing something unrelated to any obvious private business.  Like military guys, I would think about using  consulting as a gateway experience, to learn about different industries, and then combine that with your language skills and knowledge of Asia to project a career that grows out of that, sure, with leadership in the mix. That could be either remaining in consulting, helping Asian companies expand to U.S. markets, or vice versa, or working with U.S. tech firms with interests in Asia. Try to find some leaders who do  that, and cite them as role models.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds–The Entire Series

Part XLVII: Handicapping Your MBA Odds
Part XLVIII: Assessing Your Odds of B-School Success
Part XLIV: Handicapping Your B-School Odds

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