Handicapping Your B-School Odds:

by on January 9th, 2013

She works for a major Russian metallurgical company, heading up a finance and economic analysis unit. With a 740 GMAT and a 4.0 grade point average, this 28-year-old professional hopes to get an MBA to transition to management consulting or investment banking.

He was a collegiate football player for a top five liberal arts school. After spending two years at a boutique investment banking firm and another two on an acquisitions team for a public company, this 25-year-old wants an MBA degree to help him land a job with a top-notch asset management firm.

This 26-year-old professional manages one of the largest solar farms in the U.S. With two master’s degrees from Ivy League schools under his arm, he now wants a third in business to help him become a major energy developer.

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 here 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. (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.)

Sandy’s candid analysis:

Ms. Auditor

  • 740 GMAT (Q50, V41)
  • 4.0 GPA
  • 109 TOEFL
  • Undergraduate
degree in accounting from a no-name University in Siberia
  • Work experience includes five and one-half years in the audit department of a Big Four firm in Moscow; among top 5% of employees in each year; also one and one-half years as head of finance and economic analysis department in a Russian metallurgical company
  • “No one from
the Russian office of our company has an MBA. Head of our U.S. division has an MBA
from Chicago Booth.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as coordinator for a children’s educational organization, helped with resume and English workshop for disadvantaged youth, volunteered in Africa for one month in local hospital, LBGT activist and member of Toastmasters Club; also have a small start-up with a colleague
  • “Have a good
history of overcoming adversity: first generation college, worked part-time through school years, single parent, mother’s serious illness”
  • Goal: To transition to management consulting or investment banking
  • Applied to INSEAD and was dinged after interview
  • 28-year-old
Russian female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% 25%
Northwestern: 35% to 45%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Chicago: 35% to 45%
Columbia: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Jeepers, this is pretty solid and your ding at INSEAD is surprising. It might have been your interview or the fact that no one at your company can write good recommendations, since no one has a U.S. MBA.  Not sure what to say about that. You need to remind those clowns, that writing a recommendation for a U.S. school requires phrases like,  “John is the best analyst I have seen in 20 years, in a cohort of over 300 other analysts . .  .”  and that only means that “John is sorta OK,” unless you back that up with many stories and metrics proving it.

One issue for you is that you are in the age range for an EMBA, with what looks like eight to nine years of work experience at matriculation.  That could impact your chances at places like HBS, where admitted students with 9+ years of experience this year (according to chart on Dee’s Blog) = 31, out of total class of ~915. And a good number of those 31 are probably military or special cases, which you are not.  I would not be surprised if stats at other U.S. schools were similar, although Wharton tends to run older (as do Duke and Darden, which you might look into, as well as Tuck ).

If you had not told me that you were dinged at INSEAD, I would say to apply there, as your best shot, and that is still my advice. Reapply. TOEFL of 109 is low-ish, so that could be another issue. You might think about retaking.  Aside from that (age, low TOEFL), man, this is real solid. You seem to have Fortune 500-level jobs (which make up a bit for no-name schooling) and a 740 GMAT with real solid extras. As noted here in the past, Big 4 jobs in Moscow are considered much more selective than Big 4 jobs in U.S., although another issue for you could be that your work is audit vs. consulting. Still, it is a selective job, which you did well at, and got out, and transitioned to analyst at a Fortune 300 metals company. Add some adversity stories, first generation college, and dunno, I like you, so give it a whirl.  HBS might go for this if execution has good karma, although alas, their new application makes it hard for someone like you to explain herself.


Wharton runs older, and has a more welcoming application, and as noted, Duke and Darden run oldest, and your dreams can come true there. Columbia won’t give you a loan unless you have a U.S. co-signer, so that bums out a good many International applicants. Aside from that, you’d be a solid applicant there, too, based on stats.

Consulting and IB are OK goals, although being 30-31 when you graduate could make getting entry-level jobs in those fields challenging, but you have real special auditing and language skills, so that could tip things in your favor.  You might pick a goal which better leverages your accounting and metals savvy, although I am not sure what that would be. Transitioning to executive track at company like the one you currently work for might do it.

Mr. Green

  • 730-750 GMAT ((haven’t taken yet, but I teach test prep for a living)
  • 3.45 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in public policy from Duke University
  • 3.95 GPA Master’s
  • Master’s degree in creative writing from an artsy-fartsy East Coast liberal arts college
  • Work experience includes four years at a Bay Area think tank doing education research; one year teaching test prep in Bangkok for a major American company; after earning the MFA, became a hotel reviewer and photographer for a New York City web startup that went bust
  • “Couldn’t find another job, dabbled in editing, freelanced, tutored, Have had some things published in respected lit journals and websites, including The Huffington Post, but nothing major.
Eventually took a job as an instructor and curriculum-developer for a small American education company in Shanghai just to put an end to the growing black hole on the resume. “
  • Extracurricular involvement as a tutor for underserved local children in college; New York Cares volunteering in NYC; started playing chess and competed successfully in several local tournaments; various charity runs (with several high finishes, actually)
  • Goal: To get into the green sector, either via a for-profit (green energy consulting) or NGO (species or habitat protection).
  • “A you can see, it’s been a long strange trip, and I totally understand that when both prospective employers and B-school adcoms see my resume, fair or not they’ll see someone who hasn’t been able to commit to a career path. In short, I want to hit the reset button on my career and with my scattered history, I see B-school as the best way to do that.”
  • 33-year-old male

Odds of Success:

Duke: 20% to 30%
North Carolina: 30% to 40%
Michigan: 25%
Berkeley: 20%
Cornell: 35%
Carnegie Mellon: 35% to 40%
Notre Dame: 35+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, it’s a roll of the dice and hard to predict. You need to

  1. Get that 730-750 GMAT
  2. Stress the one part of your career that is solid, “4 years at a Bay Area think tank doing education research . . .”

Saying you want to work in green energy is nuts and desperate, and not a “reset.” It is a reincarnation, which is something B-schools do not believe in. You have a solid enough ‘education’ theme, given the think tank and your volunteer work, to cook something up that is much more convincing, either online education (find out the major players and say you want to work for them), or educational technology, or educational consulting, not the lone practioners who help get kids into college (that would be me), but advisors to educational organizations on issues like government relations, technology, human capital. Find out if major consulting firms have educational focuses, and say you want to work for them. OK, I just did that, check out this, from McKinsey!


“We serve a wide range of education clients spanning school systems, vocational, and university education. In the past five years alone, we have worked on more than 400 education projects in over 60 countries.. . .At any time, we have over 70 consultants working on education projects around the world, many of whom have previously served as teachers, policy makers, institutional leaders, researchers, and education entrepreneurs.

“Our work focuses on the most pressing issues facing educators today:

–System performance transformation

–Education for employment

–Talent and performance management

–Administration and operations

–Institutional improvement . . . .”

Blah, blah, blah.

Dude, are they calling your name or what?????

The trick is to seem employable. Your biggest problem is not the periods of unemployment, it is your age. Thirty-three is pushing it, but it could fly at places like Duke, Darden, Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon, especially if you retool yourself along the lines above.

Scary, but getting that GMAT score will really make a difference–both for getting into B-school and getting a job at a solid management consulting firm.  Guys like you were meant to be consultants.

Once you feel the fire, and find out more, you can rev yourself up to submit a powerful and passionate application.

Mr. Football

  •  740 GMAT (48Q; 44V; 5.5AWA; 8 IR)
  • 3.23 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from a top five liberal arts school
  • Work Experience: Two years boutique M&A Investment banking with financial sector focus followed by two years on internal acquisitions team for a public company that has a strong reputation as a serial acquirer in financial sector
  • Extracurricular involvement as a collegiate football player; a three-year starter;  sector head for student investment club, sector; elected as economic department student representative in junior year, volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Goal: to transition from acquisitions of asset management firms into asset management and eventually to launch my own firm
  • 25-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20%
Wharton: 30%
Dartmouth: 40% to 50%
Columbia: 30% to 40%
Virginia: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is pretty simple. There is nothing driving you into HBS and grades and competition from ultra-qualified applicants  in finance will probably doom your application there, unless your firm has a history of placing their favorite jocks there. Dee Leopold is not a big sports fan, although, sure, she respects the category in general, especially if you were captain, or can make out some leadership roles, if so, she might cut you some slack on grades, given that football takes up a good deal of time, and you got a 740 GMAT kicker.

You also have another small problem in that your career seems to have leveled off, or that is the way many would read, “2 years boutique M&A Investment banking w/ financial sector focus followed by 2 years on internal acquisitions team for a public company that has a strong reputation as a serial acquirer in financial sector . . . .” Although let me say that you do a nice job of pre-empting that view by the way you describe the 2nd job. The issue is, whether schools believe you.  And what they know of your company, and its success at placing kids in top-tier business schools.

Wharton is the same story, for the most part,  with the slight tilt in your favor because their finance hole is bigger, so your chances are better. Tuck is a place that could go for you. You seem their type and the banking/football axis actually works there. Columbia might go for the 740. Apply early decision if possible.  Darden is money. Or should be. You are totally their type.  A good deal of the outcome at all places will turn on what they think of current employer (and if current employer has pull at any schools).  Also try Chicago and Kellogg. You got a lot going for you and a lousy GPA, that equals a roulette situation. So more chips help.

Mr. Solar

  • 800Q 670V GRE
  • 3.2 GPA
  • 26-year-old Hispanic male (with a Hispanic surname)
  • Undergraduate degree in geological sciences from Princeton University
  • 3.8 GPA master’s  degree in statistics from a top Ivy
  • Completing master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California while working full time
  • Work experience includes developing and managing renewable power with a Fortune 500 company; commissioned largest solar farm in New England ($10 million) and largest solar farm in Northeast ($100 million); currently manage largest solar farm in all of the eastern U.S.A; one of the youngest managers in company history
  • Extracurricular involvement running a small Internet business with a partner at Harvard that paid for all my college costs (partner went on to Stanford GSB directly out of Harvard and it was a significant part of his story); also ran a small energy company that bought and sold natural gas in my junior and senior years; founder of Minorities in Commodities USA, a support/information network focused on minorities in the commodities industry or those looking to enter (2 years); founder of Othello Group, a GRE/GMAT tutoring network focused on minorities
  • Goal: To become a major energy developer or manage a large player in the field

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%
Stanford: 30%
Wharton: 40% to 50%
Columbia: 40% to 50%
Dartmouth: 30% to 40%
New York: 50+%
Yale: 50+%
MIT: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis:   Hispanic with Hispanic surname,  800Q/670V GRE’s, some impressive GPA’s in grad school, and a low-ish,  but you say near average GPA at Princeton in “geologic sciences” (hard science does not get any harder, I imagine) , plus a Fortune-500 job and you also work on a big solar farm???  Sounds solid to me, as are extras, so this is a case of just executing on basics, getting super recommendations, and not blowing key interviews.

You may, along with millions of others, find the HBS application annoying because it will not let you explain all the above in any extensive way, but you can get most of it into the application and resume in outline, 200-character format (they count a space as a character by the way), and we just have to trust them to pay attention to the fine print, which they usually do.  Really take up a lot of space on resume to describe your extras, even if it means going to two pages.

The Stanford, “What matters” essay may give you more room to breathe, so you need to thread some story there about how X or Y (energy or being Hispanic) has helped you grow, and try not to give a “greatest hits” reel but instead some growth stories.  Your chances at other places should be solid if you can convince them you want to come. Your goals and motives, as stated – “become a major energy developer or manage a large player in the field”—are real solid.

Mr. Big Ten

  • 750 GMAT
  • 3.56 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from a big ten school
  • Undergraduate co-op experience (3 terms) in product development for a big consumer products company
  • Work experience in supply chain at a Fortune 150 company
  • Was production supervisor, promoted after 18 months to production planner, and then promoted after 18 months to materials manager
26-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Dartmouth: 30% to 40%
Northwestern: 35%
MIT: 30% to 35%
Virginia: 40+%
Cornell: 50+%
Georgetown: 50+%
Carnegie Mellon: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Not much to say here. You got a 750 GMAT, a solid GPA (3.56), a challenging undergrad major in Chemical Engineering from an OK school, and a solid, if boring, set of jobs at a Fortune150 Company. Guys like you get admitted and dinged at places like MIT, Kellogg and Tuck (fit counts there because it is small) based on execution, recs, luck, and not totally blowing the interview. That goes double at UVA, Cornell, Georgetown and Carnegie-Mellon.  Not clear what you got going by way of extras or interests, and if above is the way you usually present yourself, I would advise some charm lessons before applying, but this is real solid.

Just don’t mess it up and pick your recommenders with care, or vet the recs with a consultant, or just get lucky. Classy versions of guys like you, and I ain’t saying that is not you, just don’t know for sure from skeletal info provided, sometimes get into HBS and Wharton too, so think about that as well.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds–The Entire Series

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


Ask a Question or Leave a Reply

The author John Byrne gets email notifications for all questions or replies to this post.

Some HTML allowed. Keep your comments above the belt or risk having them deleted. Signup for a Gravatar to have your pictures show up by your comment.