Admission Questions? Ask Our Expert

by Chioma Isiadinso on

Chioma Isiadinso

I had been in the admissions business for three years at Carnegie Mellon University when I moved to Cambridge to take on an assistant director role at the Harvard Business School. From the open houses and information sessions to the countless phone calls that barraged our offices every day, one thing was clear: MBA candidates were stressed out about their applications. It’s safe to say that with rejection numbers in the 80-to-90 percent range at the best schools, applicants recognize that they are up against significant odds to get an acceptance letter from a top program.

I took away one important lesson from my ten years in admissions: The successful candidates are highly memorable. It wasn’t until I left Harvard and launched my consultancy firm, EXPARTUS, that it dawned on me that the successful applicants to business school had figured out what many consumer goods companies know too well: the importance of selling a value proposition to a customer. I authored The Best Business School Admissions Secrets, and now counsel MBA applicants to help them find the right value proposition to get into their dream schools. Some of my advice can be found here at Poets&Quants, including Understanding the MBA Admissions Cycle and GMATs and GPAs: What You Need to Know About the Raw Numbers.

In any case, I’ve agreed to help anxious applicants with difficult questions at Poets&Quants. No question is out of bounds. Worried about your undergraduate record? Concerned about your GMAT score? Not entirely certain where you should apply to get your MBA? Unsure of how to answer the essay questions? Wondering who you should ask to write your letters of recommendation?

Fire away. I’ll do my best to answer your queries.

  • GabeC44.

    Hi Chioma,

    I am a former MLB baseball player with the Tampa Bay Rays. I was also an Academic All American at UCLA for all 3 years I competed. I played in the MLB for 3 years before retiring due to injury. Since retiring I have started my own Baseball Academy in Los Angeles. Beginning this June I took a position at a boutique management consulting firm called Kirra Consulting also based in Los Angeles. I currently run the baseball academy and am on a 2 month break from Kirra as I prepare for my GMAT. My question is a two part question.

    1. With my best GMAT score thus far being 670, what are my chances of getting into an elite MBA program such as HBS, Wharton, Stanford, MIT Sloan and a slightly lower tier like NYU Stern, Fuqua, and Anderson.

    2. I have a pretty good idea that I qualify as a “different” candidate, but I really want to make my limited work experience pop enough so that an elite MBA will feel confident that I am equipped to handle the mundane grind of management consulting or investment banking as my counterparts surely demonstrate they can. Do you suggest tailoring my essays more toward what I want to do with my life:

    – i.e. I’ve started in management consulting but my goal is to work in upper level sports management (GM or VP of business affairs) and eventually own a team ( I-banking/ possible PE experience needed)

    –or do I focus on my unique experience as a professional baseball player and how that will make me stand out from the rest of my MBA colleagues?

    From every blog and article I have read, the essays need to be very specific about what you want to do with your life and how an MBA will help you get closer to obtaining this goal. My eventual goal of owning a sports franchise has many different paths. I could start in I-Banking, move to PE and formulate a group that purchases a team. I could go to work for a team and become an essential piece of the larger business puzzle such as team CEO. My point being I dont want to sound too all over the place in my essays despite picking a goal with many different paths to the end result.

    University: UCLA
    GPA: 3.56
    Major: Communication Studies

    Age: 25

    GMAT: 640-670

    Ethnicity: Caucasian/ Asian

    Other: Leadership Council member of nationally recognized charity The Fulfillment Fund: Empowering Children through Education. Serve as a mentor, fundraiser, and recruiter.

  • Strat. Consultant avg GPA

    Hi Chioma

    Wanted some high-level feedback on my profile and chances for admission at my target schools:
    Preference 1: Stanford, Harvard, Wharton,
    Preference 2: Tuck, Kellogg, Booth, LBS (Or any others you would recommend)

    Bio: 26 y/o male, Indian, fluent in English / Hindi/ Regional Indian languages

    Education: Majors: Civil Engineering / Minors: Computer Science at IIT Delhi (amongst the premier rated colleges in the country)

    GPA: 6.5 out of 10 (no Idea how to convert to a 4 point scale), was ranked in the middle of the class of 70 students

    Extra Currs: Strong extra curriculars from participation and leadership positions in several clubs to co-founding E-cell

    GMAT: Under prep (targeting 720-750, as per current performance ;))


    – Sustainability/Carbon consulting at E&Y in India (2 years) + Middle East
    (1 yr), primarily worked in Renewables, Power, Utilities, waste management sector with clients including the UN (Amongst the top performers and was the only person selected for an overseas opportunity, promotion and transfer within firm)

    – Strategy consulting for one of the Stanford born global boutique consulting
    firm SDG, based out of India (1.5 years-present), primarily in Infrastructure, Renewables, power, mining and resources domain (Amongst the top performers with fast tracked promotion within 5 months of joining)

    Community: Very active in the community during intial years after college, volunteered for an Environmental group for 2 years post graduation. Break in between. Currently volunteering to teach kids at a non-profit organization. Also working very closely with a startup NGO
    to help raise funds and carry on upliftment work for sex workers in nations capital
    city. Very passionate about teaching from cousins and family members to volunteering outside.

    Post b-school:

    Short term: To first try and switch into a renewable/Infrastructure focused PE, gain exposure on various technologies at play in Renewable and Urban waste management space.

    Long term: To tap the extensive potential of waste to energy technology in India and try using the technology to scale up and solve energy crisis which has currently plagued country.

    Any input on my chances at the schools would be highly
    appreciated, also any insights on PE/VC focused B-schools would be great as

  • Sleepless in San Fran

    Hi Chioma,

    Thanks for helping all of us out with this stressful, yet eventually rewarding, business school application process.

    I am currently focused on my applications for UCLA, Stanford, Haas, and Columbia because of their social enterprise and entrepreneurship programs and big city locations. Please see my profile below, and let me know your thoughts and suggestions on the schools I am applying to. I want to make sure I have a good chance at getting in, despite a GMAT score and GPA in the lower ranges of the 80% range, and I also want to make sure I come across earnestly in my desire to pursue social entrepreneurship.

    Gender: Female
    GMAT: 700 (48 quant, 38 verbal, 7 IR, 6.0 writing) on my 2nd try, 1st try was 680
    Undergrad GPA: 3.36 (USC – B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering)
    Masters GPA: 3.97 (Lehman College – M.S.Ed. in Math Education)
    Work Experience: TFA Math Teacher for 2 years, Tech Strategy Consultant for 2.5 years
    Additional Info: early promotion at consulting company, top 10% ratings, and sponsored for full tuition reimbursement to go to business school
    Post-MBA Goal: Return to consulting company to fulfill tuition reimbursement (at least 2 years) and refine leadership/tech/mgt skills, then combine my two passions of education and technology to start my own educational tech startup

    Thanks in advance for your help,
    Sleepless in San Fran

  • disqus_Btu2AWPbDu

    Hi Chioma,
    23 year old student from India.
    Qualification : Bachelors and masters in Commerce from Uni of Mumbai
    Qualified Chartered Accountant
    I’m planning to give gmat in the next 3-4 months.
    Work ex – 2 years financial markets, Intern at a tax consultancy firm for 2 years

    Just a couple of quick questions.
    How much more work ex do you think is required for any top 10
    Will me being a chartered accountant help in any way in getting admissions.
    Any next step/ suggestions would be welcome

    Thanks a lot

  • Aravind Prasad Balaji

    CA is one of the toughest exams and already it is as good as a top 20 MBA. I suggest you don’t go for anything less than the top 3 or 4 MBA. Get 680-700+ and it will be possible. I think you are playing it a bit safe.

  • rapplicanth

    Hi Chioma,

    I applied to 3 schools in R1 (Haas, Sloan, and Stanford) and I have received an interview invite for both Haas and Sloan. I plan to apply to Kellogg for R2, and I was considering adding UCLA to my R2 applications as a “safety” school. My question is, should I focus the next month on my Kellogg application and my upcoming interviews and NOT apply to UCLA, or should I try to squeeze it in?


  • StillTrying


    Just Dropping by to get some
    advice. I am an Army Officer and just returned home from Afghanistan.
    I am applying to HBS, Wharton, Stanford Graduate School of Business and
    Tuck. I wanted to apply for round two
    but am reconsidering after taking the GRE yesterday. I had taken practice test and scored relatively well, 160Q/158V;
    however, the day before my actual exam, I came down with the flue and was extremely
    ill on test day. Needless to say,
    it didn’t go so well (151Q157V). Because
    I was in Afghanistan this year, I was only able to take the test once
    (yesterday). I had very limited
    time. My question is: should I
    hold off and apply for round 3, or should I write an additional essay
    explaining my circumstance and apply for round two?

    Here are my stats:

    Ivy League Undergrad

    3.57 GPA

    Political Science Major

    Fulbright Scholar Finalist

    Published as an undergrad

    Decorated for valor in combat and awarded
    the Purple Heart for being wounded

    Held significant leadership positions in

  • LongHornJoe

    I have no advice to offer but just wanted to thank you for your outstanding service to our great nation. Good luck. Our nation endures because of selfless soldiers such as yourself.

  • MBA Aspirant

    Hi Chioma,

    Hope you’re doing good.

    I am a student from India (University of Delhi) and I have completed Bachelors in Economics (Honors.). I plan to work in a consultancy for two- three years now and then go on to do my MBA from Harvard Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business.

    I have landed up a job in Bain Capability Center as an Analyst and Takshashila (an Indian Consulting firm founded by McKinsey Partners) While BCC gives me brand name (but not much experience in hardcore consulting, its just analytical and number crunching), Takshashila gives me a lot of hands on experience in the field.

    My question to you is, that given the two colleges (and other renowned MBA colleges) what gets more weightage- brand name or the kind of work done?

    Looking forward to your advice on the matter.

    Thank you!

  • PleasehelpASAP

    Hello, Chioma,

    I am a woman who has a 630 on the GMAT, which I have taken once. I also have a very unique and compelling story and solid work history. My question is this: Should I apply to schools for their Round 2 deadlines despite my lower than ideal GMAT score, or should I attempt to boost the score and apply in Round 3? I’m confident that my application besides the GMAT is strong, but I also feel I could raise my score. I’m sort of on the cusp and I don’t know what to do. Please let me know at your earliest convenience. Thanks!

  • RG3

    Hey Chioma… Thanks for all your advices and recommendations. My question is on the new GRE. What GRE score should we aim at if we want to apply to HBS or GSB? The new GRE Verbal and Quant are over 170 each.


  • Hari

    Hi Chioma,

    First, Thank you for all the guidance. I found good success with my MBA essays following the instructions and ideas in your book.

    I have a weird situation now. Since I interviewed on 20th Dec with adcom, my profile changes considerably. Two of the tools I created at work, qualifies for patenting and is currently under review by my company’s legal department. I have also made good progress with my extracurricular activity that is in line with my long term goal.

    Is it advisable to email them about the changes? I think this information may help them make a decision.

    Frankly, I am anxious and would like to provide them with all the information I can to get a favorable decision.


  • Priyanka

    Hi Chioma,

    I am a chemical engineer from India, graduated in 2010. Have been working as a field engineer in Baker Hughes Incorporated (oilfield service provider) since July, 2010. Have been involved equally in the sales as well as operations side of the job. Scored 660 in gmat.

    Can you tell me if applying in round 3 of any business school will be feasible?

  • Turbo

    Hi Chioma – I recently submitted my MBA applications
    to a few top tier schools and I am seeking some advice about to do during the
    wait period till hear back from the admission committees. I doubt there will be
    significant improvements in my profile since I have recently been
    promoted and I don’t plan on retaking the GMAT_ I had a 720 score. Thus I
    really don’t plan to send status updates about my profile. Nonetheless, I
    simply wouldn’t want to sit tight, cross my fingers and hope for the good news.
    Is there something at all I can do to improve my chances of getting admitted?

  • Azboh20

    Hi Chioma

    I have a good idea of where my stats put me, 3.65 gpa and 700 GMAT (practice). But I’m wondering what my experience will do to help and how much it will elevate me. I’m a co-founder of a start up in energy. We are 6 years old, have grown from two to 200 employees and over 40 MM USD a year in rev. I ran ops for 5 years and now have expanded our business internationally and assume the role of regional manager where I have p&l responsibility for a 30+ MM dollar a year unit.

    How much would this experience help me in a top ten bschool admission?


    Hello, Not sure if this column is still alive but I would appreciate to get some valuable advice. I have 5 years of experience in big4 consulting on the finance/performance improvement side. I have done my masters from virginia tech in MIS with a 3.6+ gpa and undergrad from India in Engineering (IT) with a 3.6gpa (approx.) My gmat is on the low side with a score of 660 (Q50, V31). I have taken GMAT multiple times but am not able to break the 700 barrier on test day. I also have some experience as a marketing/business development manager for a matrimonial website on part time basis. My target school is INSEAD as it aligns with my short term as well as long term goals. It is my dream school to get in and would like your assistance in how I should go about my application process to overcome the low gmat. Thank you.

  • KB


    I am currently in the process of applying to Chicago Booth and Northwestern Kellogg’s part time MBA programs. I have a masters in mech engg, with 7 years of industrial experience. Five of those are from a fortune 50 core mech company. My GMAT score is 630 and I am currently in the process of writing my essays. What do you think my chances are?

  • Ms. Strategy International

    I’m in the middle of the “waiting game” and have some questions. I submitted my applications in Round 2 and am waiting to hear back from all of the schools. Do people usually receive admissions decisions (e.g. phone calls) prior to the decision date? I applied to Kellogg, Booth, Ross and Stanford. If I haven’t received any information from a school after my interview and before the decision date, is that a bad sign? Also – for Stanford GSB, their email to me after I submitted my application indicated that I might receive an interview request as late as 1 week before the decision date. Is that common? Or is there a certain time by which I should start to accept the fact that I’m probably not getting an interview? Help – any insight would be much appreciated!

  • Mr. Delayed Gratification

    Hi Chioma!

    I am a slightly older undergrad interested in pursuing an MBA, and was wondering if you could give some insight into my chances at H/S/W. I am in my mid-twenties, have taken a rather unusual path to get to where I am today, and am wondering how much (if at all) it would hurt my chances at the top three schools.

    A little backstory: I graduated high school in 2005, and pursued a liberal arts degree for ~3 years. My GPA from this time was about 3.55, and I was enrolled in the University’s honors program. During this time I helped to found a social issues student group that has thrived at my school for five years now, though I am no longer affiliated with it. Unhappy with my direction in the liberal arts, I took an extended leave of absence for about two years. During this time I worked as an owner-employee of a cooperative restaurant, as well as some other service industry jobs – nothing that would show particular leadership. After figuring out what made me tick and what I was good at, I returned to the same university as before, this time to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

    At present, I am a junior in my mid-twenties with two more years of school to go. My GPA in my current major is 3.8, and I am very near the top of my class at a university in the top 25 in engineering. I plan on graduating Summa Cum Laude and writing an Honors thesis. As far as extracurriculars go, I am in charge of fundraising for a student group that is designing and implementing a clean water project in Central America. I also have been working for nearly a year as an undergraduate research assistant, and am second author on two publications, one of which one an award for best paper in its venue.

    As you can probably tell, I am more or less being groomed to go into research. And while I’m good at it, I really would like to open up my career to strategic management in the high tech industry. I still have a while before I graduate, but am seriously considering an MBA from a top school rather than taking the PhD route.

    Do you think I stand a chance? Also, should I apply to matriculate right out of graduation (I will be 28 then) or hold off and gain some work experience for a year or two but be an even older applicant? I plan on getting an internship at a top tech firm next year (Google, etc) to add a little to my work history.

    Thanks for your input!
    Mr. Delayed Gratification

  • CFA?

    I’m 100% sure I want to do an MBA. I work in Finance. After getting an MBA, I’ll most likely stay in Finance. Do you think getting a CFA will help me in my MBA applications? Hoping to get into top schools.

  • shafin

    Hi Chioma,

    I am an Indian applicant having undergraduate degree in engineering (GPA 3.5+).
    My GMAT score is 660 (first attempt 590). I will have 40 months of work
    experience plying my trade in an Indian IT consulting firm by July, 2013. I am
    aware that I belong to an over represented group and therefore not trying for
    the top 20 programs in U.S.A.

    I need the MBA to switch from IT consulting to management consulting. I have
    received many awards and have been promoted twice in my current firm. I have
    been wait-listed by Boston University (R2) and awaiting decision from Boston
    College, Washington University in St.Louis and University of Connecticut. I
    would really appreciate if you could comment on my fit and on factors I need
    work on to improve my candidature.


  • More Piet than Quant on GMAT

    Hi Chioma,

    I have a question with my GMAT score. I aim for HBS and Kellogg for their marketing program’s. I am satisfied with the rest of my profile, work experience at Disney’s business strat group in California as well as strat for Shanghai Disney JV. Both positions required a large amount of financial modelling. I am now working in luxury retail sector with a marketing strat position in London (US citizen) and have also set up another new project in China lately for the fashion co. also have several years of leadership positions in micro finance non profit orgs and 3.5 GPA from Top 3 undergrad business program. However my GMAT is 710, with 99% in verbal and only 76% in quant. Will scoring below 80%ile in quant significantly impact the rest of my profile? I don’t think I can improve the quant score significantly, so then is it worth the trouble of taking the GRE?

  • adarsh kumar singh

    mera odisa jee me 5607 rank hai kon sa collage milega

  • adarsh kumar singh

    odisajee me 5607 rank me koi achchha collage milega

  • MasalaDossa

    Greetings Ms. Idilidossai,

    I graduated from Sambar school of management, Indonesia and pursued consulting at Saravana Bhavan international. I specialized in supply chain mgmt of various products including chutneys, behlpuris and paavbhajjis. I’m currently working on expanding new product lines in thair sadam and oorga. Do you feel applicants from non-traditional backgrounds such as Indonesians can compete in MBA, USA?



  • ComradeKHAN

    With this profile 100% Bain or BCG.

    Good luck.

    AQ Khan
    Lahore, Pakistan

  • Mr. former under-achiever

    Hi Chioma,

    I’ll get straight to the point, i graduated from a Nigerian University with really, and i mean really low grades (Second class lower averaging about 55% over a four year course period), and it’s been a thorn in my flesh ever since, talk about stuff you cant take back :).

    The reason?, i was young, and pretty much dumb. I have however tried to balance this off by getting professional certifications and right now I’m 26, a chartered accountant in Nigeria, CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor) and I’m in the final stages of my ACCA. Oddly this hasn’t closed the gap because potential employers, who have interviewed me based on referrals from professional colleagues in the big four, whom I have had the privilege of working with on joint audits, are turned off by my CGPA despite with my qualifications and work experience.
    Now I’m trying to get my MBA done at Memorial University of Newfoundland and its seems that the thorn is gonna pierce yet again, this is because they have a minimum B+ GPA requirement which i clearly do not meet.
    i was wondering if you had any pointers, that could help increase my odds, for several reasons MUN is a school i would love to be a part of.

    Your assistance would be very much appreciated.


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