“Do you want to know who gets into Harvard Business School and how it works?”
Sandy Kreisberg asks the question as if he’s about to divulge Coca-Cola’s secret formula to a rival company spy. In Darwin’s coffeehouse off Harvard Square, the long-time MBA admissions consultant leans across a table with a serious air. He reaches into a satchel and pulls out a thick folder bulging with more than 100 resumes from clients who applied to Harvard Business School last year.
Leafing through the files, he picks up one stained with coffee and covered with his illegible scrawl. “2.9 GPA. GMAT 690. Harvard College. This person didn’t get in, and the reason is low GPA.”
Kreisberg shows another. “3.9, 760, and worked for one of the hot companies. You want to know what the hot, hot companies are? Disney, Apple, Google. A high GPA, a premium GMAT, a hot company, and he was rejected. Go figure.”
The reason why Kreisberg, the self-proclaimed HBS Guru, has all these files is that he grilled more than 100 applicants to Harvard last year in mock interviews, helping candidates prepare for the real thing with the school’s admissions staff. About 70% of those 100+ candidates are in this fall’s entering class. Kreisberg claims he interviewed more applicants to Harvard than anyone in the admissions office of the school last year. A spokesman for Harvard disputes the claim. Asked for more comment on Kreisberg, the spokesman says, “I think we’ll pass on that one.”
He has never taken the GMAT, never applied to a business school, and never worked in an MBA admissions office. Yet, Kreisberg has an obsessive knowledge of how the admissions office of the world’s best business school works. He reads every admissions announcement for what it doesn’t say as much as what it says. Every client who wants into Harvard is another data point to him, another tea leaf to read to gain some useful insight to help a customer. Roughly 80% of the more than 1,500 MBA hopefuls he has had as clients apply to the school. Kreisberg claims to have gotten in a third of them, enough to fill more than five 90-seat sections over the years. Another 200 clients have gone to Wharton, he says, while 100 have gotten acceptances from Stanford. So he has a lot of data points.
LIKE A DOCTOR LOOKING AT YOUR X-RAYS.
“I can tell who they like,” he says. “I can tell what it takes to be an acceptable oddball. Man, I’ve got a real feeling for whether you’re getting in or not. And after going through a resume and asking a few questions, I say, ‘here is the verdict.’ I feel like a doctor looking at your X-rays at that point. I can tell whether this is cancer or not.”
In a business largely populated by earnest MBAs and fusty one-time academic administrators, Kreisberg is the rebel savant of the profession. With his thin graying hair, rimless spectacles and wiry build, he looks a little like an intensely demanding high school English teacher–but few principals would likely have him. His consulting style can be argumentative, abrasive, and occasionally off-putting. Even the seven pages of highly favorable testimonials on his website caution would-be clients of the need for a thick skin. Confides one anonymous customer: “Sandy won’t coddle your ego, and it is difficult to hear that essays you thought were great wouldn’t interest an ad comm (admissions committee) at all. But frankly, I didn’t pay Sandy to make me feel good.“
It’s not that Kreisberg is an angry, middle-aged man who despises what he does. In fact, he insists that he was put on this earth to do exactly this and nothing else. It’s just that subtlety eludes him. “I’m the guy who gives it to you straight,” he says. “I’d like to consider myself the Jack Welch of the profession, though some think of me as Howard Stern.” (See “The MBA Admissions World According to Sandy.”)