Handicapping Your Shot At a Top Business School

by John A. Byrne on

The most common question MBA-wannabes are asking right now: “What are my chances of getting into a top-ranked business school?”

As would-be applicants pore over the raw stats and acceptance numbers of their dream schools, they’re sizing up their own odds of getting into a Harvard or Stanford, Columbia or Chicago, Kellogg or Tuck. And they’re making the inevitable calculations to answer the question: Should I invest the time and energy to apply this year?

Do you have what might be called “nosebleed stats” likely to open the doors to a top school? Or did you goof off during your undergrad years and worry about whether your work experience offsets your low GPA? Did your undergraduate degree get stamped at the right institution for an elite grad school? And do you work for a “sexy” or “dull” company that is not a feeder into the best business schools?

To handicap the odds for various candidates, we turned to Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru, and asked him to analyze a half dozen composite profiles of typical MBA applicants. (If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments, we’ll pick six of them and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature.)

The odds assume a serviceable application and a not damaging interview—with or without the guidance of an admissions consultant. “Consultants can teach you how to stand up straight,” says Kreisberg. “They can teach you how to stand on your toes. But at the end of the day, they can’t make you taller. What consultants most often do is protect you from making damaging mistakes while making sure your core message is delivered. The schools themselves have evolved X-ray vision about what they are looking for, although they rarely reveal those traits fully.“

Indeed, as Kreisberg’s analysis on each composite profile will show below, the schools often apply different standards to different numbers and backgrounds.

Here’s his lowdown:

Mr. Perfect

  • 750+ GMAT
  • 3.8 Grade Point Average
  • Ivy League Undergraduate Degree
  • Work experience at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Co.
  • Extracurricular includes alumni involvement and very active participation in an ethnic identity organization

Odds of Success

Harvard Business School: 85%
Stanford: 80%
Wharton: 90%
Tuck: 95%
Kellogg: 95%

Sandy’s Analysis: “The biggest risk this person has of not getting into HBS or Stanford is screwing up the interview, especially at HBS where the interview counts. (It does not count at Stanford in any meaningful way.) I am assuming the recommendations are in line and this applicant does not have a secret hater out there. HBS and Stanford, of course, love to reject kids like this, just so they can say they do. But they rarely do.

“Another danger, though rare, is just going a bit weird on the application through a combination of odd and unsupported goals, annoying and naïve enthusiasms, or just plain stupidity. Stanford could reject a kid like this if the ‘what matters most to you’ essay is a blatant and unreflective brag sheet.

“As to Wharton, Tuck and Kellogg, the issue is not blowing the interview and the related issue of convincing them that you are not using them as safety schools. If this kid really wants to go to Kellogg, he should apply very early. Otherwise, they will make the guess that the applicant is somehow toxic to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.”

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  • Solomon Neuhardt

    How about a 3.6 from the University of Montana/ :) JD from Montana also. Middle aged lawyer and no GMAT?

  • snehal

    second that

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