Can You Get Into HBS, Stanford, Wharton?

Are these MBA applicants good enough for Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, or Wharton? Or for that matter, could they pass muster with Columbia, MIT, Chicago, or Kellogg?

Mr. Hollywood has been an Off-Broadway actor, a director and CEO of a film production company, even a personal trainer. He’s earned black belts and blue belts in the martial arts. As he himself puts it, “I have a strange path and am not sure if schools will laugh out loud, scratch their heads, or give someone like me a shot?”

Ms. Pink Collar is a public relations strategist for Wells Fargo Bank, but wants an MBA to escape the “pink ghetto.” She’s a regular volunteer for a non-profit that serves up meals and groceries to clients with HIV/AIDS.

Then, there is an engaged couple from India who want to enroll in a top MBA program together. He has a 720 GMAT and has worked as an investment banking analyst at a bulge bracket Wall Street firm. She has a 710 GMAT and works at a global credit ratings agency.

What these and other MBA candidates want to know is whether they have  a chance to get into a top business school. For the fifth consecutive week, we’re turning to Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru, to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

As he has in the past, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting in. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a half dozen or more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature next week.

An important reminder, if not warning label: Reading a handful of stats and random attributes of a would-be MBA candidate is like reading tea leaves. There’s no science and a lot of art to this process. Without the benefit of having all the details of an applicant’s candidacy, it’s not possible to say with total certainty what the exact odds for any one person might be.

Nonetheless, Kreisberg’s judgments carry a lot of weight. Since becoming a full-time admissions consultant in 1995, he has seen and interviewed thousands of candidates who want to get into the very top schools. He knows who has made it and who hasn’t, and he’s willing to share that knowledge here.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is take:

Mr. Hollywood


  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.9 Grade point average
  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania with major in psychology and English
  • 3.75 GPA
  • Graduate degree from the University of Southern California in cinematic arts
  • Work experience: Actors in off-Broadway productions and Hollywood; director and CEO of a film production company; personal trainer and therapist for at-risk patients
  • Extracurricular activities include mixed martial arts including a Kung Fu black belt and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsui blue belt
  • Runs a non-profit for the education of underprivileged youth
  • “This is a bizarre entry and I swear I’m serious and not being silly. I have a strange path and am not sure what schools will think. Would they laugh out loud, scratch their heads, or give someone like me a shot?”

Odds of Success

Harvard Business School: Less than 10%
Stanford: Less than 10%
Columbia: 40+%
NYU: 50%
Kellogg: Less than 40%
USC: Better than 60%
Berkeley: 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: How old are you? B-schools take Hollywood types, even kids who have been living in the steerage decks of The Good Ship Indy- Productions, as you apparently have. They especially like kids with a 3.9 GPA from UPenn (you’ll always have that!). Schools also know what a no-name “film production company” means (nothing!) but will give you credit for getting a film made. Okay, that concludes the good news, except, sure, charity work is solid.

I’m impressed with all the martial arts, but personal trainer AND THERAPIST!!!! That is something you should leave out of this story, that is what buff guys do instead of becoming bums (and a much better choice it is! you might wind up the non-paying boyfriend of Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience. If so, let me know, I’m a huge Sasha fan). So drop the personal trainer stuff and simplify: You went to Penn, you got a 3.95, you went to Hollywood and made a movie, and now you want an MBA to focus on new media, new ways of delivering stories, the intersection of X and Y, blah, blah, blah.

If you are not super weird or real old (over 32!) and shut-up about everything since your movie, and just pitch that story, well, this is not HBS or Stanford, although they take kids almost like you, except one standard deviation better in every way, viz.,  some work with real studios, or agencies, have better GMATs and some gold dust in terms of connections—in short your Hollywood Boulevard of Broken Dreams soundtrack with a slightly better script and some B-list stars.

So who will take you? On the Right Coast–maybe Columbia, or NYU, Duke, or Darden. Chances at those places are solid, if you execute cleanly and put your resume on a diet. On the Real Coast: not Stanford, but surely USC and Berkeley would be interested. And in flyover country, Kellogg, Chicago and Michigan (that media center) might bite with solid execution and a total hose down of your weirder elements.

Remember, you are normal, just like those hateful kids from Princeton who go to Hollywood and work for DreamWorks getting coffee, and then get into HBS (happens my friend, quite often, although they usually also got big GPA and GMATS, and a recommendation from someone most ordinary and star-struck peeps have heard of).

  • Jay

    Hi Sandy

    -24 years old
    -GMAT: 740
    -Undergrad – Top State School(Mich, Berkeley, UVA) w/ 3.5 GPA in Industrial Engineering
    -Work: Mid BB as a IB analyst (Barclays, Credit Suisse, BAML)

    Targets: Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Columbia, Chicago

  • Bhaskar

    Hi Sandy,

    Here is my profile:
    – 30 years old, Indian male Chartered Accountant
    – CFA Level III Candidate,
    – GMAT: 720,
    – National level merit rank holder in Indian Chartered Accountancy exams,
    – Under graduate WES GPA: 3.86 from an Indian University
    – 4.5 years work experience in a Big4 consulting
    – 2 years of leading the corporate volunteering initiative mentoring students from low income families.
    – Applied to Wharton, Chicago and NYU in 2013-14 cycle (twice to Wharton) ; could not make it to the interview stage

    Target Schools: Stanford, MIT, Wharton, Chicago, NYU, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Northwestern

    Please share your thoughts on my chances, if at all.


  • Brian G Lee

    Hi Sandy,
    It will be greatly appreciated if you can assess my chance of getting into following MBA programs:
    1. Harvard
    2. Stanford
    3. Wharton
    4. MIT
    5. Berkeley
    6. UCLA
    GMAT: 715
    Undergrad GPA: 3.16 from UCLA / Major: Psychology
    Work Experience: Government Tax Auditor: 2years. Ernst and Young: Advisory and PwC: Assurance = total 2 years
    Age: 30
    First in family to graduate from College
    Came to US during Middle School
    Team captain in Korean American Basketball team
    Thank you very much for your feedback!

  • Mr. Energy

    Hey Sandy, appreciate all the insight you’ve provided here. Below is my profile, curious to hear your thoughts on my candidacy for H/S/W. Thank you in advance.

    – Asian America male
    – 3.25 GPA, Major in Economics, Minor in Entrepreneurship from a top public state school
    – 710 GMAT
    – Strong undergrad extracurriculars including President of Fraternity, Resident Assistant on campus, Varsity Rower on the crew team, and started/sold my own company after 2 years of operation and expanding to another college campus
    – 2 years at GE in their Financial Management Program (entry level leadership developent program)
    – 2 years as an investment banking analyst at a mid-market investment bank in NYC
    – 2 years of corporate development at an Asian oil company (a lot of international travel and responsibility; direct report to the President and Chief Investment Officer of the U.S. operations)
    – Active volunteer in two organizations: 1) Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Energy Efficiency Initiative and 2) Mentor to children age 6-18 who have been diagnosed with cancer

  • AGP

    Hey Sandy/John,

    Looking at HBS or Wharton to geographically match my wife’s applications to Med School programs, but would consider others. Could use your input:

    Age: Mid-twenties (Male)
    Undergraduate: West Point, Economics Major
    GPA: 4.0 (First in class)
    GMAT: 700
    Work Experience: Military Intelligence Officer
    -Direct leadership of 100+ soldiers
    -Manage large private contracts
    -Roughly a dozen professional cyber network certifications
    Extracurriculars: Team Captain of National Champion Fencing Team while at school. Big Brothers Big Sisters, tutoring autistic children, Special Olympics.
    Goal: looking to guide the new Army Cyber organization through its expansion over the next 20 years. MBA seems like a logical choice.

    I heard that admissions panels emphasize different things when looking at active duty applications. What can I do to maximize my chances? Thanks.

  • SMA

    Hey Sandy,As a hypothetical, how well would this play out for HBS’ 2+2 program?
    Here is my profile:
    – 21 year old female (Canadian),
    – graduating from top Canadian University (Health Sciences specialist)
    – GMAT: 770,
    – GPA: 2.8,
    – Graduating GPA: 3.2,
    – 1 academic publication (health informatics; retrofitting innovations),
    – 1.5 years research experience at the Ivey Centre for Health Innovation,
    – 1 summer internship with The Next 36, Canada’s top entrepreneurial institute
    – 3 month internship with top multinational pharmaceutical company abroad,
    – completed 2 consulting projects for hospitals in Toronto,
    – volunteering experience encouraging sustainable development and economic empowerment in Tanzania,
    – Extracurriculars: VP Finance – Student Government, Alpha Phi Sorority, AIESEC.
    Target Schools: HBS, Wharton, INSEAD, Darden, Ivey.

  • Avinash

    Hi, Please let me know my chances for Sloan, Booth and Insead.
    Gmat: 710
    GPA – NA. 75% aggregate marks. Class – “First class with Distinction”
    Undergraduate study – Mechanical engg.
    Work – Ex: 7 years in Software Testing – Automation testing Architect and Software Test Management. Worked in Information technology sector under domains like investment banking, insurance, capital markets, bio technology and online education.
    Country: India
    Age: 30
    4 years of part time teaching experience both commercially and NGO’s. Football and Cricket club in college and work.
    Targeting Consulting.

    Thanking you,
    Avinash Mehrotra.

  • Roy Kumar

    Hey Sandy
    Here’s my profile
    22 years old from Delhi, India
    B.Tech from a state level college with percentage 70%
    GMAT score 732
    Work experience : 2 years as Development Engineer at Sopra Group (French Company in India)
    Short term volunteering at various international events like Commonwealth Games 2010, Formula One Indian GP 2011 & 2012 etc.
    Target Schools : Harvard, Stanford, columbia, Insead
    Please review my profile and tell if I can make it or not and what are the things I can do to enhance my chances of getting in. Thanks !!

  • Hi Sandy
    I too here join the queue of guys anxiously keenly waiting for feedback on their candidature.
    770 GMAT (1st try)
    8.2/10 in B.Tech Chemical Engineering from IIT Delhi
    7.9 / 9 (within top 5%ile )in Graduate studies in Finance and Strategy from IIM Calcutta
    Internships with Mc Kinsey and Company as a Summer Associate and Haldor Topsoe . Copenhagen (No 1 catalyst making firm)
    Couple of research papers
    Couple of scholarships from French Govt, OPJEMS Foundation(India)
    Trying to erect a fledgling start-up for “Justice for the poor”

    Target Programs: JD MBA (Harvard)
    Aim: To enter into a prominent wall street firm/ World Bank/Big 4 consult in New York