Handicapping Your B-School Odds

She’s a brainy ex-cheerleader with an enviable 770 GMAT score and a 3.9 GPA from an Ivy League school. She’s worked as a trader for a bulge bracket investment banking firm in both the U.S. and Eastern Europe.

He’s the assistant to the owner of a Big Three professional sports franchise who wants an MBA to do M&A in the field. But he has a 690 GMAT and a 3.5 grade point average.

He’s an African-American physical therapist who would like to transition into a management role at a health services company. With a 660 GMAT on the fourth try and a 3.4 GPA, he’s also hoping an MBA will help him achieve his dream of launching his own chain of health clinics for the elderly.

What all of them share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools and graduate with an MBA degree. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get an invite? Or are they likely to end up in Harvard Business School’s reject pile?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants. Kreisberg has a reputation for telling it like it is, and in this installment he doesn’t disappoint. One hopeful is told there’s no way he’s breaking into the majors—Harvard, Stanford, Wharton—with his stats! Another is told her presentation is way too disorganized to appeal to a top school.

As he has in the past, 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 (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature next week.

Yet another reminder: 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. And this week, we consider what are the most important 20 GMAT points?.

Sandy’s candid analysis:

Ms. Ivy Cheerleader

  • 770 GMAT
  • 3.9 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics and math from an Ivy League school
  • Work experience includes three years as a trader at a top bulge bracket investment banking firm, with stints in both the U.S. and Eastern Europe
  • Extracurricular involvement included cheerleading (president and treasurer), gymnastics, sorority, and lots of community work, with a strong connection to cancer (meaningful personal drama as a kid)

Odds of Success:

Harvard Business School: 50%+
Stanford: 40% to 50%
Wharton: 70%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmmmm, got a photo? I’m sure plenty of even healthy P&Q readers might be curious about cheerleaders with 770 GMATs and an Ivy 3.9. This sounds like a slam dunk at Wharton, just based on stats and interests, although see caveat about goals.

Applicants like you get dinged at HBS if you mishandle the leadership aspects and make them sound banal, or blow the interview, or fail to execute on goals or give a weak reason why you want or need an MBA.   The weakness in the above, to the extent that there is any, is that trading is disfavored activity at Harvard and Stanford, because it does not logically lead to an MBA or provide a platform for any meaningful activity, in their humble opinions.  So you will need to be careful with that.

I would not say that you want to grow up into a bigger trader, and e.g., buying Acme at 30 and selling it at 150 does not score very high as an accomplishment at HBS, although maybe saying how you talked stupid males on the trading floor to get behind this deal, does. Dealing with stupid men at work always a winner for smart women, especially the  super Type-A variety one imagines (from movies) are traders.

At Stanford, where they are not nuts about traders either, you could blow it by just not putting together a meaningful “What Matters Most” essay. I would not say buying low and selling high. You seem to have a lot of personal stories and extras to work on, and allude, in the above, to a meaningful personal drama with cancer as a kid, so that could be a place to start, but sometimes what seems like easy topics are the hardest to execute.

Try isolating what you learned from cancer survivors or their families or how the experience impacted your family. “Learning” moments are what Stanford likes.

  • veteran222

    The biggest difference I see between the people above are their soft skills, their character, and what they truly care about. For me, I refuse to focus on money as it is only a byproduct of doing a good job. Money is important in order to purchase things and care for your family, these are a given.
    I care about those I work with, yet I am very competitive. I talk too much and I can analyze anything on the spot. I have a horrible GMAT score and am proud of it because it is not the GPA or GMAT score that define me. It is me, that defines me.

    I have lost in businesses several times and have even fought through disability to be successful. I care about others and provide generosity to anyone regardless of background. An MBA is about refining and about reaching an improved standard or expectation. An MBA is coveted because it places you in positions of responsibility and mentorship to others in the business.

  • isst

    Age/gender/ethnicity: 30 Male Asian Canadian
    GMAT: 710
    GPA: 3.3
    Education: Electrical Engineering from top Canadian school
    Work experience: Research and development on data mining (what McKinsey calls “Big data”) for government defence intelligence. Led a team on 2M project on real-time decision making for troops in Afghanistan. Deployed to Afghanistan as team leader supporting combat ops. Worked a lot with the US at a research posting at National Security Agency (NSA) and with the handover from Canadian to American combat mission in 2010 in Afghanistan during Canada’s draw down.
    Goals: Use data mining to help businesses with real-time decision making. Eventually start my own company. Why MBA? Mission is done. My purpose at Defence has been fulfilled.
    Extras: Lots of tutoring throughout high school and university. Started to tutor to children of deployed military parents to alleviate stresses on families left behind.
    School: HBS (ding), Booth (int), MIT (pending), Wharton (Round 2)

  • Ben Fehr

    Hi Sandy – have seen several profiles for military but none for service academy grad.
    I’m a 28 year old white male getting out of military this year. Grew up on a farm; one of nine children and only one to go to college.
    Academic background: Naval Academy grad – honors history 3.45 GPA. 700 GMAT. Fluent in modern standard Arabic and conversational ability with German.
    Work experience: After Annapolis, I went through the Navy’s demanding nuclear propulsion pipeline and became a submarine officer. I had three significant roles: Reactor Controls officer, Radiological Controls offficer, and my final 14 months onboard the sub I served as Tactical Systems officer. I took the ship’s radiological controls program from below average to above average in 8 months, as evaluated by the Navy’s nuclear regulatory agency. I have the opportunity to get out in May or do a 7 month stint overseas as an operations officer in Bahrain. Would this help my work experience?
    Purpose for MBA: final aim is to get into energy industry (would love to get into projects management) and use my past operational knowledge and my MBA to bridge the gap in order for me to be a significant asset on the business side of the house for a major energy company.
    My top choices: Harvard, MIT, Chicago, Northwestern, maybe Stanford.
    Your thoughts are much appreciated.

  • Marie

    Sandy, can you please do me?
    – 740 GMAT (74 percentile quant, 99 percentile verbal)
    – 3.6 GPA from HYP (poli sci)
    – Currently managing $100MM+ category for a big retailer in Chicago area, with one direct report and P&L responsibility
    – Extracurriculars: leads test prep team for socioeconomically disadvantaged high school juniors, been involved in organization for 3 years now
    – 25 years of age, Asian-American female
    – Goal is to help develop a Chinese retail company into a global powerhouse like Inditex or Walmart

    Was denied by both Harvard and Wharton; Stanford and Kellogg still pending. Wondering whether I should apply to Booth or MIT second round or whether those schools are concerned about my quant background. Fellow coworker who has a more strategic role working for an SVP has interviews at both HBS and Wharton. Would love to get into a top 4 b-school

  • Mr Mechanical

    Hi Sandy, I would be glad if you can share your views on my profile.

    Male/25 yrs/Indian

    Undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering from an IIT
    CPI 9/10 [ranked among top 5 of my class]

    GMAT 760, AWA 6

    Work Experience:

    I joined manufacturing plant of a top pharmaceutical company after college. Currently I have 2.5 yrs of work experience.

    -> I started off as a technical trainee, installing and validating machines, training technicians

    -> I became a line manager, led a group of technicians through a successful FDA audit.

    -> Currently am manufacturing planner of the plant, and shop floor coordinator for New product Launches.

    apart from above, I have worked and led some key optimization and up-gradation projects in the plant.

    Extra Curricular:
    -> Active involvement in college cultural fests
    -> Teaching Assistant in my final year at college
    -> Volunteer at company’s CSR activities (teaching underprivileged students during weekends)
    -> Co founded an NGO with three other friends, we provide technical services such as webpages, logos, brochures etc. to other Indian NGOs.)

    Hobbies: Weight training, cooking, reading fiction, playing computer games

    Post MBA: I would like to work in a Business Development role in a global pharmaceutical or a strategic consultancy for pharma sector

    Long Term: I want to start a health supplement firm in India

    My concerns:
    -> I have less business experience, but some good managerial and leadership roles to talk about.
    -> I have less than average W.E. at top US business schools, though my WE is rich in quality with various increasing roles and responsibilities during my career.

    I am considering:

    Dartmouth Tuck
    MIT Sloan
    Duke Fuqua

    Can you also tell my chances at Stanford, Wharton, Yale?

  • Andrew

    Hi Sandy,thanks so much for ur time to help and i really appreciate ur fine reviews.

    I haven’t seen much profiles based on people from government institutions so please give me some insight based on my profile and my target schools.

    Undergraduate degree in Commerce from not a top university.
    GPA-3.2(among top 1%)
    Masters in Business Law (part-time) from top law school of India. GPA-3.6
    Fellow of Insurance Institute of India.

    Work Profile-
    Currently working in Reserve bank of india (India’s central bank) since 2009 in various administrative positions realted to formulation of banking policies,issue of govt. bonds.,currency channelling,capital markets and other very challenging projects.
    Prior i was a project leader(for around 1 year) in a reputed NGO which aimed at providing rural electrification and poverty eradication etc. in very remote areas of india.

    I have also won some reputed scholarships and awards and also have very strong recommendations(Director and President)of reserve bank.

    Long term goal:
    -Career in organisations like UN,World Bank,IMF,EU-Com. etc.

    So, i have around 3.5 years of work exp. so can u please throw light on my chances at h/w/s,lbs, insead.


  • Pakistani

    Short term goal: Join a tech start up and help it get to the top.

    Long term goal; be a CEO at a distressed tech firm and help it reshape its operations and strategy.

  • Pakistani

    680 GMAT (77 math, 78 verbal) (attempted 4 times, best score of 680 twice)
    3.98 GPA from one of the four largest state schools (Arizona State, Penn State, Mich State)
    3.97 grad school GPA
    Undergraduate degree in electrical engineering
    MS in Engineering Management focus on Systems Engineering

    Work experience includes two years of experience at a telecom company (fortune 100) working as an engineer..developed mobile products…traveled to China for manufacturing and made significant achievement at the manufacturing site to win Award from the director

    Switched jobs to work for a company (fortune 100) in energy division…part of a building efficiency division. Made significant improvements in its manufacturing process.

    Why MBA: I was part of the telecom company at a very interesting time. Because of iPhone, business was getting affected so layoffs were announced affecting programs and employees, which is fine but I also that management increased their bonuses in the same year. This is what piqued my interest to pursue an MBA. I want to pursue an MBA so I can be a socially responsible leader. I want to stay in the tech area and be on the forefront of saving tech companies such as Motorola, but in a socially responsible way

    Extracurricular. I am the first person in my family to move to the US for education. I feel blessed to have made it thus far, so my extra curricular has been focused around education. I have been very active as an alumni to give back to my school. I have worked on various assignments with the school over the past four years. I am now appointed as the youngest alumni board member in the engineering committee at my school. Access to quality education is my passion.

    Target Schools: HBS, Wharton, Sloan, Kellogg, Booth, Stern, Haas

  • Mr. What?

    Hi Sandy,

    I really enjoy these posts and was hoping you could give my profile a shot.

    Background – 29 year old male from Bangladesh

    GMAT: 770

    BA in Econ and Math from small liberal arts college in the midwest (ranked around 50 by U.S. News) – GPA: 3.47
    MS in Statistics from Big 10 School – GPA: 3.24

    Work Experience
    – Worked at Capital One for 2 years as business analyst (promoted to sr. business analyst after 1 year)
    – Came bank to Bangladesh and started my own commodities trading company (import – export), going on almost 3 years now

    – Lots in school – President of International Students Association, Founder of Cricket Club, Director of Intramural Sports
    – Less over the past 3 years as business has consumed my life!! (Does playing in amateur sports leagues count??)
    – Volunteer work: Average about a few hours a week, especially with youth education related initiatives, no leadership positions though.

    Goals: Want to get into Investment Banking post-MBA.

    Target Schools: Wharton, Booth, Columbia, Michigan, Darden, Cornell
    (Open to other suggestions)

  • Pakistani,

    Of course!

  • mgmills

    John and Sandy,

    I am considering taking a big leap and would love your input. I currently am in my 6th year of playing in the NFL and thinking about stepping away from the game for the next step in my life and taking on a new challenge.

    I have always had a passion for business/finance. In addition to football, my wife and I started a small business and it has been up and running for almost 18 months. I have my eyes set on Stanford but would love to know if this is realistic.

    Education: 3.9 GPA in Business Management and a minor in Accounting. Named top Management Graduate. Magna Cum Laude.

    Career: Football. 6 years in the NFL. I feel my work experience has taught me a lot about leadership and teamwork. Because of this I have been considering Consulting. As stated before, small business owner for 18 months. We started from from scratch and have turned it into a very profitable women’s fitness studio.

    GMAT: Due to my job, I haven’t been able to take it yet. Its on my “to do” list as soon as the season ends. I have already been studying and am expecting to get a 700+ (as I am sure many others have too. ha.)

    Ultimately I am not sure what exactly I want to do post MBA. Does this hurt me? I have an idea based on what interests me now but will be open-minded as I go through grad school. But I feel an MBA is a great way to bridge the gap between football and into the real world.

    Because of the timing with deadlines and our current season, I will be forced to apply to round 3 for all my schools. I have read this is the most competitive round. Does this eliminate my chances of getting into a top 10 program? Any advice is welcomed. Thanks for taking the time to read.

  • Mr. Filipino Banker

    Hi there Sandy. I havent seen any profiles from my part of the world so I wanted to get your thoughts:

    – 24 yo Filipino male
    – 3.85 GPA from a top Philippine University (most H/S/W alumni from the Philippines come from this university), top1% of class
    – Major in Management Economics
    – 710 GMAT V40 Q47 6.0
    – Mensa member

    – 2 years at the “startup” investment bank subsidiary of a large Philippine banking group. Not known internationally.
    – Works directly with CEO and deal team heads bec of small headcount of firm. Experience across a variety of DCM and loan deals in the Philippines.
    – Simultaneously worked as risk management officer, spearheaded recruitment and training/mentoring effort for analysts

    – Headed a catholic formation organization that holds retreats for students.
    – Headed a 100+ person carpool group for university students.
    – No other notable extras

    – To put up private equity fund focused on emerging markets
    – Takeoff from developmental impact of deals ive done in current job, as well as spirituality/wanting to make a difference angle.

  • International in US

    Hello. Here are my stats. Would be really interested to hear what you think,

    Born and raised in one of the Stans in central Asia. International high school in Norway. Undergrad degree from university of Richmond, 3.03. GMAT 730 (V 96%, Q 80%). Five years with a same, small dc boutique consulting firm focused on housing finance. Worked my way to be one of 2 director level employees reporting directly to managing partners. Worked on a variety of projects for HUD, Treasury, SIGTARP. Co-authored a congressional study. Leadership role in starting a new service for the firm.

    extracurricular: RA in college. worked 20+ hours a week as student manager in library. Since college some volunteering for NGO in the home country. Running/triathlon. Recently refugee mentor in US.

    re-applicant from last year. Last year got interviews in Wharton, Booth, Darden. WL in Darden and stern. Improved GMAT score from 680 to 730. Took a UCLA stats class.
    Target schools Booth, Darden, Emory, NYU

  • Pakistani


    Are we still able to provide our profile for evaluation?

  • paras


  • paras


  • paras,

    That really depends on the school you’re applying to.

  • paras


  • VK

    28 year old, Indian female, working in general management leadership program of a large indian business house. Topped State University in Graduation (English Literature)
    770 gmat
    heavy community experience – suicide counsellor, slum children education, village development

  • An Indian IT Manager

    Hi Sandy,
    Thanks for providing your valuable input. It is very helpful for everyone and really appreciate your efforts. At a high level below are my details –
    Current designation / Industry: Senior Project Manager in IT
    Overall Experience: 11 Years (12 by the admission time 2012 Fall)
    Company – Infosys Ltd.
    Bachelor Degree: Bachelor of Engineering from National Institute of Technology (NIT) in India (Second Level immediately after IIT) in year 2000
    GPA/Percentage: Honors (Greater than 70%) Marks – Top 10% in my class.
    GMAT Score: 710 (Q51, V35)
    Nationality: Citizen of India (7 year experience in USA)
    Extra activities: Board of Director in $2M Non-profit organization for more than a year.
    Can you please let me know my chances in below colleges for full-tim MBA –
    Wharton (Upenn)
    Chicago Booth
    MIT Sloan
    Stern, New York
    Yale, New Haven

    London Business School, UK
    Indian School of Business (ISB)

    IT Manager

  • Proman

    Hi Sandy,
    I am an engg from India (top 10 colleges). Worked at big 4 for 3 years, joined Teach for India and have started a much published abt social enterprise where we employ underprivileged women. TEDx speaker , musician and some other interests.
    Have 80% in my engg and a 730 in my gmat.
    What schools should i apply to?
    Thanks in advance

  • Mr. Midwest

    Hi Sandy–

    I’m a couple years away from b-school, but I’d like an eval nonetheless if you wouldn’t mind.

    Personal info: 23 y.o. Caucasian male from the Midwest. I don’t know whether this is significant or not, but all of my schooling (from pre-school through college) has been at Catholic institutions, and I can’t deny the influence that my faith has had on my education, particularly with regards to ethical decision-making. Also, I’m the first in my extended family to attend graduate school, if that matters.

    Education: 3.97 GPA in Finance & Economics from a regionally ranked Midwestern Jesuit school (AACSB-accredited). I was Top 5% of my graduating class in terms of GPA.
    I’m currently taking additional advanced math courses to really beef up my quant skills (Getting an A so far).

    GMAT: 710 (46V/43Q) Retake?

    Career: 1 year as a Finance Systems Analyst at a large, private consumer goods manufacturer (~$4 B in annual revenue, 10,000+ employees)
    I’m planning to remain my company for another 3 years or so, then head to b-school. If I maintain my performance during that time period, I’ll receive at least 2 promotions by matriculation

    Extra-curriculars: VP of largest fraternity on campus, Beta Gamma Sigma (business honor society), Alpha Sigma Nu (highly selective Jesuit honor society), Finance & Economics tutor, volunteer work painting murals and mentoring elementary aged children at an inner city school, in the process of starting an after-school program to teach math skills at that same inner city elementary school, various involvement at my neighborhood Catholic parish
    I’m also very into health and personal fitness, and am working with some like-minded colleagues to develop a fitness mentorship program at my company

    Reason for MBA: I want to use the MBA to transition into management consulting with my overarching goal in life being to help as many American companies as possible to be successful and profitable (and beneficial to the American public) in an increasingly global and competitive economy (I know that sounds canned, but its the truth). I would particularly like to focus on making American manufacturing companies more nimble.

    Target schools: Tuck, Booth, UT-Austin, Duke, and H/W just for grins

    Thank you in advance for the eval. I really appreciate it.

  • Ms. Water Engineer

    Hi John & Sandy-

    I have not seen any profile like mine with extensive water infrastructure experience so I really hope you can evaluate my chances.

    Personal: 26 year old Female born and raised in India

    690 GMAT (Retaking it)

    Undergraduate Degree- BE. Environmental Engineering (Delhi, India)
    Graduate Degree – MS Environmental Engineering (Johns Hopkins University)
    GPA not awarded at either school but approximate range 3.5-3.7

    Works Experience: 4 years as an Environmental Engineer with one of the top most consulting firms in the field; Worked on a wide variety of projects related to water supply, water treatment, river and bridge systems, etc.

    Goal: Want to get into strategy and financing for environmental projects; In the long term, I see myself heading environmental infrstructure projects in developing countries

    Extra-curricular: Consistent Volunteer work with terminally ill patients; Just this year, ran my first ever half marathon and also raised money for charities doing development work in India.

    Most of my extensive extra-curricular activities date back to high school and undergraduate years, spent in India.

    Top 5 School Choices: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Yale, Berkeley

    Thank you so much for your time in advance!