Handicapping Your B-School Odds

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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.

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  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

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