Handicapping Your MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on

A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, she’s one of only 18 women to be among the first in history to break into one of the last male-only fields in the country—submarine duty. This 25-year-old Naval officer now wants an MBA to transition to a leadership job in children’s education.

He’s a pop star in Japan, signed to a major label with singles charting in the top 50. A graduate of Yale, he wants to get his MBA degree to make the transition to a top management role at a major music company.

She’s a 27-year-old woman who designs, scouts and puts together luxury chartered travel experiences, including customized safaris and expeditions to Borneo. She hopes to use her MBA degree to further develop her career with her current company but also to some day run the family hotel business.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these MBA applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get an invite? Or are they likely to end up in a reject pile?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

After a two-week holiday break, Kreisberg is back again to handicap 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.

Sandy’s assessment:

Ms. Submariner

  • 680 GMAT
  • 3.2 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy with a double major in economics and political science
  • Work experience as a U.S. Navy officer, a graduate of the Navy’s Officer Nuclear Power program and one of only 18 women to be the first in the history of the Navy to break into one of the last male-only fields in the country: submarining
  • Extracurricular involvement includes two years on the varsity crew team; as a novice moved up to the 2V varsity boat and was part of the team that won the Patriot League Championships
  • “I plan either starting or becoming involved in a charity organization focusing on improving children’s education in the U.S. prior to applying. I also will likely have my real estate license prior to applying.”
  • 25-year-old female, first generation college graduate

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30+% (if you get a 700 GMAT)
Stanford: 20% to 30%
Wharton: 40%
INSEAD: 60% to 70%

Sandy’s Analysis: Yikes, there are not that many women service academy grads at Harvard, Stanford or Wharton, period, not to mention submariners. This guy, a military officer who runs the useful blog Military To Business, notes that by his chummy reckoning (he seems to know lots of current military at HBS), the HBS class of 2011 has 31 U.S. military members– all officers and ALL MALE (not sure how many are ROTC, or, ahem, battlefield promotions).  Female service academy graduates have attended HBS in the past, but they are few and far between.

The submariner twist is a super added plus. Any Wharton or Stanford readers who know the military gender breakouts there, please check in.

All that said, I’d plan on taking the GMAT until you got a 700+, which is a useful marker at HBS.  Dee Leopold, the HBS adcom head, has been overheard (and this was reported to me, so it is semi-reliable, semi-gossip intel) as saying anything beyond 700 does not move the needle much, but you know Dee. Or maybe you don’t. That means if they otherwise like you, they won’t blink at a 700. If you have a score below 700, well, they still may take you, but they will have to like you even more.

As I have noted many times about military applicants, GPA is one of the better predictors of admissions success, since the war stories all seem to bleach out, although recommendations are also important, given that powerful ones can cite where you stand in your officer peer group, which I understand the military does on some formalized basis, more formalized than, let’s say, your bonus bucket at Ye Olde Generic Private Equity Shoppe. Your GPA of 3.2 is on the low side, so that is why I am suggesting a 700+ GMAT. Did you get ‘grades’ in the Nuclear Power Submarine Program? If they were better, it might be worth noting. That program, I am given to understand by grads, is a lot harder than regular Naval Academy fare, so that might also be worth noting.

As to what else you can do, starting/leading the charity you note focused on children’s education would be a plus, as would any other non-military leadership gig. You note obtaining a real estate license?  I mean, sure get one, but that is not any kind of plus to your application, and could be an odd downer.

So much else about your app will be fresh and unique, and the idea of being one of the buzzing bees of the real estate agent hive just seems to “normalize” you in a possibly disappointing way. Being a residential real estate agent, or even a commercial one, is not a gateway job to a Top 6 business school. Successful real estate agents can be very successful indeed, but there is no need for them to get an MBA. I strongly suggest, by the way, that you apply while still in the service. If somehow you thought getting out and selling real estate for two years would make your story stronger, well, it DEEPLY WILL NOT.

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  • Ms. Family Biz

    Hi Sandy, Ms. Family Biz here, just thought you might want to know how this all ended up.

    I took your advice on emphasizing something more aspirational in my essays – developing luxury voluntourism – but I did not retake the GMAT (mistake).

    I ended up applying to Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg and Darden. Got immediately denied from Harvard about two weeks after sending in my application.

    Had interviews with Kellogg, Stanford, and Darden. Stanford only interviewed about 14% of applicants this year, so that was a good sign.

    Ended up not getting in to Stanford or Kellogg, but was offered a place in Darden’s class of 2015. Excited to be headed to Virginia and happy to see Darden high in the rankings, especially for student satisfaction!

    Some advice for those applying to B school – apply first round to more than 4 schools. The turn around for second round is too tight after you hear from the first round to realistically get much done, and it was really nerve racking getting three rejection letters before I got in to the last school I applied to.

    Thanks again for featuring my profile. I’m looking forward to seeing where an MBA at Darden takes me.

  • JohnAByrne

    Congrats Ms. Family Biz. You’re going to love Darden. It’s a great school with the absolute best teaching faculty in the world.

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