Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

At 26 years of age, he’s already pulling down between $200,000 and $325,000 annually at a well-known hedge fund in Europe. To expand his network and move higher up, he wants an MBA–but only if it’s from Harvard Business School.

She’s a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Virginia who works as a consultant in higher education. With a 720 GMAT score and a 3.5 grade point average, she’s hoping an MBA would allow her to bring more disciplined thinking to education management.

He’s a digital media maven who had edited an AOL-owned website and now works in public relations for a regional university. His post-MBA goal: To transition to a top-tier management consulting company with a media practice.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these 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 in? Or will they be dinged by their dream schools?

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.

As usual, 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, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)

Sandy’s candid assessment:

Mr. Hedge Fund

  • 760 GMAT
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from a top three university in the United Kingdom
  • Work experience includes one year in principal investments at a top investment bank and two years at a well-known hedge fund
  • Pre-MBA compensation: EUR 150-250K
  • Extracurricular involvement includes some school mentorship activities, and on the board of a few companies we are invested in
  • Goal: “I currently work in Europe and plan to return here, doing a similar thing to what I’m doing now but with more (and eventually portfolio manager level) responsibilities. Would like to go to business school to expand my global network (which I feel will be useful at the PM level)”
  • 26-year-old under-represented minority (Black)

Odds of Success:

Harvard Business School only: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: I am assuming your current job is with the hedge fund. A lot of your HBS chances will turn on what HBS thinks of your employers, both the IB and the Hedge Fund. And the best way to figure that out is to find out the track record of those companies sending applicants to HBS over the past three to five years. As to Hedge Funds, especially, all hedge funds are not created equal, and its record in sending applicants to top schools, and some degree, its record of hiring Harvard MBAs after graduation really color the HBS adcom outlook.

As to being a URM [Under-Represented Minority), at HBS (and all U.S. schools), that term technically applies to only U.S. citizens, which does not seem to be you. Those schools in the first instance are concerned with forms they have to file with the U.S. Department of Whatever (Education, Civil Rights?) which headcounts the percentage of students who are 1. U.S. citizens, AND 2. Either: A) Afro-American, B) Hispanic surname, C) from Puerto Rico, or D) Native American. So when you see that X percent of HBS class is “minority,” that is what the number means–the total of those four groups.

All that said, the fact you are black, even if citizenship is U.K., is a plus, since it impacts your experiences and interests, and there are just not that many black males from anyplace with a 760 GMAT.

I would do a better dog-and-pony show on your goals, although you might just be “blah, blahing” to me and you already knew that. But your stated goals of planning to return to work in Europe aren’t all that compelling: “Doing a similar thing to what I’m doing now but with more (and eventually Portfolio Manager level) responsibilities. Would like to go to business school to expand my global network (which I feel will be useful at the PM level).” Dunno, HBS recognizes that what you are saying motivates many private equity and finance types to apply, but they don’t enjoy hearing it back quite that insouciantly.

You need to puff it up so it sounds like HBS will be a transformational experience, help you become an impact investor, transform investments in areas 1, 2, 3. Also portfolio manager is not a favored Harvard endpoint in life. Well, not a favored HBS Adcom endpoint. Their thinking is, you don’t really need an MBA for that, although many portfolio managers might disagree.

Being on company boards is good, although not quite an “extracurricular activity,” as HBS understands the term. Nonetheless, OK experience for one essay. Your pre-MBA compensation of 150-250k Euros is probably on the high-end, even for PE applicants, but not a head-scratcher–just don’t brag about it. At some compensation point, ~$500 U.S.D., schools begin to wonder why you are applying, but not yet.

I don’t often say this, but a good deal of your outcome will turn on execution. Both how you position goals, and how likeable and, ahem, ‘emotionally intelligent’ you appear in essays. HBS dings and admits lots of guys like you, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what the decision turned on. Guys like you who get dinged and get feedback from Dee Leopold as part of her Ding-A-Thon phone sessions, often hear, “nothing really ‘wrong’ etc. which means 1. You blew the interview in some subtle way, 2. Essays and total picture where not likeable, for reasons very difficult to articulate (too banal, too braggy, annoying ‘voice.’)

  • Bef

    You must be joking?

  • soro333

    Hi sandy,

    Im 21 years old Indian male, just out of college

    GMAT : 750

    Graduated in bachelor of commerce with honours

    Excellent grades though low in first semester

    No full time work experience but worked part time through my 3 years of under grad in a real estate construction company and interned in the summer with KPMG and PwC.

    Volunteer in student organisation for uplifting unappreciated class of people

    Target- Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, NYU, MIT Sloan, Columbia, YALE

  • Franklin

    Please give advice:

    800 GMAT

    3.94 GPA from MIT (double major: math/economics)

    African American male

    5 years experience at Goldman Sachs IB division

    Oh yeah, I also graduated from Harvard Law.

    Do I have any shot at a top 25 business school?


  • Jeet

    Hi Sandy,

    Great effort here. Thanks for helping out! 

    -25 year old Indian- Female

    Professional work experience- 36 months in IT in Media and Entertainment as working industry

    -Engineer in telecommunications; interned in BHEL, India for 2 months. 

    -Worked as associate editor for 10 months while in college in a publication start up that had youth as the target audience. The theme of the publication-feel,write,publish- first of a kind in the country.

    -With the media and entertainment going digital and integrating with IT , wanted to understand IT aspect. Joined the IT  with US Media and Entertainment as wokring industry- in Infosys. 

    -Along side, associated with Youthopia, free style online magazine  where i look into startegy and policy creation. Have been associated for 4 months now. 

    -Have 1.5 years of volunteer work in social service sector while in college

    Long term aspiration- to create an impact at an elementary level -common man of the country. Set up my own media enterprise that  exploits the convergence of the upcoming favorite channel of information sharing- the internet, and one of the most common electronic device in India- the mobile phone. 

    MBA because- have never worked neck deep in the media and entertainment industry and so want to understand how the industry function. Want to take up startegy and business development functional roles in one of the media giants in an advanced set up of US industry. 

    Target Schools-Harvard,  Wharton, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Kellogg, Stern

    Thanks!! 🙂

  • SK

    26 year old female 

  • SK

    Hi Sandy, 

    Here is my profile. It would be great if you can comment !

    GMAT: 750
    GPA: 3.2 from University of Waterloo for Mechatronics Engineering (One of the top schools in Canada)
    Work Experience: Several internships in automobile industry including GM, Ford and Toyota. Interned as a software developer for Scotiabank. Full time new product implementation engineer and leader for welding group for 3 years at Toyota. Responsible for new product launches, design and modification to equipment related to it. 
    Extra Curriculars: Local squash league player. Regularly initiate and lead running teams for charity races (5K or 10K) and volunteer at the local photography club to organize workshops and outing events. 
    Goal: Currently work in manufacturing and looking into moving to product development in high tech 

  • SR

    Hi Sandy, thanks for taking time out to handicap. Don’t go easy.

    21, College Senior
    Non URM male. (Ancestors didn’t get on the Dawes Rolls in time)
    2nd Best School in Texas

    Graduating 1 year early
    Languages: Chinese, Arabic
    Political Science 3.91 GPA
    GRE 161(87%) Verbal
    153 (65%) Quant
    5.0 (87%) Writing

    2 Summers Interning as a Mechanical Engineer with the Department of Defense where I oversaw design and implementation of projects.

    Use the knowledge gained and networks established as an MBA to transition into strategic consulting. Later, return to government to lead defense projects. Use my knowledge to reduce government waste and provide a solid philosophical direction in the defense department.

  • AJ


    Many thanks for an invaluable service. Love your style. How many As did you give when you taught Expos @ Harvard?


    – 28 year-old, african-american male
    – public school student from small southern town


    – 670 GMAT (converted from GRE: 740 V, 650 Q; could easily raise Q to 700+, which would put me at converted 700 GMAT)
    – 2.8 Undergrad GPA in liberal arts from an Ivy (didn’t adjust well to college in big city; picked it up in second half of schooling)
    – 3.8 Grad GPA in education policy from an Ivy (once had career focus, really turned it on)

    Work Experience:

    – 1 year in the film industry
    – 2 years in admin/teaching role @ high-end tutoring company (found focus here: worked w/ low-income/rich kids. saw achievement gap up close and personal, got pissed, and decided to devote my professional life to closing it)
    – 1 year in AmeriCorps role @ high-performing, inner-city charter school
    – (grad school)
    – 3 years at State Department of Education w/ nationally recognized Commissioner. Led overhaul of office engaged in politically controversial work: crafted strategic plan, wrote regulations, and developed systems that affected thousands of kids. Typically someone in my role has 3+ years leadership experience on top of teaching for a 5+ years. Routinely have difficult conversations–internally and externally–with people twice my age.

    Career goal:

    To play a leadership role in an organization that supports educators in executing their visions for achievement-gap-closing schools. Huge, but it’s really two paths: 1) Ops – helping educators build effective, accountable organizations and 2) Ecosystem – creating the policy conditions for educators to be able to do great things. On either path–which I’ll bounce back and forth from…and this is common in my corner of the ed reform world– the key to success is overcoming business challenges. 100 million great ideas in education; not a lot of implementation savvy to actually pull them off. B-school will give me the foundation to lead organizations that help school leaders block and tackle well.

    Stanford Joint MBA/MA Ed, NYU MBA, Cornell AMBA, MIT/HKS joint, Vanderbilt MBA, Columbia MBA


  • OntheFenceMD

    Hi Sandy,

    What an cool series of articles. More and more physicians are applying for MBAs, and I’m wondering if that helps or hinders the application. Here are the details of my profile, what do you think?

    GMAT: 730
    Undergraduate GPA: 3.9 (University of Toronto)
    Medical degree GPA: “Honours” (The school I went to only uses Honours/Pass/Fail system, however, Honours is typically about 3.7 or A-)

    Currently in 4th year of surgical specialty training in University of Toronto.

    Volunteered as a physician in an underdeveloped country
    Cantonese speaking
    A couple of articles published in peer-reviewed journals
    Recipient of a provincial award scholarship as an undergraduate
    MCAT score in the 95th percentile

    Big – dreaming about applying business model to public health care in order to increase efficiency.
    Smaller (realistic?) – Starting up my own consulting firm

    28 year old asian male (Canadian)