Breaking Through The Elite MBA Screen

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

She boasts a degree in molecular biology from a top U.S. university and has spent the last four years working in product management works for a renewable energy company. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.9 grade point average, this 27-year-old woman is now eager to get an MBA to start her own company in the developing world.

He has spent the past five years working for Procter & Gamble in Spain. A 29-year-old Spaniard with an impressive 770 GMAT but a seemingly mediocre 2.5 GPA, he wants an MBA degree to help him set up his own company.

This 25-year-old woman spent her teen years in a low-income neighborhood as an immigrant to the U.S. She now works for an advertising agency doing research and analytics, but hopes to use the MBA to land a marketing job for a multinational company in the emerging markets.

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 in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants. This week, the 27th time we’ve run this highly popular series, the witty and irreverent Kreisberg delivers some important advice: To one applicant keen on a school with an entrepreneurial focus, he advises, “My advice to you and everyone: Go to the best school you get into. ‘Focus’ is pretty meaningless–both for your experience and for employers.”

To yet another applicant who submitted his profile, the consultant asks bluntly why in the world would a female minority from a public ivy take her first job for a financial advisor. Says Kreisberg, That’s a fine job for an ambitious white guy who discovered he was serious about life after getting a 3.2 at a Tier 2 school and his girlfriend knocked-up???”

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 tell-it-like-it-is assessment:

Ms. Software Management

  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.9 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in molecular and cellular biology from a top 20 university
  • Work experience includes four-plus years in first sales and marketing and now software product management for a renewable energy company
  • Extracurricular involvement as president of an organization that ran freshman orientation at my college, held offices in sorority, volunteered for a nonprofit that aspires to do solar energy in developing countries
  • Goal: “To repeat the success of my current company but in the developing world” in a for-profit model
  • Why MBA? “I’ve witnessed one highly successful example in the corporate world but a broad business education would really accelerate my professional development. A school with a strong entrepreneurial focus is a must.”
  • 27-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 20% to 30%
Harvard: 30% to 40%
Berkeley:  50+%
MIT: 40% to 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm,  a 3.9 in molecular biology and a 700 GMAT plus 4.5 years of solid work in what appears to be an exciting and successful start-up—and a woman? That could make most schools wink at the low Q score on your GMAT. And added course work is another plus.  The fact that you’ll be 28 year old and have six years of work experience when you go to school is on the high side for Harvard and Stanford, but they maybe they will wink at that, too.

Not sure what first job was, or if you have had one job or two—sounds like two and first job could be important as just some filter of what you did right out of college. All that said, you are on the bubble for a place like HBS and Stanford. They take and ding people like you, depending on execution, recommendations, luck, and luck, and not blowing the interview. Execution will count a bit more in your case, since you don’t have a full blue chip background. But if your current company is a leader in its field, stress that.

Also make the most of your non-profit work for solar in developing countries since that links with your goals. As to goals per se, you say, “deploying renewal energy in developing world with a for-profit model.”  That is probably OK, though pointing to some companies who have done that would help. Since you work for a successful version of that model, that is also strong evidence of your bona fides.

You say, “A school with a strong entrepreneurial focus is a must”—kiddo, today that is every school. My advice to you and everyone: Go to the best school you get into. ‘Focus’ is pretty meaningless–both for your experience and for employers.  Sure on the margin, if you are interested in banking, maybe Tuck is good at that, and has connections, but as a rule, applicants should just attend the best school they can get into.

If you had to pick between HBS and Stanford with this story, well, maybe Stanford is more up your alley since a lot of renewable activity is in California. But I would not choose Berkeley over HBS for that reason.

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  • etna

    HI Sandy, here’s my terse profile. 

    Major: Chemistry at top 40 liberal arts college (finished top 10 in my class)
    GPA: 3.9 / 4.0
    GMAT: 720
    Work experience: ~2 years in a bulge bracket investment banking analyst program (top bucket), currently in my third year working for Hewlett Packard (2 years in Silicon Valley, 1 year in London)

    Extras: In college, VP of student investment fund, founded and ran an internationally competitive debate program, minimal after college

    Goal: To eventually become CEO of a Silicon Valley startup, MBA will round out business skills outside of strategy and M&A

    White male, age 27 at matriculation 

    Schools: Harvard, Stanford

  • Nestor

    Hi Sandy, I found very useful your reviews… thank you!

    Major: Industrial Engineering in top school in Latin America.
    GPA: 2.8 (40% Superior of class)
    GMAT: 720
    Work experience: 4 years in Sony in Sales and Marketing; 2 years at Intel in Sales and Marketing as well.Extras: VP of National Congress for Industrial Engineering Students, Alumni activities, Teacher’s assistant for more than 4 years, Co-owner Charity Organization.Goal: To gain international experience during 10 years and come back to my country to enroll in government and social positions.White male, age 27 at matriculation Schools: Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Kellogg, Tuck.

  • Mark

    Hi Sandy, Thanks for the great info and entertainment.
    Major: Math and Computational Sciences at Stanford
    GPA: 2.86, 1F Senior year. Even trend
    GMAT: 770 (once)
    Age: 30

    4 Year Rugby Player
    Intel Finalist

    High School Overachiever Turned College Underacheiver

    Work: 5 Years as quant at medium sized hedge fund (~500MM) in San Diego. Then worked at smaller offshoot fund for 2 years. Started an import/export company last year. Want to build a tech startup based on import company. Need network and skills. Extras: Minimal, will build for next year if I get dinged this year.

    In order of want:
    H/S out of interest

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