Breaking Through The Elite MBA Screen

by John A. Byrne on

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 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. 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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  • Mr P&G

    Sandy, thanks a lot for your time and information!
    This will really help me to build a solid profile to present to adcoms.

    I have the information regarding the statistical distribution of grades posted in internet, so I guess that providing a link to it in essays will make it. I will probably forget about Stanford, and focus on the BS with a better fit.

    And man, that picture… you could not have chosen it better if you had a photo of me!

    Regards

  • kiwi

    Hi Sandy, would really love some feedback on my profile as I am coming from a non-traditional route and want to make sure my goals etc are in line.

    Basics:
    -24 year old white male. New Zealand/US dual citizen, although lived all my life in NZ
    -3.87 GPA from top NZ university
    – Double degree Physics and Music (including many awards in both disciplines and top student in music)
    – GRE 800 Quant, 670 Verbal. Sitting GMAT in a few months.

    Work:
    2.5 years (at matriculation) at a world class Acoustic Consultancy company.
    During my time here I have dealt with acoustics in major industrial, environmental, architectural, performing arts and infrastructure projects.
    Regularly work in a team environment with colleagues as well as with engineers, architects, planners etc on projects.
    Have been key worker in my company of a large industrial research project with lots of responsibility.

    Extracurriculars:
    Professional musician and songwriter (guitar) including nomination for NZ Music Award
    Co-ordinator in climate change organization
    Volunteer at not-for-profit offering performance opportunities to young people with disabilities
    Travelled extensively in Asia, Europe, America and parts of Africa
    Avid skier, cricket and rugby player/fan

    Goals:
    Would like to leverage from my physics background and diverse exposure to many industries in my job, as well as experience in climate change movement to be a business leader in clean tech.

    I am considering deferring application by a year to work in a developing country for a year (probably on a volunteer basis). Ideally I would like to volunteer with sustainable small business development. Although this is something I want to do for it’s many reasons outside of a B-school application I was wondering if you see this as being beneficial to my application and strengthening my goals?

    Targets:

    Harvard
    Stanford
    Chicago
    MIT
    Berkeley
    Duke

    Thanks very much for your input!

  • Barcelona

    Hello Sandy and Mr P&G.

    In Spain our grading sistem is different from the us GPA. Actually I do not know how GPA is calculated but our system works the following way:

    . Exam passed 50-69% you get 1 point
    Exam passed 70-89% you get 2 points
    Exam passed 90-100% you get 3 points
    Exam passed 90-100% but considered by the professor exceptional you get 4points.

    Then all subjects are weighted by the number of credits

    So someone from eneginnering with 2.5 is extremley good, I would not be surprised if he is top 2 or 3%. Avergare grade of many universities for those who graduate is 1.5 (aprox) and anything above 2 is considered pretty good.

    I was top1% with less than 3.0

    Hope this helps.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/kmatt/ Oil Baron

    Hey John and Sandy,

    Thanks a lot for the analysis… Great inputs.

  • Said Mohammad

    Went to State school GPA is 2.8, willing to take all 4 of the classes I received a D in over again from local colleges if that would help with MBA schools.

    GMAT is a 690

    First and unfortunately only person in my family, including my parents to graduate high school and college.

    Fluent in Arabic, my background is Palestinian, I lived in Jordan for 5 years. Parents are Palestinian refugees. I am also a documented Palestinian refugee with UNRWA. I took the NYU Arabic exam and received 12 credits which was applied towards my foreign language credit at my State college. They accepted those credits.

    Managed a small generic pharmaceutical wholesale company for 6 years. The number of employees was 8, including the telecommuting ones. I was able to increase sales by 50% throughout those 6 years.

    Currently managing an independent retail pharmacy since we sold the above business.

    I also run my own website which involves personal shopping and international shipping to customers in the Middle East.

    I have for the past month been volunteering with a foundation that teaches English to immigrants not applying until next year so this will go on.

    I want to receive an MBA so that I can work for an American company that does business in the Middle East or start my own consulting company for American businesses that want to do business the Middle East.

    Born in Jordan, lived in NYC for most of my life, inner-city.

    29 years old and completely bald.

  • Michael Owen

    Greetings,

    I would like to hear your thoughts about my chances for making a successful application to top-10 business schools (minus Wharton). If you would like to feature my story on the site, one possible name you could give me is “Mr. Past Redemption” or perhaps “Mr. Dead on Arrival” (though I hope not…)

    First the good (or at least the neutral)

    Age: 27

    GMAT: 800

    GPA: 3.58 (there is a reason for this, explained later in this post)

    Undergraduate degree: Elite University in New England (think Harvard, Yale, Princeton)

    Concentration: Math & Physics

    Work Experience: Associate at bulge bracket investment bank for 4 years (was directly promoted from analyst to associate)

    Extracurricular activities: Over a 1000 hours of volunteer work at my local hospital, tutor at-risk high school children (voluntarily, I don’t get paid) in math and science on weekends and occasional research projects (academic in nature) on the side

    Languages: In addition to English, fluent in three other important languages

    Additional information: Very strong relationships with certain professors at Harvard Business School

    Next, the bad (or the ugly)

    During my undergraduate studies I was forced to take an involuntary one-year leave of absence. The reason was for academic dishonesty (I plagiarized parts of a paper in a general education English class) I also received a failing grade for the class (which brought down my GPA significantly). The time off from school was hard, but it allowed me to reflect on my mistake and ultimately learn from it. In the years after graduating I have done some further maturing and the person that I was at nineteen years old in college is not the same person that I am today.

    I have talked to a professor at HBS specifically about this issue, and the professor thinks that it would not be a deal breaker as long as I clearly explain in the application what happened and that I have learned/matured since the incident occurred. At the same time, however, ethics has become more of an important issue in the business school curriculum (I know for a fact that HBS requires its students to take courses in business ethics — I am sure it’s the same for other top business schools) so this transgression is a very serious one.

    Thank you in advance for your analysis/feedback.

  • Former Banker

    Hey Sandy really appreciate the series. Would love a look at my profile.

    29 year old asian male, born and raised in the US

    740 GMAT,

    2.5 GPA from Engineering program from a Ivy League University.

    Work experience is split into two parts:

    Last three years Manager at top 5 economic consulting firm (cornerstone, NERA, Analysis Group etc) as industry expert on litigation associated with credit crisis.

    Prior 4 years- Trader/structurer at bulge bracket bank focusing on subprime mortgages. Promoted to associate two years after starting at bank.

    Extracurricular Activities:

    Work as tutor for non-profit that focuses on giving unemployed hard computer skills including microsoft office

    Work with immigrants with their foreclosure proceedings.

    Goal- To be honest, I want to get back in finance and concentrate on Real Estate Investment banking. Eventually transitioning into asset management of hard real estate assets, domestically and abroad.

    Columbia
    Wharton
    Georgetown
    Ross
    Tuck
    Stern

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/mba1/ MBA_2017

    This is an excellent site. I have been visiting for the past 6 months or so and just registered. I have become very interested in not only business school on its surface but how others perceive particular institutions and how they might fit in. The psychology of the entire process is fascinating to me. I just graduated college and only have about 3 months of post-graduate work experience under my belt. However, this site just confirms my strong desire to earn my MBA starting fall of 2017. Hopefully, the site is still around at that time and I can have my profile looked at before I apply.

    Keep up the good work John and all of you P&Qs out there.

    -MBA2017

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    MBA2017,

    Thanks much for your kind comments!

    Best,
    John

  • Ms. Indian Software Engineer in US

    Hi Sandy,

    A warm greeting. I am an ardent follower of your analysis. Amazing indeed. I am planning to attend a b-school. Please evaluate my chances.

    Profile: 28 years old, married India born IT professional, currently staying in the States for 4 years.

    Academics: MS in Computer engineering, University of Florida, GPA: 3.57/4
    Undergrad in Electrical Engineering in India, GPA: 3.70/4. Did a certification course on business analysis through continuing studies.
    GMAT: 710

    Work-experience: Senior Software engineer in a Chicago based small IT firm (3 years), 2 years in a major Indian IT firm before coming to the US. 2 internships during graduate studies and 1 in undergrad. 2 year-long workshops in prominent IT companies, both in the US and India.

    Extra-curricular Activities: Part-time teacher in a local kindergarten school (without pay), volunteered in a program to promote education campaigns in India, involved in an Indian cultural association in Chicago.

    Goal: To be a product/ marketing manager in some technology firm.

    Why MBA: MBA will help me to focus more on the business aspects a tech-firm faces. It will enable me to make a successful transition from a software developer to one, who can market a product to worldwide audience.

    Target Schools:
    1. Kellogg
    2. Chicago Booth
    3. Darden
    4. Duke Fuqua
    5. MIT Sloan
    6. Berkeley Haas
    7. Michigan Ross
    8. Tuck
    9. Columbia
    10. Insead
    11. LBS
    12. IMD

  • Rocket Scientist

    Hi Sandy,

    I have an undergrad degree from IIT Madras (GPA 9/10), and a PhD from Stanford in Aerospace Engineering (GPA 3.75). I’m very keen on starting my own company in India – a technology meets business kinda venture. Not something pure tech – like Intel or Microsoft. Neither something pure business – like a retail company. I want to be able to commercialize simple technology to benefit society. Getting good business grounding is important for me in order to smartly pursue my goals.

    I worked first for a small research firm in the US, writing SBIR grant proposals to the US Federal agencies, some of which were awarded (I’ve brought in federal funding worth $800,00 to my company) – and followed it up with research and execution.

    My passion for startups lead me from there to a small startup in Austin where we wrote software that could help save energy required to cool huge data centers.

    My desire to move to the subcontinent then brought me back to India, and ironically enough to a large US automobile company. Here I work with the Research division, where I try to impact next generation technology that goes into the automobile.

    I turn 32 this month – so I’ll be 33 when I start B school in 2013.

    Would appreciate an evaluation of my chances at Stanford/Harvard and INSEAD/IMD. If there are other schools that might better fit my profile, please do let me know.

    Thanks so much!

  • Rocket Scientist

    Aah – the GMAT – forgot to leave the score. I took the test last week and got a 770. Thanks!

  • IndianDownUnder

    Hi Sandy,

    I would like you to offer your view on my prospects

    I am a 27 year old Indian male planning to apply to HBS/MIT/Booth/Stanford. I graduated from the IIT in India with Honours in Electrical Engineering with a GPA of 8.3/10. I interned with a Canadian Univ. (Carleton) during my undergraduate degree.

    Post graduation, I have worked for Rio Tinto (global leader in the mining industry) first as an Electrical Engineer at a remote coal mining operation in outback Australia from 2007-2010 and as a Strategy Analyst for the Australian coal assets since then at the Brisbane head office. I was recently promoted to Senior Analyst in Jan 2012 so the transition from technical to strategy roles was not an issue.

    I am planning to apply this year and have been involved in volunteering through university and then through Aboriginal right initiatives and flood restoration through work.

    My extra-curriculars include university cricket/football/volleyball and club level cricket in Australia. I was the editor of the Institute Magazine and have also been involved in literary activities.

    I scored 770 on my GMAT which I took last year.

    I also visited the aforementioned schools (apart from Stanford) late last year and sat in on classes.

    Your advice on my chances and how to improve them would be greatly appreciated. I can get recommendations from my GM who is a MIT Sloan Alumni as well as from the Chief Strategic Development Officer for Rio Tinto

  • JoseR

    The guy from Spain should not worry about his GPA. I’m also from Spain and have similar “GPA” and got admits in 2 of the top-5 schools. In Spain grades are much lower than the US, and you should not translate one into the other. I recommend you this forum where several Spaniards discuss about their GPAs http://www.club-mba.com/foro/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=51

    Best of luck! un saludo,
    Jose

  • Matt

    Hi Sandy, curious about my chances at the top schools based on my profile below.

    3.78 undergraduate GPA at a solid regional school (Miami of Ohio, SMU, Rice, etc)
    Masters in Accounting at same school (3.8 GPA)
    CPA, CFA
    720 GMAT

    Work Experience: 4 years at big four in Transaction and Restructuring Group doing M&A due diligence for private equity firms

    Extra curricular: several service trips to 3rd world country, started non profit focusing on homeless and poor in the city, compete in triathlons.

    27 year old white male

    Reason for MBA: want to make the switch either directly into private equity or do a stint at an investment bank before making the switch.

    HBS
    Wharton
    Chicago
    Kellogg
    MIT
    Dartmouth
    UVA

    Thanks for your opinion!

  • Bill

    27 year old Asian male740 GMAT3.5 GPAUndergraduate degree in Operations Research (College of Engineering) from CornellWork experience includes 2+ years at IBM in Business Analytics and Optimization group, working in relational database management and data warehousing (lots of SQL, UNIX, software implementation) — main objective was to build the framework to optimize top Pharma company’s business operations; made a career change and worked at a marketing mix/marketing analytics firm for 1+ years, mainly servicing BIG CPG clients (statistical regression analysis, data-driven decisions for advertising optimization) ; currently working at a WPP advertising agency as a supervisor (2 steps below director level; promotion from previous firm) focusing on digital media analytics (developed a specific interest in this growing/evolving media space through work at previous firm)Extracurricular involvement includes 2+ years of various volunteer activities through Hands On Network (i.e. Big City Cares program) — past projects include clean-up and revamping of public parks and elementary schools; tutoring elementary students in math  Goal: in the short-term, bridge the gap between quant/tech people and big business people (i.e. people making big decision for companies); in the long-term, become one of the “big business” people with a strong quant/tech backgroundWhy MBA? 
    My first job experience revolved around storing, cleansing, and harnessing BIG DATA; I wanted to switch to a career where this data was used to provide actionable recommendations in a business setting (marketing mix firm); at my current post (recruiter tapped me on the shoulder through a mutual professional connection to bring me over), almost on a day-to-day basis, I see the need for something/someone to bridge the gap between “pure business” people and tech/quant people (i.e. business people have the big picture in mind, but aren’t always well-suited to speak to the technology and quant work that is the basis of analytics and data-driven solutions)
    Sorry for the long post!

  • Bill

    Schools interested in: Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Columbia

  • Mr. Hispanic Engineer

    Hi Sandy,Can you please review my profile and evaluate my odds of getting into my top choices. I’ve looked through all your previous articles and could not find a match similar to mine so I’m giving it a shot in the comments.-Why MBA: I want to work in the tech sector in strategy. Long term want to help more hispanics go to college and study STEM fields.-Schools: Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Kellog, MIT-Graduate from a leadership development program with the Nielsen company-Program manager for a large global program at Nielsen-Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Florida-GMAT 720-GPA 3.1 -25 Yr old Hispanic male-first person from my family to go to college-worked most of college in order to finance education. Graduated with no debt.-Extracurriculars:   -Now: Management Leadership for Tomorrow, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, National Society of Hispanic MBA’s (chapter officer)   -During college: several officer positions within my fraternity, president of several clubs during college Thank you!

  • Erindal

    Hello Sandy/John,

    I wanted to thank you again for all of your advice and support in my profile, Ms. Marine Biologist.  Unfortunately I got dinged without an interview from London Business School but I got into Sauder Business School with a very generous scholarship.  I just had one more question.  I’m interested in investment banking and was wondering if it would be beneficial to retake the GMAT to be more competive in the job market.  My original score was 680 but that was with 2.5 weeks of studying.  Do potential recruiters in banking often look at a candidates’ GMAT or just the MBA program scores?  As a career changer I really want to make sure that I am as competitive as I can be.

    Thank you!

    (PS I haven’t been able to retake the GMAT again until now because of work travel)

  • JohnAByrne

    Don’t retake the GMAT. I very much doubt that a recruiter will ask your GMAT score. They will be far more focused on your MBA grades. Good luck.

  • 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:
    UCLA
    USC
    Hass
    H/S out of interest

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