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Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

An Eagle Scout who survived cancer during his freshman year at college, this 27-year-old former consultant now works for a private equity shop in Boston. He has superb stats for a top MBA program, including a 740 GMAT and a 3.9 GPA, but wonders how a white male consultant and PE guy can stand out in a crowded field of many with similar profiles.

He’s a Green Beret who has served multiple deployments in Iraq, leading more than 140 Iraqi special operation soldiers. With a 730 GMAT and a 3.63 grade point average, this member of the U.S. Army Special Forces wants an MBA to transition into investment banking.

He’s a 29-year-old Palestinian who is, as he says, “completely bald” and managing a retail pharmacy. The first and only member of his family to graduate from high school and college, he is hoping to get an MBA to work for a U.S. company with interests in the Middle East.

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.

These weekly columns are often filled with gems of admissions advice. This one is no exception. As Sandy tells one would-be applicant, “getting into Harvard Business School is more about FITTING IN rather than STANDING OUT.” That’s wise advice to get through one of the toughest MBA screens in the world.

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:

Mr. Green Beret

  • 730 GMAT
  • 3.63 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from Ohio State
  • Work experience includes seven years with the U.S. Army Special Forces, during which he served multiple Iraq deployments, leading more than 140 Iraqi special operation soldiers; also worked closely with Sheiks and tribal leaders to solve local problems; seven years of service due to job commitments including the multiple deployments
  • Extracurricular involvement includes an internship with the Department of Finance in the state of Ohio
  • Goal: Trying to change to get into investment banking

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40% to 50%
Stanford: 30+%
Wharton: 50+%
Chicago: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: As noted several times, and as amazing as it seems for military applicants, college grade point average really counts because adcoms are not experts at discerning what a great military career is versus an ordinary one,  as they can by looking at a private employment record, where they have a better “feel” for the company you work for, and even how to read through your recommendations.

That being said, everyone [hearts] Special Forces, so that is an intangible plus.  The work you did in Iraq, leading different types of resources in different ways, is totally up the alley of all adcoms, so tilt your essays in that direction.  Other things they like to hear are some non-military stories or semi-military stories about working with civilian groups, volunteering, and dealing with military families.

Your story — Special Forces, 3.6 GPA from an OK school, and a 730 GMAT — puts you in the running at H/S/W for sure. The eventual outcome will turn on execution, recommendations, and luck.  Stanford may want to hear something a bit extra, e.g. overcoming adversity in terms of background, or some real do-gooder military stories. At HBS guys like you get in and dinged all the time, and guys like you usually get into Wharton, since they run older, and care most about your very solid GPA and GMAT.

This is a small point, but saying you want to go into investment banking, after this career, is a small let down. You might think about tweaking that a bit.  Going commando on the battlefield is excellent; doing so on Wall Street is not an interesting story at this point in the financial cycle (to adcoms, it is to ME!!!!!!!!!).  Try spinning that into becoming an impact investor, especially in developing countries, maybe the Middle East, or some jive like that.

Pick you recommenders with care.  Military officers who write grad school recs run from “outstanding” to disappointing.  It helps to tutor them, if possible, at what schools are looking for– although the diplomacy of that is admittedly touchy.  All top schools have Armed Forces clubs, which can be really helpful in explaining the secret handshakes which work better for recs, so reach out to them.