Getting Into Your Dream School

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by John A. Byrne on

To gain top-secret security clearance, this 26-year-old went through an eight-month background check with a polygraph interview. He passed muster and works directly with agents on behalf of the U.S. Now wants an MBA to start a consulting business focused on intelligence.

They are a married Brazilian couple who want to come to a top MBA program in the U.S. He’s 27 and works in planning for Anheuser-Busch. She’s 29 and a quality specialist for one of the world’s top ten steel companies.

At 25 years of age, he’s a manager in the finance department of a software company. He’s also a Boy Scout Master with a 770 GMAT who wants to use an MBA to transition into investment banking or consulting.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these would-be MBA candidates 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.

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 assessment: 

Mr. Secret Agent Man

  • 700 GMAT (expected)
  • 3.7 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a public ivy
  • Work experience includes four years for the Department of Justice/FBI/CIA as an analyst working directly with agents; promoted after 18 months
  • “I have quite a few ‘interesting’ stories to talk about in the essays. To be hired, I went through an eight-month background check with a polygraph interview to receive a top secret security clearance.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as the founder of the first sports and entertainment club on campus; paid half of my college expenses through an import business launched with friends
  • Goal: “To start a consulting business specialized in the intelligence community where my pre-MBA expertise lies (something international). Backup: rejoin the government agency in a field position”
  • 26-year-old male with dual citizenship in the U.S. and a South American country (my mother is South American)

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 10% to 15%
Stanford: 10%
Columbia: 30% to 45%
Wharton: 30%
INSEAD:  35%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmmmmm, adcom officers, in their official capacity, are not interested in cloak-and-dagger stories, polygraphs, body cavity searches as part of your prolonged security clearance, or the spy business in general, however spun, nor is the “intelligence community” a good way to project your goals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to hear your stories and so would everyone else, but that is not at issue here. You need to make what you do more analytical and strategic than exciting.  A 3.7 from a public Ivy, a Latin American mom (identify as Hispanic, if you can, that could really help, and make it clear how, if you do not have an Hispanic surname), and ~ 700 GMAT, along with “analyst role”  in an selective  government agency could get you far. But don’t sound like a government lifer, which your goals (consulting to ‘intelligence community’ what does that mean?)  and excitement about working for the man, sound like.

You do not need an elite MBA to re-join the agency, so never mention that again.  I’m not seeing this as HBS or Stanford. They prefer their gov’ment types from the military, the White House, and elite congressional staffers. Columbia and Wharton could go for this on stats alone and some PC rewrite of your experience and goals. Assuming you get a 700+ GMAT. INSEAD might think you are a mole of some kind, and might be too unaware to realize that a real mole would come more camouflaged. I am not totally joking, but they may see you as odd, and the CIA is not a good monogram on your blazer in Europe. Nor is the FBI or whatever agency you actually work for.

So my general advice is to dial down the James Bond stuff and make your experiences more about analysis, strategy, and the type of vanilla stuff that consultants do.  To the extent you are interested in re-joining the government, try to position yourself in some consulting, strategy, public policy role, after a gateway career in management consulting. Adcoms like to think of themselves as running the ‘black box’; they are not interested in someone who may have real black box or black ops experience.

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Air Time - Comments
  • hbsguru

    get that ~750 GMAT –after that a lot will depend on what adcoms think of your current job at tech start up and how that fits with your goals. What do you do there, etc.
    Had this ‘just’ been, 1 good Aussie school, and good GPA and GMAT, 2. BB to HF (both well known) –you would be standard issue IB/PE-HF guy with Aussie and very good extra curric twists. All that is still true, but diversion to start-up for 2 years is a wild card, you have to make that ‘fit’ as part of narrative, what schools DO NOT WANT is drop-out IB-HF guy who JOINS semi-bogus start up to make easy $$$$ and wear jeans and have fun, and then looks for B school lifeline after start-up stalls, etc. DUNNO YOUR STORY IN DETAIL, but it sure sounds like that, if not you need to show us.

  • Aussie MBA

    Hi Sandy,

    Australian male, single
    GMAT (practice tests) c. 750+
    Undergrad: Top ranked Australian Business School in Finance/Accounting, with exchange to top 5 undergrad US Business program
    GPA: Top 10% of Cohort (presumably 3.6-3.8?)

    Work Experience: 1 Internship at a mid-market investment bank in M&A, 1 Internship at Bulge Bracket Investment Bank, 1 internship at hedge fund.
    6 months full time at Bulge Bracket investment bank followed by 1 year at an Asian-focused hedge fund & then 2 years at a technology start up in Silicon Valley.

    Extracurricular: Black belt in Martial arts, Regular contributor to university magazines interviewing high profile business people within the Asian market, Represented Australia in Athletics at High School, Elite Athlete scholarship to University, established a charity focused on tutoring indigenous Australians with the intention of securing more Indigenous Australians the opportunity to study at Tertiary Institutions.

    Goals: US Venture Capital or return to Hedge Fund work within the US market

  • nassib abdelghani

    one wont serve usa secretly counter-terrorist & counter gangster what will mey to do ?not usa zetisen!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sandy and John,

    I would appreciate your help on estimating my chances at HBS, Columbia, Wharton, Sloan as well as how to position myself to maximize my chances. I am reapplying to HBS where I was dinged last year after interview (only school I applied to) and am very interested in your advice on how to reposition myself on my next application. Here are my stats:

    – 28 y/o white male with US and European passport who grew up in European country
    – Bachelors degree in Engineering from Ivy League school – 3.5 GPA
    – Masters degree in Engineering from other Ivy League school than above – 3.7 GPA
    – 690 GMAT
    – 1 year experience doing (failed) internet start-up
    – 4 years work experience from top 3 consulting firm (fast promotions)
    – Recently left consulting to work for internet start-up and to train for iron man race
    – Extensive extracurricular activities in college but limited since then (some mentoring and recruiting at consulting firm)
    – Goal: Either venture capital or doing own start-up

    I just quit my job in consulting to pursue my passion for internet entrepreneurship and to pursue my personal goal to complete an iron man rave. Do you think the business schools will look negatively on quiting consulting? Do you have any advice on positioning this in the best way? Any other advice to increase my chances?

    Thanks for a great coloumn!

  • Guest

    I am having some difficulty posting my bio to this thread. Whenever I post it doesn’t show up. Is there a trick I’m missing?

  • Aryan Kenchin

    Further, post 2-4 years in MC or PE, i intend to start my own microfinance institution 

  • Prospectivecorpstrat

    It’s not one of those.  It’s a good corp strat team but not a big feeder to top schools because it’s almost exclusively made up of people post-MBA, which is why it would be kind of unique position – but I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

  • Hbsguru

    HMMM, tuff call without actually knowing the companies, cert. corp develp gigs are super feeder slots to HBS and Wharton and often Stanford. Disney comes to mind, and so does any other big media company (Time Warner, or any major studio). HBS is gaga over media. Disney corp development (preceded by prestige IB gig) is about as much a lock at getting into HBS as there is.  Unless you blow the interview (so hire me for that!)
    Record of kids getting into HBS etc fr. Facebook and Google is also good, so the real issue is what is your current company, how ‘hot’ is it, and how does move make sense or not for your career path.

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