Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

When this 26-year-old woman was an undergraduate student, she lost a parent to cancer. With a 3.6 grade point average and a 760 GMAT, she now works for a non-profit that helps cancer patients but wants an MBA to move into a larger management role.

After spending three years as an analyst for a bulge bracket investment banking firm, this 25-year-old man is now on a Fulbright scholarship in China working with underprivileged children. He played varsity basketball all four years during college and has run a marathon twice. Now he wants an MBA to help him transition to an international investment fund.

He works in Asia as a consultant with a top-tier strategic consulting firm. With a 770 GMAT and a 3.2 GPA, this 28-year-old Asian male hopes to get an MBA to move his career forward but worries whether his low GPA and age will prevent him from getting into a top MBA program.

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: 

Ms. Non-Profit Health Care

  • 760 GMAT (Q77%, V99%)
  • 3.6 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in liberal arts and a foreign language from a top 50 liberal arts college
  • “My college GPA lower than what I’m capable of — I had a parent who was diagnosed with and then died from cancer during this time. I was also working 30-40 hours a week in various editorial board roles for the student paper, culminating in a year as editor-in-chief”
  • Work experience includes two and one-half years in a public relations firm and a year and one-half in a development job for a small non-profit that helps cancer patients; have been promoted to director of development
  • Extracurricular involvement on the student newspaper at college
  • Goal: To move into a management role in a larger cancer-related non-profit or hospital
  • “I’m not cut out for a direct care role, but I want to be able to use my marketing/fundraising/management skills to help organizations who help people dealing with disease.”)
  • 26-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 30+%
Stanford: 10% to 15%
Wharton: 30% to 35%
Columbia: 40%+
Chicago: 50%+
Kellogg: 60+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, your stats are fine, even the 77% Quant on your 760 GMAT, and 3.6 at an OK liberal arts college. The ‘trouble’ with you, to the extent there is any, is your career and goals.  A lot will turn on how your current ‘small’ non-profit is perceived by adcoms (and to some degree, the size and pedigree of your first job with the PR agency).

In order to get into Harvard or Wharton, you are going to have to up your game in terms of goals and impact. They don’t see themselves as turning out Development Directors or managers for small organizations, as you seem to intuit (“eventually move into a management role in a larger cancer-related non-profit or hospital.”)  What you need to do is identify the type of roles you want, and even find out the people who are doing it, and whether or not they have a MBA.

You need to say, “I admire Person 1 who is Director of ___ at the USA Cancer Society and has changed the way that organization has done 1 and 2, and I admire Person 2 at Health Care Org and how she was able to touch more lives. Given that you have a story of family loss to disease and work in two jobs, which are health care related, you might make an attractive candidate at H or W (not seeing this as Stanford somehow, work pedigree really counts there, and yours is not blue chip or funky enough, ditto schooling).

At schools like Columbia, Booth, and Kellogg, you would be strong on stats alone, and a compelling story is a plus. Booth goes for stories like this, as does Kellogg. Columbia goes for 760 GMATs and people who visit and show interest and apply before Thanksgiving. I’d say your chances are solid there.

Just start thinking bigger : You went to a small, 2nd Tier (or lower) liberal arts college, you’ve worked for what appear to be two small organizations, you seem over-determined to help people rather than have an impact on organizations. B-schools like to help people, too, but by way of strategy, innovation and improving organizations. That has to be your core pitch and that has to be how you describe what you have done so far, in terms of significant accomplishments.

You got a very sympathetic story, but you need to put on your organizational game face when talking about goals and passions.  You seem to be aware of that, but the profile note you wrote—viz, “I’m not cut out for a direct care role, but I want to be able to use my marketing/fundraising/management skills to help organizations who help people dealing with disease” sounds more convincing about care-giving than improving organizations.
When this 26-year-old woman was an undergraduate student, she lost a parent to cancer. With a 3.6 grade point average and a 760 GMAT, she now works for a non-profit that helps cancer patients but wants an MBA to move into a larger management role.