What Are Your Chances Of Getting In

He’s a self-taught trumpet player who has spent five years working for a Fortune 100 movie studio. With a 750 GMAT and a 3.2 grade point average from Vanderbilt University, this 27-year-old analyst hopes an MBA will help him achieve a dream to become the head of a major movie studio.

The death of her father when she was a sophomore led to a 2.89 GPA in economics at a liberal arts college. But this 27-year-old sales person for a market research firm still aims high, hoping that an MBA will allow her to start her own business some day.

After spending three years in a special intelligence unit for the Israeli military, this 29-year-old aerospace engineer has racked up seven years of work experience with major defense companies. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.4 GPA, he’s counting on an MBA to help him transition to a product management or marketing role.

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 tell-it-like-it-is assessment:

Mr. Eagle Scout

  • 730 GMAT (Q:73%, V:99%)
  • 3.47 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in communication from “lower” Ivy (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth)
  • Work experience includes two years at The Nielsen Company doing marketing consulting for major clients in CPG (will be 3 yrs at matriculation)
  • Extracurricular involvement includes being an assistant Scout Master for a Boy Scout troop I’ve been involved with since the first grade (I’m an Eagle Scout);  heavily involved with Nielsen’s on-campus recruiting efforts
  • Goal: To go into marketing or brand management
  • “I’m a bit concerned that I don’t have enough experience to be a competitive applicant”
  • 24-year-old African American male.

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30%
Stanford: 25%
Wharton: 35%
Kellogg: 40% to 45+%
Columbia: 35+%
Tuck: 40% to 45+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm, experience is not your problem. Three years at Nielsen at matriculation is enough, although probably on the low side of normal.

Nielsen is a good company to work for because 1. Everyone has heard of them, and 2. You associate them with data and numbers, which is a hot button item these past years, mostly BIG DATA in medicine, but data in anything, even couch potato viewing data, sounds good or can be made to sound good.

Your problem is making your core story more interesting: African-American guy working for Nielsen, Eagle Scout, on campus recruiting, CPG (that is “consumer packaged goods,” literally, peanut butter and jelly in jars and white bread in a bag, plus the Glad wrap, too), 2nd-Tier Ivy, semi-slacker grades—don’t take this the wrong way man, but that is the profile of a White Guy from 50 years ago. Didn’t I see you in a walk-on role in Mad Men??? That is the clubhouse of the 1960-era Nielsen, CPG, Ivy, Eagle Scout types.

For HBS and Stanford, you may need to make this story more, ahem, hip, e.g., using your metric/marketing skills to better serve underserved groups, especially in helping CPG producers interested in fighting obesity, cutting back on jumbo sodas, etc. Say you want to start a consulting company, which does that, and try to find one that does, in any related way, and cite it as an example. Say you also proposed a Healthy Eating merit badge in the Scouts (well, you get the idea, by this time no doubt such a badge undoubtedly exists) and have been pushing back  hard about their retrograde policies viz. homosexuals, or start doing that in some ten pixel way, enough to make your story mentionable in a resume or essay section.

Sorry if “Gays in the Boy Scouts” issue has been “solved.” I’ve lost track, but it is a good thing to mention in some way. If you think Gays do not belong in the Boy Scouts, well, that is not something I would bring up. The vast majority of adcoms believe that everyone belongs everyplace, including Girls in the Boy Scouts and vice-versa. Well, everyone belongs everyplace to a point–because adcoms do not believe that “everyone” belongs enrolled in their schools, of course . . . but hey, some girl who busted into the Boy Scouts would get a long-sock leg up.

Once we leave the magic H/S/W camping grounds and move on to Kellogg, Columbia and Tuck, things brighten considerably. I mean if Tuck is not going to go ga-ga for a White Guy Eagle Scout from the late 1950’s with solid enough stats (3.45/730), who in addition to all that, is actually Black, well, man, I’ve been peeling the wrong potatoes at KP. Ditto Kellogg, where everything seems to jive, including the marketing angle. Columbia would probably bite, too, but they are less sentimental about Black Scout Masters and would just like you on the basis of solid stats alone. Wharton could go either way.

If you are able to ‘modernize’ your story, history and goals, HBS could go for this (Essay Two: “Wish I had done better and fought harder at getting girls admitted to the Cub Scouts as part of my 15-year plan to get women in front-line combat roles  but I drank too-much macho Kool-Aid at the Jamboree!”), and maybe Stanford, but the “great-story” evidence there would have to be really compelling.

  • Mr. Eagle Scout

    Mr. Eagle Scout here, checking in almost a year later. So first of all, let me say off the bat, that I really appreciated Sandy’s feedback and used this column pretty frequently when coming up with my bschool strategy. That said, I ignored pretty much all of his advice and stuck with my “boring” story. I quote boring there not because I disagree with him, but because that’s what he actually said. I ended up applying to HBS, Wharton, Kellogg, and Duke. I got into all of the schools except Kellogg (which is fairly humorous considering they should’ve been the best fit in terms of my background). Just goes to show how much of a crapshoot this whole process is! Thanks for the advice Sandy, and best of luck to all future applicants!

    -Mr. Eagle Scout

  • azn

    Hello Sandy,
        I would greatly appreciate if you could offer some comments on my profile.

     – 730 (47Q 42V)

    Educational Background
     – Received a Bachelors and Masters of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering from a non-HYP Ivy.
     – Also completed an undergraduate minor in Engineering Management.
     – Undergraduate GPA: 3.56
     – Masters GPA: 3.76

    Work Experience
     – Just completed my first year at a top-tier aerospace firm (parent company is a Dow component) as a design engineer.
     – Given my inexperience, I think my best course of action is to complete a couple of more years at my company before applying.  However, all options are open for me.

     – I was president of the student section of an engineering professional society, which had become fairly inactive in previous years.  I led the student board in renewing and expanding the group’s role as a conduit between students, faculty, and corporate recruiters.
    – I served as a teaching assistant for two semesters.
    – I am currently an active volunteer with one of the diversity groups sponsored by my current employer.

    – Still formulating, but I would like to go into finance or private equity.  In particular, I’d like to work at the intersection of engineering and these fields.
    Other Details:
     – 24 year-old Asian American male
     – I actively follow the markets on a daily basis, and invest a limited amount of money.
     – Considering taking the CFA exams to develop some more financial background – will this help at all in the application process?

    Target Schools:

    Thank you.

  • Ms. Book Nerd

    Hi Sandy—I would love it if you would consider evaluating my profile. I come from a somewhat unconventional background, and it’s very difficult to find profiles against which I could measure my odds. Thanks so much for any help you can provide!
    730 GMAT (47/76% Q and 44/97% V) – currently in the process of building an alternative transcript to boost quantitative credentials

    26-year-old female; naturalized Eastern European immigrant from
    single-parent, low-income family background

    Undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in English and
    Political Science with 3.77 GPA  

    4 years of experience in top company in publishing industry,
    with 1 year in a rotational program (highly competitive admission) and 3 years
    in marketing (worked my way up from assistant to marketing manager).

    Current extra-curricular activities: avid runner (member of company running
    club), volunteer literacy mentor (2 years). College extra-curricular activities included editor-in-chief of campus literary magazine; work at a publishing company, literacy organization, and adoption agency; research writer for student-produced guidebook.
    Goal: use my MBA marketing degree to shift industries to CPG brand management.
    Looking for candidacy at:


  • Mr. Real Estate

    Hi Sandy,

    Undergraduate degree in Economics from NC State – GPA: 3.51
    Master’s degree in Economics from NC State – GPA: 3.56
    GMAT 730 (may retake)

    Work Experience:  4 years (at matriculation) as a Quantitative Credit Risk Analyst at a super regional bank including the following responsibilities:
    -Build Credit Loss Forecasting models ( for CCAR stress testing exercise) and took leadership role with other analysts in initial model building effort
    -Key contact point for reporting of quarterly stress test results
    -Involved in development of quantitative loan pricing initiative at the bank
    -Ad hoc portfolio strategy work which includes quantifying the bank’s portfolio diversification
    -Ad hoc macroeconomic analysis for executive management (including CEO)
    -Won an honorable mention for the “CEO innovation award” (company-wide contest, only 5 winners and 3 honorable mentions)

    Extra Curriculars:
    -2 year LDS mission to the Philippines (fluent in Tagalog)
    -Assistant scoutmaster for 2 years

    I want to start my own real estate business. The idea is to create a business that refurbishes old and run-down homes and fixes them up into quality affordable homes for low to middle income families. The idea is that the business can acquire homes at low cost from bank foreclosures and short sales that may be in disrepair, fix them up and do rent-to-own programs for potential future borrowers who may not have enough of a down payment. Basically, it is house flipping of low-price homes.

    Target schools (mainly based on strong real estate and entrepreneurship curriculum):

    30 year old male (at matriculation)

  • Forel

    Hi Sandy, this is  “Mr. Aerospace Engineer”. Thanks a lot for providing a sincere and clear analysis of my profile.

    Originally I though to skip HBS, as I didn’t think that I fit well there, but I might give it a try after reading your thoughts about it. How would you estimate my odds there?
    In addition, a lot of schools seem  to love to hear about “sustainabilitygreen” topics. Should my goals be redefined to take that into account, aside from what you’ve specifically recommended?

    Thanks again!

  • racercase522

    Sandy, please assess my profile.  I think I am on the cusp with several of the upper echelon progams.
    GMAT: 710 (V 45, Q 42)

    Undergrad: 3.5 at Boston College w/ double major in
    Finance and Management/Leadership

    26 years old, white male currently living on the West

     Work Experience (4.5 years)

    –I will describe the roles in a bit more detail below,
    but I initially worked in a client-facing role for 2 years at a wealth mgmt
    firm, then realized that I wanted to be more focused on the investing side of
    the business and was promoted to our research department, which focuses on
    analyzing external investment managers and recommending best-in-class managers
    to our client services group. I think it is intersting experience because my
    responsibilities are very different from the typical “wealth
    management” firm that is more focused on asset allocation amongst their own products. I have had exposure to several
    remarkable hedge fund and mutual fund managers.

    I hope to pursue an MBA because I have continued to move
    closer to direct investing; I started on the client side, moved to manager
    research (which is effectively one step removed from direct investing), and
    would like to develop the skills (either through investment banking,
    consulting, or PE/VC/Hedge Funds) to become a research analyst in either PE,
    VC, or Hedge Funds. I want to build a network, and acquire the modeling and
    business analysis skills in order to become a better investor.


    -Research Analyst at a wealth management firm that is
    focused on creating multi-asset class portfolio for ultra high net worth
    families, pensions, and endowments.

    –responsibilities include performing due diligence
    on external equity investment management firms and maintaining up-to-date
    knowledge of the portfolios and teams of several high profile mutual fund and
    hedge fund managers. It has been great experience because I have been able to
    learn from and interact with some of the most well-known investors in the world
    in face-to-face meetings.

    –Very team-oriented work environment in a small group of
    ~20 people (out of ~100 in the firm). Roughly 14 of the 20 in the research dept
    have MBAs, primarily from Stanford and Wharton.


    -Client services/portfolio mgmt analyst at the same
    firm. This was more of an introductory role (I was promoted into the research
    department described above).

    -Core responsibilities include assisting internal
    Portfolio Managers with creating customized client portfolios and reports based
    on research provided by our internal research department.


    –Passed Level I of the CFA examination; plan to pursue
    Levels II and III once I have more clarity about whether or not I will be
    attending a top school next year

    –Sporadic volunteer work: Boys & Girls Club, Food
    Bank, State Parks Conservancy

    –Team-based intramural sports: Softball, Kickball

    –Manage personal portfolio of mutual fund and stocks

    Recs: I would likely have recs from direct supervisors
    that are CFA charterholders and have MBAs from either Stanford or Wharton.


    Targets: Wharton, Booth, Columbia, Tuck, Stern, Stanford, Duke and/or Kellogg.

  • trnyc2012

    Sandy – any feedback on my profile would be very much appreciated

    GPA: 3.2 from H/Y/P
    Degree: BA Economics
    Extra: College athlete, fraternity member

    GMAT: 740

    Work Experience: Four years (5 at matriculation) merchant banking at a mid-size, foreign investment bank in NYC serving a book of clients that includes many of the world’s largest consumer products firms – three internal promotions in four years, now running a product category within the bank

    -I use my triathlon hobby to raise money for a children’s charity for kids with cancer that I have been involved with on and off since high school
    -Heavily involved in the alumni organization for my college rugby team, tasked with revamping alumni outreach and networking, as well as heading young alumni fundraising efforts

    MBA Goals:
    Having worked in a hybrid banking-consulting-strategy role facing clients primarily in the consumer products space, my goal with business school is to pivot more towards the consumer-retail space (potentially luxury), with an eye towards a marketing concentration.  Ideally, I would have the opportunity to stay in or near New York city due to its proximity to employers and the wealth of resources here, but I am also looking a little more far afield (i.e. Kellogg or Haas).  I will likely be spun as a “career switcher” 

    Target Schools

  • Duh

    no chance at hbs/stanford: you have no real work experience. law school is an excuse for many who could not find jobs in the last few years. employers reject people, but anyone can go to a law school. 

  • Rhett

    Here is my profile:

    750 GMAT (Q: 83%, V: 97%)

    JD, 2012, from a top 30 law school: 3.536 GPA, cum laude, Top 20%; taking July 2012 bar exam

    Undergrad journalism degree: 3.21 GPA (I was a dumb, immature 18-21 year old)

    Work experience: 2.5 years as a daily newspaper reporter and by matriculation in 2013, 1 year as an associate at a small law firm doing general corporate and litigation work. 

    Extracurricular Activities (law school): Member of Business and Law Society, Intern at Alliance for Affordable Energy, Member of National Environmental Moot Court Team

    Career goal: work in the M&A department of a media/entertainment company or energy company

    Concerns: That my work experience is not sufficient to make me an attractive candidate and that my career goal is not readily apparent from my resume. (Brief explanation: M&A is particularly attractive because it allows me to use some of my skills developed in law school, particularly contract drafting/analysis and negotiation. My interest in media dates back to my undergrad and work as a reporter. My interest in energy arises from energy/environmental classes and internships in law school.)

    Target schools:

  • Ms. Indian Media

    GMAT- 720 (49Q/40V)GPA- 3.3Undergraduate double masters in Economics and French from Northwestern University. Sophomore year, worked as Research Assistant at Kellogg. Junior year studied at a leading university (Sciences Po) in Paris while also working as an intern at Sotheby’s in business development. Fluent in French.Work experience: Started out working as an apprentice at a leading media company in my country. I am currently working in their travel and lifestyle channel. Was offered a job after a month, but I was on waitlist of NYU MBA/MFA (applied right after graduation two years back), so stalled it till the rejection letter arrived. Worked my way up from working in production and operations to developing digital platform for the company. Managing social media accounts, developing projects to monetize the digital space. Worked directly under the head of the channel. Also, developed many successful client pitches. Now working in a small team of three (myself+ 2 very senior employees who have worked with the company from 7-10 years and were heads of their respective departments before the new department was created), as my company is still new to the digital platform, and have many decision powers and space to play in the medium. Work on online and social media marketing strategies for the company’s new television shows and other ventures. Also, develop and pitch content to sell on digital space.By Fall 2013, I’ll have 2 and a half years of experience in my current and first job.Extracurricular: Arts and filmmaking. Was one of the few junior filmmakers that was invited to a selective workshop that Panasonic held recently in the country to introduce its new 3D camera. Long volunteering history (in sophomore year, suffered an awful accident in DC while volunteering..had my fingers chopped in half). Now working as treasury and advisor to a friend setting up a wildlife NGO in the city.Undergraduate Economic association’s student advisorShort term goal: I am considering switching industries. I want to switch to consulting/business analysis/strategy. I am not sure if stating that explicitly will work against me as I have no work exp in that field. I don’t want to restrict my options to one industry i.e. media.Long term goal: Continue strategy work in a more public policy domain. Either working for an international organization or as a government advisor in my country. Labour and agriculture policy are key interests. Wouldn’t mind working at a commodities firm prior to this.Why I want to do an MBA: I want to get more strategy and finance knowledge and also change my industry. I entered in media, because I was interested by the broadcast medium and its powers to impact people’s lives and enabling them. I realized that I am much happier working more in an organized environment (working style in media in India is highly unorganized and unlike how it is in other professional environments) and I would like to have a wider impact to bring change than just report or comment about it, via news or sit coms or other mediums. The reason why I got into media, was because of its ability to connect directly with the masses.I also applied to 2+2 in senior year (on a very unwise whim) with a 640 GMAT score.24 year old, Female.Indian studentTarget schools:HarvardYaleNYUDukeWhartonKelloggColumbia

  • JohnAByrne

    Same content with several major additions. We picked the best of the profiles and then organized them by themes: Poets, Quants, Consultants, Bankers, International, Military, etc.

  • Nick

    Got it. Thanks! I will stop pestering you now!

  • hbsguru

    Getting to those, a bit jammed up with paying customers, sorry.

  • MrExpat

    GMAT: 740 (did better on the quant than the verbal)

    Education: BA from top 10 liberal arts college in Economics and Russian (GPA: 3.56), MA in International Relations from #1 or #2 school (depends on which ranking you look at) with a 3.5, which is solidly average, but my school doesn’t rank and gives no data on GPA. Received a selective national award that the government hands out to study lesser-taught languages overseas in undergrad (in my case, Russian).

     Immediately after college, I was an administrative assistant for international relations and public health projects (this can easily be called “Project Assistant”) at one of the top two think tanks (Brookings/RAND). I was at the think tank because I was offered a job by a well known government agency and waiting on my clearance. Unfortunately, the security clearance was taking forever, so I got sick of waiting (it was going on a year at that point) and hedged my bets by applying to grad school.

    Here’s my thought process at the time: At the time, for much of my college career, I wanted to work for the federal government. Senior year, I had 5 government programs that were interested in me (I got to the last round of interviews on all of them) and got/accepted the aforementioned job offer mid-way through my senior year of college. (I blinded myself to the well known fact that the emphasis in a federal government “Conditional Offer of Employment” is on “Conditional”) Therefore, I largely ignored consulting firms and I-Banks when they were recruiting at my school (and all of the big names in I-Banking and consulting recruit heavily from my undergrad).

    After the think tank, I went to grad school. Took a leave at the end of my first semester to take a detour to be a research assistant at a very well known UN agency in Bangkok for 6 months and then a PR assistant at a European NGO in Kabul, Afghanistan (the NGO is *extremely* well respected in Afghanistan).

    Went back to grad school, graduated and got a job for the past year and a half with a small marketing company. No one has heard of it, unless you’re in the donor community in Afghanistan or Iraq.
    Three of the things I did (LOTS of statistical analysis involved and generally, heavily quanty):
    -Led the monitoring and evaluation analysis of NATO psychological operations (it’s interesting but it is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds) in Afghanistan and gave suggestions to improve the campaign’s reach.   
    -Am leading the analysis of the largest labor force survey in Afghan history.
    -Will co-lead the marketing survey of Libyan militias on their appetite to integrate into the National Transitional Council’s police and army training programs.

    Short term goals: I want to work in marketing or management consulting, particularly for non-profits.
    Long-term: I would like to set up a Nielson Ratings-esque company that monitors individuals’ media consumption in developing countries (particularly in austere environments… think Turkmenistan, Burma or the Central African Republic). The revenues would either be from the local governments or companies that would like to get into that country’s markets. I can do the analysis side, but between you, me and the cold anonymity of the Internet, I have no idea on how to do the financing or administration side, which in my experience is more important than the product quality.     

    Languages; Russian (fluent), can read and understand French fluently (speaking is another matter), Persian (beginner), Arabic (uber-beginner)

    Extracurriculars: This is difficult, because my work schedule requires me to be out of town all the time and on very short notice. I go to the gym and I used to row, but my job requires me to be in 5 places at once. In college, I was on student government (elected, but a representative, not student body president), wrote for the newspaper, and was very active in my academic department. 

    At matriculation (fall of 2013), I’ll be 29 years old and still (as always) a white male originally from the Midwest.

    Where would I like to go? The pipe dream is Stanford or Wharton. I’m pretty flexible. After reading a bunch of your columns, I know that my profile is much different from other people’s. I came from the Midwest and have absolutely no desire to return. I know Kellogg would probably be a good match due to the marketing angle, but it would be best if I stayed away from anywhere between the eastern slopes of the Rockies and the western slopes of the Appalachians.

  • joe

    does the book have the same content as the articles here?

  • Joe

    does the book have the same content as the articles here?

  • Nick

    Is this offer: http://hbsguru.com/essayrater…. still valid? 
    I have sent you multiple emails, but have not heard back. Just let me know, even if it is no longer valid, and I will stop bugging you.

  • BigBlue


    Sandy here is my profile,


    Middle Tier Undergrad in New York

    GPA:3.15 (Yr1. 2.43, Yr2. 3.14, Yr3.
    3.41, Yr4. 3.67)

    Finance GPA: 3.92

    GMAT: 710 (44Q 42V)

    Co-founder and treasurer of Hispanic
    Student Association in college

    Passed all CFA exam levels (I,II,
    & III) in a row by the age of 23

    Fully Bilingual English and Spanish
    (English is my second language: I’m a US Citizen)

    Work experience (US Caribbean):
    1.5 years as Special Assistant to Government Pension Fund Administrator and
    Chief Investment Officer While it was undergoing restructuring efforts and
    merging the administration with other local pension plans. (When I left I was
    offered the position of Director of the investments division (i.e. Assistant
    Deputy Administrator) but turned it down in order to be an analyst in a Private
    Equity Firm a job that was not as prestigious but it was where I saw myself in
    the future given my long term goals.

    2 years as an associate in Small Cap Caribbean Private Equity Firm in the
    Dominican Republic ($100 AUM) (The firm has been investing for over 12 years;
    very reputable in the region top quartile performance) Head partner has an MBA
    from Chicago. Good experience and will have excellent recommendation from the
    head partner, job function has evolved in to a more senior role. I have a lot
    of responsibilities and have had opportunities to lead (manage) and source
    projects and deals on my own; I also supervise an analyst as well as a summer

    Extracurricular activities all on-going:
    3 years as Director at my brother’s Company’s Board just two directors me and
    my brother
    We have weekly Sunday meetings; company is expected to break the $10 million in
    sales this year
    Company has had very strong growth over 35% per year (100% bootstrapped no
    private capital); recently recognized by the Governor who issued a press
    conference honoring my brother

    10 months as Member of the board/committee of a yearly fundraising classical
    music concert for scholarships in my old high school, this past year net income
    from the festival totaled 65K

    My future (will happen regardless of where I get into school)

    I would like to go to an MBA to
    expand my US based network and well as to get more operations and strategy
    knowledge. After my MBA I would like to work in a PE firm stateside for
    approximately 3 years. After that my brother and I plan to enter into a
    partnership where we would raise capital to acquire a platform company
    (enterprise value of around $100-150 million) which would serve us as either
    the first step for forming a PE fund or trying to create a platform to invest
    similar to the Berkshire Hathaway model. My brother would bring in the
    operational expertise while I would bring in financial  knowledge. (Has been the plan for about 8
    years so far all is going accordingly)


    Target schools: