Handicapping Your Dream School Odds

This 26-year-old woman wants to become the female Harvey Weinstein. After six years in a strategy/corporate development role at a top asset management firm, she’s hoping an MBA will allow her to make the switch to the entertainment field.

He’s a drummer and a chemist, working for the past three years in research and development for a chemical company. With a GMAT of 760 and a 3.5 grade point average, this 27-year-old wants an MBA to work in Big Pharma or for a biotech company.

With a PhD in philosophy, he works as director of technology and innovation for a $1 billion non-profit foundation. He plans on getting an MBA to help him transition into a leadership role at a non-profit or to launch his own social enterprise.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these 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. Kreisberg is taking a well-deserved vacation next week so we’ll feature a best of version of our handicapping series until his return the following week.

(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. Entertainment

  • 710 GMAT
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics
  • Work experience includes six years in a strategy/corporate development role at a top asset management firm
  • Extracurricular involvement mentoring underprivileged youth, immigrant community outreach, and recruiting
  • Goal: To change careers and enter the media/entertainment field (i.e., become the female Harvey Weinstein)
  • 26-year-old female, born in the former Soviet Republic

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 15%
Stanford: 10%
Columbia: 20%
New York University: 30%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmmm, well, Ms. Weinstein,  as a biopic treatment, this could be a tough sell.  For one thing, the heads over at Adcom Studios are not crazy about the geezer demo (not even for Art House fare), which with six years of experience, is where you will be placed—despite being 26. Adcomwood can be as hard as Hollywood on this score because that is just a lot of work experience. Was that all full time?  If not, make that super clear.  You’d be better off by far with three years work experience.

For another, working at what seems like a cost and not a profit center of the “top asset manager” is not a script feature they prefer. Put in plain English, what exactly do you do? And how hard was it to get that job? A 3.0 at an undisclosed college is also not a winning supporting player.

Looking to change careers is a story that works better in Hollywood than in Adcomland, especially since you don’t seem to have any connections to media (listed in your profile).  I’m not seeing this as HBS or Stanford, although extras are solid, and I like you.

Columbia is kind of Box Office obsessed, and in this context, a 3.0/710 is not good Box Office potential. You might be able to have a chance there with a cover story about staying in same industry, or even January term (to back that claim up).

NYU has a famous film school, but I am not sure how much that helps you. They may just take on pedigree and stats, which are sorta in-line for them.

I’m not sure why you want an MBA at all, you could probably hustle your way into some media company, given prior job experiences, and from there, it is just a matter of playing the Harvey Weinstein game of schmoozing and having a real sense of rising talent. Those are things they don’t teach at business school.

If the company you work for has real clout and what you do there is substantive, and they get behind you, well, you might muscle your way into Columbia.  I guess your plan from there will be to hustle into some media shtick-–that could work too, and seems less daunting than doing it yourself, but still . . .you might think of just going out there and doing it.

  • Mr. Teach For America

    Hey Sandy,

    Thanks for all of the advice. Would love to see you assess my chances as well as any advice about my target schools or goals. Thanks.

    GMAT: 690 – (Going to take again)
    GPA: 3.34 – 3.8 in major (few math/science classes)
    Major: Criminal Justice from a large public NE University (think Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State)
    Work Experience: Interned with a Federal Law Enforcement Agency. Worked as a mailman for 1 year before becoming a Teach For America teacher. Have been working on TFA staff for the past 3 years managing and leading a team of 35
    Extracurricular: Soccer, baseball and football coach. Department head. Led after school and Saturday school tutoring.
    Goal: I am interested in managing a large non-profit organization (or starting my own) and in 5-10 years running for the school board of a large metropolitan area.
    27 White Male


  • Quant questions

    Hi Sandy,

    I’m wondering if you can give me more advice on the GMAT percentiles split. I got a 730 on the GMAT but my split was 99th percentile verbal, 63rd percentile quant. I know top schools like to see the 80-80 split. I also don’t have a ton of quant in my undergrad background, but I’m planning on taking a calculus (or statistics — would love advice on this as well) class this fall.

    My question: should I retake? I’m working on my list of places to apply to now, but right now my short list is: Yale, Berkeley, NYU, possibly Sloan, possibly Georgetown.

    Thank you!

  • hbsguru

    it depends–one filter schools use about appraising jobs is how selective they are–if getting a contract job was easier or less selective –that is what I had in mind.

  • hbsguru

    yes you should waive –you can still see your rec before it is submitted and I suggest you pick rec writers who will collaborate with you + for whom you outlne your accomplishments etc. All you are giving up by waiving your right to see the rec is losing your legal right to demand to see if from the school, e.g. if got into HBS etc next year you could go to adcom and under current law demand to see recs {this is some odd part of a student privacy law} so that is what you are giving up, a right no one ever exercises –I’m not sure of how this wrinkle got into law (which is a federal law I think so applicable to all schools) but that is what all the fuss is about.
    if you dont waive, schools get a bad odor and begin to think you are litigious or misinformed.   I am not sure if you can see rec next year if you get dinged, perhpas one of the many lawyers applying to MBA programs can fully explicate this –BUT WAIVE IS THE BOTTOM LINE AND THEN WORK WITH WRITER TO REALLY POLISH THAT REC.

  • Guest

    John/Sandy – I have a question that I have been confused about for a while now. Should we or should we not waive our rights to see the rec letters? Does it really make a difference to the application?

  • bschoolhopeful

    Hi Sandy, 

    could you please assess my chances?  

    720 GMAT
    3.079 GPA
    Undergraduate degree in economics and political science from a public university
    Work experience includes four years at the U.S. Department of State, as an economic officer on the Pakistan Desk and economic sanctions office, congressional advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues, and also a one-year assignment in Afghanistan at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
    Goal: To work in the private sector, and then return to the government in the future to use knowledge gained from working in the private sector to work on on pressing foreign policy issues, including energy security, climate change, and broadening trade relations.  
    27-year-old Asian maleSchool I am considering are:
    Whaton (Lauder program)

  • cookiecutteraccountant


    Here is my profile. Reviewing it would be much appreciated.

    GMAT: 710 – BalancedEducation: 3.6 GPA; Majored in accounting at small liberal arts college.Work Experience: 4 years at matr. 1.5 at transelite public accounting firm and 2.5 in internal audit at 2b revenue manufacturing company.Extracurricular: Volunteer with Coast Guard Auxillary on an ongoing basis.Post-MBA Goals: M/B/BTarget Schools: Kellogg, Booth, Ross, Darden, Fuqua, Johnson.