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.

  • Ugandan girl

    Hi Sandy,

    After reading this whole series and not finding a profile like mine (not that its exceptional), I have decided to post mine up for you to review. I hope you do.

    -I am a 25 year old Ugandan female, living and working in Uganda as a tax consultant for a big 4 audit firm which are top tier employers here.

    -I have an undergraduate law degree from a South African University (70.2%) which works out to about 3.4 GPA from the calculators i have found online. (it seems so low)

    -GMAT 690-730 (practice tests. I have a month until I do the real one)

    -Work experience I will have been at my employers for 2.5 years by the time i hope to join.
    In my first year, i took the initiative to start up a new business line (transfer pricing) I built it up from scratch under minimum supervision and raked in 250,000 USD. (that is a lot for Uganda)

    -In my second year, I am doing the same thing with yet another new business line for the firm (customs) and so far the figures look really good too.
    In my country, promotions rarely come without an added academic qualification, which is one of the reasons I made the decision to do an MBA in the first place.

    However, I also recognise that in a country where only 1 percent of the people are in control of the country’s resources, if this is to change, there needs to be a radical shift in leadership, young people like me must invest time and money in themselves so acquire the skills which can transform the face of businesses and the private sector, instead of waiting for political change.

    We need CEO’s who wont accept bribes and employers who will recruit solely on merit. We need private sector leaders who have been exposed to the world and who have something significant to bring to the table as far as our county’s economy is concerned. And I want to be one of those world calibre business leaders, who will take the steps to economic transformation. The best way to do this is to get a Business qualification from the Best institutions in the world.

    -Extra cirriculars: I am the treasurer of  H2O, (helping to overcome) an NGO which builds wells and provides water filters to the poorest villages in the country so that they too can access clean water.
    I also participate in a number of other such projects with my rotaract club and I am a member of the CSR committee at my work place.
    – In addition, I write a weekly column in the largest newspaper in the country.


    1. INSEAD
    2. LBS
    3. Kellog

    I am also open to any other b. school suggestions.
    I hope that is enough to get you started. and I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Vitos85

    Hi Sandy, could you
    please assess my chances?  Thank you.

    §  GMAT :  720

    §  GPA:  3.079

    §  Education: 
    Undergraduate degrees in economics and political science from a public

    §  Work experience:  Four years at the U.S. Department of State working
    as an economic officer on the Pakistan Desk and sanctions office, legislative advisor in the congressional affairs office, and a one-year assignment in Afghanistan.

    §  Goal: To change career to the private sector
    and then return to the U.S. government in the future to work on pressing
    foreign policy issues, including global energy security, climate change, and economic-related issues.

    §  27-year-old Asian male

     School I am considering
    Wharton (Lauder program) 

  • Mr. Reapplicant

    Mr. Reapplicant – I was dinged at H/S for the
    class of 2013 and now looking to re-apply to H/S/W, Sloan, and Columbia for the
    class of 2015


    GMAT 690 (took it a year ago but planning to


    Undergrad GPA 3.5 in engineering from Ivy
    League School


    Graduate GPA 3.7 in engineering from other Ivy
    League School


    Dual-citizen of USA and a European country but
    lived in Europe my entire life except for 5 years in the US for college and
    graduate school


    Work experience of 7 years including 1 year as
    internet entrepreneur, 4 years at top 3 management consultancy (fast
    promotions), and currently working in venture capital (2 years experience at matriculation)


    Extracurricular involvement in college mostly
    focused around fraternity and as residential advisor. Limited activities since
    then but recently mentoring budding entrepreneurs across Europe.


    Goal is to lead a technology start-up in
    Silicon Valley or New York.


    30-year-old (at matriculation) white European
    with US passport

  • Please clarify

    How is a contract role a big negative?  Especially if he was hired by that company?  Also–how would schools even know?  I’d like to know because I’m in a similar situation.


      I’m a 24-year-old white male. In my current role I manage several million dollars of company spend on logistics.


    Hi Sandy,

    I never see profiles quite like mine and would really appreciate your two cents on my odds of getting into a top MBA program.

    GMAT: 770 first try (49Q, 48V, 3.5 AWA)

    Education: 3.1 GPA; B.S. in Business from Colorado State; certificates in supply chain management and entrepreneurship; Global Logistics Specialist professional designation (6 month program at Cal State Long Beach)

    Work Experience: 2 years (3 years by Fall 2013) in Strategic Sourcing/Logistics at Fortune 500 CPG company. Promoted to senior analyst.

    Extracurricular: Commissioner of company basketball league (I run the league); captain of company softball team; plenty of volunteer work during undergrad (Boys & Girls Club, adopt-a-school) and fraternity leadership positions.

    Post-MBA Goals: Operations consulting or supply chain strategy.

    Target Schools: MIT, Wharton, Booth, UCLA, Berkeley

  • Average Undergrad Girl

    I know I’ve posted this before but I wasn’t sure if it had to be on the most current issue to be considered so here It is again…Ms.Average Undergrad  (looking for a miracle)
    Rising College Senior
    Born in U.S. but also a citizen of Algeria 
    International Business Major 
    Mid-size private school 2ed/3ed tier (no pulls here) – Think Providence/Villanova/Gettysburg type 
    GPA: 3.0 
         Yikes! I know it’s low but it got better as I matured – Starting with a 2.0 freshman year, 3.0
         sophomore year, and 4.0 junior year. I hope to get a 4.0 my senior year as well but this will not factor in before I apply. 
    GMAT:700 – 740 (diagnostic and practice test).
    Intern at Stifel Nicolaus during school year
    Involvement: Volunteering with habitat for humanity, president and founder of school marketing/admissions club with 40+ members. 
    I will be getting my recommendations from professors in classes which I am an avid participant and frequent discussion leader as well as team leader when it comes time for group work/projects. 
    I also have a blog that comes up when you google my name – post range from stories of my friends 
    and I, reviews on classes and book reviews as I am a pretty avid reader and the blog includes post on authors such as Ayn Rand, James Joyce and Milton showcasing my intellectual and also my fun side. Looking for undergrad entry as well as deferred Harvard 2+2 INSEADWhartonYaleDuke I know my business background maybe a drawback for 2+2 as they mostly want other majors but I love the world of business and wasn’t to continue learning and leading. I would rather not wait to apply down the line as the applicant pool is smaller and pre-recs of a name brand company aren’t required Any advice would be amazing! 

  • I guess your plan from there will be to hustle into some media shtick……………


  • SSP

    Hi Sandy,

    It would be wonderful to have an assessment of my profile for HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg, LBS, and Booth. Also interested to hear about any other suggested fits. Detailed information is below:

    Academics: 710 GMAT3.55 GPA from the University of Washington with degrees in Finance, International Business, and Spanish. One year study abroad at a top university in SpainFluent in Spanish. Learning Portuguese.Work Experience:Two and a half years work experience at Deloitte Consulting in the strategy practice; focused on healthcare and media clients. Major projects include Latin America entry strategy for one of the largest computer companies and several corporate restructuring projects, many with a global focus. Have earned top year-end ranking every year at the firmSelected to lead three national recruiting initiatives, leading groups my peers in crafting recruiting messages (case interviews used on all campuses nationally, national case competition, etc.)Selected for the graduate school sponsorship program Extracurriculars: I have been a Special Olympics coach for 9 years (my sister has Down Syndrome and Autism and this is a passion of mine)Volunteer in a Latino Community Center tutoring individuals on the US citizenship process
    Served as a mentor for a business consulting class at my university that assisted minority run businesses in the Seattle-area
    Selected to represent Deloitte on a volunteer trip to Panama to teach business skills to Kuna natives
    Served as a Vice President of the International Business program in undergrad and VP Marketing in my business fraternity. Competed in numerous national and international case competitions, made finals in 75% of them

    To return to Deloitte and grow the west coast Emerging Markets practice (focusing on market entry to Latin America). MBA is the logical next step to take me from strategy execution to managing teams and to grow my international network.

    25-year-old female

  • Idnoln

    Hi Sandy,Please provide a assessment of my profile for a top-10 program. I’m wondering if i should even bother with an application for a top program like Harvard or INSEAD due to my nationality & low grades.•740 GMAT (Q 44(84 percentile), V 44(97 percentile)) •2.5 GPA for a BBA from a second-tier Indian University. Low GPA explained by the fact that i have been the sole earner for my family since i was 15 and stopped school at that time. I restarted school at 20, completed High School at 22 & my Bachelors at 26 while working full-time in high responsibility roles(Managing People, Operations, Clients)• Corporate work experience of 9 years: 5 years in one of the world’s largest BPOs, starting off as a Customer Service Rep & promoted as a Reporting Analyst, Quality Executive, Team Leader, Assistant Operations Manager. Moved to a US Mortgage Back Office process as a Risk Analyst for the next 2 years where I led a 5 member team for a sub-process I designed myself.(Excellent recommendations from my Manager). Moved to Amazon as a Operations Manager for Pricing systems over a year ago and have excellent recommendations from my manager here as well. l have managed teams ranging from 5 to 50 in size over the last 5 years • Extracurricular involvement of playing centerback for my local soccer team & volunteering at the local ISKCON center •Goal: To move into an Operations consultant role• Targets are Harvard, INSEAD or other top 10 program.• 28-year-old Indian male.Regards,Ashutosh.