Handicapping Your MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on

An avid reader and blogger, she’s a rising senior at a second-tier private school. Although she has scored up to a 740 on a GMAT practice test, her grade point average is just 3.0. But her goal is to get into Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program.

Applying to Harvard and Stanford with a 690 GMAT and Ivy League degrees in engineering, he was dinged last year but wants to reapply. This 29-year-old venture capitalist  hopes the degree will help him achieve his goal to lead a technology startup in
Silicon Valley or New York.

She’s a consultant with Deloitte, working with health care and media clients. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.55 GPA, this 25-year-old wants an MBA to help her employer to grow its West Coast emerging markets practice.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these MBA applicants 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 here again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

Back from vacation, 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:

Ms. Average Undergrad

  • 700 to 740 GMAT (practice test)
  • 3.0 GPA
  • “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”
  • Rising college senior in international business at a second- or third-tier private school
  • Work experience includes an internship at Stifel Nicolaus during school year
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, president and founder of the school’s marketing/admissions club with more than 40 members
  • Avid reader and blogger whose posts on such authors as Ayn Rand, James Joyce and John Milton showcase “my intellectual and also my fun side”
  • “I love the world of business and want to continue learning and leading”
  • Female born in the U.S. but also a citizen of Algeria

Odds of Success:

Harvard 2+2: -10%
Wharton: 10%
Yale: 10% to 20%

Sandy’s Analysis:  Lots to like in general but after the smoke clears, getting in to 2+2, or any deferred program,  is going to be real, real hard.  Despite the hoopla those programs want to see one thing, a high GPA.   Having an upward trend is commendable, and getting a 4.0 next year will help, and you should do that anyway, for later,  but it would take more than you are offering to overcome the bad start, you would need some adversity story combined with a knockout set of extras which have real impact on others.

Being president of the marketing club is not going to turn the tide, and marketing is often deemed, sub silento, a collecting place for literary types such as yourself, both at school and in real life. Although in real life, and increasingly so, marketing is becoming very quanty. And while I might enjoy your blog, as a rule, adcoms don’t read blogs, which on balance, is good for applicants, since the description of the blog is often more powerful than the actual thing.

Also, and I mean this in all seriousness, you say you are an “avid reader.”  Hmmmm,  being an avid reader, and not having any actual business experience, can be a raise issues. The bookworm/marketing club axis with no work experience can be misinterpreted as some Walter Mitty fantasy (you know who he is, but non avid book readers might go here).

Dee Leopold, the adcom head at HBS, is an avid reader, and if you got a 2+2 interview with her—preceded by  a 3.9 and two biomed or even IB summer gigs — well your avid reading might pay off in some marginal way, assuming you did OK on the more substantive parts of the interview (such as “What did you think of your biomed internship and what would you suggest in an exit interview to improve it?”).

Sorry if this is harsh, but you may need a wake-up call. You have a lot of energy, humor, and latent smarts. The best thing you can do, if you are really interested in a business career, is to get a marketing job after college, do really well, get a better job after that (more selective and at a better brand) and apply in three to four years. You will probably have a way better idea of what you want to do at that point anyway and you will be able to max out your two years at B- school.

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  • MBA-Aspirant

    Hello Sandy,

    My situation is a bit unique and Deborah Knox (Insight admissions) who is also a poets and quants contributor advised I get your feedback.

    Bio :33 y/o Indian, Female, IT Project Manager with 7 yrs work experience both in India and U.S

    Short-term and Long-term goal:
    Transition from IT Management Consulting into IT Product management. Want to work for an e-commerce firm (Google/Amazon) towards launching and managing innovative web applications. Leverage this experience towards launching my own IT entrepreneurship venture targeting innovative solutions in the education domain for emerging markets.

    Schools targeted : Haas, Kellogg, Duke, Darden, UT Austin, Wharton (Super stretch!), Tepper, UCLA, UNC

    Education :
    B.Tech – Top 20 Indian School – non IIT !
    M.S (Comp Science – UT Arlington – 3.8/4.0 gpa)

    GMAT : 710 GMAT

    Total Work Experience : 7 Yrs.

    Work Experience Details:
    USA : 5.5 yrs total (1 Yr at tech start-up, Followed by 4 yrs at Deloitte Consulting). Moved to India after layoff at Deloitte.
    India: 1.5 years at a mid-sized Management consulting firm reputed in the Asia-pacific region. Served as project manager, solid work experience with recognition and awards for leadership.

    Extra-curriculars: IEEE Publication, lots of extra-curriculars / volunteering from undergrad and grad school – consistently in the area of education including Junior Achievement, Lions Club. Most significantly, after my move to India following Deloitte lay-off but before taking up work in India, I served as a life-skills tutor for 1.5 yrs at an education Non-profit in India. This experience has shaped my short-term and long-term goals. This org will be one of my references.

    Current status :
    Moved to US in Feb where spouse was based. Unable to work the last 10 months due to foreign national status and more importantly as my husband was diagnosed with a serious medical condition that he was diagnosed with and is now recovering from. It was chaotic and a major life event for us – but looks like we’ll make it !! We’ve returned to India and I’m headed back to work in Nov 2012 for a reputed American Consulting firm with operations in India. During this 10 month gap, I have used my time towards volunteering with Junior Achievement (SFO) , Toastmasters (SFO). Also completed important trainings and certifications relevant to my line of work (Certified Scrum Master, PMP). Since my return to India, I continue to volunteer significantly for the education non-profit in India mentioned above.

    Long story, I know. But would love to get your feedback.

  • Krish

    Hi Sandy! International student here, who has enjoyed reading your posts. When hurricane Sandy was covered in the media, I couldn’t but help think about you…unleashing your words of wisdom and constructive criticism across this website like how the hurricane lashed across the north east. Of course, I do not wish to make light of the devastation and loss of life there. I hope you and your family are safe.
    Best wishes,

  • Jai


    Could you please let me know my chances of making it through
    a good school? Considering my not so good GMAT what universities could I target?

    Indian, did my engineering in Electronics from one of the best college in India (PEC Chandigarh) 64.04%

    10th: 80%

    12th: 78%

    Gmat: 680 (Quant 48, Verbal 34, AWA 5, IR 8) gave it after
    15 days of prep. Wish to give it again but short of time.

    Lost my father and the only breadwinner of the family when I was twelve 12.

    Assisted my mother with her startup (Facilities Management Company) and by the time I had completed my engineering I had invested 6+ years in the growth of the business. I was involved in almost all of the aspects and had to carefully divide time between my education and business. The team then stood at 150+ employees.

    I got a very unique chance to get some corporate experience. I worked with General Dynamics (One of the Biggest Defense Conglomerates in USA) as Manager sales for 3 and half years. Had a techno commercial profile. Involved in Account management and Sales as well as R&D and Prototyping. Supervised a team of 5 to 8 people including Germans, British and Americans. Successful in implementing many important projects for the Indian military.

    I quit the company and returned to the family business. Our team now stands at 200+ directly of indirectly reporting to me. By the time I would join college I would have had 5 years of experience.

    I have a failed startup to add to the list of experiences.

    I wish to do mba to gain knowledge further expand my line of business at a national level and beyond and also include in the portfolio, Technology Assisted Services.

    For my co-curriculars:

    State level medals in tennis and swimming.

    Various medals in Inter college athletics.

    Part time modeling for fashion websites.

    Been a part of NSS (National Service Scheme) and Rotaract
    for 3 years.

    Regular Blood donor

    Regularly contribute towards and organize langars at

  • Ms.Engineer


    I am a female engineer looking to make my way into business and management and eventually running my own company. I majored in computer science (BS) in the engineering department, and started a figure skating club as well as an engineering club in my 1st year, and I currently lead a different minority engineering club and the figure skating club. I received a handful of university awards including a leadership award and philanthropic awards, too. I go to a 2nd tier school. I have had 2 highly technical internship experiences but I feel that I prefer technical management, rather than specific technical jobs.

    My stats are as follows: 2.93 total gpa, gmat: 640. I would be fresh out of college upon starting my MBA, but am also getting unsolicited interviews by the highest tier technical companies right now.

    I would be applying to school such as Berkeley, UCLA, Northwestern, UChicago, UCSD, and NYU. I am interested in a MBA with emphasis in finance to be well rounded from my technical background, and have taken a number of economics courses and a handful of business courses.

    Does this leave me with any chance at those schools and would you recommend other schools to apply to?

    Thank you for your time :)

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