Handicapping Your B-School Odds

by John A. Byrne on

She works for a major Russian metallurgical company, heading up a finance and economic analysis unit. With a 740 GMAT and a 4.0 grade point average, this 28-year-old professional hopes to get an MBA to transition to management consulting or investment banking.

He was a collegiate football player for a top five liberal arts school. After spending two years at a boutique investment banking firm and another two on an acquisitions team for a public company, this 25-year-old wants an MBA degree to help him land a job with a top-notch asset management firm.

This 26-year-old professional manages one of the largest solar farms in the U.S. With two master’s degrees from Ivy League schools under his arm, he now wants a third in business to help him become a major energy developer.

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.

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 candid analysis:

Ms. Auditor

  • 740 GMAT (Q50, V41)
  • 4.0 GPA
  • 109 TOEFL
  • Undergraduate
degree in accounting from a no-name University in Siberia
  • Work experience includes five and one-half years in the audit department of a Big Four firm in Moscow; among top 5% of employees in each year; also one and one-half years as head of finance and economic analysis department in a Russian metallurgical company
  • “No one from
the Russian office of our company has an MBA. Head of our U.S. division has an MBA
from Chicago Booth.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as coordinator for a children’s educational organization, helped with resume and English workshop for disadvantaged youth, volunteered in Africa for one month in local hospital, LBGT activist and member of Toastmasters Club; also have a small start-up with a colleague
  • “Have a good
history of overcoming adversity: first generation college, worked part-time through school years, single parent, mother’s serious illness”
  • Goal: To transition to management consulting or investment banking
  • Applied to INSEAD and was dinged after interview
  • 28-year-old
Russian female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% 25%
Northwestern: 35% to 45%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Chicago: 35% to 45%
Columbia: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Jeepers, this is pretty solid and your ding at INSEAD is surprising. It might have been your interview or the fact that no one at your company can write good recommendations, since no one has a U.S. MBA.  Not sure what to say about that. You need to remind those clowns, that writing a recommendation for a U.S. school requires phrases like,  “John is the best analyst I have seen in 20 years, in a cohort of over 300 other analysts . .  .”  and that only means that “John is sorta OK,” unless you back that up with many stories and metrics proving it.

One issue for you is that you are in the age range for an EMBA, with what looks like eight to nine years of work experience at matriculation.  That could impact your chances at places like HBS, where admitted students with 9+ years of experience this year (according to chart on Dee’s Blog) = 31, out of total class of ~915. And a good number of those 31 are probably military or special cases, which you are not.  I would not be surprised if stats at other U.S. schools were similar, although Wharton tends to run older (as do Duke and Darden, which you might look into, as well as Tuck ).

If you had not told me that you were dinged at INSEAD, I would say to apply there, as your best shot, and that is still my advice. Reapply. TOEFL of 109 is low-ish, so that could be another issue. You might think about retaking.  Aside from that (age, low TOEFL), man, this is real solid. You seem to have Fortune 500-level jobs (which make up a bit for no-name schooling) and a 740 GMAT with real solid extras. As noted here in the past, Big 4 jobs in Moscow are considered much more selective than Big 4 jobs in U.S., although another issue for you could be that your work is audit vs. consulting. Still, it is a selective job, which you did well at, and got out, and transitioned to analyst at a Fortune 300 metals company. Add some adversity stories, first generation college, and dunno, I like you, so give it a whirl.  HBS might go for this if execution has good karma, although alas, their new application makes it hard for someone like you to explain herself.


Wharton runs older, and has a more welcoming application, and as noted, Duke and Darden run oldest, and your dreams can come true there. Columbia won’t give you a loan unless you have a U.S. co-signer, so that bums out a good many International applicants. Aside from that, you’d be a solid applicant there, too, based on stats.

Consulting and IB are OK goals, although being 30-31 when you graduate could make getting entry-level jobs in those fields challenging, but you have real special auditing and language skills, so that could tip things in your favor.  You might pick a goal which better leverages your accounting and metals savvy, although I am not sure what that would be. Transitioning to executive track at company like the one you currently work for might do it.

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  • SVT

    Re: Mr. Green
    Sandy that excerpt should be in your next edition of “Handicapping Your MBA Odds”….just classic..cracks me up

  • CC

    Sandy, I know you touched on recs in this post. How important are the leadership grids in comparison to the actual examples cited? In the grids, is there a fine line between being an advocate and blowing smoke?

  • westcoastdude

    Hi Sandy,

    I’d greatly appreciate your assessment. My stats:

    - 770 GMAT (Q50/V44)
    - 3.57 GPA, BS Accounting, Top 75 US B-school
    - Big 4 consulting and F500 internal audit internships w/ job offers (I turned them down)
    - after undergrad, 1 year sales/operations/fleet analyst for privately-owned CG distributor (annual revenue of $50M – $100M)
    - 3 years at matriculation, (senior) policy analyst at a state government’s Economic Development Department; very high exposure (and impact) to upper levels of state government
    - extracurricular: runner, beer homebrewer, after-work sports leagues; work requires 60-70 hours per week so I don’t have a lot of downtime. I read a lot (non-fiction, business and politics). Section President of my university program during undergrad.
    - Applying to: Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Columbia, NYU, Northwestern
    - Also, I’ll be seeking a dual-degree, MS in Public Policy, at any university that offers that program and doesn’t require separate GRE scores (HBS/Kennedy is top choice)
    - I want to do consulting (big 3) in economic development/economic policy immediately after MBA; long term I want to be a politician
    - 26 y/o (at matriculation), white male

  • hbsguru

    The grids need to confirm what was substantively said in the recs.

  • Mr. Microfinance

    Hi Sandy / John,

    Request you let me know your view on my profile:Indian, Male, 25First generation high school and college graduate.
    Motivated and sponsored the graduation of my elder cousins.
    750 gmat
    No GPA available, but 10th standard – 85%, 12th 76%, graduation 76%. (dint study much as i felt these grades dint impact getting selected in jobs or my selection in future courses)
    Chartered Accountant (All India 16th Rank out of 23,000 candidates)(Considered one of the toughest exams in he world),
    Chartered Financial Analyst cleared all 3 Level (Flunked Level 3 last time, dint study much, though not a good excuse)
    No extracurriculars in college due to poor financial condition (used to live in slums) and need to take care of my mom who is on complete bed rest. so basically managed all household work, studies plus helped my mom conquer her depression.
    Work experience includes: interned for 3 years (part of the chartered accountancy course) with a Tier 1 Tax and advisory company (Firm has also won many internationally recognised prestigious tax and litigation awards). 2 years exp (3.5 years work ex at the time of matriculation) with a Big 4 in its Transfer pricing division (its more of planning the inter-company pricing policy, advisory and litigation). Recently promoted as an Assistant manager in less than 2 years despite the criteria of min 3 years. Have Independently handled important projects with large MNC clients in the absence of the seniors.
    Program coordinator for the Big 4′s Foundation (the CSR arm of Big 4). Lead the CSR initiatives for the Western India Cluster (Spend 40% of my time in CSR and 60% in consulting).

    Leading the mobile application development of the firm
    Refining the website of the firm
    Part of the team developing a leadership development program for senior employees
    Volunteer for an ngo which is into financial education & self sufficiency of women in slums, educating them the need for savings, how to account them, how to bank, selling them microinsurance (seems like selling stuff but has a great social impact).Carrer goal: to get into management consulting or private equity and after 4 years start my own micro finance institution Schools interested in:Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Insead, London

  • John

    Hi Sandy,
    I was hoping you good give me any kind of perspective on my chances at a top business school. Here’s my profile! Thanks!
    Undergrad: Stanford
    GPA: 3.58 Econ (also would this be considered a 3.6? I know in other recruiting processes they round to the 10th)
    Undergrad Work Experience: Summer at a PWM co., Summer Analyst at Jefferies in Tech; In addition, I worked for 3 different start-ups in the valley (one based out of the GSB), as well as one that I founded
    Current Work: 3-Year Rotational Program at Disney in Finance and Business Development
    Hope to apply in 2015 and have not taken GMATs. Would I have a chance at a HBS or GSB?
    Really don’t know what to expect out of the process and was really hoping to get some early insight!

  • DukeCity

    John and Sandy,

    This has become my favorite column in the past month, and I have busily been scouring through all parts in the series to gain insight into the chances for my own candidacy. It’s truly amazing how much direction you’ve given so many. I would appreciate your assistance and opinion. I’m going to try for great schools, but am worried about my GPA, experience, and age. Here’s my profile:
    American Latino Male
    720 GMAT (Lower quant, very high verbal)
    3.2 GPA
    30 years old
    I received my BBA from 2nd tier state university. During my undergrad I founded a campus
    political organization and was very active in a campus parish (everything from leading retreats to hosting guest speakers). In addition, I was an active campaigner and volunteer for congressional campaigns. Took an internship my senior year with the US Senate in DC researching proposed trade legislation.
    Work Experience:
    Shortly out of school I left my job at a local bank to be an entrepreneur and start my own business, which was successful for 3 years until the economy went south and I had to
    close shop. At its peak, the business employed 8, and had monthly volume of over $1mil.
    Then went to work for my family’s small business where I did primarily marketing/promotional work in addition to overseeing finances. Finally decided to work for a large firm with the
    possibility of a higher career trajectory. Currently working at Fortune 20 healthcare firm as government analyst.
    Post-BBA Extracurriculars:
    Hospice Volunteer
    Captain of Flag Football Team
    Committee member overseeing a program to help troubled kids
    Short term goal:
    To work internationally as either a strategy consultant or possibly for Booz in government/economic development consulting.
    Long term goal:
    Use my international business expertise, global perspective, and interest in the intersection of business and politics to work for an organization like the State Department, UN, or World Bank.
    Target schools:
    INSEAD- Consulting jobs opportunities and global perspective, perfect! I am worried about a lack of international experience, however.

    Sandy, am I thinking too big, or do I really have a chance at INSEAD/Columbia?

  • SurprisedByGMAT

    Hi John and Sandy,
    I haven’t found anybody even close to my profile. I had been planning on going to accounting grad school, but did really well on the GMAT so I decided I’d look into some of the top MBA programs.

    GMAT: 770, 51 Q, 46 V (took once)

    Undergrad: 3.9 GPA, major–math (teaching), minor–economics, state school in the Rockies (full academic scholarship)

    Work experience: missionary 2 years in China, 3 years in U.S., and now 3 more years in China–currently on multi-national leadership team overseeing 100+ staff, nearly fluent in Chinese (although the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t understand)Things I’ve had to do as part of my job: conference program director, speaker at university fellowship meetings (100+ students), fundraising, ethnographic research in villages, earthquake relief coordinator.

    29, white male, married, daughter

    Goals: want to use MBA to transition from mission field to marketplace. I think the values that served me well here–integrity, teamwork, servant leadership, and cultural understanding–will serve me well in the corporate world. I love leading others and get more excited about their excellent work and creative ideas than I do my own. After graduating from business school, I would like to be in management at a non-financial services corporation, preferably.tech-related and preferably in China.

  • NonTradiMBA

    I know I’m far off the beating path, but it’s worth a shot to get some feedback.
    Age: 27
    African-American Female
    630 GMAT (Took once)
    Reapplicant to: Duke, Ross and Berkeley
    Last year was waitlisted (R2) to Duke, dinged after interview at Ross. First time applying to Berkeley.
    Graduated from a small American college undergrad with a 3.4 Sociology.
    Masters from same college in Special Education 3.6GPA
    Non congruent work history as, I started college in 2003, left school to work in the music industry (marketing/publishing) for 8 year; went back to college in middle of career while still working full time.
    Currently a Freelance Market Manager, working with Verizon and Google (both 2 year contracts) overseeing consumer research and consulting on field marketing endeavors for the brands in a specific region.
    Run a non-profit website for women with special needs transitioning out of high school into mainstream society; working with young women in IEP programs at local high schools to create content (video shorts, news reports, blog posts).

    MBA focus is Marketing and Social Enterprise. Looking to work in Corporate Social Responsibility aiming to move beyond financial benefactor/event planner and more towards working with companies to help them market their brands through innovative community involvement.
    Having a hard time finding potential schools that fit my needs with a the Social Enterprise focus, that are not in the top 20.

  • PhysicsGrad

    Hi John and Sandy,
    I know you’re busy guys so I’ll make this quick.

    I’m a 23 going on 24-year-old recent college graduate, who has been working at Google for the past 7 months as a cog in the machine.

    -Studied Physics at a little-known state school in the midwest, 3.6 GPA, 3.7 in-major GPA
    -Fluent in 3 languages
    -Extracurriculars include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, foreign language and culture, and KIVA.org , a popular micro-lending website.
    -Haven’t taken the GMAT yet, so let’s say I’ll score a 750.
    -Was a TA for 3 years in college, and an RA for half a year. I did some semi-original research, have been published in a journal, was the president of the local Society of Physics Students chapter for a year, and received a notable academic accolade my last year.
    -Have spent some time living abroad in Brazil and Chile

    I won’t be at Google for more than a few more months. I hate my job there. I’ll end up with a stellar letter of recommendation from my manager, though. In addition, I’m moving to Brazil (again) for 6 months to train jiu-jitsu in January or February.

    I want to get into a top business school, whether it be highest tier like Wharton/Harvard/INSEAD or almost as prestigious, e.g. NYU Stern, Berkeley Haas. What are my chances? know I’m light on full-time work exp; if my chances suck now, how much more time in industry do you think I’d need? Is it even worth my time to attend a b-school that isn’t in this top tier? If I’m going to get into business (and I am very interested in making the transition), I don’t want to have a watered-down career.

    Finally, I’ve been playing with the idea of getting my Master’s in Astrophysics or Physics (I am mostly passionate about the subject). How will this look to an application committee?

    Thank you for your time.

  • Penn Slacker

    Hi Sandy,

    Tried to post this last night but don’t think it took. I’m about to submit my applications for Fall 2013 and would love if you could give some feedback on what my chances are. I’m applying to Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia, NYU, Michigan and Duke. I’m worried that my low undergrad GPA will hold me back, as well as my lower quant score (I’m more of a poet than quant). I definitely partied too much in college but have done extremely well in the workplace since graduating.

    Details: 25 year-old white male, will be 26 in fall 2013
    School: UPenn, major in Economic History (mix of Econ and History)
    GMAT: 690 (55% Q, 97% V, 6.0 AWA)
    GPA: 3.0 (mix of Cs, Bs, and As)
    Extracurric: Exec board of fraternity in college, not much since
    Work: 3+ years currently at Vault 20-25 ranked consulting firm (think Alvarez & Marsal-level) working in internal business development/strategy. Was promoted after 1.5 years (usual cycle is 3), and currently have 3 direct reports, as well as indirectly manage external team of 5 consultants. 2nd in command of our group, report directly to 53 yr old former Big 4 partner (writing one rec) who reports directly to CFO. I’ve personally been (with boss’ endorsement) to many of our offices in US and nationally to meet with office, region, practice leaders, and consistently interact with the highest executives at our firm, and have led teams of 4+ people for on-site sessions in Asia and Europe. To replace me, my boss is hiring someone with 6 years more experience than I have and I will be supervising him until I leave.
    Goals: I want to move into corporate strategy at a consumer goods company (think Pepsi, Coke, etc). I’ve interviewed at some top companies (Coach, Apple) and made final round, but have consistently lost out to MBB candidates. I’m beginning to age out of range in which they take direct hires from consulting firms, and almost every place I’ve interviewed the majority of people have their MBA (at Coach my 4 interviewers had Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg and Booth MBAs). I’m focusing on schools that have strong Marketing and Management programs (Stern gets in there for Marketing and for the Luxury Marketing major, which is unique).

  • More Poet than Quant

    Hi Sandy,
    First, thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s entertaining and informative. I believe that I have a unique background, and would be interested in hearing your thoughts on my chances to get into the following schools: HBS, Kellogg, Wharton, UVA, and Yale. I’m worried that my lack of any “business” experience (both professional as well as academic) and not being able to secure reputable recommendations might hurt my chances. Anyways, here are the details:
    - 27 year old white male from southern state in the U.S.
    - GMAT: 680
    - Undergrad GPA: 4.0
    - Attended undergrad at a small, liberal arts school in the south (not one of the reputable ones) majoring in history and minoring in political science/philosophy. At this school, I studied abroad in Europe, Asia, and Africa, was voted SGA President my Sr. year, played tennis all 4 years (was selected 1st team Academic All-American my Sr. year), and had a number of other leadership roles on campus.
    - After graduating, I went directly to Harvard and received a Master’s studying Religion and Public Policy. Graduated with mostly A-’s and B+’s.
    - Work experience: I took a semester off from Harvard and worked in a paid capacity on the Obama campaign where I went from 4 volunteers to managing 150+ on any given day. I also managed my own campaign office the last few months of the campaign. Afte graduating, I received the competitive Presidential Management Fellowship, and spent two years working in various agencies in the federal gov’t (some budget/finance work, but mostly analysis/intelligence).
    - I’m interested in an MBA for 2 reasons: 1) It would provide me with a tangible skill-set that I simply don’t have right now. I have always approached school as being the opportunity to study things I wouldn’t be able to later on (hence the history major and my grad school choice). I don’t regret these decisions, but I am afraid that without having some type of skill-set (being a subject matter expert is also out of the question, I’m way too much of a generalist) that I may get left behind….and 2) I would like to become a consultant and one day open my own consulting practice. There is a chance that this may specifically become an interest in “social impact consulting” but I’m still uncertain. I do know, however, that consulting would be the ideal field.

  • SoMe1

    Hi Sandy,
    Thanks for this AMAZING column. Would you mind doing me?
    -26 year old South Asian
    -GMAT 750
    -Undegrad GPA:3.3 (Top 3 Undergrad B-School) majored in Finance, Math & Statistics
    -Work Experience: Worked at a start up Mortgage Hedge Fund for 4 years
    -Schools: Northwestern, Columbia, Wharton, Booth, Harvard
    -Want to do something in the lines of a more managerial/capital raising type role for financial institutions, the MBA along with its connections would definitely help


  • Penn Slacker

    Also, extremely high-level (multiple trustee) family connections at one of the schools mentioned above, and wondering how much of a back door that can be. I’d rather get in on my own, but I’ve learned enough in the business world in the past 3 years to not overlook any possible edge or network

  • Develop_enterpreneurship

    Hi Sandy,
    It would be great if you can asses my profile:
    - 700 GMAT (Q 49/
    V 35/ AWA 4.0)
    - 109 Toefl
    - 4.00 GPA, BS Industrial Engineering, Top Engineering University in my country. Best academic record (GPA) in the history of the institution.
    - Consulting manager (promoted at the age of 26) at the top Big 4 consulting firm in my country. Attended 90% of the banking industry with an innovative service in the industry develop by our team.
    - Professor of Operations Costing in University.
    - Volunteer in an NGO for helping microbusiness improve their business. The greatest achievement was to create a company for textile production, funded by winning a contest at Latin America level.
    - Extracuricular: Practices improvisational theater, delegate at Harvard model of united nations, Class President, sports: basketball, trekking
    - Long term: Want to develop the Venture Capital industry in my country. Short term: to work at a Venture Capital firm or to develop a business right after school.
    - From Latin America, 27 years old male, 5 years of work experience
    - Schools: MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Wharton

  • VAConsultant


    I’m strongly considering applying to business school, and would like a candid
    assessment of my stats for my target schools. I’m a big fan of your work on Poets & Quants. Thanks for what you do,
    and thank you for the help.

    – 25 year old, Asian male,
    raised in US
    – GMAT: 750 (49 Q, 42 V, 6.0 AWA)
    – Double-major in Electrical
    Engineering and Finance from near-Ivy
    – GPA: 2.87 – 3.00 Frosh, 2.92
    Soph, 2.97 Jr, 2.59 Sr. If you split it out, my Finance GPA is closer to
    3.2, but admittedly struggled with Electrical Engineering.
    – I co-founded an Internet start-up while in college. We were able to turn a profit, and also filed a patent for our
    mapping algorithms.
    – Work experience: 3
    years of strategy consulting with strong focus on energy sector. Project
    experience includes post-merger integration for several large energy companies. Will have strong recommendations from Senior VP clients and my
    – Firm has a good
    track record of sending consultants to top b-schools, I’d say 5-10 people per
    year across the Top 10. Was offered direct promotion to post-MBA
    – Completed Level I of the
    Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program. Working on Level II.
    – Extracurriculars: I was
    an Eagle Scout, and now volunteer with my local troop. My family is on
    the board of our local temple, and I have organized several religious and
    volunteer events over the years. I was
    captain of a competitive dance team in college of a cultural variety. I
    spent the summer after I graduated teaching English and nutrition at a
    low-income school in Africa.
    – Goal: Business
    development for a renewable energy company or energy efficiency start-up. Considering cross-functional degree in Environmental Affairs, Sustainability,
    etc. where available.
    – Target schools: HBS,
    INSEAD, Darden, Haas, Booth, Sloan, Columbia, Wharton. Applied to HBS
    2+2, dinged.

    I realize my GPA is the weak-point in my application, and I’d like a candid
    assessment if that will keep me out of my target schools. Given my focus
    in the energy world, I’m wondering whether to frame myself as an “industry
    expert” rather than a generalist consultant. I’d also appreciate some opinion as
    to which of my extracurriculars resonates the most. I feel like I will have
    to choose given the limited space to discuss these
    in the applications.

  • vandygal

    Hi Sandy,

    I know Duke has incredible national name recognition, but I was wondering whether any other Southern schools have national appeal. I went to Vandy for my undergraduate degree, and I want to know whether it is considered to have any national appeal. It was more selective than Chicago and Penn this previous admissions cycle, so the school does seem to be doing well. Do MBA programs perceive it to be a top school of the calibre of Penn, Duke, Dartmouth?

  • vandygal

    Sorry about repeating my question in the last post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25503923 Bruce Vann

    Darden definitely does. It might have more than Fuqua. I’d say that UNC does too.

  • vandygal

    Thanks for replying so promptly. I was actually asking about undergraduate reputations.

  • Guest

    I would say Vandy is a well-respected undergrad institution (just check media rankings to see), but I would also say not to worry about how MBA programs perceive your school since there’s nothing you can do about it.

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