Your Odds Of Getting Into A Great School

by John A. Byrne on

For the past eight years, he’s done a wide variety of missionary work from earthquake relief to ethnographic research in Chinese villages. With a 770 GMAT and a 3.9 grade point average in math, this 29-year-old now wants an MBA to help him transition to the corporate world.

Before his start-up crashed in the Great Recession, he had built its revenues to $1 million a month and had eight employees on the payroll. Now he works as an analyst for a Fortune 20 company and hopes an MBA degree will allow him to work in micro finance or strategy consulting.

After gaining a degree in Spanish and Classical Civilizations from a top liberal arts college, she landed a job with an online startup in the payment solutions space. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.3 GPA, this 24-year-old professional plans to gain MBA skills so she can start her own business.

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 an invite? Or are they likely to end up in a reject pile?

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.

If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature.

Sandy’s assessment:

>Ms. Tech Startup

  • 690 GMAT
  • 3.3 GPA
  • Undergrad degree in Spanish and classical civilizations from a top liberal arts college
  • Work experience includes two years at an online payment solution tech startup, where I have evolved in three jobs, from customer facing to coordinating sales and marketing (involving interacting with a lot of different people and profiles) to integrating accounts with banks
  • Extracurricular involvement as an active member of my college alumni club, helping to organize events, such as walks for breast cancer, and raise funds
  • Goal: “I have an enormous appetite for cultural/international experiences. This is what’s driving me. So my long-term goal is to start a technical business with an international perspective. My short-term goal is to develop my leadership skills. I feel like I need that time to reflect and grow these critical skills away from work through sharing experiences.”
  • 24-year-old female

Odds of Success:

(if  you follow my advice)

INSEAD: 40%
Dartmouth: 20% to 30%
Berkeley: 30%
Georgetown: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Here’s some tough love. Don’t make this any more flakey than it has to be. You are on the see-saw, the powerful see-saw inside the head of an adcom, which can either see you as:

A serious person from a top liberal arts college with so-so but OK stats (3.3 GPA and 690 GMAT), who is working for a real start-up in the online payments space (a thriving and established if not highly selective or exciting field)

OR

A confused Spanish major with a travel and cultural Jones, with marginal stats (3.3 GPA from artsy school and gut major, and 690 GPA) who somehow flopped into a job at a payments start-up, and got lucky when others took off, which happens in shaky start-ups, and now dreams of starting an international business with a technical basis (something you have marginal background in) after your short-term goal, which, and  I quote, is “to develop my leadership skills. I feel like I need . . . time to reflect and grow . . . critical skills away from work through sharing experiences.”

Allow to me suggest that you stress Persona 1 in your application and put Persona 2 in your underwear drawer for special and intimate occasions with close friends and significant others.

I would drop the international, cultural angle as a goal driver, although sure, you can play that angle in some short essay about what clubs you might join on campus. But you really need to get your main story straight, and that is as a smart person, excited about business, who racked up great experience in your payments start-up, not so much stressing the start-up angle, but stressing the normal business angle, to wit what you said you did, “coordinating sales and marketing (involving interacting with a lot of different people and profiles) to integrating accounts with banks.” THAT is stuff that warms the heart of an adcom, not your–and here I am quoting again –“enormous appetite for cultural/international experiences. This is what’s driving me.” Adcoms don’t like enormous appetites. And while they may like culture, well, for personal consumption (although even here you might be surprised), they don’t like culture as a “driver” in an application.

Say that you are excited about sales, marketing, teamwork, and corporate communication, and after your MBA, you want to work for an innovative, marketing-driven company to learn best practices, blah, blah. A real wise move would be to look up the marketing, customer-facing companies, which hire lots of kids from the very schools you are applying to and say you want to work there. You can find such a list of companies on Poets&Quants, for many schools, and usually for all schools if you sniff around the corporate placement part of their websites.

I can see why INSEAD appeals to you. They like Americans, although usually older ones, but I would think twice about going there, unless you want to work in Europe. That may be my own prejudice, and if there are any INSEAD alums out there who can tell us how often grads go back to work in the U.S.A., please chime in. Tuck, Berkeley, Georgetown? All excellent choices, if you drop the culture stuff and just go with  the marketing, serious person who  wants to learn best practices through the Big-Normal-Cool Company route.

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  • Tzeentch99

    Hey Sandy,

    You say “schools like Stanford which like humility (authentic is nice, but any kind works over there, and you seem authentic).” Can you elaborate on that a bit? They like you to come off as authentic in your essays and also humble?

  • hbsguru

    well, self-knowing, which in most cases results in some humility–mostly the issue is whether you have a therapeutic vocabulary (ahem, that may not help explain this but it’s true) to describe events in your essays and what take-aways were. Simple example:
    WRONG: I led a team of some clowns from college to do X and we succeeded, that inspired me to do even more, so I did Y with more clowns.
    RIGHT: Leading a team of clowns from College to do X was a real lesson in how my leadership needed to develop and become more flexible. [GIVE EXAMPLES]

    The RIGHT story is both more humble and more self aware, Stanford does not want a brag sheet, they want an inventory of your growth. That is what they mean by the oft said trope over there that the essays are are an accounting not a marketing exercise. What they mean is an accounting (often in psycho-babble or, ahem, self-aware terms) of your growth–versus saying you accomplished 1 2 3 4 –which they view as marketing. The Platonic Stanford essay is a series of growth experiences, and sure, if others happen to benefit that also helps. The guy I was replying to, the missionary in China, had the right shtick, instinctively. Almost too much of it, which is rare. But then again, he’s a Church missionary. Oddly, military guys are often good at this, too, since they work w. lots of enlisted guys who often have dramatic problems, and they become “foxhole shrinks.” Well, the better military applicants, it’s a cohort like any other, with great applicants and knuckleheads. But lots of great ones.

  • Rayver

    710 GMAT
    3.16 GPA
    Undergraduate degree in Management Engineering from Top University in the Philippines

    Passed CFA level 1, currently studying for CFA level 2
    Work experience includes two years of work as an AVP at the largest private agricultural storage facility and the top onion distribution company in the country; 1 year of work as a sales and distribution manager at the top airline company in the Philippines.

    Extracurriculars include: work as an altar boy in the local church community for 4 years, active in the local buddhist temple donating food and cooking materials; worked as a teacher in the local chapter of Gawad Kalinga for 1 year, had been involved in the yearly charity drives of the local church for 13 years.

    Overcame severe illness during freshman year and sophomore years which affected grades, to bounce back and average 3.6 in my senior year.
    Goal: To be able to systematize the agricultural landscape in the country through better supply chains and business practices

    23 year old ethnic chinese male

    Target schools: Harvard, Yale, LBS

  • LEEDAP

    700 GMAT (40V 47Q)
    2.5 GPA (Undergraduate degrees in Pharmacology and Business Economics)
    Student Body President of Mid-Tier University of California School

    Work experience includes stint as a campaign organizer on a major US Senate campaign, then a transition to a fortune 50 (think GE or Chevron) working in sales for energy saving performance contracts ( I design, sell, then help implement large energy projects for cities and corporations). I have been working in the energy industry for about two years, and am looking to go to business school to transition to consulting with the long term goal of starting my own business in cleantech.

    Current Extracurriculars include two years working as a mentor helping underrepresented high school students start businesses (build.org), and two years working with the Northern California Chapter of the US Green Buildings Council.

    Extensive college extracurriculars including serving as my university’s student body president, published undergraduate pharmacological research (though not in one of the big journals i.e. science or nature), major leadership roles in statewide and national student associations, Inter-fraternity Council President, loads more of lower level collegiate leadership ( Student Senator, Dorm President etc.). Lots of university service related awards.

    I am looking at top 15. Trying to see if anyone will wink at low GPA given other accomplishments. My GPA took on a horrible downward trend through college as I took on more EC’s.

    25 Year Old White Male (Parents from Spain), I speak fluent spanish.

  • mrblackbelt

    Hi Sandy,

    I’ve read a lot of your posts, there is truly nothing like this anywhere else on the web. Even if you do not decide to include me as a candidate for your analysis, thank you for your insight.

    —————————————————————————————————————-

    Mr. Black Belt?

    680 GMAT (Estimated)

    3.6 GPAUndergrad degree from a well known State School in Finance

    Work experience: 4 years as a financial analyst for a top tech company (think Apple, Oracle, Microsoft), 3 promotions since starting, Lean Six Sigma project saving +300K, incredibly involved with other projects and mentoring new comers,

    Current Extracurricular involvement: Active member of College of Business Alumni club, Alumni mentor to current students, regional representative, Black Belt in a martial arts discipline,
    previously competed nationally in the sport,

    Undergraduate Extracurricular involvement: Student body president for the college of business, ran student run programs for mentoring, founder and president of the only school investment club,

    Goal: Long-term goal is to work in corporate development M&A for a tech company.

    Back Ground: Dual citizenship ( US and French), White Male 27, Not good a standardized tests this will be my weakness,

    Preferred Schools:

    Dartmouth University

    Northwestern University

    Cornell University

    Yale University

    University of Michigan

    University of Virgina

    Georgetown University

  • MrSCM

    Hi Sandy,

    I enjoy your posts and am hoping you can use your crystal ball to tell me my chances of getting into a top tier MBA program.

    770 GMAT (48V, 49Q, embarrassing 3.5AWA)

    3.1 undergrad GPA in business at mid-tier state school.

    APICS CPIM (supply chain certification)

    2 years of work experience in Logistics at Fortune 500 CPG. Promoted from
    junior analyst to senior analyst (one of youngest at company). Have saved company over $1MM each year in transportation spend.

    Was active in fraternity and community during college. Currently, I am captain of a company sports team and commissioner of a league.

    Short term goal to get into operations/supply chain consulting. Long term goal to start or become executive of logistics company.

    24 year old white male.

    Target programs: Sloan, Kellogg, Booth, UCLA, USC

    Thank you!

  • Matt

    • Background: I’m a first-gen degree holder from a small, very conservative Virginia town where I felt like I could never be out of the closet (I’m gay) and that thread continues as I moved schools during college for a more accepting environment, overcame some inferiority complex issues from being gay, and met some influential managers through internships who infused me with confidence and took risks on letting me lead. My strengths now are a strong bias for action, creative solutions for automating processes, listening and instilling confidence in others; my biggest weakness is probably still confidence when self-doubt creeps in.

    • Undergraduate institution: Average state school

    – the story here is that I started at a tier 1 liberal arts college and transferred to a more diverse school where I could be out of the closet

    • Undergraduate degrees: B.A. English, B.S. Communications, highest honors, ranked #1 in the communications school

    • Undergraduate GPA: 3.93 (4.0 in majors)

    • Undergraduate Study Abroad: 1-year abroad in the U.K. to study English literature at a top-5 world university with high marks

    • Undergraduate work: 30-40 hours per week for work in internships/jobs to fund college

    • GMAT: 720

    • Graduate institution: University of Virginia

    • Graduate degree: Commerce

    • Graduate GPA: 3.5

    • Job: Amazon.com, new management rotational program for students directly out of school

    - rigorously analytical program that converges business analysis with operations/management to own the entire business cycle from using data to discover problems to creating the projects that solve them and measuring the results

    • Current Volunteering: 2 LGBT Organizations (Law Clinic & Mentorship), and pet fostering for sick animals

    • Years of experience at time of application: 3

    • Target schools: UVa, Michigan, UCLA

    Thanks for any feedback you can provide!

  • Ayla Smith

    Background:
    Female, Asian/European, 24 years old and plan to apply in two-three years time.

    Education:
    - Master’s degree in physics from a European university (top 50 according to THE and Shanghai rankings), GPA according to my university’s conversion table: 3.7
    - Double bachelor’s degree in maths and physics from a European university (top 100 according to THE and Shanghai rankings), GPA according to my university’s conversion table: 3.4
    GMAT: Not taken yet (700+ should be doable)
    Work experience:- After graduation I will start working at MBB and hope to apply for an MBA (sponsored) after two-three years.- Internship at non-MBB strategy consultant that resulted in a job offer (which I declined).
    - Worked 20+ hours/week during undergrad to support myself, mainly as a teaching assistant supervising and tutoring freshmen and high school students.
    Extra curriculars:- Serious volunteer work with children (one day/week)- Organized two large (budget ~300.000) events at university (in a team).- Elected on various advisory councils.- Semi-professional musician.

    Long-term goal:
    To develop strategy or policy at an NGO or government, preferably something focused on children (e.g. UNICEF, Save the children) or emergency relief (e.g. WFP).

    Schools of interest:
    I have no idea how competitive my profile is, so I would be most interested in hearing from you where I have a shot and what GMAT score would be required for it. I think ISEAD should be doable since my firm has a history of sending people there, but I’m interested mostly in programs in the US.

    Thank you!

  • DukeCity

    Sandy,

    Thanks for the advice! (Mr. Entrepreneur) I’m sorry I confused you with the international angle, and suspect that I will do the same to adcoms if I don’t simplify and focus my story in the essays and interviews.

    To clarify: I do NOT have any international experience currently. I wanted to go international right after my undergrad, but family considerations kept me close to home for awhile. I plan to use school as a springboard to a global career. My comment about “international expertise” in the long-term goals section was based the skills I would conceivably gain in a non-US consulting stint post-MBA.

    Regardless of my longer term goals of working in gov/intergovernmental organizations, I really do want to pursue a career in strategy consulting in a global setting after school. I will take your advice and stress this in my narrative while avoiding the impractical.

    So, should I avoid discussing my twisted career path in the application, or acknowledge it and then attempt to explain how it fits into a post-grad consulting gig?

  • mrblackbelt

    Hi Sandy,

    Hypothetical question: My girlfriend and I went to the same school and we work at the same company ( by chance ). She has better stats than me, minus the extra curricular. If we applied to the same school would admissions catch the similarities? Would this be a plus or minus if we both applied?

    I posted my stats below (mrblackbelt)

  • TS Suresh Shanker

    Hello Sandes. How are you? I really enjoy your posts. Such a funny and insightful man you are..just a delight to read it. You are the best thing about this website..I think you should launch your own consulting service about this and even charge some money for students to give this evaluations. But maybe you can be more optimistic by telling them they will get it. At least they will feel happy. I would really like to speak with you in person. Is there a contact number or email? I want to discuss this more privately as there are aspects of my application that I would like to get feedback from you about it. Also, do you write the essays or give help? i like your style of writing. i can tell you my story and you can help me write it or suggest some service for that. Please contact me about this and i’m open to negotiating terms with you. My personal email istssuresh8@gmail.com. I look ahead to hearing from you.

  • Joe Biden’s Speech Therapist

    Hey Sandy, what is the biggest mistake students applying to MBA programs make? I was wondering whether you could share some general insights that could be applicable to anyone applying to MBA programs. Thank you sir! I enjoy your posts.

  • hbsguru

    Short answer: presenting unrealistic goals, which means goals which are uncoupled fr. your experience (PE or VC if you have no finance background or tech speciality, etc) or goals which do not requre an MBA, e.g. writer, architect, politician (altho many MBA ‘s wind up running for office, viz, Mitt, that was not his stated goal when he applied, believe me). Next biggest mistake is blowing the interview. You did not prepare or just had a bad day. You can prepare and should!

  • hbsguru

    Hmmm, probably the fact you went to same school and work at same company won’t mean anything, esp. if company is big and well known, but even if not. You are competing not by company per se, but by industry, e.g. schools want rounded classes of e.g. consultants, finance types, consumer goods, energy, military, etc. so you are both competing for that bucket. But at most schools, those buckets are large . . . .so depending on stats, etc. you both could in, both dinged, or one in, one dinged, etc.

  • Mr. Big 4

    Hi Sandy,

    Could you kindly evaluate my profile since I’m really weighing on taking an MBA or not. That will depend a lot on my chances to get to a top 20 school.

    Mr. Big 4

    - 30 years-old based in Asia (east asia / southeast asia – third world but fast developing)

    - BBA degree with 3.1 GPA from a 2nd tier school in the US (a regional public school in the south). I have also returned to take 5 undergrad courses in finance and strategy and earned a 3.9 and graduated with another degree. I’m the first in my family to attend college. In college – I worked part-time to finance school and I think that was the primary reason of my low gpa.

    - GMAT 730 (Q49, V42) < taken three times

    - I'm a recently promoted Director at a big 4 accounting firm – mostly doing audits for banking clients, but I've managed to leverage my banking knowledge to mergers and acquisitions transaction service and other operations and compliance advisory services. Always rated as an outstanding performer and earned double promotions. I also have vast exposures in financial instruments. Other than client facing roles, I'm involved in strategic initiative, change management and learning and development (teaching banking classes).

    - My reason of getting an MBA, because I wanted to obtain general management perspective and skills, and leverage my banking knowledge to strategy consulting because I feel there's where I can challenge myself to fulfill my potential and start my journey to play an active role in improving my country. My intermediate goal is to join a PE/VC and long-term goal is to start an impact investing or working full-time as an Investment Officer in IFC – creating ecosystems for entrepreneurs in my country. Have strong networks to consulting people in MBB and small PE shops.

    - My excs include leading a non-profit focusing in poverty alleviation and education opportunities as well as rigorous involvement in my firm's CSR activities (including leading an office-wide activity). In college, I led a christian international students student organization and coordinated recreational trips.

    I'm interested to understand my chances in HBS, Wharton, Booth, INSEAD, IMD, Tuck, Duke, NYU and UNC.

    Really appreciate it.

  • Bhaskar

    Hi Sandy,
    Thanks for your wonderful work here!
    I’d like you to handicap my chances of getting into Stanford and the top Canadian b-schools.
    Here’s the data:

    GMAT: 770
    Undergrad: B Tech in Chemical Engineering out of India, my guess at the converted GPA would be about 3.0.
    Grad school: MS Journalism from Ohio University (a top 10 J-school). GPA 3.65
    Work:
    2 years for a Tampa Tribune-owned small town newspaper as news graphics editor.
    4 years a media startup in India where I’ve been the fastest growing employee in the company. I lead two teams that produce a daily newspaper and a bunch of B2B magazines. I took over both projects when they were struggling and turned them around within 2 months. They’re both now stable and growing. I’ve also trained several others who have grown quickly in the company, earning me a reputation as a mentor. I also do marketing and outreach for some of the company’s other assets.

    During this time I also took a year off to work at Chinmaya Mission, a Hindu spirituality-based nonprofit. There I edited their international children’s magazine, taught Zen-inspired mindfulness meditations at retreats for youth, worked with Mumbai’s slum kids teaching them guitar, singing and English, and initiated the organizations social media outreach (against much resistance).

    Personal History: I spent my early childhood in a Himalayan Hindu monastery next door to the Dalai Lama. I’ve always loved learning about different spiritual traditions and am a scripture geek (I taught myself Sanskrit for the purpose). I’ve been initiated into Buddhism by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and into Hinduism by Swami Chinmayananda. I am pretty well versed in Buddhist and Hindu philosophies and have explored the others a good deal too. I’ve been teaching spirituality (mostly in the Hindu-Buddhist context, but I’ve spoken at churches and schools also) for about 4-5 years now, including a weekly class that has been running for more than 2 years and is regularly attended by a really erudite group, including several monks (one who is over 80 and has been studying this stuff for more than twice my age).

    Goals: I want to create a yoga-themed ecotourism resort as a social venture. I see myself being a retreat planner, bringing together diverse and powerful speakers to create custom made yoga/meditation/creativity/self-development retreats for targeted groups such as politicians, social workers, war veterans, mothers, educators and so on.

    So… what do you think? Stanford?

  • Atheist

    It would help if you could write a bit about overcoming something in your childhood. Maybe you could conjure up a story of some type of religious persecution or abuse or something like that. You definitely want to play up the victim angle and then the self-reflection angle. A retreat planner just seems a bit too tacky..like a wedding planner but with less estrogen. Maybe founding a new religion or something grand like that..after all they are looking for big ideas. And — when you say you were the “fastest growing employee — you mean like getting fat or progressing in your career? Might need to work a bit on language skills to crack the GMAT.

  • Dan

    Ha ha! Great response. I felt the same way after reading that phony nonsense of a profile.

  • youngandtech

    GMAT: 720

    GPA: 3.13 Undergrad Stanford University, Political Science Minor in Economics

    Extra-curricular Activities: 4-year Division 1 wrestler, Member of Staford’s Improv troupe, Voted as president of Student Athlete Student Council my last 3 years. Lot’s of service related activited

    23 year-old white male

    Job Experience: 2-years Sales at a tech start-up in silicon valley that has grown from 200 to 500 people in a year. Promoted to a position in under a year that typically takes 5-8 years of experience. Internships include working with as an intern for a Kansas Senator, my homestate, and working on the financial side at a company that gives microloans primarily to underbanked latinos.

    Target Schools: Reach: Stanford Harvard Wharton Colombia Maybe still a reach: Booth, Kellogg, Ross, Haas, Tuck Wheelhouse: Fuqua, Johnson, Darden, Anderson

    Goal: transition into consulting, specifically in the government sector. Long-term goal international politics

    Wondering if I’m accurate in the schools im targeting and my odds of acceptance

    Thanks!

  • Grizzy1

    I was hoping if someone can evaluate me?

    3.69 GPA from SUNY Buffalo god BS in Accounting
    3.50 GPA for MS in Accounting from SUNY OldWestbury
    4 years at a Big 4 firm after graduation
    720 GMAT score
    27 year old Indian
    Not sure if this would help but maybe incorporate into essay how growing up I had to have multiple surgeries starting at the age of 12 due to being born with a Hip problem that continues to deteriorate my ball and socket joints.

  • Arun V

    All solid stats my friend except the fact that you are an applicant from the most competitive group — Indian Males. The only saving grace is you are not an IT professional. All the best and good wishes to recover from your chronic problems. My suggestion is — apply with realistic expectations and apply to schools in the top 15. Don’t get stuck on H/S/W hype.

  • Renata

    Hi Sandy,

    Maybe you could see my profile:

    GMAT: 7,0 (tests, still studying)

    Undergrad: Top brazilian Business School, 100% scholarship, GPA around 3.

    Work Experience: I was an intern at the financial area of the most famous publisher in Brazil (1 year), then was accepted at a talent recruitment program at the leader Merchant Acquire in the country, which included the opportunity of working in several different areas through one year (sales, logistics, strategic planning, product development, accounting), having personal coaching and training. Also developed a huge group project during the year about Project Portifolio Management that was presented by me for the board and management. My final area at the Merchant Acquire was Finance and I worked there till I get an job offer to come back to the Publisher in an management position. I took the offer and am working here for about 1,5 years managing 4 people.

    During these 3 years after undergrads I took two courses in another top brazilian business school: Controllership and M&A.

    Extracurricular: I am a Chess player since I was 9, and played professionaly since 14 ( I gained money to play for a brazilian city team in the Regional Competitions). Won the Sao Paulo´s (state) and Brazilian Championships at 15. During high school I teached chess for collegues in an extracurricular class (after school). At College, I joined the Cultural Group where I managed the founds and organized several features for 3,5 years (culinary courses, writing concurse, cultural city tours, etc). Took several extracurricular courses at College, such as Sign Language, Poetry, Presentations, Art and Culture. Today I teach my co-workers from different areas how to increase their efficiency in Excel works (had two good experiences so far).

    Family History: My dad was in an accident when I was 13 (he stayed in coma for about 6 months and was never full recovered), and my family passed through a bad finance situation that made my parents move out from Sao Paulo when I was 16 and my brother and I lived by ourselves since then. I helped to maintain us with my sallary from my chess player employment.

    24 year old brazilian female, married (and my husband is applying for MBA as well)

  • SAT

    Hi Sandy,

    can you please evaluate my odds

    GMAT -720
    GPA- 3.8/4
    UNDERGRADUATE – MD FROM INDIA AND THE INTERNAL MEDICINE RESIDENCY FROM JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY AFFILIATED HOSPITAL
    WORKING AS PHYSICIAN IN ONE OF REPUTED HOSPITAL IN TEXAS FROM 5 YEARS
    REASON FOR MBA: WANT TO MOVE IN HEALTHCARE CONSULTING
    TARGET SCHOOLS: HARVARD, STANFORD, WHARTON, KELLOGG, BOOTH,MIT

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