Your Chances Of Getting An Elite MBA

A 25-year-old Indian male, he has a strong personal story but a less-than-sexy work history. He’s currently employed in the Big Four trenches of transfer pricing, but climbed out of the slums to become the first in his family to graduate high school and college while caring for a depressed mother who was on complete bed rest. With a 750 GMAT, he wants to get an MBA to move out of accounting and into consulting or private equity.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he’s a submarine officer who teaches Sunday school and mentors younger sailors on financial management. With a 670 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA, this 30-year-old officer is married with two children and wants an MBA to transition into the energy or financial services industries.

Having scored a 740 GMAT and a 4.0 GPA from the University of Utah, he has spent more than three years in operations for Goldman Sachs. This 27-year-old wants an MBA to transition into strategy consulting, with the ultimate goal of becoming an executive at a global manufacturing firm such as John Deere or Boeing.

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. HIs witty and incisive commentaries on each applicant’s chances at their target schools has become of the most popular features at Poets&Quants and the subject of our first published book.

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. Our handicapping series usually runs weekly and appears every Friday morning on the site.

Mr. Transfer Pricing

  • 750 GMAT
  • Unknown GPA (“10th standard”)
  • Undergraduate degree in accounting from an Indian university
  • Work experience includes two years with a Big 4 accounting firm in its transfer pricing division, planning inter-company pricing policy; recently promoted as an assistant manager
  • “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, didn’t study much, though not a good excuse)
  • “No extracurricular involvement in college due to poor financial condition (used to live in slums) and the 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.
” Now volunteers for an organization that advocates financial self-sufficiency for poor and disadvantaged women
  • Goal: To get into management consulting or private equity and after four years start my own micro finance institution
  • 25-year-old Indian male, first generation high school and college graduate

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20%
Stanford: 10%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Chicago: 30% to 40%
INSEAD: 50% to 70%
London: 50% to 70%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, a compelling story, if told correctly, and if you get recommendations from your Big 4 partners to back you up. I seem to have missed your undergrad institution, but that could be important. I’d say the majority of Indian students with Indian degrees at HBS and Stanford are IIT or possibly a few other schools (private Catholic schools, St. Stephens? Sorry if that is wrong, someone correct me). I’m also a bit unclear about your GPA and how bad it is, that could also be an issue.  Most American adcoms don’t have a real feeling for competitive Indian exams, and saying things like, “Chartered Accountant (All India 16th rank out of 23,000 candidates–considered one of the toughest exams in he world) . . .” is probably more impressive in reality than it is to a normal adcom reader, who often imagines thousands and thousands of not very prepared students sitting for those exams, although sure, 16th out of 23,000 is impressive for most anything.

My point is, the one thing adcoms do understand is GPA, so that could be an issue. Another thing they do understand is GMAT, and your 750 is real good, obviously. At HBS, your fate will turn on what they think of your college, how bad your grades are, how much intelligent and detailed backing your rec writers can give you (real important since your last several years at Big 4 is your real calling card). You really need to make sure those rec writers take the process real seriously. It might be hard to fit a lot of your powerful personal story and extras into the HBS “skinny” application in the full way you would like, but get all of your many extras on your resume, go to two pages, and spell those extras out in full there, as well as in the 200 character slots they give you for extras in the app itself.

You say, as to goals, “to get into management consulting or private equity and after four years start my own micro finance institution . . .” Hmmmm, that is too all over the place and shows desperation, inexperience, and premature ejaculation. Not a pretty picture, which along with some of the more manic elements of your story, viz. “Chartered Financial Analyst cleared all 3 Level (Flunked Level 3 last time, didn’t study much . . .” makes us distrust you a bit. You need to clear all those off-message elements out of your narrative and present yourself as humble, hard-working and thankful, and someone who wants to be an impactful consultant, that wonderful job that adcoms love to hear about, especially from poor lads like you, who have worked their way up  from the slums, supported their families, and are on track to become humble, hard-working, prudent and successful.

Private Equity and starting your own micro finance institution are for rich kids who are already IN private equity, and not working in the stinking trenches of Big 4 “transfer pricing (it’s more of planning inter-company pricing policy, advisory and litigation)” which is similar to sorting out manure (both in fact and in the jaded eyes of most adcoms). An excellent place for a slum dog Big 4 like you to work and earn your ticket out, but don’t try to rise above your station in the application. Adcoms are quite conservative and don’t support fairy tale goals or romantic aspirations. Your consulting goals are good enough for them.

Stanford, which is even more class and caste conscious than HBS, may not get past the Indian Big 4 (and the low grades). They do admit Big 4 worthies, but they are usually USA minorities. Wharton, oddly, is the most meritocratic (well, not so odd, they don’t belong to a duopoly) and you have a real good chance there with “humble” and straightforward execution. Chicago, INSEAD and London should be doable with serviceable execution and no saliva stains on the app.

  • Diana Yu

    Hi Sandy,

    Appreciate some help.

    Age:30 at application
    Gender: Female
    Ethnicity: Chinese
    Nationality: Singaporean
    Education: BEng. Industrial and Systems Engineering from National University of Singapore
    GPA : 4.11 out of 5, or equivalent to around 3.28
    GMAT 730 (Q50 – 87%, V38 – 85%)

    Work Experience : non-traditional background:
    Worked for 6 years 6 months in total.
    Started as a Management Trainee at a Singapore hospital (1 year)
    After the programme, my role was focused on Healthcare Operations and Healthcare IT Project Management at the same hospital (1year)
    Entrepreneur-in-residence at a Digital Healthcare startup based in Singapore. Main role was digital marketing (9 months before it was acquired)
    Returned to the same hospital for a role in Healthcare innovation and change management. Current position is Assistant Manager for Innovation. Main role is to improve healthcare delivery with technology, secondary role is to foster collaboration with commercial entities(both global and local entities) and research academies.
    During the 6 years, I also started 2 companies – first is digital marketing consulting for healthcare practitioners, second is an e-commerce store on Amazon

    In all, can take it that i promoted 3 times while working for the hospital

    During university, was on 3-5 sports teams, one of which is a Varsity team. Was also team captain for one of the sport. Head of the Rag and Flag Committee, and at one point leading 20 committee members, and 300 seniors and freshman
    After I started work, I was an active volunteer/life coach for a Leadership programme, coaching individuals to achieve their personal life goals. During the leadership programme i lead a team of 12 to raise funds for a group of single elderly, in which we raised $60k in 3 weeks.

    Target schools – I am interested in schools with healthcare concentration:
    1.Haas Berkeley
    3.Duke Fuqua

    Post MBA goals:
    To secure a role in Silicon Valley(preferably), in business development, market planning, or strategy for a healthcare technology firm. Alternate is consulting

  • Sawant

    Hi Sandy,
    I am currently preparing to apply for an MBA this September to Wharton. Since, I am from a finance background, my aim is to get into Wharton. Below are my credentials. Please help me out. My only concern in the application process is that I have too much domestic experience.
    Nationality: Indian (currently residing in Mumbai, India)
    GPA: 80% in final public exams of BSc Business Studies from Mumbai University (1st in my college)
    Completed my MSc Finance from an internationally reputed UK university (think UCL, KCL) with a 2.1 (top 10%)
    Total of 4 years work experience, 3 years in Investment Banking and 1 year in Private Equity.
    Worked for 3 years in a major Indian Investment Bank. The investment bank that I worked for is the premier Indian IB firm who has conducted many Q&A sessions in Wharton as well as has a sizeable Wharton alumni as its staff.
    Worked for a year with one of the biggest private equity firms in India. The private equity firm is a Joint Venture between an Indian PE firm and one of the largest international PE firms in the world (think TPG, Apollo, Bain) and manages about USD 6 billion in assets
    GMAT: 670 (planning to give it again)
    Reason to study for an MBA: I have been working as an Analyst for the past 4 years and a promotion in my field is dependant on an MBA from a premier institute.
    Short term goals: Gain work experience at an Associate level in a real estate private equity firm (All my 4 years of work ex are focused on real estate)
    Long term goals: Start my own real estate focused fund which targets distressed assets. Currently the market for distressed assets is huge in India and not well explored.
    Extra-curriculars: Member of an NGO that promotes education among poorer sections of the society.
    Please let me know about my chances for getting into Wharton

  • Ashishptl1@gmail.com

    Hello Sandy,

    Indian American Male raised in a small town in Georgia. First to go to college my family. First military service from anyone in the known history of my family.

    GMAT: 740
    Will take again to increase my chances. Goal is to get a 760+

    Georgia State University
    B.S. Physics; Concentration: Astronomy
    Overall 3.23 GPA
    3.6 GPA last 4 semesters.

    6 months research in neurophysics on single neuronal dynamics.

    2 year experience in rubber and plastics manufacturing for a mid-size private company as a process quality engineer and internal auditor.

    4+ years in the US Navy as a submarine officer. One of the first Indian American Submarines officers, if not the first.

    Navy training included: 3 months of officer candidate school, 12 months training on nuclear propulsion at Nuke Power Schools and Prototype. It is known as one of the toughest and most prestigious programs in the military. Also, 3 months with submarine navigation, oceanography, etc.

    Extracurricular: Hands on Atlanta, fighting hunger organization, human trafficking awareness organization, golf, surfing, Muay Thai.

    Fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, and of course English.
    Conversational Urdu.

    What are my chances for a top 15 MBA school? I will be 30 years of age at the time of matriculation.

    Ultimate goal is to work as a strategy consultant for one of the big 3 firms and eventually enter into an executive level position at a fortune 100 company.

    Thank you!

  • PrincessMya

    Hi Sandy

    Age 26

    GMAT 710


    – BE (engineering college India) – 3.6

    -MS (Indiana University) – 3.45

    Work Experience

    – Big 4 consulting – 2+ years as a technology consultant with financial service. Experience in Big Data and tech strategy development
    Education is sponsored by firm, and I have a return offer as well

    -Ericsson – 1 year
    Good work experience

    Extra curricular

    – Worked for United Nations

    – Working for a non-profit that helps women who face domestic abuse

    Schools – Wharton, Kellog, Berkley, INSEAD

  • Neha

    Hi Sandy,

    Request you to evaluate:

    I am a born & brought up in India. I am a graduate of Economics(H) from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, India (GPA 3.5/4) and I will have close to 4 years of work experience when I apply.
    I started my career with Ernst & Young(EY), India in Statutory Audit.
    After one year of working with EY, I got the opportunity to work with the Investment Banking Division of Morgan Stanley(MS),India where I worked for 9 months.
    I had to quit MS to join my dad’s business due to crunch time for the business. I worked in the family business for one year, 6 months.
    After the business revived, I have joined International Finance Corporation (IFC). Its been one year that I have been working at IFC and intend to apply to B-schools this year.
    I am interested in pursuing a global MBA to have a career in finance and grow as a professional. I realize that I have switched a lot of jobs, though in all these organizations I have done substantial amount of finance related work. Do schools want applicants who have stuck around a firm for a long time? Also, is there any number of years of experience that the school prefers?