Your Chances Of Getting An Elite MBA

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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, 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.

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  • 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?

  • 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

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