Handicapping Your Personal MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

She’s managing the social responsibility program for a renewable energy developer. With an expected 700-plus GMAT and a 3.67 grade point average from UC-Berkeley, this 27-year-old woman hopes an MBA degree will allow her to work for a company with large investments in Africa to “bridge the divide between for profit and non-profit sectors.”

With undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics under his belt, he currently works for Accenture as a business analyst. This 29-year-old Hispanic American hopes an MBA degree will smooth his transition to work in portfolio planning for a small-to-mid-sized biotech company.

After a two-year stint with Ernst & Young, this 26-year-old professional works as an investment analyst for the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank. He wants an MBA to eventually run a developmental financial fund aimed at supporting investments in green energy.

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 back 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.) This feature typically appears weekly on Fridays.

Sandy’s candid analysis:


  • 700+ GMAT (expected)
  • 3.67 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in development studies from UC-Berkeley, with emphasis in economics and a geographical focus on sub-Saharan Africa
  • Work experience includes three years with a start-up renewable energy developer; initially based in London but now in West Africa, managing the corporate social responsibility program and local operations
  • “I was a part of the company from inception (started as an independent consultant evaluating the potential investment in West Africa before the company officially existed), was brought on full time as employee No. 2 when the initial contract was signed with the government. The company will have IPO’ed by the time of my application. It’s been a wild ride.”
  • Extracurricular involvement includes a strong background of volunteering with NGOs; currently spend weekends as a volunteer helping street kids; widely traveled throughout the world, avid sports fan and coffee snob
  • “Homeschooled through high school (self motivated and independent, not weird and nerdy)”
  • Goal: To work within companies with large investments in Africa to help them bridge the divide between for profit and non-profit sectors
  • “Interested in developing new best practices in CSR for companies working in developing countries (particularly in Africa), and in how the NGO world can complement the growth spurred by investment in infrastructure”
  • First in family to graduate from college
  • 27-year-old white female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20%
Stanford: 20%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Berkeley: 40%
Yale: 50%
Columbia: 50%
Chicago: 50%
Dartmouth: 50%
UCLA: 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, get that 700+ GMAT. The rest is impressive and potentially solid, but see notes. A 3.67 from Berkeley and your current job at a “start-up renewable energy developer with projects in Africa” where you were employee #2 in a company that has now grown to 75+ staff in three countries is pretty good.   Working in London,  and now West Africa is also a plus.  The part I don’t fully understand is when you say, about current duties, “managing the corporate social responsibility program and local operations.”

I’m just not sure how someone who is employee #2 in a renewable energy developer winds up managing the corporate social responsibility program, or even what the corporate social responsibility program at a firm that size is?  You say, “started as an independent consultant evaluating the potential investment in West Africa before the company officially existed” which strikes me as an odd job for recent college grad, even one with a degree in “Development Studies  with an  emphasis in econ and a  geographical focus on sub-Saharan Africa . . . .”

Anyway, my point is, you need, in your application, if not here, to make this job seem legit and conventional. What does managing local operations in a renewable energy developer in Africa mean? Isn’t that a job for some techie in steel-tipped boots?? It just does not compute.  So make that clear.

Assuming you can, well, you got a solid and exotic background with some trendy touch points — to wit, renewable energy, Africa, NGO’s, home schooling, first generation college.  You say your goal is to work “within companies with large scale investments in Africa to bridge the divide between the for profit and non-profit sectors.” Hmmm, that needs work. It just seems like a bunch of fashionable jargon thrown together, which quite frankly, I do not understand.

You add, “interested in developing new best practices in CSR for companies working in developing countries (particularly in Africa), and in how the NGO world can complement the growth spurred by investment in infrastructure (particularly energy) . . . “ OK, I sort of understand that, but is that a job?  Who does that now?

You might allude to what titles the heads of CSR have now in established Western companies, and say you want to do that, and cite examples, but to be deadly honest with you, at some point, all the odd parts of this story—what you do, how you got this gig, what company does (soon to be an IPO? with 75 employees?)  begin to collect into a real bump in the road.

You’ve got a swashbuckling story of sorts, in a fabled setting, and while many are attracted to do-gooder, alternative energy, home schooled, free spirits in Africa managing both local operations and CSR  (me for one! in my pre-hermit mode, now I look for people who can do CPR not CSR), B-school admission committee members can be skeptical sorts under all that wonderful and empty blather. You really need to pull this together more clearly.

Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Dartmouth, UCLA—could be all or nothing. If you work for a real company in a real role, if you get your goals into some normal format, if you get a 700+ GMAT, well, you are certainly in the running at all those places, with serviceable execution.  Given the iffi-ness of some of this, clear and solid recommendations will also be important.

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  • Canadian Consultant

    Hey Sandy,

    I was hoping to get some feedback on my work so far. I’m a fan of the work you guys do and have been following your advice for the past few years.

    Industry: Management consulting
    WorkEx: 3 yrs
    GMAT: 730
    GPA: 3.0
    Extracurriculars: heavy in ugrad (ran consulting group / started own non-profit focused organization), working on adding to the list before applying (looking at non profit consulting engagements / joining small non profit org board)

    – I’m a 26 yr old visible minority male (first gen immigrant, first to attend college in family), attended top canadian business school (think Rotman / Queens / Shulich)
    – During Undergrad I worked full time and got some pretty solid extra-curriculars, running the consulting group and starting an organization myself.. this in addition to 12 months of internships taken during a gap year in the high tech (think microsoft / google) and financial services (Risk / IT) industries
    – Did a semester on exchange at the University of Hong Kong
    – I am now 3 years out of Undegrad, have joined Accenture MCDP at a large office in the US and got promoted to the global strategy group (most selective out of MCDP) after ranking top analyst in the region
    – During analyst years mainly focused in market entry / growth strategy / cost reduction in high tech industry (industry leading clients, for the most part), while running several internal groups in the firm and participating in business development roles way above my pay grade

    I’m looking at Insead, LBS, Kellogg and Tuck (in that order). My goal is to continue in management consulting, hopefully at one of the big 3 strategy shops.

    I look forward to your response, thanks in advance!

    Mr. Canadian Consultant

  • Mr_Polo

    Hi Sandy,

    Wondering my odds for some top programs:

    Undgrad GPA: 3.6
    GMAT Score: 760 (practice tests)/Please let me know what would be a good target for schools listed
    Gender: Male
    Race: White
    Age: 22

    Degree/School: B.S. in Management, Concentration in Finance, Minor in Economics/Binghamton University School of Management

    Extracurriculars: Founding Father of a fraternity, VP of both a social and professional fraternity, Mentor for university’s and high school’s business program, involved in alumni associations, Resident Assistant while in undergrad, Founded a strategy consulting group for local area while in undergrad, Extensive volunteering

    Employment: Management Consultant at KPMG, Financial Management practice. Prior experience as a summer-intern at a $5B+ AUM hedge fund in NYC (finance division).

    Goal: Either move into a more strategy based consulting role at M/B/B or move into IB/PE

    Other notes: Working on CFA, First generation MBA applicant, Parents did not graduate from college, Can get recommendations from Columbia, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford & Wharton alumni, along with the Dean and other top faculty from undergrad.

    Targets: Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Booth, Yale, Kellogg, Fuqua, HaasStanford, NYU, MIT, Ross, Darden

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