Handicapping Your Elite B-School Chances

by John A. Byrne on

In the past four years, this 25-year-old female professional has zipped through three promotions at a national retailer where she runs a multi-million-dollar business. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.69 undergraduate grade point average, she hopes to get an MBA to broaden her skill set.

He landed a job in sales at a Silicon Valley start-up after graduating with a degree in political science from Stanford University two years ago. With a 720 GMAT and a 3.13 GPA, this 23-year-old male professional now hopes to get an MBA to assist with a desired career change into the government sector.

After working for a blue chip bank as a junior trader and then a salesperson, this 29-year-old woman fell on hard times. Unemployed in London for six months, she is hoping to get into a top business school to restart a stalled career.

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: 

Ms. Retail


  • 710 GMAT (Q42, V45) AWA 5.5
  • 3.69 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in English and French from a Midwest private “Ivy”
  • Work experience includes three and one-half years with a national retailer based in New York, currently as a mid-level executive who manages a high profile, high volume business; promoted three times with experience in all aspects of the retail/supply chain world
  • Extracurricular involvement is limited, but it does include a few key experiences such as mentoring three company employees and volunteering once a week at the local public school; held sorority leadership positions and belonged to honor societies in college
  • Goal: To broaden my skill set outside
of the retail supply chain.
  • “Unlike many other applicants, I have actually 
run a multi-million dollar business within my organization, as opposed to
just invested in one. I would ultimately like to transition to 
strategy/brand management and focus on long-term planning, as well as 
gain international business experience”
  • 25-year-old white female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%
Stanford: 20% to 30%
Northwestern: 50+%
New York: 60+%
Columbia: 50+%
Wharton: 40%
MIT: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Jeepers, it is all here except your goals. This is a tight and interlinked story, basically, liberal arts major comes to New York and is a hit in the rag business, the real business, not a designer or model: “currently a mid-level executive for . .  . national retailer, based in New York. I have been 
promoted three times in the last 3.5 years and have experience in all 
aspects of the retail/supply chain world. I currently manage a high-profile, high-volume business and have a proven track record of achieving plans and strategies.”

Why mess with that? It’s gold. Every business school needs someone like that, and your stats, a balanced 710 GMAT and a 3.69 at a near-Ivy are totally solid.  The only thing which I am unclear about is your goals. You say you want to “broaden my skill set outside of Retail/Supply Chain. Unlike many other applicants, I have actually run a multi-million dollar business within my organization, as opposed to just invested in one. [Touche!]  I would ultimately like to transition to strategy/brand management and focus on long-term planning, as well as gain international business experience.”

What does that mean? Why don’t you just say you want to be an impactful and innovative leader in the retail/apparel business like Ladies 1, 2 and 3 (find some role models) –“this is the first result for a search for “women leaders in retail” – and, as well, address such emerging apparel  issues as e-commerce, sweatshops, sustainable sourcing and practices. I’m making that up, but you get the idea. Just latch onto whatever the key hot-button issues you see in your space, and say you want to address them.  Consulting or international experience can be the stepping stones to reaching such goals but your long-term goals need to be as an impactful leader.

You got a great story, and with the right heavy breathing about your goals and female empowerment, and helping clean up the supply chain, the sky is the limit.  Like many people who have been stuck at a real job for three years, you need to think bigger.

You say: “Limited extracurriculars: I mentor three employees in my company. I volunteer once a week at the local public school.” That is enough, with the right spin. You could write an entire HBS essay about either of those experiences. For example, how you are a solid volunteer in New York City Public Schools, but could have done WAY more, like gotten your company interested, gotten more folks also to volunteer, been more innovative in programs you worked with.

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  • Mr. Nescac

    Hi Sandy,

    Love this piece, it’s been really helpful so far! I was hoping you could take a look at my stats/experiences and assess my profile. A little bit about me:

    28 year old Male
    710 GMAT (49Q, 37V, 6.0W)
    3.3 GPA from Little Ivy (think Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan) in Economics (lots of math and stats), 3.5 last 3 years
    Played two sports in college (baseball and golf)

    After college I did TFA for two years, my students did quite well. I currently sit on an alumi board for TFA, conduct interviews, was spotlighted in their alumni newsletter and have been on 3 panels for prospective students. I’ve also presented on Google Apps to local TFA corps members.

    After TFA I worked for about 6 months at an IT consulting firm implementing Epic software at hospitals. I’m still certified in their top packages.

    For the last 2.5 years I’ve been working at Google in AdWords. I am the reporting and data analysis lead for my team and have taken the initiative to interface with team members across the globe to help identify opportunities that have generated significant uplift in team productivity and revenue. The last two people I know from my org to apply went to UT-Austin and MIT (both also did TFA).

    Career Goals are to land a job in management consulting to learn bit more about how businesses work from the inside, and also apply my passion for data analysis to add value to organizations. Long term I’d like to transition to a Fortune 100 company where I can sit at the intersection of consumer psychology and data analysis and guide brand strategy.

    My top schools are Michigan, Northwestern, UChicago (legacy, not a big donor) and MIT.

    Any feedback you could offer on odds/ideas of how to position my experiences ect. would be much appreciated!


    Mr. NESCAC

  • Cameron Glass

    Hoping you could review my credentials for Northwestern, Columbia, Wharton, McCombs, Darden, NYU, MIT
    GMAT: 700

    GPA: 3.5 in Finance w/ minor in Economics at Texas A&M

    President and Coach for 2 years for Texas A&M Club Water Polo Team (received Texas A&M Club Sports Outstanding officer award)

    Treasurer of Men’s Service and Leadership Organization

    Financial Leadership and Development Program for Raytheon (2 years with 1 year being on the Corporate Strategy Team). Financial Analyst for Raytheon after finishing FLDP

    Member of Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce (Volunteer work and professional development activities)
    White male, age 25

    I want to switch out of a stagnant/declining defense industry into strategy consulting

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