Handicapping Those Tough MBA Odds

For the past six years, he’s been working for a private equity shop in the Midwest. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.3 grade point average from a state school, this 28-year-old wants to get his MBA to transition to an operating role in a company.

The dream of this 28-year-old woman is to work in design consulting at a hip company such as IDEO or Frog. With a 640 GMAT and a 3.54 GPA, she currently works in architecture and believes going back to graduate school for a business degree would help to realize her dream.

Ever since graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in political science, this 24-year-old professional has been working at a Washington, D.C., think tank as a program coordinator. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.71 GPA, he hopes that an MBA would ease a transition into strategic consulting.

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.

In this, the 45th episode of our highly popular handicapping stories, Kreisberg is at his tell-it-like-it-is finest. He tells one applicant that his post-MBA goal makes it seem as if he is” bucking for a demotion.” He forewarns another that “business schools are suckers for brand names and distrust candidates who work at off-the-grid places,” not a good sign for her.

As he has in the past, 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 (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:

Mr. Private Equity


  • 690 GMAT (2nd attempt)
  • 3.3
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from a state school in the Midwest
  • Master’s degree in economics from same school under a 4+1 program
  • Work experience includes six years for a middle-market private equity firm in the Midwest, moving from entry-level analyst position to associate
  • “Currently I take part in crafting industry and investment strategies for our new investments, but do not play as large of a role post-acquisition”
  • Extracurricular involvement in a number of student organizations, including the undergraduate student government; elected student body president in senior year; now serve on board of one the city’s performing arts organizations
  • Goal: To assume “a more senior role within my firm or a similar group and take a more active part in crafting operational strategies for portfolio companies. Long-term, I see myself leaving private equity to work in an operating role within a portfolio company or other middle-market company”
  • Reason for MBA: “Many of the senior members of my firm have received their MBA’s (although not all) from schools such as Booth, Kellogg, and Ross. I see an MBA as a way to broaden my perspective on operational and strategic matters for businesses outside of just understanding the financials”
  • 28-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Chicago: 30% to 50%
Northwestern: 30% to 50%
Michigan: 50%+
New York: 30%
Columbia: 30%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, the good news: You are a serious guy with an MA in Economics, a six-year solid employment record with a Midwest, Mid-Market PE shop, and seem to be both a student body president type (you were one, in fact)  and upstanding citizen, “involved with our city’s young professional board   . . . performing arts.”

The not-so-good news: a 3.3 GPA, 690 GMAT, 28 years old (currently) with what could be seven years of work experience at matriculation. Some of that  (690 GMAT, age, work experience) is marginal versus not good, but it adds up. You are on the border of being a full-time MBA applicant and someone who should be looking at EMBA programs (which could save you a half-million dollars or so, if you count lost income).

Your goals, “to take a more senior role within my firm  . . . crafting operational strategies for portfolio companies [and] long-term  . . . leaving private equity to work in an operating role within a portfolio company  . . .” are reasonable.  But, jeepers, given that, you could make a real strong case for an EMBA, since neither of those goals (returning to your company or taking an operational role in a company) will require the, ahem, prestige or oomph! of an MBA.

If you still want that bauble, and want to spend $500,000+ dollars getting it, well, you will need to convince the schools you apply to of that, since they will be thinking along the same lines as me, viz. “Why does this dude with 6-7 years at a solid PE shop want to go back to  . . . er, college?”

Your stated reasons are: “I see an MBA as a way to broaden my perspective on operational and strategic matters for businesses outside of just understanding the financials.”

Hmmm, that has not happened in 6 years?

“Currently I take part in crafting industry and investment strategies for our new investments, but do not play as large of a role post-acquisition.”

Have you asked? It seems like you are bucking for a demotion. I don’t mean to be cute, but playing a role post-acquisition does not seem harder or something they only let senior people do. Sorry if I am missing something.

All that said, you are a solid and employable guy (a big issue for schools), and as you note, guys in your current PE shop have MBAs from Booth, Kellogg and Ross, so you may get in on the basis of those factors alone (which are both substantial). I’m just alerting you that you may need to sound more exciting to MBA programs about your motives. Try saying you want to add lots of value/innovate/re-make in such core, or happening Mid-west industries as 1 2 3 (whatever they are, it helps to build off industries you have worked with).

Or think hard about getting an EMBA and asking for more portfolio management experience while you are getting it.

Columbia may see this as an odd fit for them, ditto Stern, and I am not sure why you would want to come to New York in the first place. That will just make this even MORE expensive. Depending on rep of your current firm, and how much pull your alum partners have there with Booth, Kellogg or Ross, you might be able to make a solid case.  Strong work history, school and civic leadership, and real solid post MBA employment prospects may melt some ice.

  • Ms. Finance to HR

    Hi Sandy,

    Here’s my profile
    1. 3.64 GPA from UC Berkeley (Business Major)
    2. 26 year old Hispanic female
    3. 650 GMAT (46 Q, 34 V)
    4. 4 years of work experience as a finance analyst at Goldman Sachs and now Google.
    5. For extracurriculars, I’ve been involved in diversity inclusion initiatives at Google (have launched strategic programs) and have been a leader in Hispanic affinity groups at work and on the Alumni Board for my undergraduate Latino Business Club
    6. Looking to transition from finance to HR (general management) with the goal eventually being a VP leading diversity & inclusion initiatives at a tech company

    Here’s the schools I’m applying to:

    Would be great if you could assess my chances? As of now, my gmat is low and I’m applying round 2 so thinking I’m going to re-take after apps are in or late Dec.

  • Christine3516
  • Mr. Missionary

    Test Scores: 680 GMAT (2nd attempt), high verbal but lower quant, score went down the third time but quant was higher (75%).

    Undergraduate degree: 3.5 GPA, psychology major from a state school, took quantitative classes. Worked 20 hours at a bank part time during school.

    Work experience: One year at a large financial advisory firm, five years at a small online brokerage firm in the Northeast, moved from Research Analyst to Product Manager. I work with large institutional clients (think large asset managers) to offer products and services to streamline the way they do business in the way they manage investment portfolios.

    Extracurricular involvement: Created my own non-profit organization, was previously involved in other non-profit organizations (primarily in a volunteer capacity)

    Other: Grew up in South America, parents were missionaries, speak fluent Spanish, CFA Level II Candidate

    Goals: Short-term: Work for boutique asset management firm. Long-term: Create my own firm based on knowledge gained from small firm.

    Reason for MBA: Career transition from current role to buy side of the asset management industry.

    Targeted Schools: Dartmouth, Darden, Duke, Cornell, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill

    Demographics: 27-year-old white male

  • Why won’t my posts post?

  • stubuck

    Why won’t posts post?

  • hbsguru

    lively story about HBS case study on Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson’s visit to two HBS classes. If you are a soccer fan, will make you wish you were there. Hat tip from me to the Bayern Munich kid who gave Ferg some affectionate push-back.

    Same story in The (LONDON) Mirror with the charming head:
    Fergie reveals dressing-room secrets to Harvard boffins

  • A campus abroad doesn’t make a school the most global. What kind of thinking goes on in your head, Baosa. Come on, son! If a school has a larger share of it’s student body from abroad than comparable business schools and those students at that school are also more likely to go work abroad than at comparable schools then that school is quantifiably more international.

    I go to a peer school of Duke’s but I never applied there. I always had the fleeting suspicion that many (not all) there think way too highly of themselves and the school. The hubris of your words only supports that hypothesis. HBS, Chicago, and Wharton are just better schools. I personally think NYU, Cornell and Darden are better too especially if people think the way that you do at Fuqua (I really hope that you’re a rarity and not the norm).

    Please get your weight up.

  • Mr. Naval Engineer


    Thanks for handicapping me last year:


    Here are the results:

    Tuck: Waitlisted

    Kellogg: Ding!

    Darden: Waitlisted

    Cornell: Accepted!

    Hey, I can’t go to more than one school, right?

  • Coming home

    680 GMAT
    3.0 Undergrad – State – worked fulltime in major policy positions during fulltime schedule
    Top 15 Law school
    29 at matriculation
    Worked in the White House and State House prior to law school
    Never practiced law. Thought I wanted to start a company. Came out and worked for a tech-start-up, took company from black to ready for acquisition. focused on capital formation and did the wear-all-hats start-up phase. still on board of company today.
    Turns out I loved the capital formation part, and was pretty damn good. started a merchant banking firm for lower middle market (not start-up companies). was involved in $100MM in transactions last year and started doing cross-border work with Brazil (acquiring US technology).
    truly need an MBA to build on what we’ve created. plan to return to firm to build on what we created – use mba to purchase, operate and sell smaller PE companies, which are neglected and beneficial and better understand opportunities in Brazil.
    ran for public office, won very expensive, high-profile primary in major metro area, lost in the end – district is 200k people. nationally recognized for policy work in state.
    Looking for CBS or Wharton. True international strength and PE biggest factors. Immediate family alums from Dartmouth, Columbia (financial mathematics) and Wharton (MBA).

  • DJ


    Here’s my profile. Please evaluate for the top-5 schools.

    25 year old Indian IT Male – Yes I know what that means!

    720 GMAT
    115 TOEFL iBT
    Undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from a top-50 university.

    Brand: Knowledge-sharer with a knack for providing free education, who loves to write.

    Work experience: 3.2 years in IT- Received 1 promotion and 1 progression during this period. Received promotion 6 months before peers.

    Worked in Pre-Sales, Marketing and Recruiting within the company (not part of my IT profile).

    Handled client visit from a potential major US client. The word potential is important here, because we hadn’t started doing business with this client yet and it was right before the holiday season, the responsibility fell on me and my colleague to ensure that the client is impressed by our capabilities and accolades.

    Trained new team-mates in various tech and soft skills. Contributed various technical and a few process body of knowledge documents within the firm.

    Extracurricular: involvement in student organizations- Was Class Representative(elected) in engineering school. Wrote articles for the school and college magazines.. At work, was chosen to be Think-Tank member for the intra-organization magazine. About a year
    later was selected to be Facilitator of the same magazine(25th edition- global edition).

    Writer: Have written 2 strategy guides on the GMAT available on the Kindle.

    Social: Sponsored a child’s education for a year and am personally involved in ensuring that the aid reaches him.
    Started a free test preparation resource on YouTube and as a blog to help those who find the test prep companies a tad-bit out of reach. Also, had started a study and placements prep group in college- aided students weak in soft skills to reach their full potential and helped them gain placements in various IT firms in a few of which they had cleared the technical written tests and failed at the group discussion or interview levels.

    Goal: Short-Term Goal- To become a business consultant at a major IT consulting firm(Accenture/Delloitte/ etc.). Long-term goal- To start my own consulting firm also specializing in IT services.

    Reason for MBA: A wish to be on the business end of things- during one of my non-IT excursions within the company while on bench, I worked with a business consultant and I worked with him on various things and soon started receiving a ton of appreciation. He told me I am naturally inclined towards business consulting and strategic roles, etc and should go in for it. Also, my father was a senior civil servant in India and my grandfather was the army chief to a King, my great grandfather was afghan war veteran- they all received quality
    educations And a ton of people from my family studied on scholarships in prestigious British and other European institutions, which means I was always expected to come through and
    go to school at ivy league institutes too. Lastly, I want to start my business consulting firm and that requires skills which only an MBA can provide.