Handicapping Those Tough MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on

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
 GPA
  • 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.

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  • chubzer

    Hey Sandy,

    I read this series quite regularly and enjoy doing so! One fundamental question – why is MIT being clubbed with the likes of H/S and ahead of Booth and Kellogg in this post? Or am I missing something?

  • Mr Career Shift

    Hi Sandy! Great job with this series. I check the website everyday looking for the new part.

    I would greatly appreciate your analysis of my profile:

    -I am a 26 yo white man from Italy.

    -BSc in Business administration and management at Bocconi University (Top Italian business school) GPA 3.85

    -MSc in Finance at Bocconi University GPA 3.6 (this course is considered the most difficult at Bocconi).

    -Experience abroad: 5 months at San Diego State University during my BSc and 6 months at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid during my MSc

    -GMAT 760 but very low AWA and IR scores. TOEFL 107

    -Work experience: 1.5 years as equity research analyst at Deutsche Bank in Milan and 8 months at KPMG financial services audit, in Milan. For over a year I studied for the MSc in Finance, worked at Deutsche Bank full time and worked in a restaurant as a waiter in the weeknds all at the same time.

    -I quit my job at KPMG in May 2012 because I want to study toward the CFA and an MBA. (and , frankly, I was sick of it)

    - I speak Italian english and spanish

    -GOAL: short term join a major consulting firm and specialize in clean technologies. Medium term: start my own advisory firm and focus on renewable energies and clean technologies.

    -Target schools: HBS/MIT/Columbia/Stanford/Berkeley

    Thank you very much!!

  • Mr Career Shift

    Hi Sandy! Great job with this series. I check the website everyday looking for the new part.

    I would greatly appreciate your analysis of my profile:

    -I am a 26 yo white man from Italy.

    -BSc in Business administration and management at Bocconi University (Top Italian business school) GPA 3.85

    -MSc in Finance at Bocconi University GPA 3.6 (this course is considered the most difficult at Bocconi).

    -Experience abroad: 5 months at San Diego State University during my BSc and 6 months at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid during my MSc

    -GMAT 760 but very low AWA and IR scores. TOEFL 107

    -Work experience: 1.5 years as equity research analyst at Deutsche Bank in Milan and 8 months at KPMG financial services audit, still in Milan. For over a year I studied for the MSc, worked at Deutsche Bank full time and worked in a restaurant as a waiter at the same time.

    -I quit my job at KPMG in May 2012 because I want to study toward the CFA and an MBA. (and , frankly, I was sick of it) unemployed since then but studying.

    -GOAL: short term join a major consulting firm and specialize in clean technologies. Medium term start my own advisory firm focused on renewable energies and clean technologies.

    -Extracurricular: professional skipper. taken part so several sailing competition. While at University “buddy” for incoming exchange students and mentor for high school students

    -Target schools: Columbia/HBS/Stanford/MIT/Berkeley

  • hbsguru

    what exactly do you mean? H/S are in a tier by themselves in terms of difficulty of getting in, and most importantly, where most people would go if they had to choose between HBS and school X. If applicants were admitted to MIT and Booth, and had to choose, I could see about an even split, but I’d be interested in reader reactions.
    1. MIT vs Booth–which do you attend and why?
    2. MIT vs. Kellogg–which do you attend and why?

  • computer science major

    depends on the undergrad. With business/economics I select Booth. With engineering/science I select MIT.

  • hbs-er

    Sandy,

    IDEO hires HBS summer interns –at least ones with engineering backgrounds. There’s an HBS case on IDEO too in 1st yr. Not many, interns mind you. Maybe 1 or 2.

  • hbsguru

    :-) altho that still leaves open the underlying issue of whether Ms Designer needs an MBA to get hired there, vs applying just now or getting EMBA, but helpful info, thanks

  • hbsguru

    this is just FYI–story in chief is another example of ways that companies are

    1.using “big data” analysis a good buzz word, in unexpected places,

    and 2. the great detail at the end of this post, some things never change.

    Political Brawler, Now Going to Battle for Microsoft
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/technology/microsoft-battles-google-by-hiring-political-brawler-mark-penn.html?hp

    Mark Penn made a name for himself in Washington by bulldozing
    enemies of the Clintons. Now he’s trying to do the same to Google, on behalf of
    its rival Microsoft.

    “Drawing on his background in polling, data crunching
    and campaigning, Mr. Penn created a holiday commercial
    that has been running during Monday Night Football and other shows, in which
    Microsoft criticizes Google for polluting the quality of its shopping search
    results with advertisements. “Don’t get scroogled,” it warns. His other projects
    include a blind taste test, Coke-versus-Pepsi style, of search results from
    Google and Microsoft’s Bing.”
    . . . .
    “Mr. Penn has had a long consulting relationship with
    Microsoft going back to the late 1990s. He is said to be close with both Steven
    A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, and Bill Gates; all three attended
    Harvard together in the mid-1970s.”

  • MBA addict

    3. MIT vs Columbia?

  • JustCurious

    Sandy, you seem to have a very poor opinion of Fuqua (you keep equating it with Darden and place Ross above it in the pecking order). Is there a reason for your bias? Fuqua is arguably ascending to the Booth, Kellogg tier in most rankings, but you perpetually relegate it to Darden’s tier.

  • Baosa

    most likely because he is usually dealing with the students who are in need for a consultant to help them. The Fuqua’s applicants don’t need help due to their high quality, and hence he doesn’t like them nor their school, no business for him out there, and then the normal reaction ignorance and underrating ;), we understand that, Fuqua is a top tier school and the most global among all the US schools! those are the blue devils they help others not ask for help!

  • Really?

    Two out of five rankings put Fuqua in the top 10. Both is top 10 in all five rankings, Kellogg is top 10 four out of the five. Darden is top 10 in three of the five rankings.

    Fuqua is clearly a peer school to Darden, not to Kellogg and Booth. I think a lot of people think the “Duke” name should carry more weight, but it just doesn’t.

    See the latest P&Q Rankings for yourself

    http://poetsandquants.com/2012/12/07/the-top-100-u-s-mba-programs-of-2012/3/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25503923 Bruce Vann

    JustCurious, if your view of Fuqua is that inflated then you’re stupid. There is no way that you can look at the numbers and come to that conclusion. But who knows? You’re probably just a troll.

    Baosa, please get off of Fuqua’s jock. It’s a great school. There’s no denying that but it’s not that special. And it’s certainly not the most global among US schools. That title goes to Wharton and I don’t even like Wharton like that but the numbers prove it.

  • Really?

    *Booth

  • Baosa

    Fuqua is the most global US school, they have a remote campus in china! they offer many courses abroad, and of course, they are the most recognized brand in a global scale. thats the truth, f you can’t see it is your problem, not ours! I just wonder why it never ranked as #1 !!! that really strange!!! and very disappointing! Why on earth could someone put Chicago ahead of Duke!! I can understand Harvard being ranked ahead of Duke, but Chicago!! come on!

  • coolhandluke

    Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for running this series. I’m not a traditional B-school student (currently a M.S. grad student) but I’m interested in using a MBA for furthering a career in the biotech field. If you get a chance, I’d appreciate feedback on my profile:

    Current job: on a research fellowship at U of I Urbana-Champaign, part of an applied plant physiology lab.

    Undergrad education: 3.76 GPA, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UNC-Chapel Hill. Majored in International Economics and Development.

    Test scores: GRE score: 168 (V98%) 160(Q81%). I saw that more and more programs are considering GRE scores, but do GMAT test-takers still hold an advantage?

    Work experience: -1 year at the Antitrust Division of the DOJ, and this legal/clerical work might rub some admissions offices the wrong way.
    -My more recent work is much more in line with what I want to do: by completion of M.S. program, 2 years of lab and fieldwork on DOE-funded study.
    -I’m also currently interviewing for a commercialization analyst internship at U of I’s business development office, where they help university researchers decide whether a patent is worthwhile and how to market/commercialize their research findings.

    Goal: work in closing the gap between scientific advances and actual product availability in the agricultural sector, either through NGOs like the World Bank or through the public outreach divisions of agribusiness companies (i.e., PepsiCo has a program with Ethiopian farmers that has doubled their yield of chickpeas).

    Demographic: 26-year-old white male

    Extras: worked with the Best Buddies Organization throughout undergrad, worked as a fieldhand at a NC farm during the summers

    Target schools: Cornell, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Penn State.

    Since I’m considering a joint MBA/PhD in Plant Physiology, I’m only interested in programs that align with good PhD programs and have ties to the agribusiness sector. I’m not really gunning for the top programs (aside from Cornell) but mostly land-grant ones that have decent reputations.

    Thanks for your help!

  • http://twitter.com/SassafrasMBA Sassafras

    John, I would LOVE to see a “where are they now” edition. I bet Sandy’s track record is 90% and it would be fun to revisit some of the applicants from last year and hear how things turned out for them!

  • hbsguru

    In addition to comments below, my judgment of schools is based almost entirely on this question: If accepted to schools X and Y, where, in fact, would most applicants attend.
    I could be wrong, but my guess is, with Fuqua and Booth –most would choose Booth and with Fuqua and Darden, you’d get a pretty even split? Fuqua and Kellogg –dunno, but my guess is, K edges it out. All the huzza about a schools courses, programs, special identity etc. –there may be something to that, but it often does not seep into the mainstream of decision making among applicants. It is easy to talk a school up by itself, but the real test is which do you go to, X or Y if you have to chose.

  • kingfalcon

    As originally promised, I’ll be pinging Sandy with my results. He originally chanced me LAST fall, so it will certainly be interesting to see how things turn out :).

  • RealAssetsFTW

    IMO (Real Estate/Finance/Actuarial Science guy)

    Booth may have a slight edge on MIT, but MIT definitely beats Northwestern.

    Disclaimer: I am very biased towards Northwestern, as I don’t believe it carries the same prestige. I’m sure it deserves it’s ranking, but what can I say… perception is reality.

  • DJ

    Hi,

    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
    3.3
 GPA
    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.

    Thanks

  • 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).

  • Mr. Naval Engineer

    Sandy,

    Thanks for handicapping me last year:

    http://poetsandquants.com/2011/12/09/what-are-your-odds-of-getting-in-2/3/

    Here are the results:

    Tuck: Waitlisted

    Kellogg: Ding!

    Darden: Waitlisted

    Cornell: Accepted!

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25503923 Bruce Vann

    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.

  • 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.

    http://manutdnetwork.com/forum/topics/saf-at-harvard-business-school
    ——————-
    Same story in The (LONDON) Mirror with the charming head:
    Fergie reveals dressing-room secrets to Harvard boffins
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/sir-alex-ferguson-talks-about-player-1496217

  • stubuck

    Why won’t posts post?

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.digiuseppe.5 Stephen DiGiuseppe

    Why won’t my posts post?

  • 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

  • Christine3516

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