Your Chances Of Getting A Top MBA

by John A. Byrne on

He’s a CPA who works for a billion-dollar multinational in a high-profile financial reporting position. With a 720 GMAT and a 3.7 grade point average, this 27-year-old professional wants to get an MBA to shift to a financial management or consulting role.

He’s a first generation college student whose family lived on food stamps for most of his childhood. With a degree in history from UC-Berkeley, this 29-year-old Asian male is an underwriter for AIG who wants an MBA to fast track his career.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

He’s a forensic accountant who has worked on white collar crimes and controversies. With a 610 GMAT and a 3.7 GPA from a well-regarded state school, this 25-year-old male is hoping an MBA will allow him to transition to a job with McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group.

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.

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 the followin week.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is assessment:

forensicMr. Sherlock “CPA” Holmes

  • 610 GMAT (Q-44, V-31)
  • 3.7 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance with a minor in software engineering from a well-regarded state school
  • 3.6 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in accounting from the same school
  • Work experience as a CPA includes two years as a forensic accountant/corporate investigator at a big firm
  • “I’ve worked with different kinds of white collar crimes/controversies – payroll fraud, purchasing fraud, financial statement fraud, bribery/kickbacks, FCPA, etc. I’ve worked with companies ranging from a value of a few million to over $100 billion”
  • Extracurricular involvement for an organization relating to children’s health; mentor and tutor to disadvantaged youth
  • “Started a business (think landscaping/construction) with my older brother when I was 10 years old. I bought my brother out, grew the company, and sold it after I turned 21”
  • Goal: To either start another company or get into McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group
  • 25-year-old bi-racial male

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 20% to 25%
Stanford: 15%
Harvard: 15%
MIT: 10%
Michigan: 25% to 30%

Sandy’s Analysis: You say your goal is “to either start another company or get into MBB (McKinsey, Bain, BCG).” MBB is going to be real hard with a 620 GMAT (they often ask for that score) and your story. I might change my mind if MBB have  dedicated units for forensic accounting, or something close to it, and even then, my guess is, those consultants would be forensic accountants of long-standing who have switched.

You did not say how many times you took the GMAT, but if only once, or even twice, you need to try again, or try the GRE.  As Poets and Quants has noted, some schools will wink at guys they like (especially high GPA and low GRE) because the GRE often does not get put into the mix of rankings stats, although this area is in flux. Also, some people find the GRE easier.

I’m not sure how much I would stress the forensic accounting part of your story versus just the accounting part. Especially since you don’t want to do more accounting type stuff. The expertise you highlight, uncovering different types of fraud, is not a sweet spot for business schools, which don’t like the idea of business fraud, as opposed to business ethics (something quite different, about making ethical decisions in close cases).

As to your actual work experience: “Two years years  . . . as a forensic accountant/corporate investigator at a big firm. CPA . . . . I’ve worked with different kinds of white collar crimes/controversies – payroll fraud, purchasing fraud, financial statement fraud, bribery/kickbacks, FCPA, etc.” Phew, I am not sure what to make of that. Has anyone from your “big firm” applied to business school recently? That is one very useful statistic.  The issue is, and I am not sure of the answer, will schools consider forensic accounting as more or less selective a gig than Big 3 accounting? It could be less.

Consulting companies, the types you want to work for, also don’t primarily view themselves as fraud detectors (their expertise is actually firing HONEST but now no-longer-needed people). So to the extent you want to use your past to be part of your future, which is highly recommended, I would cast what you have done as “helping companies figure out how to manage better,” etc. etc. I mean,  to the extent you can, given what you actually do.

Schools will appreciate your effort to contort your actual activities into something business-school friendly. It will show them that your personal mindset is not  really as a “fraud fighter” but more as a permissible fraud creator. Much more their type.

I’m not just playing with words. Your ability to pivot (to use a fashionable word) your experiences into a management context versus fraud detection one is something they will respect as a mindset. They don’t want any G-Men types in class pontificating with  black-and-white clarity about fraud. They want aqueous critical discussions endlessly paddling  around  gray areas reaching no difficult or disturbing conclusions.

As to your target schools: Wharton, INSEAD, Stanford, Harvard, Sloan, and Ross.  I’m not seeing this as HBS, Stanford, or Sloan. They just don’t go for accountants or low GMATs. Either one, and you are both. Stanford often takes minorities, especially minority women, from Big Three accounting firms but my guess is that window requires a higher GMAT and a real strong racial story.  You said you are “bi-racial.” If that means that you can identify as black (if that is the race you talking about, or one of them) and check Afro-American on the list on the application, well, that can help.   Sloan is always looking hard for black males but they also want a higher GMAT and probably a more mainstream job. Ross is a maybe and your best bet in the USA.  I am not sure why you would look at INSEAD, but they like Americans a lot, and you get a lot of room to explain yourself in the application, they are still old school, with lotsa, lotsa essays.

If you really want an MBA, I would focus on U.S. News or Poets&Quants’ schools ranked 12 through 20. And I would flesh out my reasons for seeking the degree. Starting another business, after growing and selling your brother’s landscaping company, is a solid accomplishment, it is not a goal statement they will cotton to.  Becoming a consultant is a good thing to say, but try to sound informed and realistic. I just did not get the sense you were while reading your long note (which is abridged here).

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  • hbsguru

    More about what Bolton at Stanford would think of this story:
    “Studies of the effect of power on the power holder consistently find
    that power produces overconfidence and risk taking, insensitivity to
    others, stereotyping, and a tendency to see other people as a means to
    the power holder’s gratification,” Stanford Graduate School of Business
    professor Jeffrey Pfeffer writes in his book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.
    A cheap shot, I mean, just because this guy is a Stanford B School prof????

  • Chris

    Hi Sandy, I feel pretty good about my application, except my quant schoolwork is still a little weak. Unfortunately, I live in a very rural area in a developing country, so there aren’t any universities near me. Is it worth taking some quant classes online, even if b schools might be less likely to respect those grades, just to beef up my quant profile?

  • Chris

    Hi Sandy, I want to improve my quant profile, but I’m in the Peace Corps right now, so I don’t have access to any sort of university. I’m thinking of taking online statistics and accounting classes, but I don’t want to do that if they won’t actually boost my application. Do you think b-schools will take my online classes seriously if I take them from a reputable institution (I’m thinking Harvard Extension online because, hell, why not) and explain my circumstances? Thanks

  • hbsguru

    Well, what choice do you have? DO IT. I think they will recognize the effort and yes, explain why. I think if you ACE a couple of extension courses, that will help. Harv. Ex school a good choice.

    For one thing, acing that course will show them you actually have learned the material, which is one part of what schools look for, in addtion to the beauty contest part of beating out all the other kids in your class. G’luck,

  • hbsguru

    see answer above

  • hbsguru

    Close one, and I will reply here b.c. the facts are so stark,. A lot will turn on what HSW thinks of your current employer–what is their record of placing kids at HSW? Fact that you had “only” a bronze or silver job –not gold– right after college [audit at PWC] and low GMAT Q score (68%) could be damaging. Your super extras may not tilt so-so jobs and low Q gmat at H and S. Wharton is a maybe, and lot depends on firm’s rep, execution, etc. You are in a tight cohort of hi-performing Asset Management guys. This could be super tuff love: think about re-taking the GMAT.

  • Blue Chip Tech Gal

    Hi Sandy,

    Just wanted to drop in and see if there’s any interest from you or John to see just how successful your predictions are? It’d be interesting to do a piece on “This is where they said they were going – this is what we said were their chances – here’s the outcome.” I know these profiles were helpful to me and would not mind sharing my stats.


  • George

    Hello Sandy,

    Please do assess my stats, would really appreciate it.

    – GMAT: 780
    – British Undergraduate: First Class Degree – 74.2%

    – Warwick Business School

    – Degree: B.Sc (Hons) Accounting and Finance

    – Work Experience: Goldman Sachs M&A Analyst (2 years)

    – Extra-Curriculars: President of 1500 member University Careers Society, Vice-President of 300 Member Ethnic Society

    – Languages Spoken: English (Fluent), French (Fluent), German (Fluent), Arabic (Fluent), Hindi (Fluent), Malayalam (Fluent).

    – Goal: Achieve further career advancements, enhance managerial skills and develop a broader perspective which will aid me when I startup a hedge fund in my mid 30s.

    – Ethnicity: 23 year old Indian Male. (Did High school in Dubai, UAE)

  • hbsguru

    Stanford GSB show teaser–spot-on “parody” summary of real life + values at Stanford B school. Worth 2 mins.

  • hbsguru

    Yikes, reality based folllow-up! Can we start with you? How good were predictions in your case? What do you have in mind, the problem is locating the peeps, John is good at that kind of man (and woman) hunt. John????

  • hbsguru

    yes, schools will value online stats and accounting –if only b.c. it shows you are motivated, and Harvard Extension sounds like a good call, I’m no expert, just make sure you do well, it could be harder than you think.

  • MBA Over 30

    I’m in.

  • TR12281

    I’m in too (Mr. GE from back in R1).

  • rapplicanth

    Sandy you gave me an assessment via email (not on P&Q) and it was spot on! You said Stanford would be a stretch (I was dinged); MIT was doable with proper execution (I got in); and Berkeley would be easy (I got in). Thanks!

  • hbsguru

    thanks for sharing and glad this worked out. :-)

  • CPA-to-Ops

    It drives most of us nuts. What’s worse: just serving your community by helping those around you (like your un/underemployed friends who haven’t known an easy day in their lives) goes completely unrecognized in these spheres. Better to be a globe-trotting narcicist who stopped to play Angelina Jolie for a day while touring the sub-Sahara than a decent human being living a middle class existence in an impoverished area.

  • Blue Chip Tech Gal

    So here was my profile:

    I got dinged at Stanford and Haas, WL at Wharton, In for Kellogg and Chicago. Not a bad call overall – I’m not sure why the Haas one didn’t pan out.

  • HumphreyBogart

    Hi Sandy, I am the typical Indian Male Engineer from a Top 10 engineering college.
    My college GPA is very average and if I convert it using services such as WES, it comes out to be 3.3/4.
    GMAT – 760, AWA – 6
    I have two promtoions under my belt in the past two years at a business services firm (highly accelerated path) along with a couple of awards. Extensive travel to create a personal story.
    Worked in Asia, Europe (Intern), US (assignment).
    Lot of college and school extra-curr but none after college.
    Total work ex – 3 years.
    What do you think my target US schools should be? and what can i do to improve that list?

  • HumphreyBogart

    I am 25 btw.

  • tj

    Hi Sandy,

    My profile is as follows:

    -BA Hons with a 3.88 GPA from a small, relatively unknown Canadian school. Majors in Philosophy and Psychology with a minor in Admin.
    – graduate degrees in Philosophy from a continental European university which is well known and highly regarded within Europe, but not extremely well known outside of it
    -I have worked for the last 6 years or so in taxation consulting for a Canadian company which has no international presence
    -I have not completed the GMAT yet but am currently studying for it. Fairly confident I could score in the 90th percentile or better (and would be willing to write a few times to improve my score if required)
    -white male, currently 34, so would be 35 by the time I matriculated

    Essentially my reason for considering an MBA is that I feel I am in a dead end (albeit high paying) job, and would want to use it as a stepping stone to an entirely different career that provided greater intellectual stimulation.

    Coming from a liberal arts background I have a strong interest in Ethics and would ideally like to work in corporate ethics in an international setting.

    I’m very attracted to the idea of a one year MBA program (given both my age and the opportunity cost). Some of the programs I have looked at include Cass, Judge, IE, EDHEC, Melbourne, HEC Montreal.

    I would be very interested to hear your opinion both on a) whether you think the goal of doing an MBA is reasonable, given my profile, as well as b) if you think the schools I’m considering are appropriate choices, or whether there are others you would recommend (assuming your answer to a) is yes, of course :D).

    Thank you!

  • MarieinDC

    Were there no female candidates that merited a handicap?

  • JG

    Hi Sandy,

    I love this series and appreciate all of the information. I would love to hear your thoughts on the profile below.

    – 770 GMAT (50Q/46V)
    – 3.9 GPA Finance and Acct
    – Undergrad at Wharton
    – 2 year fellowship in leadership and service at the US Golf Association (Passed up offer for Goldman Sachs in NY)
    – 5 years at boutique investment banks (2 years at one; 3 years at another) without nationally recognizable brand names
    – Consistent track of promotions (promoted from analyst to associate to vice president in less than 5 years)
    – Goal is to focus on management skills and transition to an operations / CFO role at a consumer company (focus in IB is in consumer companies)
    – Limited volunteer work given IB hours, but consistent volunteering in local church
    – 29, white, male
    – Schools of interest: HBS, GSB, MIT


  • Mr. Retail

    Hi Sandy, would really appreciate an assessment of my profile here.

    – 720 GMAT

    – CGPA : 8.87 / 10 from a top 10 engineering university in India

    – 3 years in Big Data Retail Analytics in the India office of a major blue chip software company (think Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, IBM etc.)

    – Promoted once from Analyst to Senior Analyst

    – Job requires extensive statistical analysis, but client interaction is null

    – Internship in back office of a bulge bracket investment bank and a research internship in a top university in Europe, during college

    – Can get recommendations from PhDs in Cornell / MIT as well as a great recommendation from my manager

    – Previous employees (two) from my team got admitted to a top 15 B School (think Darden, Fuqua)

    – Community work involves volunteering for teaching underprivileged kids, and was the sponsorship and fund raising head for my college’s festival

    – A closeted 25 year old male, I wish to use the transformative experience of B school and staying in a society that is more open to LGBT to come out and also inspire other Indian LBGTs to stand up for themselves

    – Wish to leverage my quantitative skillset in retail analytics with strategic insights from my B School experience to work for a retail firm post MBA.

    Thank you.

  • Mr. Retail

    Apologies, my target B Schools are :

    HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Insead, LBS, MIT, Chicago, Columbia, Kellogg, Duke, Darden, Tuck, Yale, Ross, Cornell, Haas

  • CHN speaking EC grad

    Hi Sandy! I would really appreciate an assessment of my profile considering I have yet to see one very similar to mine!

    -700 GMAT

    -3.76 Economics BS (major GPA)

    -3.00 Chinese language BA (major GPA)

    -3.19 GPA overall

    -1 year experience working in a mid-size logistics firm

    – 4 six-month experiences working in a research position for non-profits, and non-governmental organizations

    Just graduated with my double degrees and hoping to find something in finance to get started. Work for a year or so and then apply for business school.

    I didn’t have many leadership positions because I was either studying Chinese, and working part-time or doing an internship.

    -Lived for two years abroad through a university exchange program studying Chinese

    -Graduated with Honors in Economics and produced a 50+ page thesis regarding Chinese economic history.

    -white 26yo female

    Target schools: Fuqua, Booth, Stern, Haas

    Thank you so much!



    -750 GMAT (100% QUANT)

  • AB

    Hi Sandy- Non-traditional MBA applicant would like your assessment of my profile, with regards to my chances of being admitted to a top ten school, preferably Booth or Wharton. Great assessments, very insightful and humorous as well
    -GMAT not yet completed, based on practice tests, I expect to score ~690-710
    – 2.8 Undergraduate Microbiology, minor in Biotechnology, Colorado State
    – Some research experience as an undergrad
    – 1 year managing invasive species program with Division of Wildlife
    – 3 years as owner / general manager of independent car dealership
    – Inventor / patent applicant, with U.S. patent pending
    – Currently sales manager within automotive industry, looking to transition into consulting or finance.
    – Some volunteer work, but limited. Have worked long and late hours since graduation.
    – White male, some Spanish and Jewish ancestry
    – Grandfather completed medical specialization of Anesthesiology at Harvard after completing medical school in the navy
    I feel my strengths are my experiences as a business owner and an entrepreneur, my weaknesses are my low GPA, and the fact that I did not major in a business specialty. I am told that schools are interested in science and engineering students at this time, but I don’t know if that will work in my favor or not. Also, I wonder if the fact that my grandfather attended Harvard will help my application. Thank you very much!

  • AB

    “Will help if I apply to Harvard that is, thanks”

  • Conan

    Better off at INSEAD. 100 % selection!

  • Marco A Campos

    Hi – I would also appreciate an assessment on my profile below.

    Age: 29
    Nationality: Mexican American (first citizen in the family)
    First to attend college and only to graduate from high school in the family
    Essay to be around my vast acquisition experience both corporate and Government
    2nd Essay to be on growing up with a single mom and dealing with tragedies
    Letter of Recommendations: An SVP from a $4 Billion company endorsed by the CEO and from a High level Government official at the General rank equivalent

    – Have not taken GMAT (Thinking about a prep course) took practice and it was 510 30Q 31V
    – 3.1 GPA from a State University

    – 12 years of military experience (6 Enlisted in the Army and 6 as an Air Force Officer)
    – I have commanded 3 units in the acquisition field each around 25 personnel (3 years)
    – I have awarded/executed/negotiated over 200 contracts worth over $3 Billion
    – I was recently stratified and awarded #1 of 652 Company Grade Officers, 2013 (CGOs) at Space & Missile Systems Center (include other officers in careers such as Pilots, Space professionals, Finance, lawyers, doctors etc… and schools from Ivy league to Air Force Academy)
    – My team was stratified as #1 of 15, 2012 and won GPS team excellence award (I was team leader)
    – #1 of 15 contracting officers, 2012
    – I was competitively selected for AF Education with Industry (1 of 3 from a pool of over 800) It is a highly competitive program to work 1 year at industry and return to the Air Force to apply corporate knowledge within the military.
    – I was competitively selected for Language Enable Airman Program (LEAP) 5% selection rate to learn Brazilian Portuguese and deploy to Brazil for a month every year to hone language skills and local business practices by attending symposiums and networking.
    – I have 4 years of international experience: Brazil, Japan, Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia
    – I have Merger & Acquisition exposure to the negotiation and integration of a $900M company as part of my current industry tour
    – I have exposure to investor relations at wall street
    – I Led a $420M source selection which is a process to build a requirement and award a contract in addition to being a team member to 6 other source selections
    — I know how to capture business as part of my current industry experience linked with Government source selection experience
    – I was promoted to SGT at age 19 in the US Army (ultra rare)
    – Received a personal letter of Commendation from the US Ambassador to Qatar
    – So much more etc…

    I am looking to see if I am competitive for Columbia MBA or Harvard MBA?
    – The goal is to leverage my breath of exposure in acquisitions and to fuse it with an Ivy league MBA to begin my passion in finance and salesmanship and work as an Investment banker specializing in Merger & Acquisitions

    So sorry for the extensive profile but I am fact finding if I am competitive and wanted to give the bulk of what I do.

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