In “Harvard’s ‘570 GMAT’ Student,” Poets&Quants asked several leading MBA admissions consultants to speculate how someone “could overcome that low a score to get an invite from Harvard, of all places.” All of the consultants quoted are experienced and talented. It is clear that many of them described characteristics of actual, former clients with modest GMAT scores who gained entry into very selective MBA programs. In that context, none of the consultants provided inaccurate assessments, though some were closer to the mark than others.
At Veritas Prep, we have an advantage. The 570 GMAT Student at Harvard Business School is one of our clients.
Since we know the factual answer to what was hypothetical conjecture by the other consultants, it may be instructive to see whose answers mostly closely described the actual student:
Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com speculated that the 570 GMAT Student might be a “development case” (a euphemism for the relative of a rich donor or someone connected to the administration or faculty). We can confirm that he is not closely connected or related to anyone at HBS, though one of his letters of recommendation was written by a successful HBS graduate. While it is possible the 570 GMAT Student could one day be a large donor, it is reasonable to say that about any incoming HBS student.
AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN APPLICANT WITH A B-PLUS AVERAGE AND A HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED WORK RECORD
Jeremy Shinewald of MBAMission suggested the 570 GMAT Student could be the “elected member of parliament in an under-represented country” or the “prodigy who sold an internet company in college.” While I suspect hypothetical candidates like that could overcome a low GMAT score, he is not describing the 570 GMAT Student at HBS.
Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, hypothesized that the student “came from a background that does not send many students to HBS. Maybe an African tribal prince… or, a first generation immigrant from a poor neighborhood ….” The 570 GMAT Student graduated from a large, public university in the mid-Atlantic United States that typically sends a few students to elite MBA programs every year. He is African-American and his family has been in the United States for generations. He grew up solidly middle class and attended an urban magnet public high school where he excelled in the classroom, in sports, and in his extracurricular activities.
CLOSEST TO THE MARK WAS EVAN FORSTER OF FORSTER-THOMAS
Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit, assumed it was likely the candidate had a very successful academic record because, “it would be very difficult for [him] to overcome two strikes in the academic portion of [his] file….” The 570 GMAT Student earned a solid B+ GPA with no marks below C, all while devoting several hours per week to elite level athletics. He had no quantitative coursework, but at the suggestion of Veritas Prep, he enrolled in several business-related quant courses at a local MBA program (non-degree path), earning an A in each.
Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange, along with his colleague Pauline Jennett, created a fictional character to illustrate how the very real 570 GMAT Student might have gained entry. While they are off-base about his academic record balancing out his low score, they are correct that he retook the GMAT. The 570 GMAT Student actually started with an even lower score. He likely would have been able to improve to the 700 range, but he didn’t want to wait another year. Incidentally, the 570 GMAT Student shattered another persistent myth by gaining entry as a Round 3 applicant.
Evan Forster of Forster-Thomas is closest to the mark with his theory that the candidate demonstrated “transformational leadership” – accomplishing something extraordinary with limited resources. Forster’s description is eerily accurate: “On the other hand, ’570’ probably did not go to a prestigious school. He may even have gone to community college for a couple of years and transferred into a state university. He graduated with a 3.2 GPA—no failing grades, but not necessarily distinguishing himself, either. He took no quantitative coursework to prepare the way for doing well on the advanced quant section of the GMAT. However, ‘570’ did something truly incredible—despite coming from an underprivileged background, where he was likely told ‘you can’t do that’ his whole life.”