Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

After a stint as a senior audit associate with PwC, she joined Warner Brothers where she is a senior analyst doing financial planning. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.75 GPA, this 25-year-old professional wants an MBA to help her transition into a strategy job in the entertainment industry.

She works in communications for a blue chip consumer packaged goods company with a multi-billion-dollar portfolio of beauty and personal care products. With a 720 GMAT and a 3.5 grade point average, this 24-year-old Asian professional wants an MBA to gain more business knowhow and enhance her career.

After earning a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, this 25- year-old female professional began work in strategy consulting for a Big 4 firm in India. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.9 GPA from a top ten university in India, she hopes an MBA degree would allow her to land a job in consulting with McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

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.

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 tell-it-like-it-is assessment:

Ms. Entertainment


  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.75 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in business administration and economics from UC Berkeley
  • Work experience includes more than one year as a senior analyst doing financial planning for the corporate group at Warner Bros.; previously with PwC as a senior audit associate for two and one-half years
  • “High performer, promoted early, highly involved at PwC”
  • Extracurricular involvement mentoring under-privileged high school students on a weekly basis, non-profit involvement at Warner Bros.; had been highly involved at PwC in developing culture of my group
  • Goal: To transition from financial planning to strategy at a large to mid-sized entertainment company
  • 25-year-old woman

Odds of Success: 

MIT: 40% to 50%
London: 50+%
UCLA: 50+%
Northwestern: 50+%
New York: 50+%
Columbia: 40% to 50%
Duke: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: You did not list  HBS as a target school. Glad you wrote. HBS!
In case you did not get it the first time. HBS is not on your list of target schools and should be.

HBS and H/S/W in general have a real Jones for Hollywood, even for tools in the Warner’s corporate finance department like you.

Don’t ask me why, although I suspect the answer is some devil’s brew of glam, selectivity, and, hey, reading about financial planning for the next Harry Potter movie or how to compute tax residuals for Buffy The Vampire Slayer is more interesting than reading about similar finance and tax issues from someone who works for a leading maker of home insulation materials.

For our international readers who may not know the Warner Bros. brand, if there are any, try thishttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warner_Bros, a most excellent piece of Wiki writing, if I must say so myself.

You got a super solid GPA at a solid school (3.75, Berkeley), an OK GMAT (700)  and here is where it gets interesting. Your first job out of college was with PWC, which is one of the so-called Big 3 accounting firms.

However, while PWC may count the Oscar ballots some years (I am not sure),  a  more granular discussion of PWC for our purposes is that as a post-college job it is not usually the high road to H/W/S.***

***Accounting footnote here: PWC  is an acceptable place to start working right after college  for three classes of applicants: 1. Kids from Europe (where getting a Big 3 job is way more selective), 2. Go-getter, first- gen college kids from 2nd-tier schools, 3. Minorities (the Stanford “Big 3”  black woman admit is a trope that remains true, year in and year out, with some variants, e.g. sometimes a male).

None of which appears to be you. Soooooo, if you had stayed there, your list of target schools, excluding MIT, to wit, LBS, UCLA, Kellogg, NYU, Columbia, and Duke would have been spot on. But somehow, by hook or crook (and in your recs and essays I would present this as by merit) you managed to fly up to Warner Bros, and that, my dear, does make the B-schools, to invert the words of Rhett Butler,  “frankly, give a damn” — not a Warner product, alas, although “Jack Warner liked the story, but Warner Bros’ biggest star, Bettie Davis was uninterested.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gone_with_the_Wind_%28film%29

Actually, you do present your success at PWC as merit — “High performer, promoted early, highly-involved for 2.5 years” — so right on.

Yup, a 700 GMAT is one of those borderline scores, but to the extent that it is a tad below the average at both HBS (724) and MIT (710), MIT is likely to care more! How come? Because Harvard is bigger and sorta cooler, well, in the arts of noblesse oblige and caring about 700 GMATs, if not cutting-edge tech developments.

HRH Dee Leopold, the Scarlett O’Hara of HBS admissions (well they are both part-Irish and volatile in a controlled way) has opined that “any ‘ol GMAT score 700 or over is fine with her” (I am paraphrasing), a remark that should not be taken literally, but is true enough for your purposes. Basically, your admission odds at HBS would not change much if you got a 720. On the other hand, your odds at MIT might. I am assuming that your 700 is not camouflaging some super low Q score.

As to your extras, “weekly mentoring to under-privileged high school students, non-profit involvement at Warner Bros, highly involved at PwC in developing culture of group, etc.” Sure.  Great.  Well, good enough for a busy corporate professional like you, especially if there are leadership elements in those stories.

You claim your goals are to “transition from financial planning to strategy at a large to mid-sized entertainment company . . . .” Yes, that is the right direction but you may need to flesh out this idea with some star concepts from the Politically Correct Studio, to wit, your story could use such leading players as Joe Leadership, Mary Impact, Irina Innovation, and talk more about your goals of becoming a transformative force in media, new delivery platforms, and events at the “intersection” of media and X, Y and Z.  (Note, “the intersection” is always a good place to be while creating these essays.)  MIT might like the corner of Innovation and Media a lot. As well other schools.

In short, this is pretty solid if correctly packaged and developed. MIT will probably go for this, if for no other reasons, and there are many,  just to land a Warner’s media gal. The other schools you mention should be in-line. UCLA certainly, and why not Berkeley since we are in Cali? “Been there, done that!” you say about California.   Get over it. California the second time beats most places the first time.  LBS? Why? You will probably get in, but last time I looked, media companies were not recruiting there in droves. NYU and Columbia, sure, if you want to be in New York. NYU touts itself as a school with lots of media contacts, and they do have a hot film school, but I frankly don’t know what the synergy of that is with the business school? Anyone who goes there or an alum want to chime in? Duke? I’m not seeing Duke as a natural fit, but yes, OK for back-up, you will just need to convince them you want to come.

No, that’s not all folks, but that is enough. Try HBS!

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  • quantjock

    Hi Sandy,

    Please provide your inputs on my profile –

    – 760 GMAT
    – 3.72 GPA from a Top 10 Engg School in India (NIT)
    – 2.5 yrs for an analytics consulting startup in India, and moved to the US
    – 1.5 yrs at an e-commerce leader (eBay/Amazon) as a Data Scientist
    – Recently joined a startup as one of the first Data Scientists, and would be building up the team
    – Do skills based pro-bono consulting for not-for-profits
    – 26 yr old Indian
    – Move to strategy consulting post MBA, and long term get into Venture Capital

    Aim is to apply to a B-School after 2 years, when I have around 6 yrs of work experience

    Could you please let me know my chances of getting into the foll schools –

    Thanks !

  • MsSecurity


    I’ve read through so many of these and was hoping you could help me get a sense of what schools I could get into. Here are my stats:

    690 GMAT (will retake)
    3.31 undergrad in info systems from top 2 CS/engineering school
    3.33 MS info security from same university in an accelerated masters program
    Work experience: 3 years in infosec at a top investment bank, interned there all through college as well
    Extra curriculars: graduate TA, business development internship with education technology startup, VP of business service organization and VP Finance of a campus TEDx (TED talks) in college
    26 y.o., Asian female
    Goals: To move into technology or industrials/aero/defense banking at a bulge bracket



    Thanks so much!

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