Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

by John A. Byrne on

After earning a finance degree from a liberal arts school in the Midwest, this 25-year-old professional has been working in corporate finance at a Fortune 100 company. He hopes an MBA will help him land a job at a hedge fund.

She’s an Ivy League grad who also boasts a master’s degree in arts history from one of Britain’s most prestigious universities. For the past five years, she has been working in merchandising analysis and strategy for an upscale retailer. Now, this 27-year-old Japanese-American woman is seeking an MBA to help her eventually start her own luxury label.

This 24-year-old Asian-American engineer applied to several top business schools in the past year with no success. So he plans on trying for a top ranked MBA again so he can leave his employer, a small biotech company, and work as a product manager for a Blue Chip firm in Silicon Valley.

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 in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?

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 usual, 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, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature to be published shortly. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)

For the first time ever, a consultant who applied to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Wharton and Booth this application cycle asks Sandy to guess his results. “Let’s see how close you get,” he wrote. Kreisberg rises to the challenge with a witty riposte.

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

Business woman

Ms. Luxury Brand

 

  • 690 GMAT (will retake)
  • 1490 GRE
  • 3.4 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in political science from Harvard/Yale/Princeton
  • 3.9 GPA
  • Associates in fashion design degree from a New York fashion school
  • Master’s degree in art history from Oxford or Cambridge
  • Work experience includes internships in college at the derivatives desk of a top investment bank; after realizing she hated the field, she has been working merchandising analysis and strategy for the past five years at three upscale department stores and vertical retailers with roles of increasing responsibility
  • Extracurricular involvement in collage as part of an elite music group that toured the U.S. and Europe; post-college volunteer in the arts for four years; volunteer supervisor for an after-school program that deals with underserved youth
  • Goal: To work in luxury retail strategy and eventually start her own luxury label
  • Fluent in Japanese
  • 27-year-old Japanese-American female
  •  “Sidenote: My older brother went to Stanford GSB and still keeps in touch with the faculty and program directors – not sure if that counts for anything however”

Odds of Success:

Columbia: 40%+
Stanford: 20%
London: 50%
INSEAD: 50%+
HEC Paris: 50%+
IMD: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: There is a place for luxury goods/arty chicks at schools like HBS, Wharton and Stanford, and man, you are close, with a classy H/Y/P education, elite music group experience, and jobs “in merchandising analysis and strategy for the past five years at three upscale department stores and vertical retailers with roles of increasing responsibility.”  Are those stores part of a brand?  Most luxury goods admits at top schools have worked for brands not stores, e.g. Vuitton, Chanel, Rolex, Prada, see this list (Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Gucci, Chanel, Cartier, Rolex, Hennessy, Moët & Chandon, Fendi, Burberry) all of which are billion-dollar companies and have analysts and strategists. I am assuming your “upscale department stores” and vertical retailers are also large enough in terms of sales and budgets to attract selective job applicants.

Your goal, “to work in luxury retail strategy and eventually start my own luxury label” sounds fine to me, but given the arts tilt to your story (masters degree in Art History, associate degree in Fashion Design) your desire to start a “label” can be misinterpreted as someone who really wants to be a designer and not a business executive. That is fine by me. Send me your first catalog, but schools may begin to wonder if you really need an MBA versus doing whatever designers do to get started. I would keep your goals real business-like, and stress the word “brand” not “label.” Being head of an innovative brand, which includes, clothes, watches, booze is actually better.

I don’t think you are getting into Stanford. There is not enough GPA/GMAT power here and not enough stardust besides to make them ignore your so-so GPA and GMAT. HBS would be a short reach and would depend on execution, strong recs, and the competition that year, to wit, the other 10-15 solid luxury goods applicants they consider strongly.

Wharton might feel that you would round out the class in terms of background and goals (the actual look and feel of the Wharton class is actually pretty luxe, stereotypes aside). You would need to be deadly serious and analytical in the app. Columbia might appreciate a higher GMAT if you retake it, and an early application, maybe even ED. You are in line there. Convince them you won’t have a problem getting a job.

“LBS, INSEAD, and maybe HEC Paris?” You should get into those schools on both numbers alone and the fact that your numbers come gift wrapped with a lot of interesting Euro-type jobs and extras plus the US luxury brand of an H/Y/P undergrad degree. To be honest, I am no expert in the ROI of attending those places. If you want a job with Vuitton, Chanel post graduation, that would be something worth looking into.

“Sidenote: my older brother went to Stanford GSB and still keeps in touch with the faculty and program directors – not sure if that counts for anything however.” Neither am I, but probably not much, unless you had some organized campaign to get into Stanford by leveraging your interesting extras and he was part of it, and involved some BFFs at the school, and you got lucky. Or unless he knows adcom director Bolton and gets him in a good mood, that could happen. Hint that a great scarf is in the offing.

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  • hbsguru

    YET ANOTHER REASON TO GET A SELECTIVE MBA, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORK.

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/05/26/women-graduates-elite-colleges-more-likely-opt-out-workforce/wQAmXRV9WMWtFKph26ORBM/story.html

    Sixty percent of women who have a bachelor’s degree from prestigious institutions such as MIT and Harvard work full time, according to a study from Vanderbilt University, compared with 68 percent of women who went to the least selective schools surveyed.

    Among married mothers who hold master’s of business administration degrees, the contrast is even more striking. Only about a third of women who did their undergraduate work at top colleges and universities have full-time jobs, compared with two-thirds who earned degrees at schools in the lowest tier.

    ‘It’s hard to figure out how to do that halfway.’ — Katrina Yolen, on
    MBA women balancing family life with careers involving long hours

    Katrina Yolen of Newton, who has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and
    an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, took
    five years off when her three children – now ages 6, 8, and 11 — were
    younger, then spent a few years doing part- time and contract work.

    When she returned to a full-time marketing job last summer, it was as
    a senior brand manager, not the vice president she might have been if
    she had stayed in the workforce.

    “The careers that MBA women go into are often high-powered,” with
    long hours and few part-time options, she said. “It’s hard to figure out
    how to do that halfway.”

    As female graduates of elite schools work less, it could have an
    impact on corporate culture, flexible work arrangements, and efforts to
    diversify boardrooms and executives suites. These are the women most
    likely to land powerful jobs and ascend to leadership positions, with
    the opportunity to promote other women. But, as Yolen’s experience
    shows, those opportunities could be delayed, or lost.

    “If more women were in leadership positions,” said Kevin Lang
    , an economics professor at Boston University, “the workplace might be more ­family-friendly, and fewer of them would withdraw.”

  • nosferatudracon

    Sandy/John/Anyone else who has an opinion

    I have been reading your Handicap series since the beginning, but I don’t really recall ever reading anything which might directly answer the below. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Can you give me any sort of idea how significant admissions committees consider serving in leadership positions on local, regional, and national professional associations, publishing in trade periodicals, and presenting at industry conference?

    Also curious about industry professional certifications. I know some are viewed more favorably than others. Chances are many Adcom will never have heard of my certifications.

    I ask this because I come from an underrepresented function (i.e. I’m not talking about accounting, finance, consulting, or IT). There is a good chance that most Adcom at most schools will never have heard of the organizations I’m involved with or the certification I have completed.

    I have a rather non-traditional background, I’ll spare you all the details, so I’m trying to gauge to what extent these experiences will matter, if at all, during the admissions process.

    Thanks!

    Nos

  • hbsguru

    DESIS ON THE MOVE IN THE B SCHOOL WORLD. CHOWFLA NOW HEADS GMATS.
    http://www.pagalguy.com/news/gmac-appoints-indian-its-new-boss-a-16572388/
    Starting 2014, a technology executive of Indian origin
    will head the organisation that owns and runs the Graduate Management
    Admission Test (GMAT). The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the global non-profit body of business schools today announced the appointment of Sangeet
    Chowfla as President . . . .

    Coincidentally, Ashish Bhardwaj, the man who heads GMAC’s Asia Pacific region is also an FMS Delhi alumnus.

    Since
    2010, persons of Indian origin have been taking over global leadership
    positions in business education. Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business
    School, Soumitra Dutta of Cornell-Johnson, Dipak C Jain of INSEAD and
    Sunil Kumar of Chicago-Booth are all deans who had been raised in India
    but moved abroad for advanced higher education.

  • steve

    Hi Sandy –

    What do you make of this?

    29 year-old white male
    740 GMAT
    3.65 from Amherst/Williams/Swarthmore
    President of a large club in college

    4 years at a large value hedge fund in New York (will get a good rec from here)
    3 years running own value hedge fund (current)

    I
    plan to continue running the fund while at school, building the track record. My real reason for
    wanting an MBA is to build my network and attach myself to a well-known
    brand for the purposes of raising more money. For the application I
    will try to finesse this more into seeking a “transformational”
    experience, becoming a better manager, broadening my knowledge of
    business, learning from a diverse group of people etc. Would appreciate
    any further input on how to position the application.

    Schools:
    Harvard
    Wharton
    Columbia – regular and early decision

  • abhishek

    Dear Sir, I would be grateful if you may kindly evaluate my odds of admission into the MBA program offered by Columbia Business School, London Business School, INSEAD, Judge Business School (Cambridge), Said Business School (Oxford), Warwick Business School. My Profile is as follows (your evaluation is of greatest value so I wanted to tell you all I could, hence, please forgive the length and kindly consider):
    Indian Male, 29 years, married

    GMAT – yet to take the test,
    GPA – 58.3% (2.1 as per English System); law degree from a top 5 law college; top 15% of class; GPA increased from year to year culminating in a distinction in the final year.
    Work Experience – 6 years with one of the best Private Banks in Distressed Corporate Debt Investment team; Promoted to Manager within one year of joining; Thereafter, turned around the poorest performing sector in the country to one with highest revenues; Hence, was Promoted to Senior Manager; Presently, entrusted with Portfolio of high value Accounts spread all over the country; Have dealt with over forty distressed companies spread over various sectors; Developed personal functional style where debts were resolved without selling out the Distressed Company’s assets thereby saving it. Achieved such results by leading a team of external lawyers without having any actual authority over them other than lawyer client relationship. No International Experience but have extensive work experience in various parts of my country which are culturally as different as a foreign country.
    Career Goal – Want to leverage my experience of working with distressed Companies and legal and negotiation skills by coupling them with financial and strategic management skills, to acquire expertise in distressed private equity and turnaround management.
    Extracurriculars – Participated in Moot Court Competitions and won awards in 2.
    Personal Story – When I started college my family was facing bankruptcy and my father had been diagnosed with a medical condition severely hampering his ability to work. I did basic data entry work to put myself through college. Thereafter, since I started earning, I have taken care of my family, repaid all debts and put my brother through law school. Such experiences are a major reason for my choice of career goals. Facing and overcoming such adversities have also endowed me with fortitude, pragmatism and resourcefulness, personal qualities essential to such goals.

  • hbsguru

    HBS ALUMNI PROBATION–SEEMS THEY NEVER STOP WATCHING.

    Tough Mudder CEO and HBS grad was accused of dirty tactics

    Is Tough Mudder founder and CEO Will Dean a marketing genius or did he steal the idea while a student at Harvard?
    http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/05/28/tough-mudder-ceo-will-dean-was-accused-some-dirty-tactics/wAQyfBRCh5QkVOyj1tmr2L/story.html
    That question has been at the center of lawsuits and a Harvard
    Business School investigation that cleared Dean of stealing confidential
    information but questioned his motives and tactics and placed him on
    alumni probation for five years. And Dean’s litigation with an English
    businessman ended with Dean paying $725,000 in a settlement without
    acknowledging any wrongdoing.

    In 2008, when he was a student at Harvard Business School, Dean
    appealed to Tough Guy founder Billy Wilson, the self-proclaimed inventor
    of the modern obstacle course, to let him study his business in England
    for a school project. In return, Dean would provide a feasibility study
    on possible international expansion.

    YOU KNOW THE REST.

  • Julia

    Hi Sandy,
    Could you please assess my odds of getting into Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Duke, and Northwestern?
    I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Business Economics. I graduated with my bachelors degree in 2 1/2 years and had a 3.7 overall GPA. I plan on getting a 700 on my GMAT (I’m taking it in August).
    Work experience: I worked for Payless ShoeSource for 3 years (1 year as a store manager and 2 years as a financial analyst) I also spent 2 years with TFA teaching high school math.
    Extracurricular Activities: In college I was on the competitive cheer team and held the community relations role. I also was the treasurer for my sorority and was a colony member for that chapter at my school. After college I spent a lot of time helping underprivileged students with school by tutoring. I also helped with charity runs in my neighborhood and was a team leader for many runs.
    Goal: To help manage the way schools and districts are ran so every child can get access to great education.

  • Engineer + Nonprofit Founder

    Hi Sandy, any comments on this would be extremely useful.

  • hbsguru

    Being a leader in your industry and at work is always a plus, and presenting at national org. meetings is impressive. Those accomplishments can fill in a picture of your talents and enthusiasm. There is a limit to what those accomplishments can do, however, if the rest of your application is non-trad in terms of age, industry, function, etc. If you are really old, work in a non-feeder industry, or unusual function, and if those are seen by the adcom of somehow being less selective gigs, well, that can be damaging. Hard to quantify without specifics ( would be hard to quantify with specifics but I could give you some guy response).

  • JumpGrunt

    Hi Sandy,

    Just hoping you could give me a quick analysis at my admission odds (S/H/W Haas and Kellogg).

    GMAT: 700+ (projected and will have scores on 6/21)
    3.6 GPA B.S. in accounting from state school in CA
    5 years active duty Army. 3 years in 82nd Airborne Division and last 2 years as a recruiter. Was a team leader in 82nd and no wars barred, am most proud of my deployment to New Orleans post-Katrina where I was actually able to help on the homefront. My last couple years as a recruiter helped me hone my soft skills and involuntarily eliminate any public speaking fears that I may have had.

    After getting my head straight in the Army, I went back to school to maximize my potential. I interned at a Big-4 accounting firm in Silicon Valley and have been working there full-time since I graduated. My auditing of major tech companies as well as IPOs and smaller private companies is what has inspired me to pursue my MBA. I want to merge my leadership skills from the Army with my technical skills as an accountant.

    My goal is to come back to Silicon Valley either on the buy side as a VC, or into management of a start-up where I can have a direct influence on the direction of a company from inception.

    29 year-old white male.

    My only other question: I have passed all of my CPA exams but won’t officially get my license until the end of 2013/beginning of 2014. Would it be better to wait until next year to apply or would a disclosure statement in my application be sufficient?

    Thank you for you time

  • Nick

    Hi Sandy – Would you please provide me with a quick analysis of my chances at a top 10 school (short list: Wharton, Columbia, LBS, Darden)?

    26 y/o, white, male

    GMAT: 750 (49Q, 44V)

    3.49 GPA from nationally recognized state school (Major: Accounting, Minors: Economics, and Int’l Business)

    Work Experience: 1 yr as investment adviser, 3 yrs as investment analyst at top investment consulting firm (primary clients are endowments and foundations) with increasing responsibility and a chance to move into a leadership position before applying to school

    Extra-Curriculars: – CFA Level III Candidate: I will have Level III results prior to applying, and be eligible for the CFA charter in February if I pass.

    – Member of the Program Board of a volunteer organization focused on providing education and job skills/opportunities for unemployed and underemployed people in the Washington, DC area. The organization also operates in New York and Jersey City. I have been involved with the organization for about 18 months.

  • JcDubz

    Sandy, I’m a poet who’s planning on boosting my quant profile by taking some business courses next Fall, but, being that I don’t have a business background, I’m unsure how each field is perceived by the adcoms. Which is better for that, accounting, finance or stats (I have good calc grades and I know marketing is out). Does it matter? Thanks a ton!

  • nosferatudracon

    Thanks Sandy appreciate the insights. I started writing a bunch of details to fill you in, but since I agree that the specifics will not likely provide any better clarity, decided it wouldn’t really add any benefit.

    I just need to bite the bullet, apply, and see what happens.

    Thanks again!

    Nos

  • Christian

    Mr. Kreisberg, could you do an assessment on my profile? Thanks a lot for your time.

    Mexican, Male, 25 years (26 by the time I submit my applications later this year).

    -Working in a boutique strategy and operations consulting firm (“big”
    in my city and Mexico City, some minor projects in South and Central
    America).
    -720 GMAT (49Q / 39V), took 3 times (first 2 attempts were 2 years ago, got 680 on both)
    -GPA: 3.0 / 3.1ish (on a 100 scale it is an 83/100)
    -Undergraduate from top engineering school in my country, major in Mechanical Engineering, minor in Business Administration.
    -Extracurricular:
    Currently coordinating (since early 2012) community project which
    consists in building homes for the underprivileged, as well as
    thoroughly designing economic activities for them (think big impact on
    few beneficiaries).

    -Took graduate level Corporate Finances from top tier graduate school in my country (got 93/100).

    -Post-MBA goal: Join a top tier Firm (MBB).

    Target Schools:

    -Sloan
    -Booth
    -Duke
    -Columbia
    -Darden

  • Christian

    Mr. Kreisberg, could you do an assessment on my profile? Thanks a lot for your time.

    Mexican, Male, 25 years (26 by the time I submit my applications later this year).

    -Working in a boutique strategy and operations consulting firm (“big”
    in my city and Mexico City, some minor projects in South and Central
    America).
    -720 GMAT (49Q / 39V), took 3 times (first 2 attempts were 2 years ago, got 680 on both)
    -GPA: 3.0 / 3.1ish (on a 100 scale it is an 83/100 – I know I shouldn’t convert my grades and I won’t, this is just a reference)
    -Undergraduate from top engineering school in my country, major in Mechanical Engineering, minor in Business Administration.
    -Extracurricular:
    Currently coordinating (since early 2012) community project which
    consists in building homes for the underprivileged, as well as
    thoroughly designing economic activities for them (think big impact on
    few beneficiaries).

    -Took graduate level Corporate Finances from top tier graduate school in my country (got 93/100).

    -Post-MBA goal: Join a top tier Firm (MBB).

    Target Schools:

    -Sloan
    -Booth
    -Duke
    -Columbia
    -Darden

  • risky

    Hi Sandy, could you please provide your analysis on my odds of getting into Columbia, NYU, Cornell, Emory, and Georgetown? I would also love your opinion on whether I am aiming for the right schools based on my candidacy? Here are my stats:

    GMAT: 750
    GPA: 3.42 in Finance from University of Texas
    Work Experience: Started in a rotational management training program at a top 20 Commercial Bank, spent time as an Enterprise Risk Management analyst, and currently a Model Risk Analyst (all within the same bank)

    Extracurricular: Served as VP for sorority in college and several leadership development and volunteer activities such as IRS income tax preparation. Post college- volunteer through employer and also part of an international woman’s advocacy group that volunteers.
    Goal: To develop expertise in financial risk management in order to provide consultancy services
    I am a 24 year-old Asian female

    thank you!!

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