Can You Get Into An Elite MBA Program?

He’s a 26-year-old analyst for one of the world’s top investment consulting firms who has been promoted three times in three years. With a 750 GMAT and a 3.49 grade point average from a nationally recognized state school, this professional plans to use the MBA degree to transition into a private equity job.

A former college cheerleader, she has spent the past three years at Payless Shoe Source as a store manager and financial analyst. Now this young female professional, who earned her undergraduate degree in just two and one-half years, wants to go to business school to help manage the way schools and districts are run.

This 21-year-old Chinese woman has led major initiatives in marketing and human resources for her family’s business, a $100 million manufacturing company in China. With a 740 GMAT and a 3.7 GPA from a top British university, she plans to apply to business school within the next two years to help her transition into a consulting boutique.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

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, 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.)

In this episode of our highly popular MBA handicapping series, Kreisberg shows some very tough love for a couple of prospective MBA applicants. Before providing his assessment to one young professional, he’s almost apologetic: “I’m about to say some harsh things about why you are not getting into HBS or Stanford, but let me begin by saying I really like you.”

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


Ms. Financial Analyst


  • 700 GMAT (expected)
  • 3.7 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in business economics from Arizona State University, graduating in two and one-half years
  • Work experience with Payless Shoe Source for three years (one year as a store manager and two years as a financial analyst); also spent two years with Teach For America, teaching high school math
  • Extracurricular involvement on Arizona State’s competitive cheer team, assuming a community relations role; treasurer for a sorority and a colony member for that chapter at my school; currently tutors underprivileged students and help with charity runs in my neighborhood
Goal: To help manage the way schools and districts are run so every child can get access to great education
  • White female

Odds Of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 25%
Stanford: 10% to 15%
Chicago: 30% to 35%
Duke: 50%+
Northwestern: 40%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Phew, I’m about to say some harsh things about why you are not getting into HBS or Stanford, but let me begin by saying I really like you, and I am sure most of our readers do too. The reality is that kids

1. from 3rd tier schools like ASU (save your angry letters Sun Devil fans, I love the place, but it does admit 83 percent of applicants)

2. with non-selective jobs and save-the-world goals,

3.  need immaculate stats to get into HBS or Stanford — if they ever do.

How come? I’m not totally sure what a regression analysis is, but let’s try this experiment. Let’s keep your exact same story but make these substitutions:

For Arizona State, substitute a Top-20 liberal arts college.

For Payless, substitute a Disney or even Target.

We get a totally different outcome. Instead of you being a very likeable and smart Payless item, you become a very likeable and smart “elite” item with a passion for helping people. If you want to be someone from Arizona State who wants to help people and reform education, you need a ~4.0, a very selective job, and a 720+ GMAT.

There is a name for stars like that, they are called White Ethnics, it is a recognized category although not written about per se in B-school admission circles. That is your category, I am assuming (often white kdis from working class backgrounds, first generation to attend college).

If you were near Ivy, and had a 3.7 GPA, a 700 GMAT, that might do because in most cases that person would have a selective job because, duh, those selective jobs at Disney or Johnson & Johnson or Nike  go to elite liberal arts majors with 3.7’s.

The entire point of the above is to say, sorry, I do not think you are getting into HBS or Stanford because you went to a prole school, your job is odd, your GMAT (assuming 700) is OK but not distinguished and Payless, especially as a store manager, sounds a bit off and overweight  to most adcoms at HSW (despite the job actually  being intense in terms of leadership, flexible skills, dealing with different people).

As to your chances at Chicago, Duke, and Northwestern? Phew again. How about considering as well Darden, UCLA and Michigan, too. Just to make sure this happens someplace. And try to have a real good (near 80%) quant GMAT score. Chicago may find this story not a fit for them and may wonder at your quant abilities. Duke and Kellogg take kids like you and ding them, largely a matter of application execution and luck.

You say your goal is to “help manage the way schools and districts are run so every child can get access to great education.” Try to flesh that out with a list of real people who do that and what their actual jobs are. My guess is, there is a list of hero school commissioners someplace, start with that. Check that list twice. Some of those folks, e.g. Michelle Rhee, are controversial (not to me!), but she is a good place to start, as this Wiki excerpt summarizes:

Michelle Rhee remains a highly controversial figure in the field of education due to her aggressive style . . . .  Rhee’s actions have earned her applause from school reformers, as well as the scorn of teacher unions and community activists.  

By the way, feel free to write back in six months and tell me what a dickhead I am because you got into HBS. I get called worse things every day — and as noted I am rooting for you.  If you told me you got into HBS, I’d give Dee Leopold a silent salute.