Handicapping Your Elite B-School Odds

She’s a 28-year-old American woman who works in finance for a software startup. This ambitious professional wants an MBA to transition into consulting. But she worries that her low grade point average of 2.3 from an “average university,” earned while a parent was dying, may make it hard to get into a top ranked business school.

After a nearly three-year stint for an HR consulting firm, this 28-year-old professional now works at Goldman Sachs as an operations analyst. But his long-term goal is to become the COO of a global consumer products company and that’s why he wants an MBA.

In the past nine years, this 32-year-old woman from Puerto Rico has held several jobs: a paralegal, a journalist and editor, director of a retail store in New York and currently a business development manager for an international law firm. Now she’s hoping to go to business school to move into consulting.

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?

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

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.)

In this episode of our highly popular MBA handicapping series, Kreisberg is his usual witty and insightful self. He tells one applicant she seems “scattered” and wryly observes that “there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors in your story.” To a Mexican engineer whose dream schools include MIT, Chicago and Duke, Kreisberg issues a very big thumbs up assessment.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is analysis:

computergal

Ms. Finance

 

  • 740 GMAT (46Q/46V)
  • 2.3 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from an “average university” (grades suffered due to distraction of terminally ill parent)
  • Work experience includes year and one-half in current job as head of operational finance for a software startup with 90 employees in seven countries, managed growth from 20 employees to current size, experience with PE capital raise with major PE firm, up for promotion in the next three to six months; year and one-half as a regional finance manager for a telecom company, went from 2 to 35 direct reports, promoted three times, and two years in a regional CPA firm specializing in privately held construction and technology companies
  • “I’ve built a pretty solid career on being able to use my natural deductive and inductive reasoning skills to solve problems, but lack in fundamental “business” knowledge (i.e. during this capital raise, I’ve spent countless hours Google-ing investment jargon to translate what our investment bankers were saying). I’m also interested in using the MBA experience to become more ‘global.’”
  • Extracurricular involvement in board gaming (including some local tournament wins), state and county political party executive board member, treasurer of county political party auxiliary group, certified in campaign finance reporting, volunteer at local nonprofit in resume lab, congressional intern in undergrad
  • Goal: Consulting for rapidly growing companies to ease growing pains related to rapid expansion and using that experience to eventually move into a COO role at a mid-sized or large multinational
  • “LBS or Yale are my “dream” schools – Duke and UNC are local”
  • 28-year-old American female

Odds of Success:

Chicago: 20% to 30%
Yale: 35%+
Duke: 40% to 50%
UNC: 40% to 50%
INSEAD: 40+%
London: 50+%
Cambridge: 50%+
HEC-Paris: 50%+
ESADE: 50%+
IE: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: What we got here is a smart, 28-year-old, American female with a LOW GPA (2.3 from Average U.) and a Boffo 740 GMAT, who also has had five very successful years of trench warfare jobs at three companies we probably never heard of.  In reverse chrono:

  • 1.5 years as the head of operational finance for a software startup;
  • 1.5 years as a regional finance manager for a telecom;
  • 2 years as a galley slave for a regional, Southern CPA firm.

Since a) your current job as head of operational finance (whatever that means) with the software “start-up” seems to be with a substantial start-up and not two kids in a rented closet, i.e., it was “recently valued at $150mil with  90 employees in 7 countries,” and b) you managed growth from 20-90 employees, and c) you  seem like a real go-getter with promotions and accomplishments, there is d) lots to like, including your spirit, raises, and shoes on the ground work experiences.

Once we deal with the 2.3 GPA and the fact you have been in the boonies all your life (so it seems, regional CPA firm!), we got maybe not a diamond, but a diamond chip in the rough. Adcoms have a hard time judging work experiences at companies they don’t know, but sure, they know what a regional CPA firm is (no place they would be looking for applicants) and also a telecom (better fishing here, it depends on which telecom and what you did there, and how selective it was).

Your school choices are: Booth, Yale, Insead, LBS, Cambridge, HEC, ESADE, and IE, and also Duke and UNC, as “I’m local.”  “LBS or Yale are my ‘dream’ schools.”  Phew, maybe I’m missing something, but why are you considering Euro schools at all? Your great strength as an applicant is how down-home your work, attitude and accomplishments have been, and that would get bleached out  when read by some adcom in France or the UK. They are also less likely to cut you some slack on the GPA since they won’t understand that you have had a pretty gritty but successful U.S. career. Maybe I am being parochial myself, but Euro schools may just put you in the “Does Not Compute” file.  The odds I have listed for those schools are based on their liking paying Americans and your GMAT, but I could be woefully optimistic.

Also, getting a job back in the USA will be harder from those schools, as will schmoozing with future employers, who similar to the adcoms, may not instantly get this story.

Booth may gag at the GPA, however sympathetically presented, and the low-brow employment history. They are not totally robotic and wink at things, but you are asking for more than a wink. You are asking for a double wink or a brief turn-away. They may not do that, and your pick-up finance skills — in your own words “during this capital raise, I’ve spent countless hours Google-ing investment jargon to translate what our investment bankers were saying . . .” — is not the kind of charming detail they fall for.

It is the kind of charming detail I FALL FOR but  I’m easy –you had me at “Google-ing,” both the fact you did it and also fully spelling it, as if you have some inherent respect for the Google company. I could hear you saying all three syllables, almost Yoddle-ing them.***

*** FYI, fast-talking and nabe-bred wiseguys like me would say that, “Googlin” if not “Googlyn,” sorta like “Brooklyn.”  That would be one syllable and a slur.

I also don’t think Yale would like the cut of your jib, although unlike IE, HEC or INSEAD, they will have seen it before (low-ish  grades, high GMAT, bunch o’ heartland down-home jobs). In Yale’s  new incarnation, they are trying to upgrade stats and status. You are not their kind of current risk.

Duke and UNC and also Darden are where you should be focusing. I realize the fact that they are nearby could be a detraction at this point, especially for someone who is interested in using the MBA experience to become more “global.” But keep in mind, you’d meet some very global types in those programs, although, agreed, Chapel Hill is nice but it is not Paris.

Still, any of those schools are classy and you could start making real connections. Also, in light of your intense interest in local politics  (“state and county political party executive board member, treasurer of county political party auxiliary group, certified in campaign finance reporting . . .”) staying where your connections and support groups are is a worthwhile consideration.

You might also consider MBA programs like Michigan and Cornell, where, yes, you’d have to buy some winter clothing, but you would also have a ticket to schmooze with profs, visiting big shots, and the classier part of your peer cohort. If you want to locate some American reaches, try Berk, Tuck and NYU, which is a close reach.

Career goals  . . .you are “fuzzy” but thinking about “consulting for rapidly growing companies to ease growing pains related to rapid expansion.” And then using that experience to eventually move into a COO role at a mid-sized or large multinational.”  That is fuzzy — close enough for blogging, which is what we are doing — but come game day you will need to marshal your assets and present as yourself  someone who wants to build out your SME experience as either a consultant or the COO of such powerful and innovative SMEs as 1, 2 or 3.

Position yourself as someone who has seen the rodeo several times and who wants to help run it. Allude in your application to your political and business contacts so schools have a real good sense that you will be employed come graduation, one way or the other.  Cite leading SME consulting firms and say you could start there to learn best practices and then transition into being a leader in a dynamic and growing company.

If you make that case in spades and without hesitation, and if you quickly and compellingly explain the low GPA, and if you get two Boffo recs from your current employer (or one from the telcom), you might also break into Chicago or Yale.

  • Victor

    Hey man your chances are pretty great at top 10 US B-Schools,Though I am not sure about Harvard/Stanford since they tend to prefer students who have studied at the IIT’s(from India).A typical profile of an India guy at HBS is IIT graduate,750+ GMAT and work experience at McKinsey/Goldman etc.But certainly it is worth a shot.

  • jim

    Hi Sandy,

    I have built a successful real estate tech start up company, raised capital, and on my way to a successful exit. I am 22.

    I do not have stellar grades or come from an ivy league school.

    I have been published multiple times by several major publications and have been accepted into several distinguished accelerator programs.

    I have built several successful mobile apps and built a 2nd successful business in the drone space.

    I have thought about applying to HBS and Stanford next year with pretty much the sole purpose of networking and learning to manage a business better.

    How does Stanford and Harvard look at my type of application?

    Cheers,

    W

  • Mr. India-Ecuador

    Hi Sandy and John,
    I hope you can give me your assessment of my profile and my chances of getting in to HBS and Stanford’s 2+2 programs (if there are any other top 2+2 as well, but I’m not aware of any more).

    My family is originally from India, I was born in Kenya, and grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I attended an international school from K-12.

    Indian-Ecuadorean male, will have just turned 21 upon graduation from Bentley University in May 2014.

    680-720 GMAT (expected)
    3.8 GPA (Expected, Summa cum Laude) from Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. BS in Economics-Finance with a minor in Entrepreneurial studies.
    Also took a summer course in LSE (Intermediate Microeconomics) during the summer of 2012

    Speak Spanish, English, Hindi, and Urdu fluently. Basic proficiency in Portuguese and French.

    Currently have a full-time offer for BofA-Merrill Lynch’s Investment Banking Latin America group in New York City, which I have accepted.

    Work experiences include:
    -A summer at UBS in NYC as a freshman in Wealth Management
    -A logistics company in Ecuador (family’s company) where I performed end-to-end analyses that resulted in yearly cost savings of $400k and brought new clients that resulted in yearly revenues increase of $1.5M (these clients were also the first of the company’s in Central America, so this project attributes to the expansion of their clientele in this region.)
    -Part-time at a tech startup in the Boston area, Leaf (maybe you’ve heard of it, they’re doing quite well).
    -Boutique PE firm in Miami, Florida focused on real estate as a Financial Analyst. (One HBS professor performed a case study on this firm, and another is on its board of directors. Also, the CEO who I became very close with, is an HBS alumni of the extension school.)

    School involvement includes:
    -Analyst for the Emerging Markets sector at Bentley Investment Group ($600k long-only portfolio investing part of school’s endowment in stock market).
    -Vice President at the Bentley Consulting Group (club focused on helping students at a non-target school like Bentley penetrate the consulting industry).
    -Honors Program (elects top 7% of entering class to participate in more challenging coursework and complete a thesis as a capstone project).
    -Beta Gamma Sigma (organization that selects 10% of students to join in almost 500 colleges nationwide)

    Long-term goals:
    As of now, my long-term goals are to start up a PE firm focused on Latin America. I feel my experience at BofA-ML will be extremely relevant in gaining the right deal experience and learning about various industries in the region. What I’m trying to pitch is that the PE model will be a great way to help developing countries/emerging markets like Latin America to fuse business models and business practices from developed countries like the US. This will help the development of the region, aside from being a tremendous business opportunity.

    As for the connections in the region, I grew up in Ecuador and know most of the major industry giants personally there and in Colombia and Panama. Furthermore, studying in Boston has given me the privilege to meet and befriend Latin American students who come from backgrounds (family-businesses in the region) and long-term interests similar to my own.

    Questions:

    1. What are my chances of getting into HBS and Stanford’s 2+2?
    2. I have the option to get the Ecuadorean passport, but right now I only have the Indian. I have heard application processes discriminate in the sense that people with my Indian passport will be compared to other Indians, who typically will have higher GMAT scores and GPAS. Should I get the Ecuadorean passport to be compared to the hispanic crowd (which I actually consider myself to be in), or should I keep my passport and make my background very clear in the application?
    3. How much does it hurt my profile that I come from a school like Bentley? (Top 20 business school in Bloomberg Businessweek undergraduate b-schools, but not Ivy or near-Ivy school.

    Please let me know!

  • Deepak

    Hi Sandy. I hope you can give me your assessment of my profile and my chances of getting in to HBS and Stanford’s 2+2 programs.

    My family is originally from India, I was born in Kenya, and grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I attended an international school from K-12.

    680-720 GMAT (expected)
    3.8 GPA (Expected, Summa cum Laude) from Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. BS in Economics-Finance with a minor in Entrepreneurial studies.
    Also took a summer course in LSE (Intermediate Microeconomics) during the summer of 2012

    Speak Spanish, English, Hindi, and Urdu fluently. Basic proficiency in Portuguese and French.

    Currently have a full-time offer for BofA-Merrill Lynch’s IB Latin America group in New York City, which I have accepted.

    Work experiences include:
    -A summer at UBS in NYC as a freshman in Wealth Management
    -A logistics company in Ecuador (family’s company) where I performed end-to-end analyses that resulted in yearly cost savings of $400k and brought new clients that resulted in yearly revenues increase of $1.5M (these clients were also the first of the company’s in Central America, so this project attributes to the expansion of their clientele in this region.)
    -Part-time at a tech startup in the Boston area, Leaf (maybe you’ve heard of it, they’re doing quite well).
    -Boutique PE firm in Miami, Florida focused on real estate as a Financial Analyst. (One HBS professor performed a case study on this firm, and another is on its board of directors. Also, the CEO who I became very close with, is an HBS alumni of the extension school.)

    School involvement includes:
    -Analyst at Bentley Investment Group ($600k long-only portfolio investing part of school’s endowment in stock market).
    -Vice President at the Bentley Consulting Group (club focused on helping students at a non-target school like Bentley penetrate the consulting industry).
    -Honors Program (elects top 7% of entering class to participate in more challenging coursework and complete a thesis as a capstone project).

    Long-term goals:
    As of now, my long-term goals are to start up a PE firm focused on Latin America. I feel my experience at Bofa-ML is extremely relevant to gaining the right deal experience and learning about various industries in the region. I studied in Boston, and have been fortunate enough to network and befriend most of the important, prominent business owners in the region, whose sons/daughters all study in schools like mine (Bentley, Babson, Northeastern, etc.)

    Questions:

    1. What are my chances of getting into HBS and Stanford’s 2+2?
    2. I have the option to get the Ecuadorean passport, but right now I only have the Indian. I have heard application processes discriminate in the sense that people with my Indian passport will be compared to other Indians, who typically will have higher GMAT scores and GPAS. Should I get the Ecuadorean passport to be compared to the hispanic crowd (which I actually consider myself to be in), or should I keep my passport and make my background very clear in the application?
    3. How much does it hurt my profile that I come from a school like Bentley? (Top 20 business school in Bloomberg Businessweek undergraduate b-schools, but not Ivy or near-Ivy school.

    Please let me know!