Predicting Your Chances Of Admission

by John A. Byrne on

He is currently studying public policy at a top Ivy League university and scored a highly impressive 770 on the GMAT. This 23-year-old student has done internships at Barclays and J.P. Morgan. He now expects to apply to the Harvard Business School 2*2 MBA program.

Director of finance at a for-profit education company, this 25-year-old African-American wants an MBA to transition into investment banking. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.25 grade point average from a California state university, he hopes to get into a top business school to help land his dream job in the equity capital markets.

As a project coordinator for a prominent NGO, he has lived in four developing countries in the past year alone. But his desiredgoal to commercialize technologies and improve business performance in developing countries, he believes, requires an MBA degree.

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

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

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, which includes a new analysis of a current 2+2 candidate to Harvard and four encore assessments, Kreisberg is his usual witty and insightful self.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is analysis:

Geeky GuyMr. Public Policy


  • 770 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in public policy, with a focus on Middle Eastern affairs, from Harvard, Yale or Princeton
  • Work experience includes internships at a U.S. Department of State counterpart in a Middle Eastern country (Freshmen summer); Barclays Capital and J.P. Morgan – Hong Kong (Sophomore and Junior summers).
  • “After my freshmen year, when I honestly did not give much attention to my academics, I served two-years in the military as part of my country’s mandatory military draft. I voluntarily chose to do the two-years in the Special Forces, including a six-month foreign peacekeeping deployment to Afghanistan.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as a Division I collegiate Varsity rower until junior year, college a capella group that did yearly tours in Europe, active member of my university’s Arab society
  • Fluent in four languages, including English, Chinese and Arabic
  • “How much of an impact will my average GPA make in admissions? Finally, purely out of curiosity, does it matter which branch of a firm you work at? For instance, does it matter whether you worked in, say, McKinsey in Texas vs. McKinsey in New York?”
  • 23-year-old Asian male who has lived abroad his entire life

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30%+
Stanford: 20%+

Sandy’s analysis: Well, assuming this is for real and not a leg-pull, for a college senior you got a lot going for you including a 770 GMAT, a 3.5 from HYP, a two-year gig in the special forces of your home country during required military service and some high-powered summer internships at “a U.S. Department of State counterpart in a Middle Eastern country,” (whatever that means but I’m impressed)and gigs at Barclays Capital and JP Morgan in Hong Kong (Sophomore and Junior summer).

The 2+2 programs at HBS and Stanford have a bias towards applicants with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) backgrounds but those programs admit close to half their applicants from high-prestige liberal arts/finance backgrounds, e.g. a really high GPA (3.8) from an Ivy or near-Ivy school, a 730+ GMAT, and some blue-chip banking or consulting internships.

The original purpose of the 2+2 program at HBS was to keep exactly those elite liberal arts kids from making the mistake of their lives by going to law school right out of college, and then doubling down and making the second (or maybe the new first) biggest mistake of their lives by becoming lawyers. That plan worked a bit — to the degree that you consider saving about 100 kids a year from becoming lawyers ‘working.” After the financial markets imploded, the image of the elite Ivy banker babies (which HBS was trying create by saving them from attending law schools) got muddied but never disappeared. So that part of the 2+2 founding formula sailed on, albeit in a diminished way. Conveniently, HBS took this spot in time to pivot away from finance and towards STEM, a hip-sounding new Holy Grail.

That HBS STEM pivot, however, also roughly coincided with a tech start-up “fever-break,” the result being that every kid graduating from a top-15 tech school could not instantly find wealth or great jobs right out of college (if not before graduating). Thus, with Wall Street in retreat a bit and technology going through a period of what used to be called “reality,” the idea of getting an addded credential at HBS was not so crazy — to techies, finance kids, and former lawyer-wannabes. Over this time 2+2 became a much-sought option for those in the know, like the present poster. To this day it is a mixed cohort of finance and tech types, all with high stats and impressive and select internships.

A new trend in 2+2 is 3+2–kids who get in often take a third year of real work before enrolling at HBS.

This is the background to my answers to your questions: “How much of an impact will my average (3.5) GPA make in admissions?” In your case, not much, given the 770 GMAT and the other bright spots in your story, viz., elite internships, rising grades, competency in four languages,and special forces experience. If they like you, they will take you. But see below for having a coherent story. The more important question is what the impact of a 3.5 would be for someone who does not have a 770 GMAT but only a 710 and who only has some OK internships but not your exotic and select ones? In general, a 710 GMAT and some so-so banking internships is not getting you into 2+2.

It really is an elite program, and those stats will not get you into HBS in general. As to your other question, “does it matter whether you worked in, say, McKinsey in Texas vs. McKinsey in New York?” the answer for 2+2 purposes is probably no, both of those are pretty selective gigs, although if someone has a secret McKinsey location score-card, please post. With banks vs consulting shops, what could matter is what part of the bank you are working for, e.g. investment banking usually being more selective than private wealth.

Given your stats and story, you are certainly in the running for 2+2 (and probably for an “007” agent license as well) if you can make your diverse one-off accomplishments (varsity rower, special forces, Hong Kong employment, Arab society, diplomatic and bank postings) sound credible and coherent. Although as to coherency, well, adcoms recognize growth and experimentation as legitimate avenues for college kids to stroll on, just be sure you give some reasonable sounding motives for each.

What you probably need is some over-arching narrative about becoming an impactful leader in your home country or area, where all those diverse experiences and the kind of general management/leadership/international savvy mojo you will intake at HBS will be helpful. As to the essay, I would write something like, “You may be wondering how these diverse experiences lead me to HBS, so thanks for letting me explain.” I would continue in that clear-eyed, reader-friendly, down -to-earth way and explain what motivated you do x y and z and what the ‘lessons’ were –all without any obfuscation, bragging or annoying persona creation. Here is some more School-Marm love: you could do this, once you get your story straight (that may take some doing) in sorta 800-1000 words.

As for Stanford, its 2+2 program was a quickie HBS knock-off with the added motive of saving kids from not only law school, etc but also from HBS. From what I can tell, it has always been on the back burner and motivated mostly by presenting an option for HBS 2+2 wannabes, who often are an elite group. You still need to do the Stanford application and conform to the Stanford filter of ultra -high scores and some do-gooder halo (helpful if not strictly required). Stanford LOVES a 770 GMAT and will blink at your 3.5 GPA if you can cook up a powerful Stanford story.

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  • mba quest

    Hello Sandy,

    I am from Bangladesh. Got a 660 (Q48, V32) in GMAT. AWA 6, IR 6. Will have nearly 2 years of work experience by matriculation if I matriculate in 2015 fall.

    I am finance Major with a CGPA of 3.86 from one of the leading b school of my country. Presently I am working as an Investment Analyst in a US based private equity firm located in Bangladesh.

    During my undergrad I formed a formal social volunteer group (we had many volunteers working for our group) that arranged concert for winter distressed people, worked for needy school going children and many others. I participated in various business case competition and won some awards. I was the class representative of my batch and carried out all administrative works regarding day to day class and arranged career seminars and cultural events. I was also involved with a small family business all throughout my undergrad. Currently I overlook the largest group in a social networking website that helps Bangladeshi gmat test takers. The group has more than 4,500 members and I even arranged a GMAT event for the group members at no cost. I feel very good about the group because it has helped many test takers’ to familiarize with gmat and do well.

    I want to work in a consultancy firm in future after my MBA which will help me to gather insights to help businesses grow in poor developing nations like Bangladesh.

    Do I stand any chance in any of the top 20 US business schools with this profile? I will be really glad if you can help me as we are really underrepresented in this kind of forums. Thanks.

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