Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

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by John A. Byrne on

She’s a 27-year-old professional from a working class family who currently works in product management for a growing technology company. With a goal to move into an executive role, she wonders if she has a shot at getting into Harvard, Stanford, Wharton or MIT—and whether the degree is really worth it.

An account manager for a Big Data startup in Boston, this 24-year-old woman wants an MBA to transition into the educational technology industry. She’s also certain that three Harvard Business School alums will write her letters of recommendation.

When she was all of 15, her family immigrated to Canada from China. Now a risk analyst for TD Bank, this 29-year-old woman is the mother of two young children but would like to use the MBA to transition into consulting.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What these 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.)

In this week’s batch, Sandy assesses the chances for three women and two men: a drilling engineer for Shell Oil, an Asian American commodities trader, the product manager for a tech company, the account manager for a Big Data firm, and the risk analyst for a bank.

Sandy’s candid lowdowns:

computer gal

Ms. Tech


  • 1530 GRE (old score)
  • 3.7 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in English from a ‘Little Ivy’ (Think Amherst, Williams, Tufts)
  • Work experience includes three-plus years at a growing tech company with a focus on peer-to-peer e-commerce
  • “Came in at an entry level position in Customer Support (god love the English Major), taught myself to program, was pilot candidate for an Associate Product Manager program, moved into a strategic Product Management role within 1.5 years”
  • Extracurricular involvement as a tutor and mentor, also do pro bono work, alumni organization, and have taken continuing education courses in math, econ and computer science, running
  • Goal: To return to same industry and move into an executive role within five years focusing on strategic development and operations. Want to disrupt inefficient systems (think education, media, transportation)
  • “Coming from the tech sector, where business degrees are often scoffed at, I’m a little unsure what my chances are/whether or not it’s even worth applying. Every MBA I talk to seems to have a differing opinion.
  • 27-year-old white female from a working class family, upstart from the Midwest story

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30%
Stanford: 20%
Wharton: 40%
MIT: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: Women in tech are always a plus and three years in a “growing tech company with a focus on p2p e-commerce” could be the right platform to show those schools you can walk the walk and talk the p2p. I myself have little idea what p2p (peer-to-peer) e-commerce is (Napster?) and a few minutes on Google did not help all that much, but who cares about me?

Most adcoms are about as tech savvy as me and will care more about the metrics of the company you work for–its headcount, its number of customers, its products, its revenues, its VC backers. So make sure your resume, your company description, and your discussion of what you do includes that. Schools are conservative and prefer companies with track records of any kind, especially since it seems to be your only job. That is key info for any tech applicant who does not work for a household name company (Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Facebook) and it is too often overlooked.

Teaching yourself to program is also a good one. Well, I’m certainly impressed. As to GRE/GMAT, try to get near 80 percent on both sides.  Reporting to me that your old combined GRE score of 1530 was not all that helpful, especially for English majors.

Beyond that, business schools are really concerned about the Quant score, which we do not have for you.

A little Ivy GPA of 3.7, which you already have, and a GMAT/GRE 80/80 score and a job at a legit tech company, with what appear to be increasing responsibilities, is a workable admission platform for H/W/MIT, all of whom are looking for Women In Tech. Stanford might go for this, too, but the peephole is smaller there, and you may wash out on do-gooder, and even low-wattage employment pedigree. Stanford is the most snobby about both. See PQ’s diligent and correct analysis of this issue: Top Feeder Companies to Stanford Graduate School of Business.

As to goals, you said, “return to a p2p platform (not necessarily the one I’m at), move into an executive role w/in 5 years focusing on strategic development and operations. Disrupt inefficient systems (think education, media, transportation).” Hmmmm, get your head out of your p2p and get it into tech in general. It’s a big world out there and you are going to business school to e-x-p-a-n-d your horizons.

Say you want to be an impactful tech leader, look up some female tech leader stars, a good place to start is here and work up some inspiring jive about disruption (a great buzz word you already used), impact, and making a difference, especially using technology to help a, b and c (underserved groups, victims, conservation, education–you had the right idea). I think your career road map should be: MBA, plus tech-based consulting to learn best practices or work with tech stalwart for same reason, and then project some increasing leadership roles until you become Ginni Rommety, who is not Mitt Romney’s wife but the CEO of IBM. She is number one on the link above of the most powerful women in business, and while she does not have an MBA, well, times are different. You can troll that list for gals with MBAs but schools don’t really care. Marissa Meyer, the razzle-dazzle CEO of Yahoo and former Google wunderfemale, is an easy example.

Think Big but sound humble.

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Air Time - Comments
  • Bobby

    I’ll throw my credentials into the mix as well I suppose.

    Hi Sandy,

    My credentials are as follows:

    660 GMAT Score
    3.35 GPA from 3rd tier Northeast school (B.A. Government/Political Science)
    3 years work experience at one of the top 10 largest financial firms in the world
    Promoted twice to become a senior level associate
    Accepted to the firm’s 2014 Leadership Development program
    Personal Financial Coach (volunteer) for low income families at a local non-profit

    I currently reside in Texas and aim to stay in the south while I pursue my studies. My goal is to transition out of brokerage operations and into a more investment focused role (P.E., investment research, real estate). I hope to attend a school that has a strong reputation within the financial services community. Furthermore, a school that has a national (versus regional) reputation is something I seek.

    My top choices are as follows:

    UT Austin – McCombs
    SMU Cox


    UT Dallas – Jindal

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Warm regards,


  • Mr. MBA

    Also a CPA

  • Mr. MBA


    700 GMAT

    3.5 GPA

    Undergraduate degree accounting from a state school in California

    Work experience includes more than three years in
    in tier 2 accounting firm in London. My expertise is in external audits and tax work(individual and corporate)

    Extracurricular involvement- Played all 4 years of college sport. Captained the team in my Junior and senior year

    UC Berkeley

  • Ms Asset Management

    I’d love your insight on my odds of getting in!

    – GRE 160 verbal, 162 quant
    – 3.7 GPA
    – CFA level 3 candidate
    – Honors BS in finance with a concentration in investment management from a private, selective school in the Midwest
    – First generation college graduate, parents are immigrants from South America
    – Schools of interest: Sloan, HBS, Booth, Columbia, Wharton, Haas, Duke, UCLA, Stanford. I am applying to MBA/masters in international policy joint programs. I would like to work in international development focusing on economic growth in developing countries, in particular in Latin America. The reason I’m pursuing a joint program is because I also want to work in finding economic development solutions with a emphasize on sustainability. UCLA and MIT both have MBA programs geared towards sustainable solutions.
    – I’ll be 24 at matriculation, and coming from a large asset management firm. I’m a credit analyst with 1.5 yrs of experience at my current job as well as internships as a summer analyst for the private equity investment team at an insurance company, at the D.C. office of a Congressman, at my college’s communications/marketing office, and working at a Fortune 100 company’s finance department. I’ve been performing very well at my current job, except I will not have letters of recommendations from my supervisor or immediate coworkers due to job security concerns were I to ask for them.
    – Letter of recommendations will more likely come from 1) professor/adviser in college, 2) former supervisor, 3) program coordinator at nonprofit where I volunteer or coworker (not in the same team or department) at my firm who knows me from my previous experiences. I’d like to hear your thoughts on my picks! Is professional versus academic preferred?
    – Extra curriculum activities: mentoring youth throughout 4 years in college, Latino outreach/engagement leader at a nonprofit organization helping plan community events in Spanish and raising awareness about the organization services to the Latino community, involved with the local YMCA in various capacities: keynote speaker at an event, career and college admissions workshop leader, after school high school level tutor in college, and international delegate assigned to Chile to help strengthen the communication and support between the two international branches (opportunity to travel to Chile a few years ago).

    Thanks!! K

  • mittens63

    Hi Sandy,

    I’d much appreciate it if you could take a look at my stats:

    – 24-year-old Canadian female (visible minority), currently living in Toronto
    – 760 GMAT (48Q, 47V)
    – CPA, Masters in Accounting from the University of Waterloo (top-tier school in Canada), Psychology Minor
    – 2 years work experience at a Big 4 accounting firm within assurance services + 16 months co-operative education work experience at same firm during undergrad years
    – promoted to senior level after co-op workterms – one full year ahead of counterparts
    – experience as teaching assistant in a variety of disciplines ranging from corporate finance to cost management

    – passion and goal is to move into social enterprise development and help NPOs apply commercial strategies to their existing operations rather than relying on grants and donations
    – active involvement within local community as Board Member of an inner-city education initiative and social enterprise development volunteer at a youth organization for marginalized teens (developed and launched a business plan to make use of an unused recording studio to both generate revenue and introduce youth to enterpreneurship)

    – typical “third culture kid” – grew up on 3 different continents, avid traveller as an adult
    – did a 10K Run for Kids with Cancer, currently working towards combat instructor certification
    – dedicated to French and Spanish language development (have attended immersion programs in both countries after graduating)

    Target Schools:
    – HBS
    – Columbia
    – MIT


  • Alex14

    Hi Sandy,
    I graduated from the Isenberg school of management (ranked 45th in the nation); majored in finance and minored in economics. I have one year experience in a Competitive Financial Leadership Program in a fortune 50 company (maufacturing/Aerospace/Defense company). I have two years of investment banking experience for a top 20 Investment Bank. I am 25 years old with a GPA of 3.44 and a Major GPA of 3.8. My GMAT score is 730.
    what are the chances I get into a top 15 Business School?
    Your input is much appreciated.

  • Healthcare Mad Woman

    Hi Sandy –

    I’ve read through a good deal of your profiles and actually can’t find one that fits me. If you have a moment, I’d really appreciate finding out what my odds are:

    – 26 Year old female, currently living in San Francisco
    – 3.5 years in Pharmaceutical Advertising at big name/ top 10 advertising agencies (Grey New York, DDB) with a client list including Merck, Eli Lilly, and Amgen. Strong background in the healthcare regulatory space.
    – 700 GMAT (Expected)
    – 3.2 GPA, Tulane University (low grades came from a stint in attempting pre-med)
    – Seeking MBA to move from Healthcare advertising to Healthcare Consulting at a top Consulting firm (i.e.: Bain, McKinsey) as I believe I’ll have a bigger effect on the big picture in healthcare through consulting versus advertising.
    – Extracurriculars: ASA certified sailor, Habitat for Humanity, NY Cares, Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

    Dream School: Haas (MBA+MPA Program)
    Other Schools: Kellogg, Dartmouth (MBA/MPH), UVA, (open to suggestions…).

    Thank you!!!

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