Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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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  • Mr. MBA

    Also a CPA

  • 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,


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