Handicapping Your MBA Odds

by John A. Byrne on

She’s a 27-year-old executive at a global ad agency, managing the China and Asia Pacific business for one of Procter & Gamble’s billion-dollar brands. This professional has had four promotions in the past five years. She now wants an MBA degree to help her achieve the goal of someday becoming a chief marketing officer or the head of a global advertising agency.

For the past four years, he has worked in the clean tech and environmental NGO sectors in both San Francisco and Beijing. With a 670 GMAT and a 3.4 GPA, this 25-year-old Hispanic professional wants an MBA to help him move into consulting.

After a two-year stint with Teach for America, this 26-year-old Asian American female has held three separate jobs in less than three years. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.8 GPA from UC-Berkeley, this first generation college student now wants to go to business school.

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. There’s also a video portion of the series featuring Kreisberg live evaluating the prospects of one of our candidates: a 23-year-old African American woman with a government consultancy.

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.)

Sandy’s candid analysis:


Ms. Teach For America


  • 710 GMAT (39V/48Q)
  • 3.8 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in industrial engineering and media studies from UC-Berkeley
  • Work experience includes two years at Teach for America, with superior results and an amazing recommendation; less than a year in a management role at a private industrial supplies company with “slightly above average results;” less than a year at an education startup in a curriculum role, with “above average results;” less than six months at a tech/marketing startup in Africa
  • “Each transition was by choice (re: I no longer felt passionate or that I was professionally developing in the roles. In my last role, I had to leave abruptly due to an accident and return to the states.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as an active TFA alum and interviewer, volunteered at an orphanage, and involved in other progressive leadership organizations
  • “How will admissions view my profile? What is the best way to position my story? I know my professional background is conventionally inconsistent and I seem noncommittal since I haven’t stayed in a role longer than a year since TFA. This is because I felt like I was no longer being challenged in my roles and I was no longer passionate about the company and its work.”
  • 26-year-old Asian American female, first generation college student

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 20%
Berkeley: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis:  !! but not !!!.  Female engineer with a 3.8 from Berkeley and a 710 GMAT (with a 48Q!!) and first gen college! Plus TFA and lots of work in Africa! Stanford is really fixated on Africa, and they are open, when it comes to explaining career turbulence,  to people saying  “I was no longer challenged” IF you have rock solid GPA/GMATs.  Other explainers need not apply.   Like most aristocrats, Stanford parcels out its compassion in curated doses. I dont think the GSB limo will be slowing down for your roadside plea, although it is close.  If the companies you had left after TFA were more prestigious,  maybe.

As to how to spin this: you need some ‘uber’ story about who you are and what happened after TFA. You need to explain or otherwise excise (or exorcise) how you wound up at a “private industrial supplies company!!!!! in a management role . .  . . ”  Madame,  that does not compute. If you drop that gig out of the story, and just do two jobs IN AFRICA, well,  they may blink.  Will they blink at three quick post-TFA jobs, all at seemingly random places? Dunno.

Your ability to wiggle out of or around those facts will depend on what in the first instance the truth was for accepting the first job and what you learned there. If you were attracted to its location or customer base (e.g. if it is a gritty company with a social mission of some kind, and lots of industrial clients) etc. etc.  and, cue the pivot music,  while there, you got more impassioned about that mission (which we just made up, but no matter, if there is an atom of truth to this, go with it)  and decided to work in Africa, well, that is a piece of elasticized glue which can cover a lot of holes.

That way, all three jobs become diving deeper into some passion, which is a veddy, veddy Stanford-y concept, and they MAY blink at how much glue and how many holes there are. Write your first essay along the lines that  DISCOVERY matters most to me, and use key moments at those jobs to DISCOVER even greater commitment to Stanford Mantras A, B and C.

Could work. Especially if you can convince them that you are serious about Africa or Africa-type issues in USA. Stanford cares way less about your actual outcomes at those jobs. That seems a focus of yours. They care about WHAT YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOU, YOUR PASSION, YOUR ABILITY TO CHANGE THE WORLD. So cast your app. that way.  You seem focused on nursing your disappointments. That will not work.

As to Berkeley, the second school you asked about, they may admit you on numbers alone, although above story works for them as well.

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  • Hopeful

    Hi Sandy and Jon,

    Fantastic column! I have read many profiles, but I was hoping you could provide some feedback for my profile.

    -23 years old
    -Canadian, Caucasian, male
    -760 GMAT (44V, 50Q), 8 IR, 5 AWA
    -3.46 GPA (3.72 among economics, calculus, statistics, accounting, business law, and writing courses) from a good Canadian University
    -Top 25% standing
    -Undergraduate degree with a double major in Chemistry and Biology

    Work Experience:
    -2 years full time at a relatively unknown company that helps non profits fund-raise millions of dollars (approximately 600 million in the last 10 years) in three different countries through various fund-raising events
    -Event Manager for events that raise over 10 million dollars annually for a regional cancer foundation
    -Managed teams as large as 50 staff to produce these large scale events
    -Started as a summer intern while in my undergrad, was promoted twice to my current position

    -Ran and organized an intramural league which had over 1200 members during my undergrad
    -Competitive squash and badminton player

    Target Schools:
    -Schulich (I am not sure if you are familiar with Canadian MBA admissions)

    -Short Term: Return to the organization in a role with increased responsibilities
    -Medium term: Become an executive or managing director within the organization

    Thank you and hopefully you select my profile for review! If you need more information, let me know.

  • Guest

    Hello Sandy,

    Would be great to hear your thoughts on my profile:

    Dual degree from top tier Canadian university- Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Science (Life Sciences) – 3.7 GPA, Top 15% of Class
    Co-Chair of nationwide finance conference (100 attendees, $100,000 operating budget)

    Work Experience:
    2 Years in Healthcare investment banking at Goldman Sachs (NY)
    2 Years private equity associate (focusing on healthcare transactions) at upper-middle market fund

    Other ECs:
    Founded Women in Finance interview prep sessions for Canadian undergraduate students
    Mentor coach in 2-year college and professional skills development program for first-generation students in NYC; focus on students with an interest in pursuing healthcare careers

    Test Scores:
    740 GMAT (49Q, 41V)

    Career Aspiration: To be a leader in the healthcare industry and help companies achieve goals of reducing healthcare spend while improving patient outcomes

    Target Schools:


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