Handicapping Your Shot At An Elite MBA

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

After working for Oppenheimer & Co. in private equity, this 29-year-old male professional raised $5 million to start up a small oil company that had a $12 million valuation in just 16 months. Besides a 690 GMAT and a 3.95 grade point average, he has an unusual distinction on his resume: he is a whistleblower who helped the SEC catch a crook.

This Aussie male professional has done a little bit of everything, from working for a Silicon Valley start-up to an Asian-focused hedge fund. He’s scored more than 750 on GMAT practice tests and has a 3.7 GPA from a highly ranked Australian business school. Now, he wants an MBA to transition into a venture capital firm in the U.S.

He’s a 29-year-old U.S. Air Force Captain who, in his own words, “plans missions, operates weapons, and tells the pilot what to do.” With a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA in finance from the University of Memphis, he’s hoping an MBA degree will allow him to move into a consulting job in civilian life. His ultimate ambition: To “develop into a future CEO.”

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 (above) featuring Kreisberg live evaluating the prospects of one of our candidates: our gung-ho Air Force Captain who wants to become a future chief executive officer.

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:

PilotMr. Air Force Captain


  • 680 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Memphis
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from Penn State’s online program
  • Work experience as a combat systems officer in the U.S. Air Force
  • “I plan missions, operate weapons, and tell the pilot what to do. CSO is a rated slot (pilots, CSOs, RPAs and ABMs are all rated) and like all rated slots, they are highly competitive. I was an ROTC cadet.”
  • Extracurricular involvement in community service, including 150 hours during my Air Force career and more than 33 hours in college
  • “I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person. I want to be a consultant so I can develop into a future CEO.”
  • 29-year-old Air Force Captain in the Air Force

Target Schools:

Harvard: 20% to 30%
Stanford: 15% to 20%
Chicago: 40%
Columbia: 40%
Berkeley: 50%+
UCLA: 50%+
Yale: 20% to 30%

Sandy’s Analysis:  I’ve said this before about the military and it’s important to underscore: The people who read admission folders are not veterans as a rule. They don’t have an understanding of what people do in the Armed Services. They have a very hard time determining whether you have a Gold, Silver or Bronze military career. They do understand that a military pilot is an elite thing. They understand that being a Navy Seal is an elite thing. They probably understand that being an Army Ranger is an elite thing.

If you are in the military, it’s very important that you give them a flavor of your career in terms they can understand. Unfortunately, what happens with military applicants is that your GPA and GMAT wind up counting a lot because those are easy elements for  admissions people to  understand.

What rank should you have? Most people who apply to business schools are captains. I think it is hard to get a rank higher than that within the typical five-year stint that people apply from. I don’t see many Colonels apply to business school. This guy is going to be a long shot at Harvard and Stanford with a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA. There is nothing driving him in­in terms of gender, or an overcoming adversity story. Harvard and Stanford would just look for someone with higher stats.  The average GPA and GMAT scores of military admits to Harvard and Stanford would be an interesting set of numbers but I think it is higher than 3.5/680.

The only story that would overcome that would be a personal adversity narrative. He also comes across as a little too gung-ho, believe it or not. He says, ‘I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person.’ You might think, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Oddly, schools don’t like to hear that as directly as he puts it.

And they don’t want to hear that you want to be a consultant so you can be a future CEO. They want to hear that you want to be a consultant so that you can help companies grow and provide jobs and new opportunities.  Sure, that is what he meant, or maybe meant, but if the full application and touch and feel of the thing is too directly ambitious like that, it could be trouble.  Once you get outside of H+S, and if this application gets hip to the standard application BS, well, what you got is a pretty solid guy whom you’d like to have on your team in most situations. That should be enough at other schools he is interested in.

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  • babyboom

    What is your result?

  • “Mr. Banker”


    Thanks for the analysis…let’s assume for a second that I bumped my GMAT to 740 with a much stronger quant, have been consistently in the top 10% of my analyst class, and “community service” means active role on a junior Board with measurable results on iniatives I have taken…how would that change your analysis?


  • Ms. Big 4 Consultant

    Hi Sandy,

    I don’t know exactly how much weight goes to the different pieces of an application, so I was hoping you could help me judge.

    – 24 years old – Kashmiri, Muslim woman – US Citizen
    – 740 GMAT
    – BA in Economics from New Ivy (think BC, Notre Dame, NYU, Georgetown)
    – 3.24 GPA – this is what I’m really worried about but the trajectory is up, I unfortunately suffered from depression freshman year, and major GPA – 3.67, does that balance it out?
    – Transfer Pricing Consultant at Big 4 – started 2 years ago, promoted to Senior Associate, work on marquis accounts (bulge bracket banks, tech giants)
    – great recommenders – both supervisors and very successful women at the firm – one Wharton grad, another Harvard Kennedy School
    – Ultimate Goal: VC for tech startups

    For essays, I tried to keep them personal and use my own voice, some occasional humor. I talked about how I want to pursue tech finance because I love both tech and finance (I grew up with a dad that loved finance and I always loved computers, took some comp sci in school). I also talked about my depression and although I noted that it affected my grades, I really discussed it as a challenge I’ve overcome and added how it colors what I bring to leadership and the workplace. I don’t like using it as an excuse; it’s not one, I just think it’s important to qualify the “past performance indicates future performance” adage.

    I want to get an idea of my chances at H/S/W and Sloan. I also want to know what my chances are NYU and Columbia. Are there any other schools you think I should be thinking about?

  • Mr. Non-TFA Educator.

    Hi Sandy and John,

    I’m a really big fan of these profiles! I’d love it if you could do one for me: Mr. Non-TFA Educator.

    27 year old Male/URM (Biracial — Black/White).

    GRE: 168Q, 165V (both 95th percentile — 760 GMAT equivalent)

    Undergrad from top-20 American university (think Notre Dame/Vanderbilt/Wash U. type) — GPA 3.1. Despite poor GPA, can demonstrate upward trajectory (got 3.5 GPA last two years of undergrad, plus earned two master’s degrees — one in Liberal Arts, GPA 3.4, one in Education, GPA 4.0).

    Work Experience:

    Worked 3 years (currently in 4th year) as a classroom teacher through highly competitive alternate-route teaching program (not TFA, but has 10% acceptance rate, serves low income/minority students, and includes full scholarship for ed degree). Earned highest test scores in the district, coached sports while teaching, hired by my program after graduation to train new teacher candidates. Transferred to a charter school district after two years, where, after 1 year, I was placed into a district leadership position.

    Other Extracurriculars:

    Did lots of political internships during college, including working for Obama campaign press team. Founded an academic journal, coached sports while teaching, tutored low income/minority students.

    Career Goals:

    Work in consulting (ideally MBB) post-MBA for 3-5 years. After that, segue back into education sector to either do performance improvement for struggling districts or manage a major education organization.

    I want to attend a school that does well with social impact and consulting. School list includes Stanford, HBS, Kellogg, Tuck, Yale, Berkeley, UVA.

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