Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

She’s a serial entrepreneur in Eastern Europe, having successfully sold one business and started another. At 27 years of age, she says with conviction: “I want to employ people, not to be employed by someone else.” She wants an MBA to scale her company by securing a strategic investment that would allow her to expand across the world.

He’s a 28-year-old Western European who works in the consulting practice of a Big Four accounting firm. Fluent in five languages, including Mandarin, he has worked, traveled and lived in 42 different countries. This young professional now wants an MBA to work for McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group.

This 27-year-old Indian male has an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s in computational biology from an Ivy. But his undergrad is not from one of the more elite IITs in India. He works as an associate at one of the large life sciences consulting firms and now wants an MBA to work in the healthcare practice of one of the Big Three consultants.

What all three candidates share in common is the ambition to attend one of the world’s best business schools and to use that experience to enhance their careers. Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of Boston-based 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, work backgrounds and career goals with Poets&Quants.

This episode is filled with lots of advice for all MBA applicants, from when to retake the GMAT to how to portray yourself in the best possible light. To one applicant, Kreisberg firmly lectures: “You have to de-greed yourself. Take down the dollar-sign flag and put up the do-gooder flag.” To another, a female candidate from Eastern Europe, he advises: “To the extent possible, try to present yourself as a victim of a corrupt regime and country, who has had to put up with bribery and gender discrimination.”

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.Just post it in the comment section below. (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 take-no-prisoner assessments:

Mr. International


  • 650 GMAT (plans to retake)
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate in international business from a small London college
  • One-year of study in China
  • Work experience in strategy consulting for a Big Four consulting practice
  • Fluent in five languages, including Mandarin
  • Has worked, traveled and live in 42 countries, including an internship in Shanghai with the consulate and was a volunteer during the 2008 Olympic games
  • Goal: To transition into McKinsey/Bain/BCG short-term and to be CEO or country manager for a global consumer products or tech company long-term
  • 28-year-old Western European male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 15% to 20%
Stanford: 10%
Berkeley: 20%
Dartmouth: 20%
INSEAD: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: You are silver but not gold which means you are not getting into Stanford or Harvard. Working for a Big Four in Europe is an acceptable, selective gig. If you work for a Big Four in the U.S., it’s considered less selective. The GPA is kinda average at a non-selective school. The 650 GMAT score of 650 is a problem and you have to get that up. Your raw quant score is 37 and that would be of some concern, even with your business background.

You have a lot going for you in terms of international travel, interests, and languages. I’m impressed with all of your international experience. I haven’t been in 42 different townships in Massachusetts. Those experiences are undervalued by business schools. They are probably more impressive to the man in the street than they are to the admissions committee of a business school. They just aren’t as impressive as you think they are. It’s not going to blow open the doors.

In admissions, the tail does not wag the dog. The five languages and the 42 countries is the tail. The dog is where you are working and what the stats are.

But the tail can touch the dog and tickle a little. If you had a 3.9 from a near Ivy and an 80% on both sides of the GMAT, this begins to look very differently. At Berkeley, with a 650 GMAT, your odds are pretty much one in five. Get the GMAT up to 700, and those odds change to 35% to 45%.

Your goals are to join the holy trilogy of consulting, M/B/B. But they ask for your GMAT score. So if you are interested in working for one of those big three consulting firms and you have a 700 GMAT and are thinking of taking it yet again, you might take it over again. McKinsey wants a 720 GMAT. My advice to you is to take that GMAT as many times as you can.