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.

  • Rajesh

    Hi Sandy,

    Thank you for this series! Would really appreciate it if you could look at my profile

    GMAT: 740

    GPA: 3.2 from a 2nd teir state school( Didn’t really concentrate in undergrad as I didnt know what I wanted to do at that time.)
    3.6 GPA for masters in computer science from UT Dallas.

    Work experience: 2 years of software development experience at microsoft followed by another 2 years of product management experience.

    Extra Carriculars:

    1) Started a non profit organization to educate villages in india. Provide them with basic technology so they are globally connected. Create jobs for villagers where they create products(textile, pottery, woodwork, etc) and sell them online.

    2) Created a team of college students in India to document the hardships of neighborhoods living under poverty line.

    Why MBA: I want to the pursue MBA in entrepreneurship and help underprivileged communities by developing a self sustaining economy in said communities.

  • Michael

    I would love to hear your insight on my chances to Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Tuck, and Darden


    25 year old white male

    3.73 cumulative GPA with a History Major (3.9GPA) from a top tier public american university. Was in a fraternity and acted as their scholarship chair and historian

    GMAT:730 (49Q/41V)–96%–taken one time

    5 years work experience at a Charter Management Organization–two years as a teacher with Teach For America, then stayed in the company as an instructional coach. Was a high school soccer coach for 2 years.

    Extracurriculars: I volunteer at the local food bank twice a month for 3 hours at a time. I have helped with “Girls on the Run” a non-profit.

    I want to merge the education world with business concepts, and would love to learn those through gaining an MBA and consulting for a while. I know I don’t want to do finance/i-banking etc.

    Thanks for any advice you can give.

  • BoothBound

    Hi Sandy, I’d love it if you could assess my profile!

    GPA: 3.3
    Economics BA and Mathematics BA from top 20 school (non-Ivy)
    GMAT: 730 (99th percentile verbal)
    Current Job: business analyst at fortune 50 consumer products company focused on process improvement during an IT transformation (2 years of work post-college)

    Volunteered at adaptive sports camp for kids with physical disabilities
    Regular volunteer at habitat for humanity
    Runs successful personal analytics-focused sports blog
    Youth basketball coach
    Worked part time in now disbanded (due to executive personal reasons) ecommerce startup in business development and marketing
    Knowledgeable in several programming languages (C++, Visual Basic, Java, SQL, HTML)

    Goal post-mba: either work for a professional sports team front office or work for a tech company

    Target schools:
    Booth, Kellogg, HBS, MIT, Duke, Emory

  • Hopeful

    Hi Sandy,

    I would love to get your input on my chances at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Sloan, Kellogg. Thank you!

    25 year old Chinese female (immigrated to US as a child and first generation college student)

    GMAT: 720 (Retaking – aiming for 750)

    GPA: 3.34 (Math and Econ double major from Top 5 Liberal Arts School – worried about low GPA)

    Work Experience: 1 year at top economic consulting firm (NERA); 2 years at new boutique economic consulting firm (left with my boss when he started a new economic consulting firm); 1 year as financial analyst at Amazon

    Extracurricular: Strategy Consultant for nonprofits (Taproot Foundation – 1.5 years – 3rd project); Mentor to low income high school student (also trying to join exec board this year); Fundraising committee for a nonprofit that focuses on low-income high school students); Co-President of college’s consulting club and Treasurer for Chinese Student Association; Alumna interviewer

    Goal: To work for top management/strategy consulting firm.

  • Mr. Low GMAT


    Would love to get some feedback on my profile.

    GMAT: 680 (Q44/V39)
    GPA: 3.89 public Ivy (Business and Economics double major)
    Work Experience: Going to big 3 consulting firm
    Past Internships at Large Credit Ratings and Financial Securitization Company

    – President of Undergraduate Investment Club
    – Led comedy group

  • Charles

    Hey guys,

    Still a bit young but wanted to see if you could try to gauge my odds at HBS, Stanford, Wharton, and Booth, assuming I apply in ~ four years (two years IB + 2 years PE megafund/top tier mm PE fund)

    22 White Male
    Attends Big Ten University – currently a senior (think Illinois/Indiana/Wisconsin)
    Working for a Greenhill/Lazard/Moelis type firm upon graduation – M&A/Investment Banking
    GMAT: 760
    GPA: 3.63
    Athlete for two years before injury

    In addition, is there anything else I could do during the next few years to boost my resume? Not as though I can really change my GPA much in this last semester and I feel pretty comfortable with my GMAT. Thanks!

  • mrumsey


    I would love it if you could handicap my chances at UNC, Emory, Indiana and IE University.

    GMAT 680 (41/94% V, 42,51% Q) 8/92% Integrated Reasoning 5.5/81% Analytical Writing.

    Undergrad: 3.2 GPA in Management Information Systems at Oklahoma State University.
    Graduate Certificate: 4.0 Grad. Certificate in Business Analytics and Data Mining at Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business.

    Work Experience: 8 Years as a computer support specialist for a large state university. 1 year as an Associate Statistical Modeler at a large data company.

    Extras: 3 SAS Certifications (Base SAS, Advanced Base SAS, Predictive Modeler)

  • Jason

    Hey Sandy,

    want to see if you’ll weigh my chances at H/S/W and then Booth, Sloan, Kellogg, Haas, Stern, and Columbia. Appreciate the thought and help.

    GMAT: 740
    Undergrad GPA: 3.3 in Purdue University Mechanical Engineering
    Work Experience: 4 years at Cummins, Inc. diesel engine manufacturer from Indiana (actually creating and testing engines!). 3 promotions in 4 years including team management. International experience in China, Germany, England, and hopefully India soon too. 6Sigma certified for lean and efficient practice control and leadership
    Professional extra curriculars: shared Leadership of our company’s Professional Affinity group including leading company wide networking events and organizing professional seminars. Purdue recruiting team.
    Personal extra curriculars: College Jazz Band, Black Belt in martial arts, local chess club, Wellness (Yoga/ Strength and Conditioning/ marathoning etc)

    26 yr white male


  • Anderp

    Forgot to add: am currently a senior and will begin FT in June. I’ve also got a couple years worth of experience in research labs.

  • Anderp

    Hi guys,

    New to this site, but would appreciate your feedback. Wasn’t really planning on going back to school for a MBA, (yikes!) but it looks like I’ll have to do one after awhile.

    GMAT: N/A (let’s say something like 700+, I’ve been a pretty good standardized test taker and got a 37 on the MCAT)
    Undergrad: “Southern Ivy”, Biology BS and BBA (both top 10/20 programs, depending on ranker), GPA 3.7
    Work Experience (projected): Corp Dev/Strat at a health startup. On a pretty good trajectory, will be doing some heavy lifting with a round of VC and probably IPO. Potential to transition to some of the companies we have relationships with, think Google/ Apple or healthcare name brands
    EC: A bunch of college things, not sure how those would translate. Probably continue something with hospitals/ healthcare or science education post-graduation. I do a little strategy and outside work for startups.

    Goal: Work for MBB+D or boutique healthcare company, eventually transition into healthcare policy or admin

    Appreciate it, and have a great week!

  • Dairy Farmer

    Thanks Sandy,

    Good to hear that my agriculture background is going to be attractive to business schools.

    My timeline is 2-3 years as I need to get my current business to a point where I´m no longer needed operationally. From what I´ve seen of the EMBA programs they´re not full time which doesn´t interest me as I would be moving around the world to undertake study and the full time experience and strong networks of the traditional MBA programs really appeal to me.

    The reality is I envisage the MBA program as somewhat of a transformational experience after growing my businesses to the point where I have the financial resources and time available to tackle my next challenge. This is the trophy career as you pointed out which isn´t attractive to B schools I take it. What would be the best way to package this?

    I believe I can paint a pretty good picture of what I´ve been doing here in Brazil as genuinely the challenges have been enormous and the development of my team most of which have come from pretty tough backgrounds has been extremely rewarding for me personally.

    Anyway I´m in San Francisco at the moment after a week in Tahoe and I´ve arranged to meet up with a friend of a friend tomorrow who is currently studying at Stanford – I should get a pretty good insight into whether it will be the right decision for me.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Jimmy

    that’s very interesting, but may I ask how you are sure that the overall is based on a hidden percentile instead of the reported raw score? ie how do you know the 50Q 47V 770 score wasn’t from a test date with different percentile cutoffs resulting in the different overall score?

  • hbsguru

    There is a new Handicapping Version up on PQ, so post your profiles and short questions there.Thanks

  • Thaidream2015

    710 GMAT (41V/46Q)
    3.34 GPA
    Ideal program: H/S/W, Kellogg, Haas.

    -Undergrad in Finance from University of Oregon
    -Work experience included: 1.5 year founding a social enterprise startup with a HBS MBA candidate. Raised $32K on Kickstarter campaign. $100K from 1 accredited investor. $190K in revenue supporting 2 orphanages and 55 handicapped craftsmen in Thailand.
    1.5 year leading product development with a small digital marketing firm in NYC.
    1 year with a top VC firm in Thailand as product manager.
    -Extracurricular involvement raising over $40K for a youth entrepreneurship bootcamp with Stanford professor and Google executives in Bangkok. organized FIELD collaboration for 80 HBS MBA candidate with the previous VC employer.
    Essay focus in the experience founding the first social enterprise.
    Short term goal: continue to figure out a scaling model for the social enterprise. Find a new co-founder and raise more funding.
    Long term goal: return to Thailand and build an innovative school similar to General Assembly model focusing in Coding, Finance, Design.
    27 year old Thai male.

  • hbsguru

    There is a new Handicapping Version up on PQ, so post your profiles and short questions there.

  • BigBear

    Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for putting this together I’d love to hear your thoughts on my profile

    GRE: V:168 Q:162
    Biracial male (half black),26

    Undergrad in degree in Math at top Liberal Arts School (Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore) 3.3 GPA, Varsity Athlete (All Conference and National Champion)

    2 Years at BB Bank as an Investment Banking Analyst in the Health care group after college
    2 Years at midsized (~ 150mm per fund, ~500mm total AUM) venture fund, Healthcare with a focus on Med Tech and HCIT

    Young leaders board for charity with a focus on HC in the third world


    Work to improve the quality of HC in the US through innovation as either an investor or a hospital administrator

    Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Booth, Sloan

  • hbsguru

    good luck, and do let us know how this turns out.
    By the way, any Yale Silver Scholars out there who want to let us know what they think of the program?

  • Ms. recentapplications

    Thank you for the input. It was very recently that I found out about Yale silver scholars Program while the HBS 2+2 was in the running for the longest time. Though can’t wait for an answer from either school. I will post when interview results are out.

  • hbsguru

    haha, thanks, anyone know who enrolls typically? I really don’t get much call for kids interested in this program, versus lots of interest in HBS 2+2 and Stanford deferred. At first glance, the set-up you describe does not make sense, in that it is counter-trends towards older B school admits, work exp. before B school, and etc.
    Of course, if you join MBB right out of Yale, as a post-MBA title and salary, well, you may get the last laugh, does that every happen??

  • gsbguru

    yale is not a defer program. they ask u to come to campus immediately after college grad and lock u there for 3 years with 1 year in between doing externship so that u are not unemployed after mba

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    I don’t believe that there is any cutoff for GMAT where everyone gets invited, although I am not privy to any trade secrets of course. Ultimately it’s just another data point, albeit a very important one. If someone has a profile that is weak in other areas, it’s completely plausible that they could not make an interview regardless of GMAT score.

  • Renewable, IIT, Consultant

    Hi Sandy,
    Could you please give me profile a look?
    GMAT – 740
    GPA – 8/10
    College – IIT India
    2013-till date. Worked in the business development team of a large global renewable energy power producer. Main responsibilities are to source new clients who I can sell multiple forms of renewable energy to and then set up projects to generate said energy. basically end to end project sourcing and construction management of renewable projects
    management Consulting Big 4 India . Set up the renewable consulting practice over three years and learnt the standard stuff on creating presentations, working with excel, etc . Moved to an infrastructure company to learn how renewable projects are actually set up on the ground

    Extracurricular – Nothing major. however I have set up the first employment program (results awaited) in the company focused on providing 20 year jobs to bottom of pyramid villagers near our project sites

    Goal (nothing fancy) : – To get an MBA to transition to a regional leadership role in the same company . I can either rotate across divisions for 6 years or get an MBA and reach the same goal in 2 years (told to me by my firm).

    I am targetting the M7 and plan to apply either in R3 this year or R1 next year (Any thoughts?)

  • hbsguru

    Excellent, on many counts and many, many thanks for sharing your wonderful and rare expertise as runner, coach and stats person.
    This sub-thread has ALMOST become the tail wagging the dog of Handicapping, but Handicapping is a very big dog indeed. 🙂 So it is now a big dog with a long tail. 🙂
    I am still sticking with my program: which is not really impacted by your shrewd and informed analysis.
    The differences between 80 and 65 are over weighted by lazy and magazine ranking obsessed adcoms, who “just” care about those refined but often meaningless numbers (meaningless in any practical sense for success in dealing w. Q part of B school, and prob. meaningless as predictor of B school GPA or, ahem, later success, but someone please note any contra studies). As you note, it would be very difficult for a 65 runner to turn him/herself into an 80 runner by dint of diet, training, and hard work. True. Just as it would be impossible for most of our readers to run a 5 minute mile (let alone a faster one). We each have an optimal mile speed and beyond that, ain’t going to happen.
    My theory is, and I would welcome replies from kids actually in B school, that all the math skills you need to get by in B school is at the 50pct Q mark and possibly less. And after that, increasing Q scores don’t matter that much. Has any adcom data on this??? Compared to the LESS IMPORTANT MASSIVE DATA and 1000s of geometry problems stored in GMAT computers??? See below.
    HBS sends low Q kids to math boot camp. where you learn, I hope, the actual math you will need at HBS and not how to spook out some standardized test. Big difference.
    But it would take a very bold and energetic adcom, especially once you past H/S (who are ratings immune to some degree), to minimize the actual Q score, in favor of adcom’s gut judgment that I like this kid based on non-Q factors.
    One new hunch of mine, based on current P&Q story about how slimy and profitable and mercenary the GMAT is, is that I have been barking a bit up the wrong tree. Just based on my
    adult and cynical sense of how the world works, and without even doing an Internet search, I got a feeling the vastly overpaid and underworked, ahem, executive staff at GMATs are not former adcoms so much as former B school profs and deans. Essentially the GMAT/GMAC industrial complex is a fat jobs program for retiring or double dipping B school profs.
    Let me make this real clear: B school profs do not give a flying F@@K about holistic applicants or admissions in general, or anything beyond the fact that when they return from their over-long summer vacations, they walk into a room of bright, shiny faces who can understand the often irrelevant mumbo-jumbo they are, ahem, ‘teaching.” and spit it back in some intelligent and adoring way, even with the window dressing of some push back, just for fun. Thus, their desire to refine or change GMAT is nil. GMAC is either a good future retirement home or salary enhancer, or it does an OK job of presenting attractive whatevers day after day. My guess is, adcoms, who are front line in dealing w. actual applicants, are more hostile to GMAT than Profs but they are restrained by rankings and pressure from profs not to take chances and just follow the numbers, irrelevant or not.
    (HAHAHA, all that B school BS about risk taking does not apply to THEM!!)

  • hbsguru

    1. 2+2 always hard, and a bit random once you get past the hard filter of prestige schooling, top scores, and blue chip inernshps, and sometimes X factor.
    You get past the filter in terms of IIT, 8/10 (I think that is elite gpa? No?), female, 740 gmat, OK internships. I don’t see any X factor, and as noted many, man times, 2+2 (et al.) prefers STEM, life science kids, since future bankers/PE kids like you are a dime a dozen, and you will be applying in 2-3 years anyway., All that said, and said as recently as below, they take future bankers, those bankers often look like you, so you are in the running. Not getting interviewed would not surprise me, nor would you getting admitted. It turns a bit on execution, etc. (that is not always the case, some people have NO CHANCE, execution be damned).
    If you put a gun to my head, I would say this is NO at HBS and YES at Yale.
    Just a hunch. You will then have to figure out if you want to string Yale along while secretly planning to re-apply to HBS.
    NOT sure what the contract terms of Silver Scholars is about that. Anyone?
    Post back with HBS interview results, those come out (for the most part) on Jan 28th. Altho 2+2 interview invites often get pushed to 2nd invite wave, a week later.

  • Ms. recentappliations

    With GPA – 8.01/10

  • Ms. recentappliations

    Hi Sandy,

    Thank you for all the information. I am a final year student and recently applied for the HBS 2+2 and yale silver scholars. It would be ease a lot of my worries if you could comment on my profile.
    Country: India
    Gender: Female
    Degree: Integrated masters in Economics from Indian Institute of Technology. ( 5 years course)
    Past: Interned with Barclays and three internships previous to that.
    Extracurricular: Continuous leadership position with introducing new activities in dance and dance club convenor. Trained in classical dance. A year of volunteering experience with teaching kids. An exchange semester in Europe.

    Thank you.

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    I know this is not a satisfying answer but the truth is only the GMAC knows the answer to your question. As noted above, you can get different scores out of 800 with the same subscore. Like you, I scored a 47V. My Q was 50 yielding an overall score of 780. It’s completely possible to get 50Q 47V with an overall score of 770 as well. This is because you can have a 50Q in the 88th percentile and a 50Q in the 95th percentile. Same subscore, different percentiles and, thus, different total scores

  • H

    47 is rare? how rare? I got a 47, which was a surprise as I’d been told the max was 45 or something…is there anything above 47V?
    Side question, how hard IS it to dropout of 99th overall with a 47? You’d still be there with a 30Q? or a 40? or a 47?

  • W

    Nope. True re: H/S. Have you ever heard of someone with a 760 or greater not interviewing @W? Or is 770 or 780 the cutoff, at/above which everyone gets invited to the party?

  • Mr Big 4 Consultant

    Hey Sandy,

    Would love to hear about my chances at Stanford, Berkeley, Duke, McCombs, and Vanderbilt.

    GMAT: 770
    (51Q, 44V)

    Undergrad: 3.7 GPA at a Southern Ivy (Duke/Vanderbilt/Rice), cum
    laude. Degree in Economics & Psychology.

    Work Experience: 3 years as a Strategy & Operations
    Consultant for Deloitte. Mostly worked on healthcare projects, while
    leading pro bono efforts with local nonprofits on the side.

    Extracurriculars: Mentor for Best Buddies International, serving
    on board for a national nonprofit that provides volunteer opportunities to
    college students. Qualified for Boston Marathon.

    Goal: To work for an elite nonprofit consulting firm (i.e.,
    Bridgespan) or foundation (e.g., Bill & Melinda Gates)

    25-year-old white male


  • RebeccaRobot

    As a statistician and marathon coach, let me try this one.

    An 80th% marathon runner is MUCH better than a 65th% marathon runner. Using my hometown Chicago marathon, the 80th% percentile was 3:45, while the 65th% was 4:06. (You were right, about 20 minutes)

    Picking up 20 minutes is almost 1 minute/mile, and when you are running as fast as those individuals do (<=9 minutes/mile), picking up ground speed is very difficult. In order to achieve this, you need either 1) biological predisposition to endurance sports or 2) several hours per week of extra training (perhaps 10-15 additional miles plus some core work and lifting). It's totally conceivable that someone can naturally run at 8 minutes/mile naturally, while another individual runs at 9 minutes/mile, but it's quite unlikely outside of the elite levels – for most people, that means a good bit of extra training.

    As far as the GMAT Quant piece, the difference between 65th% and 80th% is not one standard deviation – it's 0.27 standard deviations. Statistically, this could be complete luck. However, use of SD as a measure of variance is based on the assumption of distribution normality, which is quite obviously violated in GMAT Quant scores. Observe, for example, that the top three possible scores (51, 50, and 49) contain 21% of the population – this is the opposite of the expected gravitation to the mean of 38, which contains only 2% of the population.

    I would expect the marathon analogy to hold true to GMAT test-takers. An improvement at low level (i.e. 5:00 to 4:40 marathon time or Q35 to Q38) is easy, but at the highest levels discussed above, there are very few people who can achieve elite results without the factors that you mention (training, stamina, focus, dedication, etc).

  • hbsguru

    Thanks to you and to YoshiIsAwesome, that is great info. –I sit partially corrected.
    I just mis-modeled the version of Ed Scam the GMAT is, thinking at first it was low-ball scam with smoke and mirrors. and it turns out it hi-employment scam w. smoke and mirrors. I forgot how many under employed statisticians and and other Quants there are, who cannot not only make up those thousands of math questions, each slightly different, but also make sure the results are statistically valid. Which they are, I assume (confession, long time since I did even 10th grade math, and I was only an 80 percenter back in the day, no slouch but no brainiac either.)
    What the test still fails to measure, and it is not the tests fault, but the lazy adcoms, is what is the operational difference is between a 80pct taker and a 65 percent taker, in any way that matters.
    Yet we all know, the difference in admission outcomes at many schools between those scores is major.

    Poster above says that difference in Q score 80/65 is .5 a standard deviation? What exactly does that mean in terms of ability to actually do what kind of math?

    Here is an interesting analogy, for which I will actually give $25 dollars to the poster who can find this info.

    Take any open Marathon (not one w. qual time like Boston) with lots of runners, e.g. one like New York, with 50,530 finishers in an average time of 4:34:45.
    Per their website.
    What was the average time for 80 percent finisher
    What was the average time for 65 percent finisher.
    I just got a hunch the difference in that bunched cohort could be like 15-20 minutes.
    Just from the info available about 25,000 people (the top half)
    finished between ~2hours (winner) and 4 hours 34 minutes.
    e.g. 25,000 finishers in that 2 hour 34 minutes window.
    How much better a runner, in any real sense, is Mr 65 percent vs. Mr. 80 percent.
    In what context would it make any difference, except, sure, some shorter race, e.g. half-marathon. But in terms of training, stamina, focus, dedication, and yes, performance, –how different are they?

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    No interview at Wharton with a 780?? I wouldn’t be surprised by no interview at H/S with 780.

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    Yep yep no problem! And then total percentile is presumably based on the multiplication of the separate percentiles less the degree to which they are covariant, which is determined by the GMAC’s statistic. For example, if these were independent, 90%/90% would be 1-(.1*.1) or 99th %ile, but it is lower than that due to the fact that high Q and V scores are correlated. This also explains why a high V score can boost a score to a very high overall %ile. A 47V is very rare, probably around 99.5 %ile. This calc is then altered as such… making it difficult to drop out of the 99th %ile overall!

  • JohnAByrne

    Thanks very much for providing our readers with an explanation on this.

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    There is a lot of confusion around this for many ppl so let me explain exactly how it works.
    The test asks 37 computer-adaptive quant questions. The bank has more than 10000 questions and they have multiple questions for each percentile (serious). This means that the test may think that you’re at 50th %ile to start, get it right it’ll give you a 70th%ile question, keep getting them right and you’ll go up. If it think you’re at the 99th %ile and you’ve answered the first 15 correctly and get one wrong, it may drop you down to 97th %ile and it’s up to you to raise that back up. You’ll get a question to test if you are in the 97th %ile. They base the difficulty of questions on statistics of the % of people who get them right or wrong, nothing more and nothing less. Your percentile after the last Q determines the score you get. If your math is 90th %ile, that’s 50Q, as 50Q runs from 88th %ile through to 97th %ile. Any score between those will be 50Q. Total score is calculated based on your percentile, not your subscore. This means that two people who get 50Q can have different scores out of 800 bc one was 88th %ile quant and one was 96th %ile. If you score 49Q, although it says 76th %ile, you can be anywhere between 76th and 87th %ile. I’m not even positive that most adcoms are aware of how this scoring works. Someone can get more questions wrong than another individual as a result of this and still get a higher score. # of questions wrong or right is not an important statistic. The GMAT actually does a very good job of determining someone’s percentile based on statistics… I am a rare supporter of the methodology! Anywho, glad to provide this info and I hope it clears up your GMAT-related questions!

  • W

    know a guy who didn’t even interview there with a 780…bizarre, rest of his app was good, except no big promotion and for ST goals he made the mistake of honesty, putting PE or Vc or something sexy like that…only 2 mistakes any of us could find

  • Jimmy

    My other reply got stuck in the spam filter, so here it is again.
    – My guess is there are several hundred unique questions at a minimum. The granularity is better than you think.
    – The algorithm uses the first part of the test as a baseline, and once it thinks it knows your skill level, it gets progressively harder to break out of that pipeline.
    – There are experimental questions which are random in difficulty and randomly placed throughout the test. These questions don’t count towards your real score.
    – Someone played around with the official GMAT test software, which probably uses an algorithm that is close to the real thing. Score 27/37 missing the first 10 questions: Q38 = 41th percentile. Score 27/37 missing the final 10 questions: Q50 = 88th percentile.
    – My humble opinion: There are no math concepts on the GMAT that are higher than a 10th grade level, and even the verbal and essay is a lot of structure/logic rather than comprehension or vocab. The GMAT is not really a test of knowledge or a good precursor for B school or career success (as much as GMAC would like to market it as such). The truth is it’s a test of IQ and preparation. If an applicant has taken the test multiple times and devoted several hundred hours to study and still can’t break 65%, then it’s not an issue of nuance. It’s impossible to get “lucky” on a CAT test with 37 questions (although it is quite easy to get unlucky). If we assume the 50% percentile is your average, then the difference between 65% and 80% is half a standard deviation. To me, that’s statistically significant.

  • hbsguru

    ha, ha. Thanks, I am sure that is the GMAT party line, but how many unique questions do you think there are in the whole computer. You are imagining a world where the computer feeds you from an infinite list of math questions, all pretested to some degree of difficulty. So if you get first ten questions right, and then one wrong, and then four more right, you are on some alternative highway which is just a bit different than the highway for kid who got first 14 all correct. And if that kid gets Q15 wrong, he goes onto another highway, with slightly different questions than the kid who so far got all of them right. Each answering questions from an endless box. RATHER,

    I got a hunch, there are maybe 50 unique questions total in the batch, and you get some very gross approximation of nuanced difficulty which is then covered over by the smoke and mirrors of raw score and 800-scale score. It is, my sense of it, Wizard of Oz stuff (ignore that man behind the curtain).

    I am just guessing from what I know about scams and corporate and ed-industry fat cats like GMAT etc. I dont have any evidence and

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not an anti test Luddite, I am drawing attention to the fact that a difference between an 80 pct performer and 65 percent performer on the Q part can be deeply significant in app outcomes while the actual difference in performance can be pretty trivial, because mostly of the bunching of test takers in that hump, and then that gets translated into some hundred point difference on scaled ssore which is more misleading.

    I also suggest if you had the oppty to cross examine Dee Leopold or Derrick Bolton about the very mechanics and actual differences were are talking about here, they would be shockingly inarticulate about how the test works, how it is ginnned up, and what the actual cognitive difference between an 80pct vs. 65 pct is.

  • RebeccaRobot


    The percentiles are set based on raw scores and available on the GMAC website or Wikipedia. For reference:

    51 = 97th%
    50 = 88th%
    49 = 79th%
    48 = 74th%
    47 = 68th%
    46 = 66th%
    45 = 63rd%

    Also, the “raw score” is not actually tied to the number of questions answered correctly, but rather the difficultly of questions at which the test-taker achieved 50% accuracy. Two individuals could answer the same number of questions correctly, but one could score a 48 and the other a 42 simply because the first was able to ascend the difficulty scale more adeptly.

  • hbsguru

    Thanks, Could anyone with a 65 percent GMAT Q score, or near that, please post their raw score?

    Jimmy, I take it from the above that although the test has 37 questions per applicant, the number of questions available are much more than that. Once you get a Q wrong, you go down a stovepipe with other, easier questions, and then if you get one of them wrong, you go down another one? And I assume if you get an early Q wrong, and then start getting Q’s right again, go down a different stovepipe.

    How many total questions do you think are in the computer?
    I assume the adaptive part just gets you back on the highway,
    E.g, two test takers with below profiles will start getting the same questions at some point where R=Right and W=Wrong

    Mr. A: R R R R R R R R R R R R R R etc. etc.
    Mr. B: R W R R R R R R R R R RR R

  • MBA Dreamer


    Would really appreciate your analysis on my chances at:
    1) Northwestern, 2) Columbia, 3) NYU, 4) UVA, and 5) Duke

    25 year old white male.
    GMAT: 680 (Q43, V41)
    GPA (top 50 university): 3.95, top 2%. History Major.

    Experience: 3 years at Deloitte Consulting, mostly business process improvement in the federal space. Promoted once, among top performers each year. Received multiple employee recognition awards. Seeking firm sponsorship for business school.

    Goal: Return to consulting and apply expertise in business process improvement to the healthcare industry.

    Should I retake GMAT? If I score a 700, what are my % increases in odds at my target schools?

  • Jimmy

    You are interpreting it correctly. 10 seems a little high now that I think about it, probably it is closer to 6-8. I shouldn’t have extrapolated like that because of the adaptive nature of the test. You shouldn’t directly compare two scores in terms of correct vs incorrect for this reason. In other words, Mr. 80% got 30/37 and Mr. 65% got 23/37, BUT Mr. 80%’s test had harder questions on it.

  • hbsguru

    As often noted, HBS for practicing lawyers and ex-lawyers depends very much on law school and current firm. Top 10 law school does not hack it, unless it is top 3, viz, HYS, in most cases. Firm needs to be blue chip top 20 or so. You strike out on both counts, so HBS admit here is remote. In addition to nothing else driving you in,.
    Other places might go for the 750 GMAT, and OK work experience. but my guess is no Sloan, no Yale (too many zigs for them and nothing driving you in), you dont seem Tuck type but if so, maybe, Columbia maybe, Kellogg sometimes goes for profiles like this.
    Let me know how this shakes out. Man, move fr. MBB to law firm, there may be lots of reasons for that in real life, but for application purposes, that was a a mistake.

  • hbsguru

    Huh, do I have this right. Difference in 80 v. 65 percent on Q GMAT is 10 questions? You mean Mr. 80 pct got (for sake or argument) 33/37 questions right versus Mr. 65 pct got 23/37? Is that what you are saying. I just want to make sure.

  • Jimmy

    I would guess the factor between questions missed and raw score for quant is something like 3 questions vs 1 raw point at the top. 80% vs 65% is a little more than 3 raw points, so something like 10 questions. For someone who’s natural ability is in the middle of that range it’s the difference between a good day and a bad day. But if you’re consistently capping out at 65%, your quant IQ is probably on a different level than the guy consistently scoring 80%.
    In my opinion, since so many internationals are taking the test now, 80/80 is not a realistic threshold anymore.

  • hbsguru

    thanks, I realize there lots of variables, but as rough guess, what separates a Q percent of 80 (which most schools are OK with) from a Q percent of 65 (which many schools will seriously question). I am trying to prove how stupid the GMAT is in making distinctions like that, e..g. you can really damage your application by missing X GMAT Quant questions. E.g. maybe TWO? I know, depends which two, but still???

  • Jimmy

    There are 37 quant questions on the GMAT. The algorithm calculates a raw score out of 51 depending on how many questions you miss, when you missed them, and how difficult the questions that you answered were. The bar for 80th percentile on quant is much higher because of internationals. There are also differences in how the verbal and quant raw scores are calculated that make it pointless to compare the two raw scores (it is much harder to get a perfect raw score on verbal).
    There are some official GMAT materials that say the score is out of 60 but from what I understand this is a cushion they built in for future expandability.

  • hbsguru

    Fun fact:
    ~average number of HBS kids each year fr. N.Z.=1
    From Australia=11.

    My guess is, they hang together.

    Other fun fact,
    Sandy Kreisberg’s favorite rendition of a national anthem.
    1. love, love, love Hayley. Now, oddly, a Celtic Woman. 🙂
    2. great national anthem, esp. if you put the “let’s go to war national anthems” in a special category. E.g. France.

  • hbsguru

    hmmmm, bunch of quick things. Agriculture, esp. agric in Brazil, is a good card to play. That is 1, what you are in fact doing, and 2. WAY more rare than renewable energy, which is what everyone is doing, many of whom actually have energy back grounds.
    You should present yourself as guy who wants to expand family business, a clearly recognized slot at most B schools, and outcomes depend on size of business and sexiness of business. Your size is small, but exotic biz. (to B schools, who dont get many farmers) and locales, is real plus.

    You may be approaching EMBA territory in 2 years, both in terms of age and experience. Something to think about. An EMBA would do you fine, if in fact, you wanted to expand family biz. If you want to transfer to energy, you might think about applying sooner. In 2 years it will sound like trophy career after you already succeeded with the farm.
    If you ignore all the above and apply as energy guy in two years, to MBA program, with solid GMAT (80/80), you might get into to target schools based on rarity elements.
    Man, if you want to go to Stanford, tell them you want to create hi-value agriculture jobs in Brazil remote regions. THEY LOVE JIVE LIKE THAT and you have, duh, already done it.
    “What matters most to me is seeing how my passions for agriculture and my 6 years of experience working with indigenous peoples in Brazil have been a
    second university for me, with lessons, failures, and renewed goals . . .”
    Expect phone call fr. Bolton shortly.

  • Dairy Farmer

    Dear Sandy,

    I´ve had a
    look through all of the profiles and while it has been useful I´m still having
    trouble predicting my odds due to quite an unusual background.


    27 Y white male
    – looking at applying in two years’ time so 29 at application and 30 at

    GPA: 3.5 in
    Agricultural Science (cows, grass, economics) from top Agricultural University
    in NZ. Year abroad at top Brazilian Agricultural University.

    GMAT: Based
    on online tests I would likely achieve 700-730, tried 3x and top results were
    50Q and 42V but on different tests.

    Work Experience:
    Currently 5 years, will be seven at matriculation.

    2 years at
    national dairy research and extension organization (3 graduates employed from
    70 applicants in my year) starting as an extension agent, moved to a technical
    role in applied research/development after nine months (economic analysis and computer
    modelling of farm systems etc.). I was the only recent graduate they had
    promoted to this role and they offered to sponsor a PhD based on the work I was
    undertaking. Dairy accounts for approximately 30% of NZ´s exports so this isn´t
    as unusual as it would first seem.

    While in
    this role, I started a company leasing a dairy farm, one of my brothers now
    runs this company and we have grown it to operating four dairy farms with 26
    staff (we own the cattle and machinery but no land).

    3 years –
    (Current) I have started a company developing and running pasture based dairy
    farms in a reasonably remote region of Brazil. I started this venture largely
    with capital from my family and my NZ based business although we have raised
    around $2.5 million of outside capital and we´re about to start another round
    of capital raising so should be double that by the time of applications.
    Currently I have 24 staff with four hires to make and will be about 35-40 when
    I apply. I need another 2/3 years to develop enough of a management team to
    transition myself out of the operation.

    EC: Junior
    hockey coaching in high school, some extension work with smallholder dairy
    farmers in Brazil (summer break during university), starting to get my private
    pilot’s license now. Should I try to get as much mileage out these as possible
    or just accept it as a weak area? (I spent a lot of time working to finish
    university without debt and then grow my capital)

    Goals: I would
    like to use my business/applied science skills to get involved in a
    startup/fast-growing company in renewable energy/materials. I´m not sure if
    that is too big of a pivot – would private equity/investment management
    focusing in global agriculture investment be more plausible?

    schools: Stanford, Wharton, Sloan, Haas, Tuck

  • hbsguru

    real simple. At HBS you are in the Major Petro cohort (includes majors and service providers like Schlumb’.). Based on career, stats, and tight story, you are in the upper part of that cohort, and should get interviewed, after that, chances are 60 pct for everyone, so don’t blow it. Ahem, hire a good HBS interview consultant.
    In order to get interviewed, you ‘just’ need a serviceable app and solid recs. SO do that too!.
    Stanford takes and dings kids like you, but I am not seeing any X factor, e.g. identity politics, MAJOR extra currics. Let me say that running company career fair is almost negative for Stanford–e.g. you really care about the OIL company and prefer to spend your time helping OIL COMPANY and not helping its victims!!! In your next life, organize a career fair for the low wage workers uprooted by colonial style exploitation of your hateful company or better yet, organize a do-gooder event FOR ANIMALS DAMAGED BY COMPANY.
    Stanford loves animals more than people. Esp. URM animals.

    Man, you should get admitted to W, MIT etc. Just dont FU.

    Bottom Line: Get a great HBS interview consultant.

  • Pierce

    Hi Sandy,
    I’m applying to HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago and MIT for 2016. I’d appreciate any insight you can give on my profile.
    26 year old, white male.
    GMAT: 740 (51 Quant, 38 Verbal)
    Undergrad: 3.87 GPA, BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas
    Work Experience: 4 years at a major oil and gas company (Exxon, Chevron, Shell, etc.). 3 years in project management for technology development and facilities capital projects. 1 year in a business planning/strategy role. I’ve been rated well so far, so assume decent to above average rec’s.
    Extracurriculars: Co-organized and ran 300+ company career fair as an undergrad. VP of company’s local employee network.
    Goals: Develop financial skills in order to switch to energy IB or PE

  • arowe


    Would love your thoughts on my chances at UCLA, HBS, and Stanford.

    Female, 26
    GMAT: 680/690 (projected)
    Undergrad GPA: 3.4 (USC)
    Goal: Launch tech start up

    Work Experience: 4 years
    – Sr. Marketing Manager at VC-backed tech start up: 3 promotions in 2 years, oversee marketing strategy for Western region of US, manage team of 10 direct reports
    – Community Manager for vegan cosmetics company: 2 promotions in 2 years, generated 4-year product marketing plan to target Gen Y, presented plan to board and then on stage at 10,000 person conference
    – E-commerce marketing internship at TOMS Shoes

    – Extensive travel and volunteer work (Kenya, Ethiopia, and Romania)
    – Ballet, painting, and sculpture

  • Caio

    Your GPA is very low and your GMAT ain’t helping. Experience is weak (I am assuming that nobody reports to you as a fraud analyst). Close to zero chance at Duke, for the others i guess it would higher but not great. Can’t you at least retake your GMAT? If you reach ~700 chances will increase a lot at the non Duke options.

  • HBSapplicant


    I was hoping you could provide a high level evaluation of my profile. For the record, I applied R2 to HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, and Kellogg.

    1) ~2.5 years financial advisory consulting at a Big 4 firm (M&A valuation, technical accounting/reporting for capital markets transactions) and ~1.5 years (as of matriculation) at a large spirits manufacturer (you’d know the name) working on a restructuring project. I am part of a global team assembled to redesign the management structure, significantly reduce costs, and reinvest the savings into our brands.
    2) 760 total (99%), 49 Quant (72%), 44 Verbal (98%), 6 AWA (92%), 8 IR (92%)
    3) Tulane University; joint degree with undergrad major in Finance and Masters in Accounting; graduated with both degrees in December 2010; 3.9 GPA for both grad and undergrad; was awarded a merit scholarship for ~50% of my tuition; named Senior Honors Scholar (i.e. top graduating senior in the business school)
    4) College: president, treasurer, and philanthropy chair of my fraternity. Post-college: Junior Board of a charity; taught financial literacy lessons to inner city schoolchildren through an initiative at my company.
    5) CPA, passed CFA level 2 (plan to sit for level 3)
    6) Turnaround/restructuring consulting with the long term goal of making principal investments in distressed companies

    Thanks so much!

  • HCD

    Sandy – I’m a big fan of your posts and would really appreciate your feedback on my profile.

    25 year old white male

    BA HYP – 3.7
    MA Oxford/Cambridge – [area studies: think East Asian/Latin American/Middle Eastern/African Studies]. Dissertation applied the research of a prominent HBS prof to Food & Beverage supply chains in [country of interest].

    GRE: 168V 164Q

    Work Experience:
    – 4 month off-cycle placement at GS/MS/JPM (M&A) after graduation from Ox/Cam. Received offer to continue full-time but declined.
    – 1.5 years at boutique emerging markets-focused PE fund. Limited track record of recent MBA applications: 1 to Wharton, 1 to Haas.

    – Varsity athlete during undergrad [think volleyball/water polo/crew]
    – Worked for 3 months in youth ward of maximum-security prison in [country of interest].
    – Head teaching assistant for several highly-enrolled courses during undergrad

    Post-MBA Goals:
    – Short-term: management consultancy with strong private equity practice (e.g. Bain, Parthenon)
    – Medium-term: join an early stage EM-focused PE fund in a leadership role, or take the entrepreneurial plunge and start one myself.

    Targets: GSB, HBS, Yale, Columbia, Wharton, Tuck

    Any advice on how to package my story and/or career goals would also be most appreciated.

    Thanks again

  • Mitch

    Hi John and Sandy,

    I’ve already put together and submitted R2 applications, but would nonetheless really appreciate your advise to tide me over during the coming months (and as resources for posterity).

    GMAT: 750 overall (Q50 V42), AWA 6, IR 6
    Undergrad: 3.1 at an Ivy (obviously not HYP) in a humanities major
    Grad school: 3.3 at a top 10 law school
    Work experience: 2 years of mandatory military service between college and law school. Following law school, briefly MBB consulting in an Asian office, and then moved to a large but local law firm at that Asian country for the past 3 years (not a big name wall street firm)
    Age: 31
    Extracurriculars: Run of the mill club activities in college, some volunteer work recently
    Career goal: Transition into finance with a view towards social/impact finance. The story is that the combination of experience and “expertise” in law and consulting, together with the academic and practical training in finance, will be an asset going forward.

    Applying to: Sloan, CBS, Kellogg, Columbia, Tuck, Yale and HBS


  • David

    Hi John and Sandy,

    I’d appreciate it if you could take a look at my profile. My first choice would be HBS or Wharton, with Booth and Kellogg a close second.

    I have previously applied to Wharton, but not the other schools. Since the ding at Wharton. I have retaken the GMAT (previously had a 690), taken a graduate level calculus course (received an A+), received a work promotion and taken on additional leadership roles in my extracurricular activities.

    GPA: 3.23 at The University of Texas at Austin (Accounting BBA and Masters)
    GMAT: 760 (48 Q, 47 V, 5.0 AWA, 7 IR)
    Certifications: CPA

    – 2 years working in restructuring, working on the Lehman bankruptcy. Rated as the top associate out of 30 in the country. Helped develop, created internal buy-in and marketed (with 2 partners) a new tax model for M&A transactions which led to $400K in new revenue in the first year.
    – 3 years at Big Four accounting firm in New York in their transaction advisory
    services practice, focusing on tax structuring/consulting. Currently a Manager,
    overseeing the business development for a 19 person group and directly managing
    $2.5m in gross revenue during the prior fiscal year.

    Material Extra-curriculars college:
    – Vice President of the Student Senate.
    – President of men’s service organization, where I oversaw tutoring program
    with 50 students and helped raised $25K for college scholarships for the
    students that we tutor.
    – Chairman of students for academic integrity, in which role I started the
    first weeklong “Integrity UT Week” highlighting the school’s honor code.
    – Worked throughout school (20 hours a week)

    Extra-curriculars post-college:
    – Involved with afterschool program in Harlem for the past 2 years. Was the lead teacher this past semester and I revamped the curriculum to be more interactive, leading to our class being featured as a model for other classes in the New York area.
    – Involved with the Texas Alumni Association, both as an event chairman and as
    a committee member for the scholarship (in which role I read college
    scholarship applications and interview applicants)
    – Involved with raising funds for a non-profit that works to encourage physical
    fitness with kids.
    – Compete in long-distance running (marathons/half-marathons) and half-ironman

    – I would like to work in financial analysis and strategy at a PE shop, focusing on
    distressed companies, due to my background in M&A and in restructuring.

    Appreciate any thoughts or comments you may have!
    Mr. Texas

  • AD

    Would appreciate your feedback Sandy. I am enjoying this series and the responses to earlier comments in this section!

    – Evaluating my chances at H/S/W/MIT/Berkeley/INSEAD
    – Indian, Male, 30
    – GMAT – 760 (51Q, 42V)
    – 3.4 Undergrad GPA, non IIT college in India.
    – Masters degree in comp. science from a non-ivy school, 4.0 GPA
    – 7+ yrs of work ex, most of it while working for a big bluechip cos.(Google, Intel, Apple etc) with currently working in a independent contributor engineering role.
    – Goal is to go into consulting with one of the top firms and work in the technology sector.
    – Have been involved with some outdoor clubs and NGO’s but nothing outstanding to show for extracurricular activities.

  • Mr. Curious


    I would love your take on my MBA odds. I am looking at Stanford, HBS, Wharton, Booth, Kellogg, and Sloan.

    GMAT: 750
    GPA: 3.75 at top 10 undergraduate business school (think USC/NYU). Graduated at age 20 and Magna Cum Laude.
    Work Experience: 3 years in financial operations at a top Silicon Valley startup (think AirBnB or Uber), interned at Big 4 in college
    Extracurriculars: Won international and national case competitions in college, VP of the student government.
    Goal: To pivot into MBB


  • Mr. Well-Rounded

    Thanks for the insight – makes sense and much appreciated!

    Last time my MBB office unfortunately had a peak application year – 26 applicants across three classes. The majority of us were disappointed – I did not get an interview. The sports analytics piece was also not on my resume at application, and I fear the PE entry may have come across as naive/rushed (which, it frankly was at the time!).

    Thanks again for the response, and I appreciate the feedback on career aspirations. Will hopefully be able to frame my app better this time around!

  • hbsguru

    Well, at first glance you situation is worse than last time you applied. THEN you were golden boy at MBB with a totally clear and banal and oft-successful career path. Now you are same guy, working at not successful (application wise) Mid-Market PE shop. Which as noted, and you have confirmed, is often poison at HBS.
    I frankly do not understand what happened last time? Were you interviewed at HBS? Or was app. a mess, or are you mystery meat??
    Moving right along, Not sure what extras are new as to this app.
    They are impressive and those along w. better app. could make a difference, even if you work at ‘cursed’ firm in cursed MMPE.
    If you blew interview last time, that would be best outcome. If not, I’d be interested in knowing if HBS did not GIVE an interview to MBB guy w. 3.6 GPA and 780 GMAT? If so, something was wrong???
    As to this year, good luck, not sure saying you want to be
    ” Chief Executive of the business operations of a professional sports team” reads more like a wet dream than a career goal. Just say you are interested in
    Media and Entertainment, possibly w. focus on sports. etc. etc.

  • tee

    28 URM female
    2.5 GPA from a state school. First generation college student. Marketing major. interned with a non profit museum in the sales department. Also interned with a large REIT company in their regional office as a Marketing Assistant
    650 Gmat
    5 years WE in (One of the 4 big banks )retail banking(2 years full time prior to graduation). Currently work as a Commercial Fraud Analyst (3rd promotion)

    Volunteer 15-20 hours per year for work related
    6 months as an organizer out of 4 total for a young professionals networking group.
    Participant in college of a Women’s empowerment group, First year class treasurer, Honda All Star challenge participant (something similar to Jeopardy)
    I’d like to use my experience to land a marketing role or even in a general leadership program. I wouldn’t mind working in a Marketing position in a financial services company, but ideally I prefer to work with a CPG company like P&G. I’m also open to retail marketing.
    Please chance me at:

  • Mr. Well-Rounded

    Hey John and Sandy,

    I’d love for you to take a look at my profile if you have a second. I’m targeting HBS/Stanford as my first choice and Wharton/Sloan/Kellogg as my second choice.

    I’m particularly nervous given your previous comments on Middle Market PE. I am a reapplicant at HBS and GSB, white male, 27 at matriculation.

    GPA: A- average (3.67) at HYP
    GMAT: 780 (51 Quant, 45 Verbal, 5.0 AWA, 8 IR)

    – 2 years at MBB, top top bucket performer (top 10-15%), promoted in 2 years to post-MBA
    – Less than 1 year in sports analytics for a professional sports league
    – 2 years (at matriculation) in a Middle Market PE firm that has struggled recently on MBA applications (2 HBS and 0 GSB in last 5 years despite 6-10 very strong candidates)

    Extra-curriculars college:
    – 4 year club athlete in college, 2 year captain
    – Freshmen adviser and counselor during senior year
    – Heavily involved in American Cancer Society fundraising

    Extra-curriculars post-college:
    – Board member of education focused start-up
    – 6 month volunteer project with Art Institute helping to raise minority attendance
    – Read to/with a third grader for an hour every other week in a public lower school
    – Mentor a junior in high school, meeting for 3-4 hours per month to discuss classes, SAT prep, life issues, etc.
    – Was previously very involved in extra-curriculars at MBB (interviewer, associate mentor, presented internal trainings, etc.)
    – Key start-up advisor to a new organization focused on financial literacy of underprivileged, high-achieving young-adults.

    – Would like to be the Chief Executive of the business operations of a professional sports team
    – Previous application listed that I had wanted to enter PE. After getting dinged I entered PE pre-MBA instead.

    Any thoughts appreciated, thanks!
    Mr. Well-Rounded

  • MrEP

    Considering the volume of comments you get and especially having re-read my post (apologies for how long and rambling it was), I was very surprised but nonetheless very grateful for your advice (and this isn’t just practice for the sucking-up). To continue:

    1. Hell yeah
    2. In the UK, it’s practically impossible to get MBB unless one went to Oxbridge (another reason for that Masters). Is switching to MBB better vs. advancing at OW?
    4. I am interested in policy but more as a tool (i.e. understand policy and use it in business settings) than a career path (possible short-term, but likely frustrating in the long run)
    5. I’ve managed to avoid getting screened for one of those so far, let’s hope the streak continues
    6. Does “leadership position in a technology company with a social bend” sound more palatable as a long-term goal than the incoherent mess I spit out in my original post?
    7. Extra-curriculars are what worry me (because I’m worried I won’t have time to get really deep into any while working, and my uni ones aren’t nearly good enough). Beyond the usual I’m-doing-this-for-my-promotion-hopes volunteering work at offices, I have a few options:
    a. Continuing to work with the renewable energy social enterprise part-time
    b. Mentoring at school/university (setting up and advising a robotics club)
    c. Part-time entrepreneurship
    I’m genuinely interested in all of those, but knowing which ones have the most potential for impact would be great so I know where to focus my time and energy.
    8. What length of work experience would you usually suggest is the right one? 4-5 years?

    Once again, I’m sorry for the mess in my original post and I realise this is an odd request. But I know that I don’t have a stellar profile right now and want to use the time I have to craft one.

  • AP

    Most of the people who got in worked for Bain or Goldman or some boutique PE firm like Temarsek. Also, the reporting standards aren’t GPA but percentage. Consider my case, I’ve got a BS with a First Class Degree, although its nothing to write home about and a high GMAT – 770. I’ve worked in education and media (no blue chip firms). What do you think?

  • hbsguru

    Dunno, to be honest. How many kids did you know who tried to get in w. 3 year degree?
    My guess is, IF 3-year GPA is high, and IF GMAT is solid, and IF you work for blue chip firm, THEN the degree might not be so important.

  • hbsguru

    probably, esp. at schools which are reaches, they many like you but not want to bring down their GMAT reporting w. your sub-par scores, With GRE they get a pass.

  • hbsguru

    dunno man, lots to like but a KEY issue for you is what HBS thinks of your middle market PE firm and what its track record of placing kids into H and S is over the past 1-4 years.
    The MOST CONFIRMED and POWERFUL conclusion from my
    Round One HBS Ding Story in PQ,where I analyzed over 60 Round One HBS dings, is that the group which got DINGED the most, is MIDDLE MARKET PRIVATE EQUITY. There may be some exceptions (favorite HBS middle market feeder firms) but if you are not from there, and do not have an X factor, your chances are slim. I assume this so at Stanford.
    Not sure how your varsity football career will add up as an X factor. Friend, in your next life, do the same and win a Rhodes Scholarship, that IS something that works as X factor.
    [My guess is, you came close!)
    Also, 6 years work ex. ain’t helping, Four years at Middle Market Firm after two years at GS, that is ODD.

  • Marine2Finance

    I really enjoy reading this series. I would greatly appreciate an analysis on my profile, Sandy. Thanks!

  • Marine2Finance

    GMAT: 770 (50 Q/44 V/6 AWA/6 IR)
    GPA: 3.19 in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, San Diego
    Age: 28 at time of matriculation
    Nationality/Gender: Asian-American Male

    Work Experience:
    -2 Years as an independent private math tutor (most clients were low income minorities)
    -3 Years as an officer in the Marine Corps (deployment to Middle East overseeing logistics for an airfield from which coalition air strikes are conducted, responsible for ensuring combat readiness of 90 Marines and 104 military vehicles) Will be selected for promotion to captain this year.

    -Founded a club during undergrad for students to train
    and compete in Olympic freestyle wrestling.
    -No extracurriculars since graduating college

    -Passed the Defense Language Proficiency Test in Vietnamese and Spanish, earning a conversational rating in both
    -Have competed in 10 intergym Thai Kickboxing matches (full contact, but below amateur level)

    Goal: Corporate finance for F500 company on west coast with long-term goal of reaching CFO level

    Target Schools: Wharton, Booth, Kellogg, Tuck, Haas, Anderson

  • UK2217


    I am an avid reader of your analysis, and would love for you to handicap the profile below:

    Age (at matriculation): 27

    Target schools: Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, Tuck, Haas (“reach” schools?) & Anderson

    Undergrad: 3.2 GPA in Mechanical Engineering from a reputed university in the UK (not Oxbridge).

    GMAT: 730

    Professional Qualifications: Qualified Accountant in the UK + completed CFA level 1 (heard many times that this is practically irrelevant for MBA applications).

    W/E: Recently completed a three year graduate programme in London for a large European Investment Bank(Barclays/UBS/Credit Suisse), experience in the “Middle Office” (aspects like appraisal of investments/divestments of portfolios, liaising with regulators to translate latest regulatory changes/requirements into tangible initiatives etc).

    1) elected as student representative for the engineering community 3 years in a row.

    2) Weekly tutoring of students in engineering for 2 yrs

    3) Part of a committee which organizes group wide social events at work for >1000 staff. Remit includes budget control, vendor negotiation, event management etc.

    Post MBA Goal: To transition into Tech focused Investment Banking on the West Coast.

    I aim to apply in 2016 in order to matriculate in 2017, this gives me around a year and a half before I apply. From my view, the weakness in my application would be 1) weak GPA (cant do anything about this) 2) average W/E 3) average ExtraCurrics.

  • CaltechKid

    Hey Sandy,

    I’m not sure if you handicap the odds for harvard 2+2/Stanford’s deferred program but I’d love your thoughts if you do.

    GMAT: 760 (44V/50Q/8IR) , first time.

    Undergrad: California Institute of Technology
    GPA: 3.5
    Major: Electrical Engineering

    Work Experience:
    – Imagine Eyes, Worked in Paris for a summer doing computer programming work. (speak french)
    – Siemens Oil & Gas, worked in the special projects division where we planned the companies entry to a foreign LNG market.
    – Started a company as a freshman to help car buyers find and negotiate car prices. (< $15,000/yr)
    – Helped start a family charity, Compudopt.org, that gives computers to underprivileged students in Houston.

    – Plan to work at a large tech firm as a liaison between the engineers and the product management teams.

    – Hope to start a renewable energy company geared towards non-combustion engine cars.

    This may not matter but one of my recs is from the head of a 2016 presidential campaign.

    Thanks for your time!

  • MiddleMarketPrivateEquity

    Sandy, I would appreciate your feedback.

    Stanford BA (humanities), 3.6 GPA
    Stanford MA (social science), 3.6 GPA
    Varsity athlete; football scholarship: 5 years
    Investment banking division, Goldman Sachs (2 years)
    Middle-market private equity firm (4+ years)
    GMAT: 750
    Target schools: Stanford, Harvard, Wharton

  • MBA Engineer


    I really enjoy the series and would appreciate your help in handicapping my
    chances at Stanford, HBS, Wharton, Chicago, Dartmouth (already had the
    student-initiated interview), and UT (McCombs). I applied to all schools in
    round two.

    GMAT: 740 V:42 (96%) Q:49 (79%), I only took it one time.

    Undergrad: 3.84 Magna cum laude, majored in electrical engineering at a Top 20 National University in the U.S. Deans list all semesters and hold a department award.

    Masters: 3.725 in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

    Work Experience: 7 years at a global semiconductor company.

    -Lead designer for high speed custom microchips. I engage with clients to
    develop new product specifications and coordinate the efforts of design and
    layout engineers for successful project execution. I work closely with test
    engineers to develop efficient test methodologies and with product engineers to
    successfully characterize and evaluate products for mass production.

    -Provided technical and project leadership across worldwide design centers (one in Japan, two in the U.S.) for a new technology node that is the foundation for our current product development efforts across all clients.

    -Tasked with acquiring Samsung’s business and successfully led the definition, design and execution of projects that have created $6.8M in new revenue (9M units sold).

    -Directly contributed to multiple projects for clients that have generated over $125M in revenue (over 170Million units sold).

    Entrepreneurship: Founder and President of a residential real estate
    investment company. Nothing big but it has been a great learning experience.
    Currently own and manage six properties.

    Extracurricular: Associate Selector for Camp Rising Sun Alumni Association
    of Peru. Camp Rising Sun’s mission is to develop in promising young people from
    around the world a lifelong commitment to compassionate and responsible
    leadership for the betterment of their communities and the world.

    31 year old Peruvian male. Unfortunately it took a long time to get my green
    card due to the great recession and it definitely impacted the timing of my

    Thank you for your help.

  • MBA Planning

    Hi John and Sandy,
    I am curious how you would look at my profile and where you would recommend that I focus my application efforts:
    Looking at Stanford, Cornell, Oxford, Duke, Northwestern, London School of Business

    Undergrad: 3.6 from school Honors College (public university; top 150)
    GMAT: 740
    Graduate Degree (Masters in Accounting – 1 year): 3.0 as I had Mono for 2/3 terms (public university – top 150)
    Employment: 4 years at PwC (2.5 years as an auditor and 1.5 years as a Finance Consultant)
    Certifications: CPA, Six Sigma
    Extracurriculars: English teacher in Middle East (3 months), volunteer Aids Orphanage worker in Cambodia (3 months), leader of neighborhood Emergency Preparedness team (FEMA), Board Member for Financial Literacy Committee ran by the Oregon Society of CPAs, President of fraternity, volunteer leader for my church, led Community Engagement team for the Christian college group I was apart of
    Goal after MBA: transition into corporate strategy group for a F500 company; preferably with an international rotation option
    Age/Gender: 29 Asian/Caucasian male

  • Mr Early Planner

    Hi John and Sandy,

    I’m a student finishing my undergraduate degree and trying to shape the next 5-7 years into a career path that gets me a shot at Harvard, Stanford, MIT or Yale.

    – Indian male (currently 21)
    – Undergraduate degree in Computer Science from University College London (UCL, one of the top 5 schools in the UK) + a year abroad at ETH Zurich (one of the top tech schools in the world)
    – GPA: 3.85 (by the strictest standard and 4.0 by a relaxed one)

    Work Experience:
    – Going to be joining Oliver Wyman in London as a strategy consultant (with the aim of gaining experience heavily in renewable energy, technology, and corporate governance cases) (One of the things that attracted me most to OW was that I could go up the ranks quicker than at most other firms, is this a plus in my book?)
    – Currently working part-time as a data analyst and developer at a tech start-up (writing my final-year thesis on detecting decision-making patterns in traders using data on their sleep, exercise and other indicators of physical health) and product manager at a pre-founding stage start-up project
    – Previous internship experiences include technology consulting with KPMG, renewable energy private equity (where I proposed a mechanism that generated a 7 million-pound return) and research work on self-driving cars
    – Also did a short stint at an Indian non-profit that installs solar power plants in small villages, retaining a very good relationship with them such that I can always get a job there should it prove to be the right next step at any point

    – Mentoring new students at my undergraduate university department (twice as a mentor and once as the leader of the mentoring team)
    – Various leadership positions at university and high school clubs (managing all projects on the university technology club, leading university team for a national business competition till the semi-finals and maybe beyond), but nothing exceptional (even though leadership is a crucial part of who I want to be as an individual and a professional)
    – Worked on an Engineers Without Borders project building an earthquake-resistant school in Nepal
    – Learned French and some German by myself online, along with taking a lot of online courses in various non-technical subjects
    – A few half-hearted tries at entrepreneurship (implemented some part of 2 ideas, got interest from investors and did a few testing rounds with 100+ users, but couldn’t work on them with enough gusto alongside school)

    Not a specific idea yet. I find technology interesting, but what I really like are the business aspects of technology-based industries eg. not just how to build an electric car, but rather how to create a hugely successful business around it. I am also quite interested in policy issues, but worried that a career in policy might be frustrating because you could have an idea that makes sense but wait for years for someone to implement it. The potential for social impact is also quite important to me (which is why I’m choosing not to go further down the tech start-up route)

    I’m ambitious, enjoy working to my fullest capacity (right now I work 2 jobs alongside university and learning French) but I know I lack direction and feel right now I have no X-factor and also lack in leadership (even though it’s something I have been doing since my earliest years in school, but I was always the guy with the second-tier positions i.e. School Prefect but not Head Boy, Team Leader but not President, etc.)

    I realise a lot of the other commenters have more pressing needs since they are applying right now, but I feel that if I could add the right direction to my efforts right now, I have the opportunity to mould myself into the right candidate. To this end, I would really appreciate any advice you have.

    P.S. I have also been considering the idea of applying to a different Masters program before an MBA, especially the Masters in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge. Would this be a definite plus on my application?

  • GRE or GMAT?

    Hi there Sandy. In all of these posts, you only ever reference the GMAT. If I’ve taken both the GRE and GMAT, and did (slightly) better on the GRE, would it hurt to only submit the GRE score? I got a 710 with a 81% V 90% Q split.

  • AP

    Sandy a question about the undergrad degree. I’m from India and I have a three year degree. I know most schools apart from Berkeley say they accept a 3 year degree but the people admitted seem few and far between. Do you think these 3 year degrees are viewed as being somewhat inferior to the usual 4 year degrees? Oh and btw, all of the 3 year degrees are usually Arts or Science ones (E.g., BA, BS, etc.) Thanks!

  • YoshiIsAwesome

    Thank you; your help is much appreciated!

  • hbsguru

    short answer is below–guy I reference was in some ways more shiny because he did software for a SOFTWARE centric company. You are doing programming for a bank, nothing wrong with that, and please keep up the good work, but just as an identity, bronze/silver not gold.
    Given your stats and blue chip employment, most schools outside H/S will bite,

    Wharton will be a coin toss, but they may go for the 780 GMAT.

    How many apps w. 780 get dinged fr. Wharton is an interesting question, esp. kids who did not barf at the interview, e.g. most kids.

    Jose–an hour ago

    What are the schools that typically like to get software engineers
    from big tech (think Intel, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc.) and shoot
    them out into leadership positions in the same companies?

    Pretty much ANY school except H and S. And there might be guys you describe at H and S as well.
    knew an applicant last coupla years, , 4.0/760+ GMAT/Software job at
    Major (e..g Intel, Amazon, MSFT, GOOG, etc). Solid execution. No
    interview at H or S. Admit everyplace else.
    I think to get into H/S
    with those stats you also need an X factor about identity politics or
    leadership or connections, etc. E.g. guy who runs your division at
    Google is active in Stan Alum blah, blah and can wink at Bolton.
    Or no wink needed, the wink is embedded.

  • hbsguru

    Pretty much ANY school except H and S. And there might be guys you describe at H and S as well.
    I knew an applicant last coupla years, , 4.0/760+ GMAT/Software job at Major (e..g Intel, Amazon, MSFT, GOOG, etc). Solid execution. No interview at H or S. Admit everyplace else.
    I think to get into H/S with those stats you also need an X factor about identity politics or leadership or connections, etc. E.g. guy who runs your division at Google is active in Stan Alum blah, blah and can wink at Bolton.
    Or no wink needed, the wink is embedded.

  • YoshiIsAwesome


    Thank you for your legendary odds-giving posts. I would be honored to have the great Sandy Kreisberg analyze my profile :). I’ll be applying in the fall of 2015 to matriculate in the fall of 2016. Take a gander:

    – White male, 24
    – 780 GMAT
    – Small, decent university, top 100-ish; not completely unknown but far from a target
    – Major: Econ w/ minor in math
    – GPA: 3.7 overall, 3.9 in-major/minor

    – 1.75 yrs of work exp at a large financial institution (GS/MS/JPM) doing financial operations. It is more-or-less the Excel/Access data work that underlies a lot of financial reporting, but is on a very broad scale
    – Lots of praise for work and have received a couple of awards. Should definitely have strong letters of rec… basically as high praise as one can get in this sort of role. Clearly weakness here is selectivity of the particular role

    While working I do the following extracurriculars:
    – Volunteer teaching job seeking skills to low-income individuals. Volunteered 100 hrs this last yr! Have been involved in volunteering & giving to charity since high school and it is definitely a passion of mine
    – Work with different charities in the area to link up volunteers from my office with opportunities; have helped
    coordinate an extra ~50 volunteer hrs in ’14 thru this activity
    – Raised $15k in ’14 doing fundraising for nonprofits
    – Avid guitarist and musician with a few other stringed instruments as well (banjo, mandolin). Have not been in a
    band since college, however

    – Still have an open mind about what I’d like to do post b-school. Most likely this will be consulting or banking. Want to have a career in finance coupled with strong volunteering/nonprofit involvement in my free time as I currently do

    – H/S (I know, everyone writes this), Wharton, Booth, MIT, Columbia, Tuck

    Wondering if I’m deluding myself in thinking I should give H/S a shot given that I’m not applying with front office experience and I’ll be a part of the uber-competitive finance cohort. Curious to know how you view my odds at the other schools listed. I hope to apply to all six and get an acceptance.

  • hbsguru

    Well, agree with most of this but 750 is not the new 700.
    750 is still an elite score that is WAY above the average at every school in the world including H/S/W.
    720 is actually below the average at those places (by 5-10 pts) but it is a score that if everything else about you clicks, the adcoms will take you. Obviously they are taking many others with lower scores, if ~725 is the average, but that is my point. They wont blink at a 720, in the same way, they used to not blink at a 700 2-5 years ago.
    Dee Leopold used to say, “Look, just get a 700 and forget about the GMAT” (well, words to that effect, she does not talk that way). Not sure she fully believes that anymore, although, ahem, she still may be saying it. 😉

  • Jose

    What are the schools that typically like to get software engineers from big tech (think Intel, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc.) and shoot them out into leadership positions in the same companies?

  • Arsenal12


    Would love for you to handicap my chances at HBS, Wharton, Sloan, Ross, and Fuqua. Thanks in advance for your help.

    GMAT: 740 overall (Verbal 44, Quantitative 48, Analytical Writing 5)

    Undergrad: 3.6 GPA in the business school at Washington University in St. Louis (3.8 GPA in my major). Played men’s varsity soccer all four years.

    Work Experience: 3 years as a strategy and operations consultant for a boutique firm that works with direct selling companies (think Amway, Avon, Mary Kay, etc.). Real standout experience was ~2 years full-time work at Herbalife on a few different engagements, as this fell during the peak of Bill Ackman’s attack on the company’s stock, and I worked with many of the functions of the company that he critiqued in his presentations.

    Extracurriculars: Nothing noteworthy, I’ve run a couple of half marathons but that’s about it.

  • GMATters

    You’re so right on GMAT scores, although I would even say (supported by zero evidence, mind you) that 750 is the new 700. It seems like 700+ used to be this elite promised-land of GMAT scoring; now it’s the minimum bar for competitiveness for traditional candidates.
    This is amplified by the fact that you can take the test, get your score, then cancel it if you don’t like it with zero reporting of you having ever been there (I call that the MIssion Impossible option). With such a system, it’s truly just a matter of how bad you want it / how much money you’re willing to spend. Great business decision by GMAC, not so sure it does wonders for the test’s street cred, but what do I know….