Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

With a 780 GMAT and a 3.7 grade point average in engineering, this 27-year-old female professional seems the ideal candidate for an elite MBA program. She currently works for a renewables company, a job she took to get one step closer to working as an operations manager or consultant.

This 25-year-old professional has been working with General Electric Co. ever since he earned his mechanical engineering degree from a Big Ten university. With a 740 GMAT but a 3.0 GPA, he has set his ambition on using the MBA to transition into management consulting. But he wonders how to offset the low GPA to get into a top business school.

After gaining her undergraduate degree from a top New England college in 2012, this 25-year-old woman landed a job with a global consulting firm. But her true love is the social sector and more recently she began working for a small consulting firm to mission-driven organizations. With a 720 GMAT and a sterling 3.92 GPA, she wants to go to business school to gain the knowhow to help the social sector collect, understand and leverage data.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What all three candidates obviously 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. We’ll be working on a series of videos in the next two weeks so you also can look forward to a new batch of handicapping profiles via YouTube.

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:

brunette business woman

Ms. Deloitte Consulting

  • 680 GMAT
  • 9 out of ten GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in international relations with a specialization in international business and trade
  • Post graduate work in international business management (GPA 2,6/3)
  • Work experience includes two years at Deloitte Consulting in strategy and operations
  • Extracurriculars include being selected from 30+ applicants to conduct research on managers’ criteria in evaluating a company’s performance, sponsored by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, co-wrote an article “Euro Salvation? The limits and scope between the BRICS coordination” in 2011 as an economic and finance researcher at BRICS Policy Center. top student of economics class (GPA9.75/10) and invited personally by the professor to be next class tutor.
  • 24-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 25% to 35%
Columbia: 25% to 35%
UC-Berkeley: 40%
Dartmouth: 30% to 40%

[Important: Your odds are better if you are European. Deloitte is a so-so feeder firm in the U.S. and is considered more selective in Europe. The analysis below is titled towards this profile and a U.S. background.]

Sandy’s Analysis: Here is some tough love: Retake the GMAT, if you have not already. The difference in your profile between your current GMAT score of 680 and a 720 could be decisive at reach and near-reach schools for you such as Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia, Berk, and Tuck. It pains me to say this, but most schools have become GMAT influenced, following the lead of U.S. News, which weighs GMATs in their rankings twice as much as GPA.

I sound like a broken record on this and I am glad to do so. The increased importance of the GMAT, especially for scores in the 660-720 range, is the most important and also the most under-reported story in business school admissions in the past five years. Yes, the GMAT was always important but its importance to “robo-admissions” offices like the ones currently in place at Wharton and Columbia is something just a bit new on the face of this landscape.

To some extent this is a tacit collusion between the magazines and the lazy and spineless administrators at almost all B-schools (including adcoms and academic deans) who are happy to have an easy and clear metric to make decisions, whatever the GMATs limited value as a predictor of business school success in small increments.

You would not know it, but the business schools control the GMAT (and B-school deans and administrators dream of early retirement to its parent organization, GMAC, the ultimate little-show, high-pay job). [Don’t get me started, but if you want some blood-boiling detail, see https://poetsandquants.com/2014/02/10/60-years-later-a-gmat-test-with-profit-margins-better-than-apple/. At the same time, there is a rich pantomime among business school, ahem, leaders, which would give you the idea that the GMATs are some alien THING which no one can control and we all have to deal with.

End of sermonette.

Here is how the GMAT’s self-perpetuated “narcissism of small differences” impacts you. You are a high-performing (high GPA, good job advancement, published and interesting performer) who works at Deloitte, a feeder firm to top schools but with an asterisk. Deloitte applicants are a mixed bag of talent: at the top, they are surely equal to applicants from M/B/B, but at the lower end, the pool is much less selective.

The unstated requirement, however, for Deloitte applicants at top-five schools is that you need to be otherwise near perfect. That means no obvious boo-boos like a sub-par 680 GMAT. So while some people from Big 4 consulting with a 680 GMAT are going to gain admission to H/S/W, they are not white, U.S. applicants, for the most part. Exceptions to this rule, please post below and tell us how you did it.

At Stanford, you need to be perfect and probably female and URM. Ahem, if any white, male Deloitte kids out there ever got into Stanford, send me a picture of your student ID and John Byrne will send you a free and very cool Poets&Quants’ t-shirt and our Handicapping book (the one that never made the New York Times’ bestseller list). I will go so far as to make the same offer at HBS. In either case, you must have applied from Deloitte when admitted.

Hence, in your case, the difference between a GMAT score of 680 and 720-740 (however meaningless that difference is in your ability to manage business school verbal and quant “substance”) can be major. With a 740 you would be a plausible Wharton and HBS candidate, With a 680, you are a more dicey case at Wharton, Columbia, MIT and most other schools who worship at the GMAT shrine.

As noted, what I am saying is not exactly new, but the emphasis on the GMAT in business school admissions has increased by some noticeable amount in the past five years, as schools focus more on magazine rankings than they ever did, and taking the test two to four times has become the new normal.

The rest of your “story” is very positive, even in the short form you have presented it. I would take some pains to show how your interest in international affairs and economic research fits into any MBA goal statement.