Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

She’s a 27-year-old woman who plans to apply in round one this fall and admits to being terrified about her chances as a nontraditional applicant from the nonprofit sector. With a 3.55 GPA from a top-two liberal arts college and a strong GRE score, she hopes to get her MBA to return to the nonprofit space and gain a higher-level position where she can be “impactful, innovative, and make a difference.”

He’s a 25-year-old Latino male who currently works as a project manager for a telemedicine company. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.2 GPA from a Southern Ivy, this young professional is hoping to get into a business school to land a job in corporate strategy at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG.

After being turned down for Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program, this 22-year-old female engineer landed a job in software product development at a top-five global tech company. She is both right brained and left brained. Besides graduating in the top 10% of her class, she has performed at several dance shows, was the lead singer in a band during college, and loves trekking in the Himalayas, rafting, and painting. She wants to use an MBA to transition into a product management role at a top tech company.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What these three MBA candidates and more share in common is the desire to get through the door of a highly selective MBA program at one of the world’s very best business schools. Do they have a chance?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back 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. Now that the 2015-2016 admissions season is all but over and Sandy has completed dozens of mock interviews with candidates, Sandy will be appearing more regularly.

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. (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.)

Business woman

Ms. NonProfit

  • 165Q, 168V GRE
  • 3.55 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree cum laude from a top-two liberal arts college
  • Work experience includes four years in the nonprofit sector, starting in direct public service and now as a manager at a national nonprofit organization; have worked with at-risk, high-need populations (minorities, low income, chronic disease, homeless); received a promotion several months into my first job; received a promotion and raise and bonus a year into my second job (where I currently am)
  • Extracurricular involvement throughout college and after, founding college organizations and chairing them, such as a women’s group, responsible investing club, and film collective; recently appointed to serve on a board in her city, serve on a governing committee of another nonprofit, and selected from a national pool to critique scientific research proposals to provide the patient perspective (advocate on their behalf) to help decide how millions of dollars of public funding should be spent on funding research
  • Why An MBA?: “I believe that nonprofits should be hubs of innovation, with the best and brightest working to make the world a better place. I can help to bring innovation to the nonprofit sector and increase its impact.”
  • “No quant on my undergrad transcript, so I took a statistics course and received an A at a local college and am up for taking another quant course or two.”
  • Short-Term Goal: To return to the nonprofit sector and attain a higher-level position to be “impactful, innovative, and make a difference.”
  • Long-Term Goal: To start her own nonprofit organization or benefit corporation
  • “I am planning to apply in Round 1 this fall and am a bit terrified about my chances as I am a nontraditional applicant from the nonprofit sector.”
  • 27-year-old white U.S. woman

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%
Wharton: 40%
Columbia: 40%
MIT: 40%
Yale: 40% to 50%
NYU: 50%+
Duke: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: You have put together a highly impressive and very consistent package, with a track record in nonprofits (see video above). A lot of your outcomes at elite business schools will turn on the reputation of the nonprofit that currently employs you. There is a totem pole of nonprofits, beginning with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and going down to I don’t know what. The higher up your nonprofit organization is, the more your odds of admission increase.

During college, you worked in other nonprofits, so you have that clear, consistent history and you have the lingo. You write: “I believe that nonprofits should be hubs of innovation with the best and brightest working to make the world a better place. I can help to bring innovation to the nonprofit sector and increase its impact.”

You’ve got the rap. You went to a classy school. You have the equivalent of a 730 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA. If you work for a classy nonprofit, and you have the right attitude, you should be in very good shape. Nonprofit, by the way, is not nontraditional. It’s just a different doorway into a business school today.

It’s also impressive that you recognized having no quant work during your undergraduate years and took a stats course in person and you got an A. Schools will recognize that you are the kind of person who can sit still, absorb what they offer, digest it, and reposition it.

U.S. News still calls Yale No. 1 for nonprofit management, but I think they are a little behind the curve on that because they are pivoting toward a more traditional program. But you are real solid.

From an adcom point of view, you are a very attractive candidate. Your chances are really good at all the schools you’ve targeted. Good luck!

  • navyfinance

    700 (Q48/V38) GMAT – 3rd attempt. 1st attempt 660
    3.56 GPA, 3.81 Major GPA

    BBA in Finance w/ honors from Southern Private School (SMU, Tulane, Rice, Vanderbilt) and full NROTC scholarship

    Work experience as a Nuclear Submarine Officer, which includes 1 year of additional school through the Navy, 3 years on a submarine in various engineering leadership roles, and am now currently working/teaching at a NROTC. Using tuition remission at the university to take courses in stats, CS and data analytics, while working full time. I can justify why I’m not going to finish a masters here due to time constraints, course offerings, and pre-requisites. Also, I don’t want to waste access to free college courses, and I think the courses I have chosen provide valuable knowledge.

    Extracurricular: Currently a senior mentor in the university veteran mentoring program, which links upperclass veterans with new student veterans. On the other side of that, I’m a protégé in an American Corporate Partners (ACP) mentorship. Lastly, I have volunteered for several events around campus that need professors or masters students (I’m both) to supervise/mediate/evaluate events. In undergrad I was elected to the business school student government for 2 years and played club rugby for 4 years.

    Goal: Break into management consulting at MBB by leveraging my MBA and finance undergrad, engineering experience in the Navy, and “data science” course work.

    28 year old white male applying R1 2018 to:

  • BAL

    Hey Sandy –

    Thanks for posting – definitely a fun break from work throughout the day!

    – Age 28, Male, White

    – 720

    – BS Accounting from Big 10 school (PSU/Wisconsin/OSU)
    – 3.7

    Work Exp:
    – 2 years federal consulting/advisory at Deloitte (intelligence community clients)
    – 3 years management consulting/technology implementation in the Higher Ed industry (with staff management exp.)

    – Leadership role in large student-run philanthropy in undergrad
    – Homecoming Committee in undergrad
    – Co-founded club basketball team in undergrad
    – 4+ years leadership role at church
    – 2 years volunteer experience with children in transitional housing
    – Former CPA (expired)
    – CrossFit instructor at local gym

    Transition to a career in marketing/business development in the outdoor recreation industry (think Patagonia/REI/Specialized)

    Target Schools:
    Stanford, Berkeley, Northwestern, Michigan, Duke

  • MZ

    Hi John/Sandy,

    Thanks for sharing this!

    I’m a 27 yo male from China.

    Undergrad: Top 10 Chinese Uni, Electrical Engineering; Dual degree in Business Admin in another Top 10 Uni.

    GPA of both degrees are 77.0/100 [with the school translation system, it equals to 3.2]

    GMAT: 710 (Q50 V35)

    Experience (chronological):
    -1 year full-time in one of world’s largest NGO’s China office. I had been working part-time since Freshman year. Main job was to manage the expansion of the organization. Successfully expanded to 5 universities. Travelled to 5 countries for work. Supported 4500 annual students volunteering exchanges globally.
    -2 year in Nielsen in China, working in consumer research department as senior analyst. Independently managed a client and successfully extend the contract twice.
    -1.5 year working in UPS in its global headquarter in US on marketing strategy as analyst. Successfully launched a webinar program which doubled the participants and increased 25% win rate.

    -Volunteered in Ghana on youth entrepreneurship for two months.
    -Staff club member and training council member during the time in research firm.
    -Actively participated LGBTQ activities and United Way campaigns. Active bike rider.
    -Part-time certified yoga teacher, teaching in both Chinese and English.
    -Personal travel to Japan and Cuba.
    -School dance club lead dancer for 4 years during college.

    Goal: To work in tech company as product manager (especially e-commerce like Amazon), and in the long help Chinese e-commerce companies to expand to US.

    Schools: Tuck, Haas, Yale SOM, UCLA, Darden


  • mistermarkevantonio@gmail.com


    Following are my education and work profile:

    WE: 34 Months of Work upon Application Submission
    10 Months of Work in the U.S.
    – Industry: Business Conslting
    – Duties: Marketing Research & Planning, Web Development, Instructional Design
    – Supervision: Supervised by Manager; Supervised 1 Summer Intern)

    24 Months of Work in Hong Kong
    – Industry: Food Import & Export; Food Production; Retail & Sales
    – Duties: Purchasing & Billing, Shipping & Logistics, Human Resources
    – Supervision: Supervised by Senior Administrative Clerk & General Manager; Supervise 3 Stocking Assistants

    GMAT 700

    Cumulative GPA 2.55
    Major GPA 2.76
    Graduated from Top 100 U.S. University
    (Completed honors program in community college; lost of 2 family members causing me to spend a great deal of time for recovery)

    Following are my desired schools and its MBA & related Programs:

    Boston University: MBA/MSDi
    Northeastern: MBA + MS in Business Analytics
    UMass Amherst: MBA + MSB&A
    UConn: MBA + MS in Business Analytics and Project Management
    Syracuse: MBA + MS in Business Analytics

    Anyone please kindly advise my chances of getting accepted in any of the above school and chances of receiving the scholarship. Thanks for your help.

  • mgl

    Hi Sandy,

    I’d appreciate your thoughts on my profile and suggestions on what I can do these next two semesters to optimize my chances of HBS 2+2 or GSB Deferred Enrollment:

    – Age 20, Male, 3rd year undergrad; Chinese by blood American by citizenship

    – 740+ (expected)

    – BS Math, BA East Asian Studies, BBA Finance from a Top 10 US Public School
    – 3.9+ GPA | 4.00 Math GPA

    Work Exp:
    – Incoming Summer Internship [2017] w/ Big Three Consultancy (MBB)
    – Current Part-Time internship (during spring term) w/ data analytics firm
    – Prev Summer Internship w/ Quant Trading Firm

    – Director of the only student-run quant investment fund on campus
    – Racket sport (eg badminton, table tennis) school team: starting singles player
    – Significant involvement with ethnic student professional organization (former director)

  • Alexander

    Hi Sandy,

    I’m curious to get your thoughts on my odds for the target programs listed below and any areas to focus on improving. Also curious if my GMAT will be an inhibitor given my background.

    – Age 25, Male, American

    – 720 (Q:48 V:40)

    – BS in Finance from a top 50 public university;
    – 3.7 GPA;
    – 3.9 Major GPA

    Work Exp:
    – 2 years in Investment Banking; 2 years in Middle Market Private Equity / Growth Equity (upon matriculation) – both focused on the tech sector
    – Significant experience working on tech m&a and working with rapidly growing tech companies and a lot of exposure to clients. Played large part in helping with campus recruiting initiatives as well.

    – Volunteer as a mentor/coach for disadvantaged local community college students;
    – Volunteer as a start-up coach/mentor and help to organize start-up weekend; – In undergrad, started a for-profit student consulting organization

    Why MBA:
    – In short, to move into an operating / management role at an early-stage tech company

    Target Programs:
    – HBS
    – Wharton
    – Columbia
    – Booth

  • Craig

    Hi Sandy, I would really appreciate if you could evaluate my chances at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton or Columbia. I applied R2.

    I’m a 27 year old Zimbabwean male, currently working for PwC in New York City for two years now. I have also worked for PwC in Zimbabwe, a start up in South Africa and an HIV-AIDS non-profit focused on Sub-Saharan Africa.

    I scored a 720 GPA, albeit with a weak 44Q. However, I’m a qualified Chartered Accountant and passed all the CPA exams in under 6 months.

    I started a foundation and using my savings I have paid for the education of many children in Zimbabwe, 2 in Uganda and 1 in Kenya. I also have extensive volunteering experience with low income families and homeless people in NYC.

    My GPA is also weak but I submitted an optional essay detailing how I struggled with severe depression for over 10 years from high school and how I was working full time to pay for my college education at a renowned South Africa distance learning institution.

    Many thanks

  • Indiagirl

    Hey Sandy, Happy New Year! Just wanted to inquire if you’ve somehow miraculously happened to go through my profile and consider it for your next ‘Handicapping’ post! Looking forward to receiving a response from you soon.

    Best Regards,

  • Mr Government

    Hi John/Sandy, I’d really appreciate any thoughts you had on my application?

    24 year old white male from the United Kingdom

    Undergrad: Top 5 UK University, degree in theology
    GPA 2:1 (upper second class) roughly equivalent to a 3.5
    Graduate: Currently completing a MSc in Economics part-time whilst working
    GMAT: 740

    Experience: 3.5 years of experience as a civil servant in the UK government, working in a variety of departments in strategy and policy roles on a variety of issues (including education, healthcare and Europe). Recruited through a selective graduate programme (1/50 applicants accepted) when 21 years old with no work experience, average age in my intake was 25 with 3/4 years of experience. Brief and advise cabinet government ministers, develop policy proposals, deliver on government commitments. Took a six month secondment to go work for a healthcare charity. Promoted a year earlier than most candidates. Summer internship whilst an undergrad at a Big 4 firm in their strategy consulting practice.

    Extracurriculars: President of a 170 year old debating society whilst a student, sit on the boards of two charities, governor of a school.

    Goal: To move into strategy consultancy at a Big Three firm, and in the long run to move into social enterprise.

    Schools: HBS, GSB, Wharton, Colombia, LBS, Insead

  • Jsquash

    Hi John/Sandy

    Thank you for doing this! I’d certainly appreciate any thoughts/responses you might have. Also if there is anything you would recommend emphasizing more or tightening up as I put final touches on my applications over the next couple of weeks that would be welcomed!

    25 yr old white male from US (26 at matriculation)
    Undergrad: Top 15 Small Liberal Arts College, 3.43 GPA, major: poli sci minors: econ and arabic
    GMAT 750 first attempt (99% V, 65% Q) (47,47)

    Work experience: 3.5 years at a large (about $1 billion/year) international development organization on a business development team (I.E. preparing proposals for USAID, Gates Foundation, etc. for things like girls rights’ education, health, etc. in developing countries) with 5 promotions including starting as an intern. Was seconded to one of the big four consulting firms ‘international development’ teams to further my organizations partnership with them.

    Goal: Develop and scale more disruptive/innovative business models in the international development sector such as social enterprises and Development Impact Bonds by successfully leveraging the best attributes of the public and private sectors. Looking to business school as a chance to develop a toolkit/skills on the ‘private sector side of that equation’ and then would look at consulting opportunities with boutique firms in this space like like Dalberg, FSG, IDEO, or larger social impact/emerging markets teams within firms like Accenture, Deloitte Monitor, or Bridgespan.

    Extracurriculars: Coaching squash (played at collegiate level) as part of an urban youth program. Undergrad extracurriculars in student government/peer advising positions.