Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds: Sandy Kreisberg (left) and John A. Byrne

Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds: Sandy Kreisberg (left) and John A. Byrne

She’s a 25-year-old young professional who works for a marketing startup that advises such major clients as Unilever, Google and Frito-Lay on how to market to Hispanic customers. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.7 grade point average, she hopes to get an MBA to transition into a traditional brand management job.

After nearly four years at a big four consulting firm, this 28-year-old Italian woman became a private trader, something she’s been doing for the past three and one-half years. With a 760 GMAT and a pair of master’s degrees in accounting and international management, she now wants to get an MBA in the hopes of landing a job at a hedge fund.

He’s currently pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia University in management science and engineering. But this Indian graduate student now wants to apply to Harvard, Stanford and Yale for deferred admission so he can use the time in between his current master’s and his MBA to start a company.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

All three of these candidates and several more want 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 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.

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.)

Ms. Brand Manager


  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.7 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a top public college in Virginia
  • Work experience includes two years at a marketing startup that advises such large companies as Unilever, Google and Frito-Lay on how to market to the Hispanic and multicultural consumers in the U.S.; reports directly to the president of the startup who will write her a glowing recommendation
  • “Although the company is small, it is seen as a thought leader in total market strategies”
  • Extracurricular involvement as an advocate for brand marketing via total market strategies
  • Goal: To be a brand manager who progresses to a top marketing role
  • 25-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Northwestern: 40% to 50%
Duke: 40% to 50%
Virginia: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Your chances turn on some things we don’t know. You say, for example, that you graduated from a top public college. If you have a 3.7 from UVA, that’s great. If you have a 3.7 from a public school in Virginia without a national reputation, that’s another thing. A lot of this will also turn on what an admissions committee thinks of the company you are working for. It’s small and likely unknown so you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.

If the firm is, as you say, a thought leader in total market strategies and your boss writes a glowing letter on your behalf, that is a real plus. But often times, presidents of companies don’t know how to write glowing recommendation letters. You are someone who can actually use a consultant because you have to package the company you work for, including getting someone to help the president write a powerful recommendation.

There is a level of inflation in a great recommendation letter that some don’t get. A great recommendation letter should go something like this: “My name is Joe Blow. I have worked for the XYZ company for the past 35 years. During the course of that time, i have worked with 68 people in the applicant’s peer group. This person is ranked one or two out of those 68 people based on her analytical abilities, her teamwork skills, her ability to innovate, and an unprecedented ability to bring in new business which has never been done by anyone at her level.

You clearly know your story by the target schools you’ve chosen. If you execute in a servicable way, I think you have good odds at all of them. There’s a lot to like here but you have to make it real. You’ve got to make it specific, describe campaigns and do a better job in using the correct language for what you do.

  • Mr. I-Banker

    Hi Sandy and John, thanks so much for running this series and a happy new year to both of you. Grateful if you could let me know your thoughts.
    Currently working in investment banking (2nd year Associate) at a 2nd tier bulge bracket bank (think Deutsche, UBS, Barclays). Post MBA goal is to return to investment banking in my current firm and team. This may sound crazy but I like to follow Marc Andreessen’s advice that one should do the job where one can really contribute and that is the case in my current setup – I like them and they like me. Have always dreamt of pursing MBA at top school but thought application at IB analyst level too junior and only joined my current team last year (previously worked in major financial centre, think NY/LON, now in local office). Wanted my current office to really buy into my MBA application as I want to return there so application last year during relocation from financial centre to local office wasn’t an option. Rationale for MBA is 1) gain access to strong alumni network and 2) add university with internationally recognized brand name to CV. These 2 points are important for my long-term career plan as I want to return to banking and am coming to the career stage where “who” you know is as important as “what” you know. My family does not have network (first in my entire family to graduate college).
    Work history
    – Worked full time at home country’s largest bank during undergrad to finance studies
    – Internships at said bank’s NY office during u-grad
    – joined current firm right out of undergrad
    – 28y/o caucasian male
    – undergrad GPA c.3.1 – 3.3 from top5 undergrad business school (should I position this as 1st gen college grad / work through college issue?)
    – GMAT 720 (80/80 split)
    – fluent in 3 European languages
    Target schools:
    – Insead
    – Oxford Said
    – Cambridge Judge
    – IE Business school
    – Cornell 1y programme
    – Columbia J-term programme

  • Kai Lun

    Hi Sandy,

    Really interested in your thoughts on my profile. Your work is certainly more solid than the hundreds of online mba chance calculator out there

    Undergraduate degree from a top tier Australian university: Bachelor of Commerce and Honors in Engineering (2nd Class Div 1)

    GPA : 71/100 (To my knowledge, GPAs in Australian university are on average much lower)

    25YO Asian Australian with 3 years of work experience
    Fluent in English, Indonesian and some Chinese

    Internship with a laboratory @ my university doing research and experiments on developing new commercial drugs
    -Spent 0.5 year with Australia’s largest commercial insurance company. It was more of stepping stone than a career
    -Spent 0.5 year with one of the big 4 accounting firm doing International Taxation as part of the graduate program, before moving to the Management Consulting division concentrating on operations consulting (been doing it for about 2 years). I have been promoted to a senior position, within a record time.

    GMAT: Aiming for 700-710

    -Founding member of a society back in University and subsequently became the secretary
    -Currently sitting as a Board Director for a non-for-profit organisation (~$1m valuation)

    Goal: MBB – transition from being an operation footsoldier to a high-level strategic thinker


    Thank you very much in Advance!

  • AK


  • AK

    Hi Sandy,

    Could you provide a brief feedback on my stats as well:

    Age: 28

    GMAT: 710
    IELTS: 8.5

    Undergraduate degree in Business Administration (from outside US) – GPA 3.9
    Master degree in international business and management (from UK) – Merit

    Experience: internship during undegrad. 1.5 years in retail (consumer electronic), started as assistant product manager, promoted to product manager after 1 year. 2 years in education in middle east as a TA and in administration. 2 years back home in healthcare sector (1.5 year as ERP project manager and later a head of unit, and now head of financial reporting).

    Planning to switch career to financial consulting (later in the career focus more on healthcare)

    Volunteered in several NGO in the past, and participated in project to help small business find investment.

    Currently CFA Level II candidate
    Fluent in English, Russian, Georgian.
    Citizen of Georgia

    Thanks a lot in advance!