Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

After working for Oppenheimer & Co. in private equity, this 29-year-old male professional raised $5 million to start up a small oil company that had a $12 million valuation in just 16 months. Besides a 690 GMAT and a 3.95 grade point average, he has an unusual distinction on his resume: he is a whistleblower who helped the SEC catch a crook.

This Aussie male professional has done a little bit of everything, from working for a Silicon Valley start-up to an Asian-focused hedge fund. He’s scored more than 750 on GMAT practice tests and has a 3.7 GPA from a highly ranked Australian business school. Now, he wants an MBA to transition into a venture capital firm in the U.S.

He’s a 29-year-old U.S. Air Force Captain who, in his own words, “plans missions, operates weapons, and tells the pilot what to do.” With a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA in finance from the University of Memphis, he’s hoping an MBA degree will allow him to move into a consulting job in civilian life. His ultimate ambition: To “develop into a future CEO.”

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What these applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?

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 with Poets&Quants.

As usual, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. There’s also a video portion of the series (above) featuring Kreisberg live evaluating the prospects of one of our candidates: our gung-ho Air Force Captain who wants to become a future chief executive officer.

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.)

Sandy’s candid analysis:

PilotMr. Air Force Captain


  • 680 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Memphis
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from Penn State’s online program
  • Work experience as a combat systems officer in the U.S. Air Force
  • “I plan missions, operate weapons, and tell the pilot what to do. CSO is a rated slot (pilots, CSOs, RPAs and ABMs are all rated) and like all rated slots, they are highly competitive. I was an ROTC cadet.”
  • Extracurricular involvement in community service, including 150 hours during my Air Force career and more than 33 hours in college
  • “I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person. I want to be a consultant so I can develop into a future CEO.”
  • 29-year-old Air Force Captain in the Air Force

Target Schools:

Harvard: 20% to 30%
Stanford: 15% to 20%
Chicago: 40%
Columbia: 40%
Berkeley: 50%+
UCLA: 50%+
Yale: 20% to 30%

Sandy’s Analysis:  I’ve said this before about the military and it’s important to underscore: The people who read admission folders are not veterans as a rule. They don’t have an understanding of what people do in the Armed Services. They have a very hard time determining whether you have a Gold, Silver or Bronze military career. They do understand that a military pilot is an elite thing. They understand that being a Navy Seal is an elite thing. They probably understand that being an Army Ranger is an elite thing.

If you are in the military, it’s very important that you give them a flavor of your career in terms they can understand. Unfortunately, what happens with military applicants is that your GPA and GMAT wind up counting a lot because those are easy elements for  admissions people to  understand.

What rank should you have? Most people who apply to business schools are captains. I think it is hard to get a rank higher than that within the typical five-year stint that people apply from. I don’t see many Colonels apply to business school. This guy is going to be a long shot at Harvard and Stanford with a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA. There is nothing driving him in­in terms of gender, or an overcoming adversity story. Harvard and Stanford would just look for someone with higher stats.  The average GPA and GMAT scores of military admits to Harvard and Stanford would be an interesting set of numbers but I think it is higher than 3.5/680.

The only story that would overcome that would be a personal adversity narrative. He also comes across as a little too gung-ho, believe it or not. He says, ‘I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person.’ You might think, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Oddly, schools don’t like to hear that as directly as he puts it.

And they don’t want to hear that you want to be a consultant so you can be a future CEO. They want to hear that you want to be a consultant so that you can help companies grow and provide jobs and new opportunities.  Sure, that is what he meant, or maybe meant, but if the full application and touch and feel of the thing is too directly ambitious like that, it could be trouble.  Once you get outside of H+S, and if this application gets hip to the standard application BS, well, what you got is a pretty solid guy whom you’d like to have on your team in most situations. That should be enough at other schools he is interested in.

  • EconConsultingGuy

    Hi Sandy, can you handicap my odds?

    25 year old white male
    GMAT: 770 (V47, Q49, AWA6, IR8)
    Undergrad: 3.9 GPA from a business program in a US Top 20 school

    Work Experience: Top economic consulting firm since graduating (think Brattle Group, Charles River Associates, etc), will have been working here for 3 years by the time I matriculate for my MBA. One promotion (standard for company), good reviews. Involved in multiple firm initiatives, like undergraduate recruiting and new hire training. If I stay an additional year, I can probably get promoted again. Between junior and senior year of college, I interned at a tier-1.5 management consulting firm (think L.E.K., Oliver Wyman, etc).

    Extracurriculars: Tutor high school students from underserved neighborhoods for the Math section of the SAT on Saturdays, ~3 hour commitment per week. If I delay applying for my MBA by a year, I will probably have the opportunity to take an operational leadership role next year (i.e. planning tutoring sessions, managing tutors, working to implement new initiatives with national board, etc). In college, I was on the board of a student consulting club and helped with operations and fundraising for a friend’s non-profit startup.

    Goal of MBA: Need to iron this out, although at this point I’m shooting for MBB immediately after graduating with the long-term goal of corporate strategy in tech. I may jump straight from my MBA to tech if doing so seems like a viable option. I think the technical and analytical skills I’m learning in my current job would serve me well in such a role.
    Reach: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton
    Target: The rest of the M7