Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

He’s a first generation college student and American who teaches at an inner city charter school. He’s taking the GRE because he’s not strong in math and has a 3.63 grade point average from a state school. This young professional wants an MBA to transition to a non-profit education consulting firm.

A 25-year-old Asian American based in New York, she works for a healthcare tech firm after doing a stint with Teach for America. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.6 GPA, her short-term goal out of business school is to land a job with a non-profit consulting outfit.

After stints at Ernst & Young and the World Bank, she joined a solar energy startup in Nairobi where he works in fundraising. With a 650 GMAT and two degrees from the Sorbonne in France, this young Tunisian professional hopes to go to business school to land a job in impact investing.

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.

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. World Bank Plus

  • 650 GMAT (will retake with aim to get a 710)
  • 11 out of 20 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in international economics from the Sorbonne
  • Master’s degree in international economics from the Sorbonne
  • Work experience includes Ernst & Young in Tunisia for a year and one-half as a consultant, then three and one-half years as an operations analyst at the World Bank, and more recently works in fundraising for a startup in solar energy in Kenya
  • Goal: To work for an impact investment fund or a foundation
  • Fluent in English, Arabic and French
  • Young woman from Tunisia

Odds of Success:

Columbia: 10% to 20%
Stanford: 10%
London: 30% to 40%
INSEAD: 40% to 50%
Oxford: 50%
IE: 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Just the way you present, you can go either way. You could be a very powerful interesting person with a lot of interesting jobs and an interesting background. But there is also some evidence here that you could be a bit frazzled for the same reasons. You’ve jumped around in a number of jobs and you are now working at an undefined startup in Kenya. It’s important for you to make the presentation as standardized as possible. Claiming you want a job in impact investing could be just a dream. The only people who get those jobs already have an investment background. Make your profile as standard as possible.

If the startup you work for has some independent investors or private equity money in it, that is important and you should let schools know the firm is venture backed. If that is true, it should be on your resume. You should have the name of your startup, a private equity backed solar energy firm in Nairobi with 200 employees. Otherwise, saying you work for a startup can mean anything. It can mean that you’re working on a company with your cousin. Obviously, you get more credibility with admissions if you are employed by a firm that is supported by credible investors.

I totally agree with you on retaking the GMAT. You need to get a higher score for many of the schools that you want to apply to. It’s hard to get into any elite U.S. school with a GMAT score below 700.

I don’t think you’re getting into Stanford. The school would like a lot about your profile but you are going to have a hard time there because you’re just not their standard package for do-gooders. Here’s how someone like you gets in at Stanford: You go to the Sorbonne and get a first there, you check in witha 730 GMAT, you stay at the World Bank, and you land a known position at the World Bank for hot shots.

At Columbia, it’s almost the same thing but less. Columbia reads applications with skepticism, not with love, particularly if you can’t get the GMAT up. To get into Columbia with a below 700 GMAT and a below average GPA is real hard.

On the other hand, you are a classic INSEAD or London Business School applicant. Show me the money and you could go. You’re a Euro person with high potential, fluent in three languages, with work experience in different geographies. That’s the profile of a successful MBA applicant to INSEAD or LBS.

  • Sandeep Somisetty

    Hi Sandy,
    Can you evaluate my chances at INSEAD, Kellogg 1Y and Stanford.
    GRE: VR: 160; QR: 170; LSAT : 95th percentile: Have admits from a couple of Top 15 law schools
    Indian Male, 29 years, Engineer from top 12 school and PGDM from top 4 school.
    Total work ex of 6 years:
    3.5 years – Working at a very large Indian power company: started off with Project Finance working with US Exim on a 600Mn USD deal – helped close financing documents and obtain first disbursement.
    Moved to Regulatory and policy advocacy role: Worked with industry associations to push for reforms in energy sector in India – responsible for many new policy reforms (as part of groups)
    Filed multiple petitions in courts and helped company win lawsuits worth ~20Bn USD.
    0.5 year – Assisted the chairman of another large power company in regulatory and policy related works
    Last 2 years – co-founded a renewable energy company (consulting and project management work) now backed by PE and traditional lenders; team of about 50 now with experience of reviving stranded hydro projects and setting up many rooftop solar projects.
    Goal: Plan A: grow network to join a start up or directly start a renewable energy company; Plan B: move to a top consult in energy practice in US; Plan C: work with a large power/energy company (not sure if that is possible as an international). Second MBA to expand network and reach out to entrepreneurs.
    Extra-currics – Lots of teaching to underprivileged students, set up infra for villagers through our company (not as CSR), set up blood donation camps, many Club president etc work at college and grad school; debating, editorial board and quizzing.
    Other factors: From a poor background, can speak four Indian languages fluently, overcame alienation as a child.
    LOR: Should manage to get good ones from my past employers.

  • DesignFounder

    Hey John/ Sandy – love your columns! I’ve have a somewhat unusual background for an MBA applicant and so hoping you can handicap my odds at some of my target schools.

    – Age: 27
    – GMAT: 730 (Q44, V48)
    – GPA: 3.45, Ivy-League School, Design (BFA)
    – 1 Year: Working for Latin American Finance Minister, Investing in Local Technology Sector
    – 3 Years: Founded VC backed tech startup in advanced manufacturing space with faculty at MIT. Served as CEO from founding to acquisition by industrial company. Named Forbes 30 Under 30, etc.
    – Present: Joined VC fund (that backed my startup) investing in industrial tech startups.
    – Volunteer Work: Mentor @ NYC Startup Accelerator, STEM Mentor @ Local Public School

    Applying To:

    – HBS
    – Chicago
    – Wharton
    – Columbia
    – MIT Sloan
    – NYU Stern
    – Dartmouth
    – Yale

    – Director of Department at MIT, Co-Founded Startup w/ Me
    – Managing Director of VC Fund, Invested in Startup, Served on Board, Hired me Post-Acquisition

    * 3-4 Alumni recommendations for specific schools (HBS, Sloan, Tuck, Columbia) from previous investors, co-founders, employees of startup

    Wondering how low GPA and verbal heavy GMAT score will affected my chances and whether having a non-tradition major will work for/ against me at the target schools on my list. And how helpful specific recommendations from alumni are vs. general recommendations from people who know me best.