Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds


Ms. Healthcare Tech

  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.6 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from New England Small College Athletic Conference school (not Williams, Amherst & Middlebury)
  • Work experience includes two years with Teach for America and one and one-half years with a healthcare tech firm that sends quite a few candidates to Top 10 schools
  • Extracurricular involvement with local education organizations and a local food bank
  • Short-term goal: Non-profit consulting
  • Long-term goal: Education technology
  • “I believe my recommendations are very strong! Strong essays as well”
  • 25-year-old Asian-American woman based in New York

Odds of Success:

Berkeley: 25%
Dartmouth: 20% to 30%
Columbia: 20%
New York: 30% to 35%
Duke: 30% to 35%
Virginia: 30% to 35%

Sandy’s Analysis: In a nutshell, your profile is what I call silver and not gold, every aspect of it. The GMAT is 700. That’s okay but it’s not great. The GPA is 3.6 which is good, but not gold. The schoolings is good but it’s not Amherst or Williams which would be considered near Ivy. So for better or worse, every aspect of this profile is silver, not gold.

Then, you did two years at Teach for America which is a gold substitute. And then you switched over to a healthcare tech firm that sends candidates to Top ten schools. I wish I knew the name of the firm and its size. I suspect the firm is silver, too, and you seem to understand that in the school’s on your target list which has only one M7 MBA program, Columbia Business School. Healthcare tech is a booming field but it could mean a lot of things.

Your long-term goal is educational technology which is a good goal. So you were at TFA, a goody-goody gig which means you put up with it and you got added value of it by staying two years. Then, you went to healthcare and learned about the intersection of a good thing in technology and health. Switching to education tech makes sense. But your short-term goal of non-profit consulting doesn’t line up. Your short-term goal should be to work for an edtech company. Or, if you want a consulting perspective, you should say you want to work for an education consulting company.

That lines up more cleanly for business school admissions. Instead of the golden road to your goal, you’ve created the silver road once again. It’s a small thing but you could sharpen this up by saying you want to work for an educational consulting company, particularly one that helps schools adapt leading technology, with a long-term goal of becoming a leader in the educational consulting business or for a edtech company and then you should cite a few examples. It just makes you sound serious, given your background.

Let me just take a slight detour here and point out that one of the greatest research tools for applying to business school is Google. People think they are beyond it. If you went to Google and searched for leading edtech companies the first page would list a lot of companies. If you just read about those companies for an hour, you would educate yourself with the lingo and what is going on in the industry.

One of the things adcoms are concerned about is whether they can get you a job. That’s why your goals are an important part of your application story. Schools don’t want unemployed people hanging around. It looks bad on their rankings. The number of people employed after three months is a key stat on the rankings.

Your school choice is quite good. Let’s start with the preppy archipelago. As a NESCAC person who did TFA and now healthcare tech, that’s a vision. Tuck, Fuqua and Darden are perfect schools for you. I think you are their type. The feeder schools to Tuck are dominated by small elite liberal arts schools in New England.

Columbia might just reject you on the GMAT. If they are going to take a hit on a 700 GMAT, they just might take someone else. Your odds at Berkeley are low because you’re not from there and I don’t see it as a match. If you really want to go there, you need to go out there and lobby them. Stern is in New York and you work in New York, plus NYU has a big ed school so it could be a good choice and your chances there could be 30% to 35%.

Let me give you some tough love: Get a 720 GMAT, even if you have to take the test two more times. It could really make a difference in this profile. Otherwise, you are solid silver. If you had anything that is a hybrid of gold and silver like a 730 GMAT that will help you. This has nothing to do with you; it has to do with the state of business school admissions. You are in a vast sea of people with 3.6 and 700 GMATs and pleasant lives and nice families. And the business schools like Berkeley, Columbia and even Tuck are influenced by this.

You know the saying: “It’s just as easy to marry someone who is rich as it is to marry someone who is poor.” In MBA admissions, it’s just as easy to admit someone with a 730 as it is to admit someone with a 700. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

  • 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.