Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds


Mr. Military Banker

  • 740 GMAT
  • 2.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from the U.S. Naval Academy
  • 4.0 GPA
  • Master’s degree in human resource management from a small private school in Dallas
  • Work experience includes a stint in active duty Special Forces as a logistics officer; recently came back from combat deployment in the Middle East and will be transitioning as a Navy Lieutenant; after an initial active duty tour, he worked for JP Morgan in global asset wealth management for three years and then voluntarily left to join the special Forces for a combat tour overseas
  • “I was released from my initial military commitment due to the Navy downsizing and as I was a pilot they raised military requirements for aviation. I was over the threshold of having one to many concussions from playing football at the naval academy. So I got out and went to work for JP. I did extremely well at JP, making far more money at JP but I honestly felt that I did not finish my commitment to the military as I got out after only a year and half. So I decided to finish what I felt as my civic duty in the military”
  • 30-year-old Pacific Islander American Male

Odds of Success:

Northwestern: 40% to 50%
Duke: 50%+
Georgetown: 50%+
Vanderbilt: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Doing Naval Academy and service followed by three years of private wealth experience at JPM and then re-joining the military NEEDS TO BE EXPLAINED. Saying you wanted combat and Special Forces experience is fine at first blush but girly adcoms may be seeing this as an odd trajectory. You are supposed to get the military experience out of the way and closed the first time.

As a Pacific Islander, I believe you quality as a minority candidate for U.S. government counting, so that is a plus, as is the 740 GMAT. They will wink at your low-ish Naval Academy GPA because of the 740 GMAT. Plus, it was long ago, and your 4.0 GPA in masters program helps to offset it.

Your combat tour and Special Forces experience is also a plus as part of a military resume, as we often note here. “Private wealth management’ at JPM is kind of a silver gig at a gold-plated bank because that gig is not thought to be as competitive as investment banking. Nonetheless, you were able to dress up, go to work on regular basis, eat crap and give it back in some mild way for three years — all traits that B-schools admire as the most desirable in the whole wide world.

Military career is good proxy for that, but you never know. The crap you need to eat there is a bit different, and some successful military types just gag in the private sector.
Your decision after three years of banking to return to military might be a head scratcher. Seriously. That’s why you need to really explain that and convince them you are now ready to settle down.

The schools you are focusing on–Vanderbilt, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern either full- time or part-time MBA–are not ultra selective and usually veteran friendly. Just get your story real clear. What do you want to do post MBA? That is a critical part of this story and you need an answer that binds all this up.

The 740 GMAT is deeply comforting to schools in this context of unusual career moves and unclear goals. My guess is, you can walk into any part-time program with that 740 and a tuition check, and I think your chances are real solid at target schools if you can clarify this story.

  • 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.