Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

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

Ever since he dropped out of college with a 2.4 GPA, this 29-year-old young professional has been on an upward trajectory. He joined the military, working his way up to become a sergeant and a sniper who saw two combat deployments and led 12- to 15-person teams over six years. Then, he got himself into an Ivy League university and graduated with a 3.6 GPA transcript and an economics degree. After working for a couple of years as a consultant, he now hopes to go to business school to land a job at a non-profit consulting shop or to start his own form serving the social sector.

This 19-year-old undergraduate student from Nigeria is currenly studying at a private university in the U.S. She has done internships with a Big Four firm in her home country as well as one with a mid-tier accounting firm, and she is the founder of a website that helps African entrepreneurs. She plans to meet the April 3rd deadline for Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program for deferred admission to its MBA program.

Once president of his university’s 170-year-old debating society, this young professional has since spent nearly four years as a British civil servant, briefing and advising Cabinet-level ministers on policy issues in education, welfare and Europe. With a 740 GMAT and the equivalent of a 3.5 grade point average from a top five university in the U.K., he now wants an MBA to transition into a consulting role at one of the big three global firms.

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.)


Mr. Yes Minister?

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA (2/1)
  • Undergraduate degree in theology from a top five U.K. university
  • Currently earning an MS in economics in a highly selective program in which only one in 50 people are admitted
  • Work experience includes three and one-half years as a British civil servant, working on a variety of policy and strategy issues including education, welfare and Europe; briefs and advises Cabinet government ministers; promoted a year early in job
  • Took a six-month ‘secondment’ at a healthcare charity
  • Interned during summer of undergraduate years at a Big Four consulting practice
  • Extracurricular involvement as the president of a 170-year-old debating society as a student; board member of two charities and the governor of a school
  • Goal: To transition to a consulting role at McKinsey, Bain or BCG
    British male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40%
Stanford: 30%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Columbia: 50%
London: 50%+
INSEAD: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Your profile presents the interesting question for a British civil servant: Can you get into Harvard, Stanford or Wharton if you haven’t gone to Oxford or Cambridge?

Your 2/1 is the equivalent of a 3.5, or silver-plus, not exactly gold. But your 740 GMAT score helps you a lot. You say you went to a top five university in the U.K. Of course, that could mean Cambridge or Oxford or 10 other places. Your part-time MS degree, however, is a distraction. You are a guy who should be throwing himself into his work . If you need more training, you should just be applying to business school. If you felt you needed a brushup course in economics or anything quanty, you should have just taken it a la carte.

Still, you are offering schools a powerful package here. You strike me as a future Tony Blair, who American business schools like very much, no matter what the Brits think, or future Teresa May.

American business schools like the Brits. They are anglophiliacs. Your extracurriculars show you to be a real leader. Your civil service career is very powerful. It sounds like you are doing a lot of important work in several different areas. You seem to have some real accomplishments behind you, and you clearly know the inside of the British government.

You should tell adcoms that you want the MBA to give you a set of skills you don’t already have so you can go back to the U.K. and be an impactful leader at the intersection of the public and private sectors. So tweak your goals to say you want to work in the public policy practice of MBB. You essentially want to continue what you are doing but get seconded to McKinsey forever.

London and INSEAD are easy for you. You should walk into those schools with your background and your stats. With the right execution, I say your odds at Harvard are 40%. Your odds at Stanford are also strong. I’d say 30%, just because the class size is smaller than HBS.

Wharton could very well scratch their head on your profile. Columbia has more of a public policy orientation, in part because the university has a famous public policy school—and it’s New York versus Philadelphia. Columbia would really like you, especially if you play up the idea of being in New York near the United Nations and all that blah, blah, blah. Wharton would probably interview you and then decide what to do. So if you want to go to Wharton, you better convince them you really want to go because they will think you’re headed to Harvard or Stanford.

Bottom line: It’s Yes Minister!

  • hbsguru

    agree with post above, 30-year olds are not good candidates for 2+2 programs even if they otherwise technically qualify. Given your really good stats and resume, to wit:
    750 GMAT,
    3.81 from Georgetown
    and 6-years of military service in ‘Special Force’
    plus an internship at major Wall St bank,
    AND! being Hispanic (and maybe better yet, Cuban)-American,

    I think you got a solid case as a regular applicant, you’d sorta be in the military bucket, even tho you are no longer in service and instead finishing school. (if I got that right).

    Given the above, just do a serviceable application which explains transitions, and presents accomplishments in some non-braggy way.

    if you want to transition to PE, well, try to make that sound based on work on Wall st and interest in having an impact on helping companies grow and develop vs. just the $$$$.

    Lots to like here–HBS and Stanford always hard, but both take guys like you, fer sure, And you already climbed Mt. Everest!!!

  • hbsguru

    haha, made my day, good for both of us.

  • J

    @hbsguru:disqus Again, thanks for the consult and humor Sandy. Before you opt out to the fee-for-service camp, would you mind prescribing me your recommendations of the “with convincing execution, you may find get into M7 but I dont think it will be HSW.” to improve my prognosis with the non-HSW M7? I promise to not ask for more. I’d also ask you to trust me on that, but I am not yet a doctor.

  • hbsguru

    “The goal with the MBA is to leverage into a role and skill set that
    would innovate movements to facilitate organizational changes promoting
    workforce redesign and remodeling to align the clinicians with the
    Well, good for you, and OK goal as far as schools care about goals — once you come up with a goal that passes the sniff test (which this and ones you noted in posts above both do)– but this high-minded goal is not going to erase other factors I already noted in how your application will be diagnosed by adcoms. It’s like showing up to a doc with real signs of some disease (viz. ‘Secondtieritis’) and the doc saying, “You have secondtieritis,” and you retorting, “Well, maybe I do but ignore those signs and just focus on the fact that I’ve got 20-20 vision and great hair for a guy my age.” That may be true, but it does not make the secondtieritis go away.

    ” Would appreciate further comments on my chances and shortcomings.” May need to be co-pay for me from here on, doc. Altho I welcome others chiming in using Obama-care model.

  • J

    @hbsguru:disqus Appreciate the comment – my story is mainly that I see with the healthcare reform the role of physician will continue to change to face more barriers to their practice, and unlike the patients who have great clinicians (docs, nurses, everyone alike) sacrificing much to help them, not many people champion the true interest of every day clinicians on an organizational level.

    The goal with the MBA is to leverage into a role and skill set that would innovate movements to facilitate organizational changes promoting workforce redesign and remodeling to align the clinicians with the admins.

    I am not failing out of school or in bad standing or anything like that – in case anyone is wondering. Would appreciate further comments on my chances and shortcomings.

  • hbsguru

    well, as someone with a BA, MA and JD, I feel your pain.
    Dunno about your story, there are many dudes in MD-MBA joint programs, which is what you are attempting to rig up here. Often those folks go to top 5 med schools.

    I think you 760 GMAT will be appreciated at a lot of place, and with convincing execution, you may find get into M7 but I dont think it will be HSW.

    Insead??? Not sure that gets you off on the right foot for US career in this case, if that is the goal?

  • hbsguru

    not per se, but someone who can use geographic background (esp. rural, poor, ghetto, even manufacturing centered area, etc) as part of overall story can score a bit. Most applicants to B school are usually a couple of moves away from original geography.
    E.g. you often went to college someplace else, then had jobs 1 and 2 in different locations.
    US Geo IS impt when applying to college, and admissions is often divided into geo regions, esp. at Ivies.
    all that said, good places (a bit) to come from: Alaska, Hawaii and any Native American reservation.

  • David Jordan

    HI Sandy and John,

    I was hoping that you might be interested in handicapping my application for business school?

    Thank you!

    Mr. All Rounder

    Demographics: 21 year old white male (Junior in College) from London, UK.

    Education: 3.9 in International Politics from SFS, Georgetown. Junior year at Oxford reading
    PPE (First). 710 GMAT Anticipated.

    Work Experience: Insight Weeks at J.P. Morgan, Citibank, BNP Paribas and McKinsey in
    London, Texas and New York. Summer internship on Sophomore Leadership Program at Citi in
    NYC. M&A Summer Analyst at Citi, NYC. Also previously Policy analyst at the House of Lords
    and Counter Terrorism Think Tank the Quilliam Foundation in London.

    Extra Curricular: Georgetown Heavyweight Crew (1 year). Vice President of the Oxford Guild.
    Appointed Committee on the Oxford Union. Rugby Captain of high school team, and county
    and Academy level rugby player. Krogh Honors Scholar writing 12,000-word dissertation on
    European Refugee Crisis in Sophomore Year.

    Entrepreneurship: Winner of cash prize at the Oxford Said Business School VIEW
    Entrepreneurship challenge, and currently spending private venture capital on developing an
    online marketplace startup. Founder of a business that prints T-shirts and has raised £7,000 for
    FINCA and Cancer Research UK. Founder of interfaith movement, ‘branches of peace’ aiming
    to de-radicalize the discussion surrounding the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

    Goals: My goals are to learn more about business as an intern at either Citi M&A or a top three
    consulting firm once I graduate, and then to go to business school where I can develop my
    network, and my managerial skills in order to build upon my previous experiences and develop a
    successful startup.

    Target Programs: I want to apply to Yale Silver Scholars Program, HBS 2+2, and Stanford
    Deferred Program. Failing that, I want to reapply to these schools, as well as MIT, Columbia and

    Thank you very much,


  • Ms.Mathy

    Not sure how that works when you are at Penn and I am in New England. But good luck with your application!

  • southerndan17@aol.com

    Sandy- assuming all other things are equal, do adcoms give a rip about geographic diversity in American applicants? Does someone from the south or flyover territory have a leg up on a typical NYC/big city applicant?