Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

A Couple Applying Together


  • 760 GMAT
  • 6.9/10 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from a selective non-IIT school
  • Work experience includes six years at an oil and gas EPC company at one of the world’s largest firms (Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering / Samsung Heavy Industries / Hyundai Heavy Industries); worked in a leadership position managing 10 persons directly and 40-50 persons in a project management matrix; currently a deputy lead engineer South Korea; also had been involved in a failed entrepreneurship project in biofuel farming for six months in rural India and worked for 11 months at an Indian IT firm
  • Co-Founded two firms: one in Cookware manufacturing industry and another in road construction
  • Extracurricular involvement leading an education team for a well-known NGO in rural India for imparting science education; worked in Ebola awareness programs in Lagos during Ebola breakout; worked in relief teams during three natural disasters in India
  • Short-term Goal: To transition into consulting in the energy sector
  • Long-term goal: Venturing in Alternative / Non-conventional energy industry in emerging economies
  • 29-year-old Indian male


  • 740+ GMAT expected
  • 8.2/10 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in computer engineering from a non-IIT school
  • 7.8/10 GPA
  • Master’s degree in computer engineering from an IIT
  • Work experience includes five years at a top IT firm (Think Oracle, Google or Microsoft) in India as an applicant developer, working in a leading position in one of the three services being offered as part of Oracle Management Cloud
  • “Assisted in leading the Cloud framework management team for an enterprise scale product to support private, public and hybrid cloud setup, monitoring, management and development of other cloud services; responsible for SaaS based applications like Sales Management, Partner Relationship Management within Fusion CRM product line”
  • Co-founded one firm with husband in cookware manufacturing industry
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer in an NGO for women emancipation in rural India; Captain of House in school; National Cadet Corp member; lead an adventure trekking camp to Sikkim; lead youth parliament in school; Organized Tech Fest in undergrad college. Taekwondo yellow belt holder; Leads a Women in Leadership wing in her firm
  • Short-term goal: To lead a product development division (Google/Apple)
  • Long-term goal: Entrepreneurship in Product Development
  • 29-year-old Indian woman

Odds of Success:


Harvard: 20% to 25%
Stanford: 10% to 15%
MIT: 40%
Dartmouth: 30%
Chicago: 30%
Michigan: 40%
INSEAD: 40% to 50%+


Harvard: 30% to 35%
Stanford: 15% to 20%
MIT: 30% to 40%
Dartmouth: 30% to 40%
Chicago: 30% to 40%
Michigan: 40% to 50%
INSEAD: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: First, let’s deal with some general advice for couples who apply together to a business school. If possible, you should apply to more than one school in the same city, such as Harvard and MIT in Boston, Columbia and NYU in New York, or Booth and Kellogg in Chicago. That way, if one of you is stronger and one is weaker, you may be able to get into both schools and can live in the same city.

You should signal to the schools that you are applying together. If there is a stronger partner and a slightly weaker partner, there are occasions when a school will give a slight break to the weaker candidate if they really like the stronger partner. There aren’t a lot of statistics on this. I’d say it doesn’t happen a lot and it especially doesn’t happen a lot at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. That’s because the applicant pool is so strong they wouldn’t give a break to a weaker partner. If you’re presenting super high stats and work in something they are really interested in, they might say, ‘This person could really add to our class and we’ll blink at the small deficiency of the other partner.’

As a rule, they consider each of you on the merits. Now there are a lot of couples at business schools but the more frequent couple is a matriculated student and a spouse. If you Google ‘couples at business school,’ the first thing you get is a blog entry at Harvard Business School where you will be transported to a cavalcade of couples of all kinds. There aren’t many married couples who applied and got in together. It won’t give you any hint whatsoever as to how to gain admission as a unit.

So let’s deal with the two of you. With your backgrounds as Indian engineers—the most overrepresented pool at U.S. business schools—it’s going to be very hard for both of you to get into the same MBA program. Still, you just might both get in on your individual merits. But it won’t matter to admissions that you are a couple. I don’t know how effective it is to say to a business school that you can have two Indian engineers for the price of one. There are so many Indian engineers in the pool already.

The husband has had one job for five years working for a company that does oil and gas engineering, procurement and construction work. You should play up your international experience and your management roles. I’m guessing you build offshore oil platforms. So a lot will depend on your actual employer and what the schools think of that company. I don’t come across Daewoo at Harvard, Stanford or Wharton.

As for your entrepreneurship ventures, you don’t want that stuff to sound confusing to schools, and you don’t want to sound like building an oil rig is a second job for you. It’s okay to mention it as an influence. You can say you are interested in starting companies and you helped your barely literate uncle start companies. That would be more believable and you would get credit for it as well.

What you have are the extras of a golden applicant. But what you don’t have is the main course. You are a little old. It remains to be seen whether you are working for a gold or silver company. And it’s hard to figure out exactly what you do so my advice is to make your application super clear and get rid of the jargon. You are competing with anyone who works for an energy major and anyone who works for the oil service companies like Schumberger and Baker Hughes. It’s a mildly crowded cohort. The 760 might give you some daylight if you can present yourself clearly and you work for a company they know like Samsung or Hyundai.

In your wife’s case, it’s really important for her to get a 740 GMAT. I would take the test three times if that is what it takes to get that 740. I imagine you’ve worked for five years for Oracle but what you have done there is incomprehensible. Make it real clear what you do. Don’t engage in technical language. You also have a lot of women’s mission extras that are powerful. Rural emancipation in rural India is something Stanford would love.

In some sense, you are the stronger candidate. You work for a frequent flyer company and you are a female engineer. You also have a master’s from an IIT. If you can present yourself as a woman who can understand management and engineering, there is a chance for a Hravard admit. And I can see that sooner for the wife than the husband because he falls victim to the Indian male engineeri curse. One problem is if you work for Oracle it is a small negative because admission committes don’t love Larry Ellison. And Oracle doesn’t make anything you can touch and hold and love like Apple or Microsoft.

Among the schools you are targeting, your best chance may be MIT. The school goes for engineers and the 760 cuts a lot of mustard. The fact that you both do different things also helps. The odds also favor both of you at INSEAD.

One last important piece of advice for you: Please hire a consultant or have someone help you explain yourself and what you do. What you sent us was annoying and gobbledegook.

  • believeland

    Sandy – Any chance you could take a look at my bio below and briefly assess my chances? I have somewhat of a unique background, so it’s tough to find a lot of input on the web. Thanks!

    Demographics: 24 year old white male

    Education: Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration with a Specialization in Economics from The Ohio State University (3.84/4.00)

    GMAT: 720

    Work Experience: Though I graduated in 2017, I have worked full time for four years. My background is primarily in political campaigns, where I have managed data/analytics operations for multiple campaigns. I started at a statewide campaign organization, where I essentially built the entire organization’s technology infrastructure from scratch. Then, I used the data that I collected and compiled to revolutionize the way in which the organization contacted voters. I held a similar data/technology role for a Presidential campaign in 2016. During my time on these campaigns, I began formulating the proprietary voter targeting and fundraising models that I use for my current job as a campaign data and technology consultant, a role which I carved out for myself at a top government affairs firm in my home state. I currently provide consulting services for a number of high profile campaigns.

    Extracurriculars: I had very little availability outside of work and class during my undergraduate studies, but I found the time to spearhead the founding of the first data and analytics student organization at my university.

    Goals: I do not intend to make politics my career, and I would like to transition to the private sector, preferably to a management role at a technology company, where I can leverage my unique skill set. An MBA will provide me with the knowledge and network to facilitate this transition.

    Target Programs: With Boston and the Bay Area being the hotbeds for technology companies, I would like to go to a school in these markets, though M7 is the general goal (with the addition of Haas)

  • hbsguru

    but the analyst I was hired to replace is now at Kellogg.–

  • Pia

    Thanks for your feedback, Sandy.
    I agree, my current firm isn’t a sexy company, but the analyst I was hired to replace is now at Kellogg. Not sure about anyone else in the past. Almost everyone on my team currently and in the past have MBAs from top programs including HBS, Booth, and Columbia. I think I can get some strong recs from my manager and colleagues.

  • hbsguru

    AS TO YOUR STORY: we got boutique IB and then this current job–

    current job is in global M&A / corporate development at a
    well-known market research/information services company. I assess
    potential acquisition and divestiture opportunities and work with the
    business teams to execute M&A transactions.

    A lot will depend on what HBS etc. think of that company. Market research/info services in USA is considered a ‘silver not gold’ job in terms of selectivity and feeding ground for admits.

    Has anyone in your peer group there applied to top B schools in past 3 years and what outcomes???

    This company may be considered a better gig for Internnational applicants, same way Big 4 is.

    – I am also the founder of a global initiative to raise awareness about
    poverty and suicide among Indian handloom weavers. I am currently in the
    process of setting up an e-commerce platform to sell the the weavers’
    fabrics and clothing.
    Calling STANFORD GSB, well, to the extent that this is an established, impactful gig, that is impressive. If you actually set up that e-commerce, that would be impactful and convincing of your bona fides. Also post the link here so our readers can check it out.

    Sounds like great gift buying opportunities, where buyer can signal good taste and virtue!!!
    As to you retaking the 720—-grrrrrr, I don’t think your outcome wld be super diff w. 740 etc. altho given the narrow mindedness and hypocrisy of most adcoms (a theme of my Centre Court presentation) you can never be sure.

    You got good grades, a 720 is pretty good, and you got a good story.

    As to waiting a year: if you can get more traction w. your NGO and maybe more experience and powerful recs, maybe. A lot of answer could depend on how long you already been there and state of recs at this point.

    Getting promotion is not going to be deal maker, altho doing good work and getting good recs are impt.

  • hbsguru

    Hi Sandy! I heard you speak last weekend at the Centre Court MBA Festival and wanted to hear your thoughts on my profile:

  • Pia

    Hi Sandy! I heard you speak last weekend at the Centre Court MBA Festival and wanted to hear your thoughts on my profile:

    Applying for Fall 2018

    24-year-old Indian-American female
    GMAT: 720 (Q: 49 // V: 39 )
    GPA: 3.6/4.0 at a top undergrad business school. I graduated in 3.5 years and also co-wrote a case study which was published through INSEAD.

    – My first job out of school was at a small boutique investment bank where I worked for just over 1 year
    – My second (and current) job is in global M&A / corporate development at a well-known market research/information services company. I assess potential acquisition and divestiture opportunities and work with the business teams to execute M&A transactions.

    – I do a considerable amount of community service with a couple Indian non-profit organizations.
    – I am also the founder of a global initiative to raise awareness about poverty and suicide among Indian handloom weavers. I am currently in the process of setting up an e-commerce platform to sell the the weavers’ fabrics and clothing.

    Post MBA Goals: Social entrepreneurship or management consulting

    Schools: HBS, GSB, Booth, Sloan, Haas, Columbia

    Do I have any chance of getting into these schools? Should I wait another year before applying in order to retake the GMAT, get another year of work experience (hopefully a promotion), build up my extracurriculars, etc?

    Any guidance would be much appreciated! Thank you!