Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

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

For the past four years, this 27-year-old young professional from Zimbabwe has worked for PwC, first in his home country and now in New York. Though he has a solid 720 GMAT score, he has a subpar grade point average and an undergraduate degree earned online. Yet, his target schools include Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and Columbia.

An Ivy school grad, he is a super performer at a large commercial bank, having racked up three promotions in just two years. With a 780 GMAT score, he hopes to get an MBA to make a triple jump, changing industry, function and location to work in corporate strategy.

They’re a married couple, both born in India, who want to apply to elite MBA programs together. He’s a 29-year-old technical engineer with a 760 GMAT who works for an oil and gas company. She’s a 29-year-old computer engineer at a global info tech firm who expects to get a 740+ score on the GMAT. He wants the MBA to do consulting in the energy sector; she wants the degree to lead product development at either Google or Apple.

This 24-year-old Russian woman works for a top-tier consulting firm in Dubai that has taken her to assignments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Moscow, and Kazakhstan. She boasts a degree in international business from one of Russia’s top universities as well as a master’s in management from HEC Paris but now wants an MBA to enhance her career prospects.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What these five MBA candidates 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.)


  • 720 GMAT
  • Low GPA (Not disclosed)
  • Undergraduate degree in accounting from a “renown South African long distance learning institution”
  • Low undergraduate grades a result of a 10-year bout of depression that began in high school
  • Work experience includes two years with PwC in New York after starting his PwC career in Zimbabwe where he had worked for two years; also worked for a nonprofit startup focused on HIV-AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • A Certified Public Accountant who passed all his CPA exams within six months
  • Extracurricular involvement as the founder of a foundation that he has financed with his own savings to pay for the education of children in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya; boasts extensive volunteer experience with low-income families and the homeless in New York City
  • Submitted an optional essay detailing his severe depression
  • 27-year-old from Zimbabwe

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 35% to 40%
Stanford: 30%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Columbia: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: The top line question that is raised with your profile is can you get into Stanford GSB with a low GPA and an online college degree from South Africa. Those are unusual hurdles that would normally make Stanford an impossibility for an MBA applicant.

But let’s deal first with what is not unusual about your profile. PwC is a great place to work for a guy like you. If you are an international student working for PwC is a big deal. If you had gone to an Ivy League university in America, it’s much more selective to get a job at one of the big global consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain and BCG and less selective at a Big Four accounting firm. Those are considered less prestigious.

But for you, PwC is an anchor. Business school admissions people understand that for people like you PwC is hard to get into and the fact that you have been there for four years in two locations and can hack it. That means you can get dressed every morning, go to work, do his work, get along with superiors and clients, and that is really important for a business school. And they wouldn’t know that if you presented that you only worked for a startup.

The other anchor is the 720 GMAT score which is very powerful. The fact that you are from Zimbabwe and want to go to Stanford is also a big deal because Stanford is crazy about Africa. They are focused on it and have a real trope toward Africa in admissions and cooperative programs. And you have a tremendous do-gooder record which is just what Stanford wants to hear.

So the question becomes, ‘Will Stanford blink at your online degree?’ Maybe. ‘Will they blink at the bad performance in your online education due to what you say is your bout with depression?’ They may. But here’s another piece of my tough love. Telling business schools you have a history of depression is not a good idea. They are not likely to blink at it. You would be better off saying you overcame addiction. They believe overcoming addiction is something that is not going to return and depression might. I don’t know what the actual numbers are but that is their mindset. Would they ever admit that? Of course not. They may not even admit that to themselves and they are not going to tell you.

You say you submitted an optional essay detailing how you struggled with severe depressionfor ten years and that is what impacted your GPA. My advice to you is that I would say that what impacted your GPA was overcoming a lot of adversity and I would make the mental health issue more related to a family dymanics issue. I would normalize it that way. You are a likeable guy, however, and they may be able to wink at that.

Your choice of schools is very interesting. You have a wild card chance at Stanford if you can execute perfectly and if they believe you are going to be an impactful leader in Africa based on your track record, your work at PwC, and the 720. You could actually be the first candidate ever to get into Stanford GSB with an online degree. The essay, ‘What Matters To You Most,’ is critical.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you execute your applications in a perfect way. Just the way you fill out the application, what your recommenders say, what you convey in your essays, and how you comply with the formal requirements of applying are big issues here. You have to make that really solid and really professional, much more so than most applicants. There are a lot of questions about your profile and they want assurance. They will willing to meet you half way, but you have to meet them half way as well and present in the most professional way possible.

Columbia and Wharton don’t want to buy into low stats. They make exceptions but whether they make exceptions for you, I doubt. So oddly, your chances at Wharton and Columbia are no better than they are at Harvard. Let us know what happens to you.

  • Detective

    An ivy undergrad in engineering with a non-inflated gpa? You went to Cornell, didn’t you?

  • skyisthelimit

    Hey Sandy, “Mr. Latino Logistics Leader” is looking for some advice regarding target schools. I will apply to MBA programs this fall, and I am grateful for any feedback so I have a better idea of where my profile will best resonate.

    27 year old URM Mexican-American Male
    780 GMAT (47V; 50Q; 5.0 AW; 8 IR; 1st attempt)
    3.24 GPA (mathematics, economics) + Alternative Transcript (A/A/A+ Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, and Business Calculus online courses through top universities)

    Top 30 Undergraduate University; Prestigious Scholarship Recipient; President, public policy student organization; Speaker, Student Congress; Director, church music ministry

    Objective: Transition to General Management Consulting to tackle diverse business issues. My long-term goal is to be a Senior Leader of a Manufacturing Company.

    Work experience – After Teach For America, I found a unique opportunity in the world of transportation at a 3rd Party Logistics Company (Top 30 Domestic 3PL). Our company offers a co-managed approach alongside the transportation & logistics department of other companies by negotiating rates on their behalf and proactively driving efficiencies. We provide business intelligence and recommendations to help companies achieve their supply chain objectives & logistics priorities. Our department manages projects, provides analytic consultations based off reporting, and resolves overarching transportation issues. We present in person to senior leaders of companies to drive our underlying recommendations. I now directly manage 4 Advisors and indirectly manage another 6 Advisors (>$250M in freight spend). 2 years as an Advisor & 1 year as a Supervisor. LEAN Green Belt.

    Community Involvement: My experiences serving migrant farm workers as a child with my dad ingrained a deep sense of personal responsibility to help my community. After graduating college, I taught high school math on the Mexico-Texas border for two years. Upon starting my work in transportation, I joined Centro Latino – a local humanitarian non-profit center for Latinos (i.e. immigration services, after-school program, client services, ESL classes; $100K budget). I have served on the Board of Directors for two years, working with Board members to fix organizational issues. I now serve as the President of the Board of Directors and drive continuous improvement initiatives and expand the scope/impact of the organization. I am also the President of the city’s young professionals’ organization.

    Hobbies: Hiking, Working-Out, and Watching College Basketball

    Other: I overcame hearing problems as a young kid. Solving problems was the only easy part of school. I continually attempt to inspire teams to solve problems – viewing issues from the 30,000 foot perspective down into the weeds. I hope to never stop.

    Target Schools: H/S/W, Chicago, Kellogg, MIT, Tuck, Yale

  • slayer

    Also forgot to mention, i am a european white male. thanks a lot!

  • slayer


    Undergrad: Ivy (non-HYP but top 10) Engineering and Economics dual degree, math minor, 3.43 undergrad GPA. Cum laude.

    Grad school: Masters in engineering from the same Ivy. 3.8 grad GPA.

    Fluent in Dutch and Spanish

    GRE: 166/170 Q 167/170 V

    GMAT – 780

    Top healthcare consulting boutique (think ZS, ClearView, IMS).

    Long term goal – Corporate Strategy or Commercial/Pricing role in Big Pharma.

    top choices – GSB, HBS, Wharton, Sloan, Booth, Kellogg, CBS.

    Do i have any decent chances at any of my top choices? (I know my undergrad GPA is low-ish…)

    Also would top MBA programs look more favorably at someone working in a top Pharma company or a top healthcare consulting boutique? Which of the two is in general the bigger feeder to elite MBA programs? have the chance to jump into a brand name big pharma company (think J&J, Pfizer,Roche, Novartis) and work there for 2 years before applying for MBA. would that be better for elite MBA admissions?

  • mgo113

    Sandy, just wanted to say that I recognize the 1st guy from a couple posts on Clear Admit he made, and he did end up getting into HBS! I think he was declined at Wharton and GSB though

  • Actuary22

    Hi Sandy, I’m applying for business school in the fall and am curious what you think my odds are at top schools:
    25 year old white male
    3.2 GPA as a stats/econ double major from top 30 US school (honestly I just partied too much but am working on coming up with a better excuse)
    GMAT 780
    Internship: I interned for 2 years as a sourcing/procurement analyst at a fortune 100 company
    Full time: I’ve been working for 3 years as an actuarial consultant for a top pension consulting company (think Aon Hewitt, Towers Watson, Mercer). I’ve passed 3 actuarial exams in this time frame and been promoted once.
    Post MBA: Strategy Consulting – I want exposure to a broader array of fields and the flexibility that the exit opps provide
    Others: 3 years as big brother through BBBS of NYC. Currently doing pro-bono analytical modeling for BBBS to help them pitch the success of their program to their funders.
    Played a year of varsity soccer in college before getting injured – played club soccer after and became social chair of my fraternity (not sure I should mention that given the GPA issue)
    Target Schools: Kellogg, Tuck, Yale, Fuqua, Stern, Anderson
    Thanks for the help and I appreciate any advice you can give me!

  • Sandy

    Hi Sandy, can you help me handicap my odds and offer quick advice on improving them? I’m applying in 2 or 3 years and here’s my info:

    22 years old (25 by application), male, from mid-size Latin American country (e.g. Peru, Colombia, Chile)
    Academics: 3.9 GPA in economics; high-ranking US school, non-ivy (think Georgetown, Duke, Northwestern)
    GMAT: 760
    Internships: Congress and banking, both in my home country
    Employment: Consulting in big 4 company with focus on renewables and government (will have had 3 years of experience and received at least 1 rank promotion by the time I apply) in my home country
    Post-MBA: MBB strategy consulting. Short term abroad, long term back home. I want to keep working in government and renewables.
    Others: Volunteering for habitat for humanity-ish organization, consulting for NGOs, marathon running, speak 4 languages, took summer language program in Beijing, alumni applicant interviewer for my undergrad school

    Targets: Harvard (HBS and HKS), Stanford, INSEAD, Columbia, MIT, LBS

    Let me know what you think and thanks so much!

  • MZK

    Hi Sandy and John. My name is Muhammad Khan.

    I was wondering if you can analyze my profile since I am planning to apply to Business schools here in America as well.

    1. 27 years old male, originally from Pakistan and now living and working in America since 2015. Currently I work at medium sized Technology risk Management company in New jersey as a Compliance Analyst. I work with a fortune 500 client, making sure vendors working with this client are compliant. In total I made sure that around 2000 vendors were client with compliance rate of 94% so far. I have been working in the company since last one year and promoted once. Before that I was working in PNC Bank as Customer Service Associate for almost a year. I also have experience working in an IT start up in Pakistan as Strategy and Business Development Associate.

    2. Education:
    – BBA with 3.84 CPGA from a private university in Pakistan. My university isn’t too highly ranked in Pakistan but it is known for a good Business program. I went there because I got scholarship. I graduated with the second highest CGPA in the class. I was in Deans honor list for 5 straight semesters as I had 4.00 GPA in all 5 semesters.
    – Languages spoken: English, Urdu, Punjabi, Seraiki and Hindi. I speak some Arabic and French as well.
    GRE: 301 – I couldnt prepare well for my GRE due to severe family emergency. I should have cancelled my GRE exam but I ended up giving it anyway and scored 301. I plan on giving GRE again and I am expecting to get 315+ score this time.

    3. Extra-curricular activities and other work
    – Volunteering: I volunteered for TCF NGO by mentoring high school students from under privileged background in Pakistan on weekends. I volunteered for 2 years straight. I also volunteered for another NGO based in North west Pakistan that has seen a lot of violence due to war on Terror. I was also responsible for organizing this NGO’s first ever youth forum in my city of Lahore.
    I was president of my university’s debating and sports society. Captain of my town’s local soccer club.

    Important info: I already have an offer for MS Management Information Systems at NYU in their school of professional studies which is basically for working professional but being an immigrant who has been here since 2015, I believe I need to go to Business school, especially, need to study MBA for me to truly make my mark in this country. I and my dad are the ONLY bread earners in the family. He works as a security guard at night and I work in corporate during the day. Also, my younger sibling is dependent on me till 2018 when he graduates from university. I also have witnessed very closely, the effects of war on terror on Pakistan, have lived in a city where suicide bombings have taken place.
    My targets for now are: Rutgers, NYU Stern, Cornell, Boston’s Questrom, Babson and Tuck at Dartmouth.
    I seriously do believe that I can increase my GRE score and do better.

  • Brandon Newman

    Hi Sandy, I’m currently unsure if I should try to shoot for some good schools:

    Age: 26, M
    GMAT: 740
    School: UCSB, 3.21 Computer Science

    Work experience:
    If I apply this fall, 3 years software engineering experience at “hot” ERP tech company. I’ll also have received 2 promotions, and potentially a move to a more prestigious role by the time of application

    Extra curricular:
    I’ve volunteered with Hillary for America, and run fundraising and accounting for my local March for Science. I’ve also worked with BlackGirlsCode and another group that encourages underrepresented participation in white-dominated fields. I also teach programming part time at General Assembly. Unfortunately, it’s all fairly recent work the earliest being August 2016.

    Goals: Consulting or tech product management.

  • AspiringFIG

    Hi Sandy,

    I would love to hear your opinions
    on my profile below. Thinking of applying to business schools this cycle (unlikely)
    or next cycle (highly likely).


    23-year old male non-US citizen
    from ‘Central Asian’ country (Kazakhstan / Mongolia / Kyrgyzstan)

    Professional Experience:

    Corporate Development / Strategy at a global financial institution in NYC.
    – 2015-2016: One year as an analyst working on M&A
    and strategy work for the company. Directly promoted to Associate after 1st
    – 2016-present: Associate mostly focused on
    strategy work with lots of interactions with business leaders and execs to
    understand the nuances and operations of the financial institution.


    720 GMAT (39V / 50Q)
    GPA: 3.3 / 4.0 (Bachelor in Statistics from HYP undergraduate)
    Fluent in German (lived in Germany for 8-9 years); basic proficiency in French


    Heavily involved in leadership / mentorship roles in two ‘Central Asian’ groups
    (one I cofounded back in college). Focused firstly, on mentoring aspiring high
    school students back home to come to the US for top-ranking universities and secondly
    help grow the ‘Central Asian’ network in the US (mostly via organizing
    leadership programs, networking events etc.)


    Either work in a financial-services
    focused PE fund (e.g. JC Flowers or Flexpoint) or join a FIG IBD team at a
    bulge-bracket or boutique bank in NYC post-graduation. Ultimately go back home
    and develop the basic financial services industry better (e.g. introduce
    complex banking, insurance, and specialty finance product in vastly underdeveloped

    Target Schools:

    Harvard, Booth, Wharton, Columbia