Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Almost Ballerina
GRE ..., GPA ...
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Darden | Mr. Engineer Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Public Finance
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Systems Change
GMAT 730, GPA 4
Tuck | Mr. Consulting To Tech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. Ambitious Hippie
GRE 329, GPA 3.9
Harvard | Mr. Milk Before Cereals
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3 (16/20 Portuguese scale)
Harvard | Mr. Sales To Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 3.49
INSEAD | Ms. Hope & Goodwill
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
INSEAD | Mr. Airline Captain
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Startup
GRE 327, GPA 3.35
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
IU Kelley | Ms. Biracial Single Mommy
, GPA 2.5/3.67 Grad
Darden | Ms. Unicorn Healthcare Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBA Class of 2023
GMAT 725, GPA 3.5
Chicago Booth | Mr. Guy From Taiwan
GRE 326, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Energy Reform
GMAT 700, GPA 3.14 of 4
Ross | Mr. Verbal Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Ross | Ms. Packaging Manager
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Wharton | Mr. Sr. Systems Engineer
GRE 1280, GPA 3.3
Chicago Booth | Mr. Semiconductor Guy
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3

The Rebel Savant Of MBA Admissions Consulting

Sandy Kreisberg does most of his consulting on the phone or the computer

“It was one of the few times in my life that I got some place early,” says Kreisberg. “I missed the Nifty 50, Xerox, Microsoft, bottled water and the housing boom. But with this, for once in my life, I got to something early.” Many of his first customers were from California, early adopters to the web, and most of them wanted to get elite MBAs. As the number of applicants to prestige schools swelled in the 1990s, the industry came into its own. Today, Kreisberg is one of some 500 consultants specializing in the MBA market alone and billing at least $35 million a year.


He works out of his home in a third-floor condo in Cambridge, just an 11-minute walk from the Harvard Business School campus. It is a good thing that he has never been married nor has children. From June until January of every year, the peak season for MBA applicants, Kreisberg barely leaves his apartment, working his Dell desktop computer and his telephone from 9:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m., seven days a week. He eats a bowl of Whole Foods chicken soup for lunch. Each day begins with what Kreisberg calls emergencies, urgent emails from clients who need immediate help. “I try to chip away at the ice pack, editing four, five or six essays in the morning,” he says. “Depending on what time of the season it is, I may have to return a few phone calls. Leaving the house is a huge mistake. It’s possible that from the beginning of August to January, I spend less than two hours a day outside, a day and a half around Thanksgiving to visit friends, and two days off at Christmas.”

The typical assignment begins with a conversation about the client’s resume and ambitions. Unlike some consultants, Kreisberg is blunt, quick to assess if a candidate has the right stuff to get into a Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. “I say people like you get in or don’t get it. I’ll ask them for their three big accomplishments. And then I can’t stop myself. I’ll say here’s how you spin that. Here’s what you do. That accomplishment sounds like the other one. What else do you have? Your accomplishment sounds more like a mistake.”

Kreisberg says he will not write an essay for anyone. “They absolutely have to do the first draft and every draft,” he insists. “People often just want me to interview them and write the application. You get some international kids who think that is the game. In the words of Richard Nixon, that would be wrong. Besides, it takes too much time, it’s not fun, and it actually doesn’t work.”

Instead, a client will take a stab at the essays after some direction from Kreisberg and then the emails go back and forth—sometimes on a daily basis. Typically, there will be three to a dozen drafts of each essay. “The most common mistakes people make are they don’t explain themselves,” he lectures. “They aren’t aware of how they are coming off. They are not specific enough. They are talking in a Victorian diction. They are telling the school high-minded truths. Whenever you pick up an essay and they start quoting Aristotle, you know it’s over.”


The handholding doesn’t end with highly polished essays. Kreisberg gets deeply involved in an applicants’ choice of recommenders and how those letters are best crafted for effect. Many of his clients have access to the letters written by their recommenders. “I read them and in 15% of the cases they are damaging because the person either covertly doesn’t like my client or the person can’t execute. I’ll tell them to go back and tell this guy, ‘This ain’t helping me.’ In your own diplomatic way, you’ve got to go back and bitch slap the guy. A lot of times the guy just hasn’t closed the sale. Here’s what the guy has to testify to in a letter of recommendation: ‘I have been in this business for X years. I have worked with Y people. This schmuck is in the top 2% of Y because of his leadership, his initiative, his technical skills, and the impact he’s had on this organization.’ The guy has to be willing to say that. Sometimes, the recommender says ‘I have to write recommendations year after year. How can I possibly say that?’ Well, Harvard expects you to be able to say it. That’s their definition of leadership.”

Then, there is the interview. Each year, HBS invites about 1,800 of its 9,500-plus applicants for an interview. About 60% of them are admitted to the school, with the remaining 40% getting dinged. “This is an important rule,” he says sternly. “Harvard interviews 10 people. Two people destroy themselves in the interview. One is a natural failure, not meant for the case method. Another one just blows it. They are down to eight. Harvard then takes six of those eight people and the interview becomes a piece of the final decision.”

Whether guiding a person through a mock interview or demanding more specificity in an essay, Kreisberg, of course, can never guarantee a positive result. “What consultants really do is to stop you from screwing up,” he says. “Consultants can stop you from failing more than they can add ten inches to your height.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.