Handicapping Your Odds Of Getting In

Mr. Special Forces (yeow0514)

  • 700 GMAT
  • 2.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in systems engineering from West Point
  • Currently in a leadership position in a Special Forces unit “given to a select type of individual” (first ever in U.S. Army history)
  • Six of his seven years in the military have been in direct leadership positions
  • Extracurricular involvement includes sports, one year volunteer at an orphanage
  • Speaks two languages

Odds of Success

Harvard Business School: 40+%

Wharton: 40% to 55%

MIT: Less than 40%

Chicago: Better than 50%

Columbia: Better than 50%

NYU: Better than 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: As noted in the past, the dirty little secret about military admissions is how much the GPA counts, especially at Harvard Business School, since the Adcom folks there really don’t have the skills or the desire to compare war stories. HBS does have a military guy on the Adcom, but that does not mean you will be interviewed by him, or that he will read your app.

HBS works under the laughing gas that everyone on the Adcom can read every app. While chicken hawk me is impressed with planning logistics for 3,000 Iraqi soldiers, it’s just another deal to most Adcom members, although sure, 3,000 is a big number. What works more powerfully for military stories, just speaking in general now, is conflicts with locals, leading enlisted guys, leading foreign troops, and working with military families and children. So all military applicants should think along those lines. The Special Forces angle is a wild card, given the big boost to Special Forces awareness in the Bin Laden aftermath. But sure, that is a plus, but it needs to be, ahem, “deployed” along with the same leadership lines as any other B-school story, with emphasis on leading diverse teams versus commando gung-ho stuff (send those stories to me!).

You will also need to explain why you have spent seven or eight years in service versus the usual five, and if that was a requirement of the Special Forces gig, or your choice. Schools have a varying awareness of military requirements for special roles, (pilots have to sign an eight-or-ten-year commitment to justify super-duper training).

As to your point in the bio—“currently in a leadership position given only to a select type of individual (first ever in U.S. Army history)—well, dunno. Obviously, that could be a game changer or a delusion. But if it is going to be a game changer, it has to be explained by a recommender as well as exploited by you.

Bottom line: I don’t see extraordinary combat stuff overcoming low GPA and so-so GMAT overcoming low GPA at Harvard Business School, although I could be wrong if some of the X factors above turn out to be extraordinary on planet Adcom as well as on planet earth. Chances of admit there, assuming you do not get a personal recommendation and a ‘must take’ from General Petraeus, are 20 percent to 40 percent. At Wharton, where they like military guys and like older guys, your chances are 40 percent to 55 percent. MIT is not wild about soldiers per se, although they are happy to admit military who otherwise are in line with their admissions criteria. So odds there are less than 40 percent. Truth is, guys like you go to Duke and Darden, for sure, and sometimes break into HBS and Wharton depending on how your powerful intangibles play out.

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.