Handicapping Your Dream School Odds

Ms. West African Exporter

  • 680 to 700 GMAT (taking test in August)
  • 3.96 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy at an average university
  • Work experience includes two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village in West Africa and one year with a USAID project in the West African handicraft sector. Developing a business plan to export products to the U.S.
  • Fluent in French and proficient in local language (Bambara).
  • Taking the GMAT in August: expecting a 680-700
  • “I’m not your average B-school candidate and am interested to know whether my unique experiences are an advantage at the top schools.”

Odds of Success

Harvard Business School: 30% to 50%

Stanford: 15% to 35%

Berkeley: 50+%

Columbia: 40% to 60% (depends on GMAT)

NYU: 60% to 70% (just convince them you want to go)

Georgetown: 60% to 70% (just convince them you want to go)

Sandy’s Analysis: You say: ““I’m not your average B-school candidate and am interested to know whether my unique experiences are an advantage at the top schools.”

I say: Just remember the two dirty little secrets about 100 percent do-gooder types, e.g. Teach For America or Peace Corps types who have ONLY worked for those organizations and versus some dude who did two years at Goldman and then a year in the Peace Corps

1. GPA really counts, even if from an average school, and believe me a 3.96 from Flyover State U is way better than a 3.1 from Public Ivy, or even real Ivy. But also GMAT or GRE also counts. A 680-700 is marginal. Schools may blink depending on course work (your majors were Poli Sci and Phil, hmmmmm, I smell guts) and other factors.

2. The Do-Gooder Organization also counts, especially selectivity. How hard is it to get those jobs? Teach For America jobs are really selective and schools respect that filtering process, I am not sure Peace Corp scores as high as TFA but it is respected. USAID is probably in the middle, although someone correct me if I am wrong.

You say: “Developing a business plan to export West African products to the U.S.”

I say: Forget that. You don’t need an MBA and who cares anyway. The world is awash with ethnic products (I am assuming you are not exporting oil or rare earth minerals) and what you need to say is that you want to continue to be a leader in the NGO world, possibly at the World Bank, blah, blah, blah. Or manage charter schools or private schools in regions 1 2, 3, etc.

That could be real important because given your lack of top-tier schooling and so-so selective do-gooder organizations, you have some residual flakiness in your profile. So you need to present yourself as a gung-ho future leader, not someone interested in setting up an export tchotchke business (Tchotchke? Look it up, or Ask Linda on Accepted.com, the den mother of the Jewish consultants and resident Yiddish expert).

Nota Bene: I will stick to my guns about your need to present more corporate do-gooder goals versus exporting bric-a-brac, especially given your background. Even after someone sends me the website of http://www.shokay.com, the winner of the HBS social enterprise contest in the mid-’90s and now a wonderful business which sells scarves, blankets, mittens and hats made from yak hair originating in Yunnan, China. Believe me, the kids who started that company did not say that was their goal. (Actually, they were at the Kennedy School and then picked up some HBS ringers when they entered the business plan contest.)

Nota Bene 2: Dear Sandy, I want to buy HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold  a wonderful gift to attach to my application. Any suggestions? I think she would really go for this.

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