Dream Schools: Handicapping Odds

He’s a failed Internet startup guy, an international traveler and a self-taught computer programmer. With a 720 GMAT and a 3.8 grade point average, he wants to know if he has the right stuff to get into Harvard, MIT Sloan, Tuck and a few other exceptional business schools.

She’s a marketing consultant and “half minority” with an impressive 760 GMAT. But she wonders if her underwhelming GPA of 2.5 is a “non-starter” that will keep her out of a top school.

He’s a sky-diving, snow-boarding certified public accountant who claims that he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a “desk-ridden bean counter.” With a 720 GMAT and a 3.2 GPA, he wants what his chances are at Berkeley, Yale and Duke.

We’re turning to Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

This is a “best of” edition of our popular MBA handicapping series. After analyzing candidates for ten consecutive weeks, Sandy has taken the week off to focus exclusively on his admission business. With the round one deadlines fast approaching, he finds himself busier than ever. But he’ll be back next week with a new cast of applicant characters.

As he has in the past, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting in. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a half dozen or more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in future follow-up stories.

Sandy’s assessment:

Mr. Internet Startup

  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.8 GPA
  • Earned a joint BS/MA degree in applied economics from a 50ish ranked private university
  • 26 years old
  • Built, launched and ran a web startup that ultimately failed
  • Writing has been published by The New York Times
  • International traveler who is also a self-taught computer programmer
  • Extracurriculars include volunteer experience and soccer and rugby player

Odds of success:

Harvard Business School: Less than 30%
Stanford: Less than 30%
Wharton: 40%
MIT Sloan: 50%
Dartmouth: 50%
Columbia: 60% if early admission

Sandy’s Analysis: You are a good example of a guy with a lot of impressive stuff that weighs more in the real world than it does on planet admissions (which is sorta like the moon in some cases, with its own gravity field). A 3.8 GPA and a 720 GMAT are totally fine, as is quant background. Spending four years with a web startup is something schools will pay lip service to, but at bottom, they would prefer that you either worked for Google or founded Groupon, never got an MBA, and gave them a building in 30 years.

There is not much in between. Ditto on your writing published in The New York Times. I am impressed but schools don’t care all that much since it does fit in their wheelhouse. (And the record of journos who do attend business school is mixed: they often write tell-alls which have been done already).

Why do you want an MBA? That will be key. This ain’t smelling like a H/S/W admit, although maybe Wharton. You should try Sloan, which nominally says they like entrepreneurs. I have my doubts about how many kids they admit with only entrepreneurship experience (Rod Garcia–the MIT Adcom head—if you are reading this, please check in and tell us).
The trouble with you from the school’s POV is that you are too self-taught and that seems to be your preferred model. You need to explain why you need an MBA and MBA training.

This is like that Eagles song Desperado. That has been your M.O. and now it is time to explain why you have come to your senses.


Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?

You been out ridin’ fences for so long now.

Oh, you’re a hard oneI know that you got your reasons

These things that are pleasin’ you

Can hurt you somehow

  • Top10

    The “Marathon Runner (Mr. CPA)” is me originally. Now I’m in my second year at a top 10 MBA program. This assessment was okay and much appreciated at the time but I was able to get in to several of the MBA programs that I was told I had a less than 30% chance of getting in to. I’d say to apply where you want and not give up if you have similar ambitions as I did. You never know where life will take you!

  • Simon Chu

    Thx a lot John, I’ve been reading all your blogs here. Just a quick assessment for me would be great.

    Mr Greenpeacer

    750 GMAT
    3.3 GPA
    Earned an engineering degree at top university in China, a master in environmental in a top Canadian University
    28 years old
    Worked in a boutique consulting firm for a year. Has been working for Greenpeace Canada for 3 years ever since, active project organizer, lots of leadership stories, decent extracurriculars
    Career goal: Environmental NGO in China
    Concern: Greenpeace’s evil and aggressive impression

    Chances at:


    Thanks very much!

  • Jay

    I haven’t seen any actuary profiles yet!

    -750 GMAT
    -3.95 Grade Point Average
    -BS Actuarial Science; BS Statistics; BA Economics from Drake University (great for actuarial science, otherwise not well-known)
    -Work Experience: 5 years at a top actuarial consulting firm (Milliman, Inc). Promoted twice (analyst to associate / associate to consultant). Completed all examinations necessary to become a FSA (Fellow of the Society of Actuaries)
    -EC: president of actuarial science club, heavy involvement in SIFE (Students Interested in Free Enterprise) during college, co-founder of a nonprofit (focuses on getting underprivileged students into and through college), head of multiple committees at work, serve on the board of an education related nonprofit
    -Goal: move from actuarial consulting to strategy consulting
    -27-year-old caucasian male
    -Target Schools: Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, Duke, Michigan

  • Mr. Cleantech

    Sandy and John, thanks for putting together this series – it’s extremely insightful.

    – 730 GMAT
    – 3.5 Grade Point Average
    – Undergraduate degree in finance and accounting from Wharton
    – Work experience includes two years at a top-tier boutique investment bank followed by three years (at matriculation) at a cleantech private equity firm
    – Post-college extracurricular involvement includes being founder and president of education-related non-profit, volunteer with mentoring organization.
    – College extracurricular involvement includes being a founding father of social fraternity chapter, exec board of investing and consulting clubs, housing resident advisor, volunteer with several mentoring organizations
    – 6 different internships throughout college
    – CFA Level 2 candidate
    – Post-MBA Goal: continue working full-time in cleantech investing, start renewable energy non-profit on the side
    – First generation American and first in family to attend college
    – 27-year-old (at matriculation) Asian American male

    Target Schools (in no particular order):

  • Mr. Redneck

    * GPA: 3.5 at Amherst/Williams
    * GMAT: 750
    * Three years working in bulge bracket IB doing equity research. Promoted
    to Associate.
    * Recently moved to Louisiana to work in Biz Dev at an oil & gas tech
    start-up for the year to gain different perspective on business and start
    building network in the region (long-term goal is to start VC firm in
    * Extracurriculars: Started an investment club with three friends in college,
    Solid volunteer work during college focused on rebuilding post-Katrina,
    Minimal volunteer work post college
    * Other: Born and raised in South by single father who was diagnosed with
    passed away during college.

    * Schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, Tuck, Columbia, MIT, Darden,

  • help help help

    Hi John/Sandy!!

    -GMAT: 710 (Q percentile is 76% though, V is 89%)
    -GPA: 3.75 Small New England Liberal Arts, Economics Major (major GPA: 3.92) aka my only low grades were in sociology and bio, I am a straight A math and econ student.
    -Work Experience: Electricity Consulting, 2 years will large well respected firm, left to go to smaller firm with less prestige but more opportunity for client interaction and responsibility (1 year).
    -Planning to continue in energy consulting, goal is to address energy future through market design innovation.
    -Recently relocated and volunteered to be Alumni Events coordinator for my city – very active in alumni relations
    -Interested in Haas, Duke, MIT, Kellogg, Booth, Columbia, Yale
    -Pretty much given up on retaking GMAT, hope that wont be a huge problem for me (low Q percentile has me worried.)


  • Mr.Renewable Energy

    – 700 GMAT, 25 years old, Indian.
    – UG degree in Industrial Engineering and Management. Non-IIT. (75% with honors, no GPA system).
    – Hired from campus by GE Aviation Research and Development in 2008. Worked at the R&D center for 2 years( youngest in center at 22 yrs). Worked on financial simulations to predict operating cost for GE Aircraft Engines. ( 18 mill $ annual benefit )
    – Joined Operations Management Leadership Program (OMLP) for GE Energy in 2010( highly selective, internal hire, first OMLP for GE Energy in India).
    – Multiple high impact leadership roles in Energy Supply chain. Was instrumental in setting up two new wind turbine manufacturing facilities in India.( green field experience).
    – Presently working in Vietnam, stabilizing the operations for another GE wind factory set up in 2010.

    Why MBA- Want to move up the ladder into leadership roles in supply chain and business development strategy in renewable energy for India/China.

    Extracurricular- member of GE Volunteers, initiated special lean projects to encourage factory workers to submit ideas to improve production. Presently working on setting up a computer/English literacy program for factory workers in GE Vietnam.
    Dream School- HBS. Target- Stanford/ Wharton/ Booth/ MIT/ INSEAD.

  • Mr. Mixed Bag

    Mr. Mixed Bag
    720 GMAT
    3.3 UG GPA; 3.4 Grad GPA
    Earned a degree in business from a small, moderately selective undergrad (not a brand name school), earned a Master of Finance from a world renowned university (e.g. Princeton, LBS, MIT)
    28 years old
    Two years investment management at a midsized asset manager before the masters (passed CFA exams while there), now one year into consulting (at one of Mckinsey, BCG, Bain – with a post MBA job title), but thinking of going back next year, expect to be company sponsored
    Can write compelling essays as to “why an MBA”, will have strong recs, good interviews, etc.
    Extracurriculars are relatively good, president of club, all-star athlete, winner of a couple very competitive research competitions, etc.
    Unfortunately, I am a white male consultant from the northeast who works in consulting (albeit at a very good firm) with middling grades / GMATs, but a second look shows me to be a little deeper than that (raised by a single immigrant mother, only person in circle of friends to make it out of my working class town to go on to a solid college and career, self made in every sense of the word and have a compelling plan to give back)

    Harvard Business School: ?
    Stanford: ?
    INSEAD: ?
    London Business School: ?
    Columbia: ?

  • Mr. Green

    How come no energy backgrounds, wanting to stay in energy?

    730 GMAT
    8.4 GPA, IIT
    25 years old
    Work: 4 years of experience with an oil and gas major as a engineering consultant, then operations engineer at refinery, then senior engineering consultant and now a cost estimation/ risk management for projects. Have worked in 4 countries.
    Extra curriculars: Member of diversity council at refinery. Head a social corporate responsibility team for company. Played volleyball, basketball at college. played beach volleyball at a sports complex in US. Climbed kilimanjaro
    Future: Want to create a social business that will light up India. Passionate about building teams, organizations and solving problems.

    Schools: Harvard, Kellogg, Booth, MIT, Stanford, Haas

  • Mr. Healthcare Management

    I’ll give it another try. Sandy, hope my healthcare/sales background warrants a looksie….

    -740 GMAT
    -3.5 Grade Point Average
    -Undergraduate Degree in biomedical engineering from top public engineering program (Cal Tech, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Michigan)
    -Work Experience: One year of healthcare consulting (for providers) at boutique consulting firm, then three years of marketing/sales at large but not commonly known medical device company. Includes two promotions. One failed healthcare SaaS start-up.
    -Extracurricular Involvement in College: president of fraternity, student government committee chairman, housing RA, campus orientation leader, one research publication, and regular volunteer experience.
    -Extracurricular Involvement after College: tutor for refugee organization, recently appointed director of strategy at sports non-profit, rec league basketball, pre-MBA course, and occasional volunteer experience at a couple organizations
    -Goal: leverage my experience in the health care industry to transition to a business development/corporate strategy role in a small to mid-sized biotechnology company. Longer term, join or start a life science start-up accelerator.
    -27-year-old male of Middle Eastern decent, fluent in Farsi
    -Dream School: Stanford
    -Target Schools: Wharton, Columbia, MIT, Berkeley, Northwestern, Chicago, UCLA

  • Mr. Africa Development

    Thanks for doing these series – super interesting! I haven’t seen anyone with a background similar to mine, so I thought I would give it a go.

    25 y/o Caucasian male
    700 GMAT
    3.1 GPA at top UC in quantitative economics (GPA is definitely a low point stemming from 2.5 first year GPA in Electrical Engineering)

    Work Experience: 2.5 years with promotion to management level position at boutique consulting firm (managed two teams), Past 1.5 years in consulting at top nonprofit in Africa including a managerial position (starting a new agribusiness project)

    Extras: Volunteered past two summers in Peru – managing small team, volunteered at a homeless shelter for a year and acted as a mentor to men in recovery program, led a church based small group for 1 year

    Long term goal: Start and manage a Nonprofit management consulting firm

    Target schools: HBS, Kellogg, Haas, Stanford (just for kicks)

    Thanks again!

  • AA

    There would be more value added to these pieces if candidates with lower GPAs and GMATs were profiled. It doesn’t take an expert to suggest where someone with a 3.8 and 740 GMAT will end up…

  • Nuclear Consultant

    I would really love if Sandy can comment on my profile:

    720 GMAT
    3.70 GPA
    Undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from University of Toronto. Masters of engineering from University of Toronto (company training – part-time)
    Work experience as a nuclear consultant in North-American Utility market (4+ on matriculation)
    Extracurriculars include mentoring minority and first-generation immigrant engineering students under a Leaders of Tomorrow program. Started local chapter at work for young professionals development and with a goal for community service. Was President of Student Government at the Department level. Active sports life.
    26 years old
    Canadian of Indian origin.

    Can you evaluate my chances at HBS/Stanford/MIT/Berkeley/Columbia/Dartmouth/Duke/Wharton?

  • Well, if we’re going to talk about non-US schools…!

    Asian female
    GMAT: 730 (but only scored 76% for quant)
    GPA: 3.69 from UCSD (cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa)
    Work: 5+ years in marketing, currently working for the world’s largest international hospitality design firm
    EC: Strong involvement with ethnic identity professional organization and some involvement with many others (Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Forte Foundation, more)
    Extra: got a B in a UCSD Extension stats class recently

    Chances at:
    – LBS
    – INSEAD
    – HEC Paris
    – SDA Bocconi
    – HBS
    – Columbia

  • The last two profiles were recycled from previous installments…was this intentional?

  • Chad,


  • chadplusplus

    Man, some of these candidates are crazy impressive. I was deluded to think I had a chance at HBS or Wharton.

    I mean – I nearly partied my way out of undergrad (2.7); stumbled my way into a mediocre law school and had to work full time while there to pay for it. (3.3); then, life as an associate wasn’t exactly conducive to doing my part to save the world. Unfortunately, no relatives needed my extra kidney.

    But I did score a 740, so I’ve got that going for me…
    (And I’m just looking at part-time/EMBA programs anyway, so the bar is not quite as high, right?…. RIGHT?)

  • Severn,

    That’s a very good idea. In the future, we’ll do one exclusively on candidates who want to go to one of the many exceptional schools outside the U.S.

  • Severn Everett

    This series has been great in showing which schools are more likely to accept one candidate or another; would it be possible to get a series like this mainly for non-US schools (e.g. INSEAD, HEC, ESADE, LBS)?