Harvard | Mr. MedTech Startup
GMAT 740, GPA 3.80
Stanford GSB | Mr. SpaceX
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Harvard | Ms. Comeback Kid
GMAT 780, GPA 2.6
Darden | Ms. Inclusive Management
GRE 313, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Failed Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7
Stanford GSB | Mr. Mountaineer
GRE 327, GPA 2.96
Stanford GSB | Mr. Latin American
GMAT 770, GPA 8 of 10
Columbia | Mr. Oil & Gas
GMAT 710, GPA 3.37
Yale | Mr. Yale Hopeful
GMAT 750, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Nuclear Vet
GMAT 770, GPA 3.86
Harvard | Mr. Deferred Admission
GRE 329, GPA 3.99
NYU Stern | Mr. NYC Consultant
GRE 327, GPA 3.47
NYU Stern | Mr. Brolic Bro
GRE 305, GPA 3.63
Tuck | Mr. Running To The Future
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5
Rice Jones | Mr. Simple Manufacturer
GRE 320, GPA 3.95
Stanford GSB | Mr. JD To MBA
GRE 326, GPA 3.01
Kellogg | Mr. Pro Sports MGMT
GMAT GMAT Waived, GPA 3.78
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Real Estate Developer
GMAT 740, GPA 3.12
Tuck | Mr. Mega Bank
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
London Business School | Mr. Commercial Lawyer
GMAT 700, GPA 3.7
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Microsoft Consultant
GMAT N/A, GPA 2.31
Columbia | Mr. MD/MBA
GMAT 670, GPA 3.77
Harvard | Ms. Tech Impact
GMAT 730, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Data & Strategy
GMAT 710 (estimate), GPA 3.4
INSEAD | Mr. Dreaming Civil Servant
GMAT 700, GPA 3.2
Tuck | Mr. Tech PM
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Future MBA
GMAT 740, GPA 3.78

Breaking Through The Elite B-School Screen

Mr. Diplomat

  • 710 GMAT
  • 3.8 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in liberal arts from a top private non-Ivy (Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern)
  • Working as a U.S. State Department foreign service-political officer, focusing on the Middle East since 2007
  • Proficient in colloquial Arabic
  • Extracurricular activities include English/Math tutoring in the inner city, an executive student board member while in college, vice president of the student debate team, and competitive martial arts
  • Goal: To land a position in finance/consulting focusing on emerging markets in the Middle East and Central Asia, possibly going back into the public sector in a management/executive role.
  • 27-years-old white male

Odds of Success:

Wharton/Lauder MBA/MA program: 50% to 60%

Harvard Business School: 50+%

Chicago: 60+%

Columbia: 60+%

Dartmouth: 60+%

New York University: 60% to 80%

Sandy’s Analysis: Guys like you get into HBS with solid execution, solid recommendations, and not blowing the interview, which seems unlikely for a State Dept. dude.

One question that is revealing, as it always is: How many foreign-service political officers apply to HBS and Stanford and Wharton per year, and what are their outcomes?

Just based on your GPA and GMAT and your posting to Middle East, you have to be in top 20% of that cohort, although I realize it is a hard-ish gig to get. The HBS issue then becomes just putting together the right mix of personal and State Dept. Stories, and giving off the right vibe. You deeply seem their type.

Just to clarify something about HBS and GMAT’s: For our general readers, scores over 700 stop registering much. Her majesty Dee Leopold, the HBS adcom director, says at public forums that GMAT’s over 700 stop registering at all. Well, we love HRH Dee-Dee, but what she means is, there’s probably not that much difference between your 710 and a 730, but when you see a 3.8 and a 780 and some career with the State Department, you just start getting Robert McNamara whiz-kid leader visions in your head. At least I do. Although we all know what a bang-up job he did in Vietnam, that was later after he graduated from HBS in 1939 and blah, blah, blah.

So just saying:

1. Dee is mostly telling the truth about GMAT’s not super counting over 700 (although it depends, of course, if you flunked some basic math stuff during your wildnerness frosh and soph years and then get a perfect quant GMAT score, that helps),

2. 760+ scores, combined with other items, like a 3.9+ Ivy GPA, well, Dee may not be impressed, but I am. And that is despite knowing over 20 amazing jerks with those stats. All that said, I’ve seen a fair number of HBS dings with 3.8/760+, not all of them transparent oddballs, either.  Bottom line: Dee Leopold is less impressed by jumbo GMATs than Sandy Kreisberg. Double bottom line: Dee’s views about this count more, unless you are applying to the Sandy School of Business, which I do not suggest.

3. Another thing–Dee was just interviewed in Busines Week, and between the lines, here is what she said, in my interpretation, read the interview for yourself, but this is how it impacts you.

The dirty little secret about the accomplishment and setback essays in the current HBS application is that the most important thing BY FAR is the actual setting. A wonderfully dense essay about how you led a team on a due diligence project and got cooperation from other bankers, the client, and peers on your team, which also works in why your leadership was important and imact it had on the deal and your firm is WORTH ZILCH compared to the guy next to you in investment banking who writes about working in a leper colony and getting the cooperation of tribal chiefs, even if that essay is merely workable. Dee Leopold kind of alluded to that in her interview. It is not an essay writing contest. Mostly they want to know what you have DONE and what seven choices you make about what to write about. I don’t want to minimize the rest of it, but once you go for due diligence, well, that essay is only going to be so good, no matter how long you apply the #9 sandpaper.

OK, all that said, many HBS admits write about some due diligence or PE deal, and they expect one or so work-ish accomplishments and setbacks, but the most important thing you can do is select powerful other stuff. That is 100x more important than worrying about how to buff up the banal stuff. Many consultants get this backward, and think that a C setting given A+ execution is better than a A+ setting given a C execution. That is so wrong. Although obviously consultant think, since they can help you more with the execution than the setting.

Of course, it is sometimes possible, for those of you who DO NOT HAVE A HISTORY of working in leper colonies or refugee camps, to make more mundance events shine a bit via deeply personalizing, and that is what consultants can help with–the impact of that help is something I wrestle with. Every year I help 100 or so kids craft hi-gloss HBS applications, and then do mock interviews of 100 other kids whom I did not help–it is always a bummer, personally, to see how little the hi-gloss has helped vs. some kids who get interviews (and admission) with really banal essays in terms of details and executions, but the big pieces are there, e.g. they just got better stories (and better jobs and GMATs and GPAs!) . This is also what Dee is allluding to, between the lines, in her interview in BW, although I’m about the only person in the world who can fully unpack it.

Ok, back to you. This is a strong Wharton-Lauder case as well, especially given your history and goals. A 710 GMAT may, in fact, hurt you more at Wharton than HBS (don’t take it over! but Wharton really tracks GMAT scores in some serious way), but man, your story is real solid. Lauder is made for guys like you. I’d downplay the finance part, though, that is not Lauder’s bag, international management is.

At other schools you mention, it should just be a matter of convincing them you want to go.

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.