Handicapping Your MBA Odds

Ms. Family Biz


  • 670 GMAT (taken in 2008)
  • 3.95 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in English, with a specialty in creative writing, from a small, well-known liberal arts school after transferring out of Duke; also did the Tuck Business Bridge summer program
  • Work experience includes growing up in a mid-sized, family-owned hotel company with 44 properties and over 10,000 rooms worldwide; member of the advisory board of directors for the family business for eight years, having served as secretary and president of the board; currently employed by a luxury destination club startup owned by Steve Case where “I design, scout and execute luxury chartered travel experiences for club members, such as customized safaris, expeditions to Borneo…I manage the finances and budget of the department, supply man of the photographs and write the marketing copy. I spend about 30% of the year traveling abroad for work.”
  • Extracurricular involvement on the executive board of the college newspaper, helping to make the paper profitable in one year, as well as leadership positions in my sorority. Currently, volunteer for animal shelter and am an avid diver
  • Goal: “To one day run our family business and help it grow globally so it is not so centered in Hawaii, where it is vulnerable to many outside factors. On a more short-term basis, I’d like to develop my career with my current company, so would like to augment my leadership and strategic global knowledge for this newly-minted department.”
  • Fluent in Spanish
  • “Where would I apply? 
Stanford? (brother just graduated from GSB in May and father, sister, and niece all went to undergrad there)
. Harvard? (father went there for medical school)
  • 27-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30+%

Stanford: 20%

Northwestern: 40% to 50%

Dartmouth: 50%

Chicago: 50%

Columbia: 35% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, take the GMAT again, since 670 is on the low side, especially for a kid like you who comes from a solidly middle-upper class background, and whose dad went to HMS and bro’ went to Stanford B-school. Schools are much more forgiving of marginal GMAT scores if you take them twice, to make the case, “like I studied hard, this is the best I can do, not a standardized test taker . . .”  All that said, take GMAT 3 more times, and really study, it is the biggest weakness in this profile.

The rest, especially working and excelling at a Steve Case start-up, 3.95 GPA, and background in family hotel business is real solid. You will need to explain a bit transferring OUT of Duke, if I got that right, to a small liberal arts college. It sounds, at first hearing, against the usual clichés of leaving your comfort zone, breaking new ground, which schools like. And Duke is not all that different from a small liberal arts college, and certainly it is more like a business school than a small liberal arts college. Sooo, just saying, it is worth noting why that move was right at that time.

Expanding the family hotel business is an OK goal, given that business is already substantial. What is bro’ going to be doing? Just asking. Some schools have a family business major or interest, like Kellogg, so you synch up nicely there. Columbia might actually hiccup at the GMAT, another reason to retake it. Booth and Tuck take kids like you. HBS and Stanford are not out of the question, but you might need more “stardust” in terms of jobs, extra-curriculars and goals.

You currently say your job is “I design, scout, and execute luxury chartered travel experiences for the members of the club, such as customized safaris, expeditions to Borneo, etc.” Phew, sign me up, but this is not running a leper colony in the Philippines.  You need to downplay that aspect of your job and stress more building out a start-up, and working for Steve Case. Another hint is to de-emphasize what you said in your note was mission at family business, viz. “making your family business less Hawaii –centric.”  That might be a very good idea but try to put together something more ‘aspirational,’ like expanding hotels to include eco-friendly sites and vacations, and new types of vacations, which include learning experiences. I’m just thinking off the top of my head, and I am sure you could do a better job if you put your mind to it. So my advice is, put your mind to it. Schools like big thinking that is anchored to a real, existing hotel chain. They do not like big thinking anchored to nothing.