Handicapping Your MBA Odds

Mr. Congress

  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.56 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a Midwestern “Ivy”
  • Work experience includes three years as a Congressional staffer handling finance and commerce policy issues and two years as a junior level campaign staffer
  • Extracurricular involvement as a leader in professional development organizations and student government
  • “I have an understanding of the regulatory side of finance and business, and I want to get private sector experience to get a real understanding of how finance and business work (thinking specifically corporate finance or consulting). I believe an MBA would help me make that jump…I might consider a joint public policy degree. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts of my odds on getting into a top-tier MBA program and a joint MPP program.”
  • 27-year-old male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30%

Stanford: 20%

Yale: 50+%

MIT: 40%

Northwestern: 40% to 50%

Chicago: 40% to 50%

Wharton: 30% to 40%

Columbia: 40%

NYU: 40% to 50%

Virginia: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, you won’t have any trouble getting into Public Policy schools, which are not so hard to get into the first place, and you sure got the resume. Your solid GMAT and GPA scores could make you a contender at top B-schools if you can formulate a less dizzy and more savvy goal statement than the one you list above, “I want to get private sector experience to get a real understanding of how finance and business work (thinking specifically corporate finance or consulting)” which makes it sound like you are taking adult ed courses instead of being focused on an actual career.

This is a delicate area, but when it comes to goals, you need to propose some plausible and “considered” plan, even if it means faking it a bit. You can say you are interested in the “intersection” (great word, adcoms love that) of finance and government and your career could include consulting, corporate finance for companies with heavy government interaction, and possibly running for office.

You admire dudes like X, Y, and Z who have done blah, blah (ahem, Jon Corzine, just kidding) and you want to use them as a role models. Your ability to get into Harvard and Stanford will turn in part on getting some big shot in Washington to really back you, possibly with a phone call. Of course, who is an effective big shot is an interesting question. I know of cases where applicants had second-tier cabinet officials (viz. the actual secretary but not of, e.g., Treasury) make a call, and nada. Ditto for actual Congress-peeps, but in other cases that did work.

One of the problems schools have with “political” types like you is that they have no way to compare them to the cohort of political types, and as we know, Congress itself runs the gamut from near-genius types to many dunderheads, and I imagine staffers are the same. Thus, the “quality” of your recommenders, and their willingness to walk the extra mile for you, become a kind of crude proxy for where you are in the staffer cohort. Your committee, Finance and Commerce, sounds like one of the more serious ones (I’m no expert, but neither are most adcoms) so that is a plus. So, get your goals real clear, and your bosses real hyped-up to help you.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder of C-Change Media, a global digital media company of higher education content. C-Change now has five websites, including Poets&Quants, and the author or co-author of more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers, and is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, and editor-in-chief of Fast Company. He also is the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools.