Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

At 26 years of age, he’s already pulling down between $200,000 and $325,000 annually at a well-known hedge fund in Europe. To expand his network and move higher up, he wants an MBA–but only if it’s from Harvard Business School.

She’s a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Virginia who works as a consultant in higher education. With a 720 GMAT score and a 3.5 grade point average, she’s hoping an MBA would allow her to bring more disciplined thinking to education management.

He’s a digital media maven who had edited an AOL-owned website and now works in public relations for a regional university. His post-MBA goal: To transition to a top-tier management consulting company with a media practice.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get in? Or will they be dinged by their dream schools?

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

As usual, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)

Sandy’s candid assessment:

Mr. Hedge Fund

  • 760 GMAT
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from a top three university in the United Kingdom
  • Work experience includes one year in principal investments at a top investment bank and two years at a well-known hedge fund
  • Pre-MBA compensation: EUR 150-250K
  • Extracurricular involvement includes some school mentorship activities, and on the board of a few companies we are invested in
  • Goal: “I currently work in Europe and plan to return here, doing a similar thing to what I’m doing now but with more (and eventually portfolio manager level) responsibilities. Would like to go to business school to expand my global network (which I feel will be useful at the PM level)”
  • 26-year-old under-represented minority (Black)

Odds of Success:

Harvard Business School only: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis: I am assuming your current job is with the hedge fund. A lot of your HBS chances will turn on what HBS thinks of your employers, both the IB and the Hedge Fund. And the best way to figure that out is to find out the track record of those companies sending applicants to HBS over the past three to five years. As to Hedge Funds, especially, all hedge funds are not created equal, and its record in sending applicants to top schools, and some degree, its record of hiring Harvard MBAs after graduation really color the HBS adcom outlook.

As to being a URM [Under-Represented Minority), at HBS (and all U.S. schools), that term technically applies to only U.S. citizens, which does not seem to be you. Those schools in the first instance are concerned with forms they have to file with the U.S. Department of Whatever (Education, Civil Rights?) which headcounts the percentage of students who are 1. U.S. citizens, AND 2. Either: A) Afro-American, B) Hispanic surname, C) from Puerto Rico, or D) Native American. So when you see that X percent of HBS class is “minority,” that is what the number means–the total of those four groups.

All that said, the fact you are black, even if citizenship is U.K., is a plus, since it impacts your experiences and interests, and there are just not that many black males from anyplace with a 760 GMAT.

I would do a better dog-and-pony show on your goals, although you might just be “blah, blahing” to me and you already knew that. But your stated goals of planning to return to work in Europe aren’t all that compelling: “Doing a similar thing to what I’m doing now but with more (and eventually Portfolio Manager level) responsibilities. Would like to go to business school to expand my global network (which I feel will be useful at the PM level).” Dunno, HBS recognizes that what you are saying motivates many private equity and finance types to apply, but they don’t enjoy hearing it back quite that insouciantly.

You need to puff it up so it sounds like HBS will be a transformational experience, help you become an impact investor, transform investments in areas 1, 2, 3. Also portfolio manager is not a favored Harvard endpoint in life. Well, not a favored HBS Adcom endpoint. Their thinking is, you don’t really need an MBA for that, although many portfolio managers might disagree.

Being on company boards is good, although not quite an “extracurricular activity,” as HBS understands the term. Nonetheless, OK experience for one essay. Your pre-MBA compensation of 150-250k Euros is probably on the high-end, even for PE applicants, but not a head-scratcher–just don’t brag about it. At some compensation point, ~$500 U.S.D., schools begin to wonder why you are applying, but not yet.

I don’t often say this, but a good deal of your outcome will turn on execution. Both how you position goals, and how likeable and, ahem, ‘emotionally intelligent’ you appear in essays. HBS dings and admits lots of guys like you, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what the decision turned on. Guys like you who get dinged and get feedback from Dee Leopold as part of her Ding-A-Thon phone sessions, often hear, “nothing really ‘wrong’ etc. which means 1. You blew the interview in some subtle way, 2. Essays and total picture where not likeable, for reasons very difficult to articulate (too banal, too braggy, annoying ‘voice.’)

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