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Calculating Your Odds Of Getting In

Mr. Family Business

  • 730 GMAT
  • 3.75 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from an “average state school”
  • Work experience includes time at NASA after school, though I currently sit second in command at my family’s privately owned, $50 million (sales) business
  • Goal: “Eventually I’ll be taking over this organization and I want to go to business school to help support that transition. I am local to Massachusetts so I’d prefer HBS or Sloan.”
  • “Have a couple of friends who are recent graduates from both programs who are willing to write alumni recommendations.”

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 35+%
MIT: 40% to 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Running a family business is a double-edged sword for adcoms. HBS sees itself as creating a transforming experience (they don’t keep data on this, which makes their belief in this  aspiration even more tenacious) and they can quietly gag on the idea of having some guy who is near-running a family business go back there.  All that said,  there is some unspoken number about the size of a family business  which turns it from a liability to an asset in the eyes of the HBS adcom. MIT is less picky about seeing family businesses as ‘non-transformational’ experiences but that lurks in the background there as well.

I don’t know what that number is. My guess is, though, it is more than $50 million a year in sales. Another issue is how ‘hip’ the business is from adcom’s point of view. If you are running some alt-energy business or cutting-edge medical device company or educational technology company which  could be expanded into some BIG DEAL under your stewardship, and not only expanded but also transformed into an enterprise that is more meaningful and impactful while also becoming a hiring magnet to boot (of handicapped, minority, and immigrant labor at excellent wages) –well,  that is a dreamscape that sometimes works at HBS. So my advice is, whatever your business is in reality, try to make your plans for it align with that vision.

MIT might go for the 730, 3.75 and NASA triple play (plus background in chemical engineering). The added attraction for any school is that they don’t have to find you a job. HBS might go for some of that, but it may take more–make it real clear why you need an MBA in the first place, and really think hard about creating a snow globe of a picture of what you are going to do with Dad’s company.

As to your point of having recent grads write recommendations,  that does not cut a whole lot of mustard at either school unless the grads are friendly with adcom officials or are recent donor grads, and not $100 to the class fund.  What you need are recs from customers, bankers or investors who can confirm your potential to create the wonderful picture you paint about the transformed business.