Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

Mr. Palestinian

  • 690 GMAT
  • 2.8 GPA (Willing to take all four of the classes I received a D in over again from local colleges if that would help)
  • Undergraduate degree from a state college
  • Work experience includes six years as manager of a small generic pharmaceutical wholesale company with eight employees, including telecommuting workers. After selling that business, I now manage an independent retail pharmacy and run a website which involves personal shopping and international shipping to customers in the Middle East
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer teaching English to immigrants
  • Son of Palestinian refugees who is the first and only person in my family to graduate high school and college
  • Fluent in Arabic, having lived in Jordan for five years
  • Goal: To work for an American company that does business in the Middle East or to start his own consulting company for American businesses that want to do business in the Middle East
  • 29-year-old Palestinian living in New York and completely bald

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 5%

Stanford: 5%

Wharton: 5%

Kellogg, Booth, Duke, Darden: 20%

Boston University: 30% to 40+%

Boston College: 30% to 40+%

Maryland: 50+%

Babson: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Being bald won’t play much of a factor, and I don’t hold it against you since I’m in comb-over mode myself. Sorry to disappoint anyone who is taken in by the “artful” and circa 2006 photo at the head of this feature every week.

OK, moving on . . . I would retake those courses you got a “D” in, especially if they were “quanty,” (e.g. stats, economics, algebra) just as a show of good faith that you are serious about applying and can still sit for 45-to-85 minute blocks of time and regurgitate . . . whatever . . .  which is a good proxy for business school, despite all the superficial changes they yap about.  This could be especially important if your GMAT split was low on the Quant side.

You’ve got a compelling personal story, obviously, and certified Palestinian refugees are a valued addition to the campus mix at all business schools–that, and being the first in your family to achieve higher education. The weak part of your story is what appears to be working in two small family businesses: the small generic pharma company and now retail pharmacy and website.

I salute you, and the world may need more pharmacies than investment banks, but the B-schools don’t quite see it that way. They look for diamonds in the rough like you to have gotten lucky once before they agree to pick you up. In your case, that would have meant somehow excelling at college and getting a real Blue Chip job for a consulting company or a bank or Big 4 which are nursing grounds for raw talent. Or just doing OK in college and then getting a break through a college alumnus and getting some kind standard job at a retail bank, insurance company, or local business.

The trouble with your jobs is that schools have no way to judge them. The fact that you were running a generic pharma wholesale company with eight employees, some of whom were telecommuting, might in reality be an amazing enterprise for you and your family. But schools may suspect it was some kind of dodgy pill mill–especially since it was sold and you then opened pharmacy, which seems like a downward progression.

Just giving this to you straight. I totally salute your family’s efforts and struggles.  OK, maybe I am being too cynical, but I don’t see this as Harvard, Stanford or Wharton, for sure. And I think you will find it hard, if not impossible, at other schools typically ranked in the Top 10 for the same reasons: low GPA, only  family business work history and no ‘standard jobs’, etc.  Given your OK GMAT score, and if you do take those D courses over again, you might stand a chance at more “regional”-focused business schools, such as Pace in New York, Babson, Boston University, the University of Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State, Boston College, UT-Dallas, et al.

It is not clear how much good those places can do in helping you meet your dreams of working for an American company in the U.S. that does business in the Middle East, unless you already have contacts at such companies. You really have to check out what hiring is like at those schools, especially for kids who don’t come from the area or have prior connections with employers. A lot of those schools are feeders to regional banks, and it helps to come from the, well, region.

If anyone knows more about hiring at schools like that, please check in.

If you want to start your own consulting company, and have pre-existing contacts, schools like that can certainly teach you basic business skills, and often do a better job at it than Top 10 schools, in fact. You might also check out a school like Babson in Massachusetts, which is focused on students who want to start companies.

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