Calculating Your Odds Of Getting In

Mr. Thirty Something

  • 700+ GMAT (have not taken yet)
  • 3.3 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from a historically black college or university (HBCU)
  • Work experience includes one year as a programmer for a major Fortune 50 company, two years in web development and online marketing for a local small business, eight years with a Fortune 50 in logistics (think FedEx/UPS/DHL); previous internship with NASA
  • Extracurricular involvement includes being a member of Mensa, working as a mentor to low-income children and on a task force that fabricates homes sent to Mexico; also on committee of a national community organization and in a leadership position in an internationally known public speaking organization
  • Goal: To run an incubator program that supports under-represented minority tech entrepreneurs
  • 34-year-old African-American male

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 10% to 20%
Harvard: 20-30%
MIT: 30%
Berkeley: 20-40%
Northwestern: 30-40%
UCLA: 30-50%
USC: 40-50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm, get that 690-720 GMAT. The actual test cannot be more difficult than your MENSA test, even with the new sections they plan to add in June (the GMAT, I am not sure what changes are afoot at MENSA), and it will help anchor your long and winding story.

Once again, we are left answering the question, “If a school is going to admit ANY 34-35-year-old, aside from Air Force pilots (who may be younger, actually), why not you?” Given that you have OK grades in a tough major from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), some recent, real solid and successful rotational work experience at a Fortune 50 logistics company, a long-list of impressive, initiative-driven, serve-the-poor extras — and you seem like a nice guy with both tech and street smarts with a gift of gab and a Yogi to boot. To top it off, your goal of creating some kind of hi-tech incubator for underserved kids is ready for a TV pilot.

The answer may be, they won’t be taking ANYONE who is 35 except faculty spouses and other one-offs. You recall our first gal, the Vietnamese first-gen Wall Street renegade/Health Care star wannabe, was only bucking odds of being near the bottom 10 percent of the class in terms of GPA and she had a 760 GMAT on the other side of the GMAT/GPA see-saw. With age, there is no other end of the see-saw.

A 76O GMAT makes you smarter but not younger. Nothing makes you younger except billions of dollars. If you are 35 at matriculation, you could be in the bottom 2 percent of the class at most schools –if not the oldest guy period. Again, and this seems to be a leitmotif this week, someone has part of the class has to have the lowest 10 percent GPA, someone has to be the oldest, why not you? Nothing in particular except that there is only one person who is the oldest, and 15,12, 10 or even fewer people in the bottom 2 percent, in terms of age, of most classes, so the odds just become harder.

It’s hard to predict, but at Stanford (and other places as well) you are going to need a 690+GMAT PLUS some real backing from what I assume are big shots of some kind you have met in your various charitable ventures. They need to communicate that you are special and actually just might make the impact you claim you want to make. Some real spin on the ball, whether a breathless letter or phone call to Sir Derrick is what it is going to take.

It’s probably the same story at HBS, although they are big enough and fair enough to take the very occasional one-off like you on paper merit alone. What you have going for you is that your goals are not age prohibited. One does not start a consulting or I-banking career at age 36-37 (one often ends such careers at that point), but one can start doing what you claim you want to do at that age.

You will need to be very clear about how you plan to do that and what you want to do your first summer, and how you plan to hit the ground running after graduation. A lot of your success will turn on your recommendations, beyond having a champion, and proving to them that you know a community of people of who can help you in terms of money, space, and opportunities. The MBA will be both a leadership growth experience, but also a chance to expand your ALREADY EXISTING NETWORK.

I’m not seeing this as MIT, despite the clear alignment of your goals and their public mantras about innovation. They got a small program and you are asking them to blink several times. They may come back and try to push you into a one-year Sloan Fellows Program-–something you might actually consider. A reason to think about the Sloan Fellows program is that you won’t be learning anything much of value, per se, whatever you do (MBA vs. Sloan Fellows), and at MIT or Stanford, both of which offer Sloan Fellows programs, you will just looking for a networking-rich environment. Lots going on up your alley in Kenmore Square and the MIT environs, both on and near campus. Ditto, of course, at Stanford.

I am not sure how well your story will play at Berkeley, Kellogg, USC, or UCLA. It does not seem an easy fit with Kellogg because what you are about is so “incubator-y” and East and West Coast. The California schools may buy this story or pass, depending a lot if you can find some way “in” to them. If not, it’s just more chips on the table, and finding an adcom who falls in love with your goals and story. A lot of those adcoms are passionate in public about stories like yours, but when it comes to get into bed, well, . . . . it is often not the same hot personality you met at the bar. On the other hand, as I often tell myself in vaguely similar circumstances, all you need is one.