Handicapping Your MBA Odds

Mr. Expat

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.56 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics and Russian from a top ten liberal arts college
  • 3.5 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in international relations from a top No. 1 or No. 2 school
  • Work experience includes project assistant at one of the two top think tanks (Brookings/Rand); research assistant at a United Nations agency in Bangkok for six months; a public relations assistant for a European NGO in Kabul, Afghanistan, leadingthe monitoring and evaluation analysis of NATO psychological operations
  • Extracurricular involvement is currently minimal: “I go to the gym and I used to row”; had written for college newspaper and was a representative in student government
  • Short-term goal: To work in marketing or management consulting, particularly for non-profits
  • Long-term goal: To set up a Nielson Ratings-esque company that monitors individuals’ media consumption in developing countries (particularly in austere environments… think Turkmenistan, Burma or the Central African Republic)
  • “The revenues would either be from the local governments or companies that would like to get into that country’s markets. I can do the analysis side, but between you, me and the cold anonymity of the Internet, I have no idea on how to do the financing or administration side, which in my experience is more important than the product quality “
  • Fluent in Russian and French
  • 28-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 20%
Wharton: 40%
Harvard: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is not as zig-zaggy and choppy as you think. Basically, you have been in think tanks and NGOs and grad school and now are doing some NGO-related marketing and your goals synch up that.  A lot of your success will turn on either how well you can describe your present company, or what impact it has. Make sure in both your resume and essays to note that what you have done  is boutique work and successful  within the niche of non-profit marketing.

Given a 740 GMAT and a 3.56 GPA at a top-10 liberal arts college (and OK grades in grad school), and goals which very well fit in with your language skills, background, and outlook, you can make a solid case for your story.  You say: “Short term goals: I want to work in marketing or management consulting, particularly for non-profits. Long-term: I would like to set up a Nielson Ratings-esque company that monitors individuals’ media consumption in developing countries (particularly in austere environments…think Turkmenistan, Burma or the Central African Republic).”

You might want to say that short term you want to work for a leading consulting company, to learn best practices, and then long term you want to become leader in what I believe is called, “conflict zone” consulting which means a lot of things including security stuff but also means helping governments. Your goal as stated is probably too narrow and is more like a business plan than a career goal.

And off the top of my head,  an odd and very limited business goal. It is always a fine line between saying something which  sounds like you know what you are talking about (that is good!) versus sounding like you are too far gone with a single idea (not good!). It is helpful if you can work out a formula that includes something like, “long term, I am interested in the intersection of consulting and the special needs of conflict zones such as

1
2
3

that could mean several things, such as

a
b
c

and then also cite companies which do that as role models. It would also help if you can point to the ‘good’ you are going to do and the impact you will have.

You say: “The revenues would either be from the local governments or companies that would like to get into that country’s markets. . . . but between you, me and the cold anonymity of the Internet, I have no idea on how to do the financing or administration side . . . .”

Don’t over-worry about that. You are drilling way too far down, and defeating yourself. Also be aware that schools don’t like business plans which create companies for which there is no precedent. For instance, saying you wanted to start a platform for internet users to share “likes,” friends, updates, games and  messages, before My Space or Facebook, well, adcoms would have thought that was silly and you were just a hopeless techie saying something dreamy and obvious with no chance of ever making a dime. This is no diss on adcoms. If they had a feel for what ideas would work as companies in the future, they would be called VC’s and not adcoms.

Anyway, you got a tight story that needs to be more standardized, but once you do that, you are quite an attractive candidate. Getting into Stanford is always hard and to do that you will need to leverage recommendations and stories to make it appear you are actually special and a straight-line success, despite some superficial detours, which seem major to you, but actually are not. If you can actually talk about changing organizations and helping people in Afghanistan and elsewhere, well it could happen.

Ditto for Wharton. You should also throw one into HBS, given how easy it is, especially after you do Stanford and Wharton. Harvard likes your type a lot. You are basically a dual-degree Kennedy School guy who already has done the International Relations degree.  You need to simplify and tightly message both your history and goals. The endless profile you wrote (initially) was fun reading for me, but adcoms don’t want to know your deep thoughts. They only want the good stuff and the easily packaged setbacks, not the granular, grey zone grit of real life.

Your first marketing task might be to learn how to market yourself. Lack of extra currics for a rolling stone like you is not an issue.