Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Almost Ballerina
GRE ..., GPA ...
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Darden | Mr. Engineer Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Public Finance
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Systems Change
GMAT 730, GPA 4
Tuck | Mr. Consulting To Tech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. Ambitious Hippie
GRE 329, GPA 3.9
Harvard | Mr. Milk Before Cereals
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3 (16/20 Portuguese scale)
Harvard | Mr. Sales To Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 3.49
INSEAD | Ms. Hope & Goodwill
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
INSEAD | Mr. Airline Captain
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Startup
GRE 327, GPA 3.35
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
IU Kelley | Ms. Biracial Single Mommy
, GPA 2.5/3.67 Grad
Darden | Ms. Unicorn Healthcare Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBA Class of 2023
GMAT 725, GPA 3.5
Chicago Booth | Mr. Guy From Taiwan
GRE 326, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Energy Reform
GMAT 700, GPA 3.14 of 4
Ross | Mr. Verbal Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Ross | Ms. Packaging Manager
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Wharton | Mr. Sr. Systems Engineer
GRE 1280, GPA 3.3
Chicago Booth | Mr. Semiconductor Guy
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3

Handicapping Your Elite B-School Odds

Mr. Green Beret

  • 730 GMAT
  • 3.63 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from Ohio State
  • Work experience includes seven years with the U.S. Army Special Forces, during which he served multiple Iraq deployments, leading more than 140 Iraqi special operation soldiers; also worked closely with Sheiks and tribal leaders to solve local problems; seven years of service due to job commitments including the multiple deployments
  • Extracurricular involvement includes an internship with the Department of Finance in the state of Ohio
  • Goal: Trying to change to get into investment banking

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40% to 50%

Stanford: 30+%

Wharton: 50+%

Chicago: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: As noted several times, and as amazing as it seems for military applicants, college grade point average really counts because adcoms are not experts at discerning what a great military career is versus an ordinary one,  as they can by looking at a private employment record, where they have a better “feel” for the company you work for, and even how to read through your recommendations.

That being said, everyone [hearts] Special Forces, so that is an intangible plus.  The work you did in Iraq, leading different types of resources in different ways, is totally up the alley of all adcoms, so tilt your essays in that direction.  Other things they like to hear are some non-military stories or semi-military stories about working with civilian groups, volunteering, and dealing with military families.

Your story — Special Forces, 3.6 GPA from an OK school, and a 730 GMAT — puts you in the running at H/S/W for sure. The eventual outcome will turn on execution, recommendations, and luck.  Stanford may want to hear something a bit extra, e.g. overcoming adversity in terms of background, or some real do-gooder military stories. At HBS guys like you get in and dinged all the time, and guys like you usually get into Wharton, since they run older, and care most about your very solid GPA and GMAT.

This is a small point, but saying you want to go into investment banking, after this career, is a small let down. You might think about tweaking that a bit.  Going commando on the battlefield is excellent; doing so on Wall Street is not an interesting story at this point in the financial cycle (to adcoms, it is to ME!!!!!!!!!).  Try spinning that into becoming an impact investor, especially in developing countries, maybe the Middle East, or some jive like that.

Pick you recommenders with care.  Military officers who write grad school recs run from “outstanding” to disappointing.  It helps to tutor them, if possible, at what schools are looking for– although the diplomacy of that is admittedly touchy.  All top schools have Armed Forces clubs, which can be really helpful in explaining the secret handshakes which work better for recs, so reach out to them.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.