Handicapping Your MBA Odds

Mr. State Department

  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.079 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics and political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Work experience includes four years at the U.S. Department of State, as an economic officer on the Pakistan Desk and economic sanctions office, congressional advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues, and also a one-year assignment in Afghanistan at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul
  • Goal: To work in the private sector (maybe the energy sector), and then return to the government to work on pressing foreign policy issues, such as energy security, climate change, and economic/trade relations
  • ”First in my family to graduate from high school and college”
  • 27-year-old Vietnamese-American male

Odds of Success:

Wharton (Lauder program): 20% to 30%

Harvard: 20%

Northwestern: 30% to 40%

Berkeley: 30% to 35%

Columbia: 30%

New York: 20% to 30%

Yale: 40%

Michigan: 40%

Virginia: 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: I suppose I’m not the first to suggest this, but have you thought about an MPP (government school jive) instead? Those programs are 1. More natural to your background, and 2. Easier to get into (as a rule) and 3. Often send kids to the private sector, so much so that a few years ago there was some rumble at the Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy  and International Affairs  over the fact that most of their graduates were going into the private sector instead of government—  that was during a Wall Street  boom but you get the idea.  Also,  your stated goal is  to return to government, which is kind of tipping your hand as to where your real passion is. I might tamp that aspect down, to be frank, if you persist in your quest for an MBA.

As to chances, what we got is a low GPA and a 2nd-Tier school (U Mass –Amherst is deeply considered 2nd –Tier at HBS because all the local coverage for the past 20 years has been lousy in various ways, however you may escape that broad brush given your Vietnamese background and  first gen college, etc.  since U Mass is a gateway school for first gen college kids) on the downside,  and a really solid diplomatic career plus a 720 GMAT.    That does not add up to HBS because of low stats, lack of pedigree and no compelling reason for the MBA, even though your diplomatic career sounds exemplary.

I also think Wharton-Lauder will be a reach for same reasons, and I’m not sure via your own explanation of short-term goals, which is to work in private sector, you are even a Lauder target applicant, since those kids often want to work abroad, although you could make a case that you want international energy experience, which my guess is, most people in the energy biz would say is bogus, since energy is separate trans-national country unto itself of oil rigs and fields. But sure, you could build a rubber band and wood plane out of that story which could fly under the radar.

Lauder might like your super solid international experience and the folks in Philly might think more highly of U Mass. Sort of giving it some status nearby the University of Pennsylvania in their minds.  And, much of your vibe is very Lauder, or “tres Lauder,” as they might say there, in a required second language.  You got an outside shot there just based on likeability.  I am not seeing this as Columbia either but could happen. They care a good deal about GPA over there, although you have a lot of compelling other features. Including to them, a 720 GMAT. Other schools you list are maybes.

Your real problem, if some school wants to wink at the  GPA (and given great experiences and 720 and first in family to go to high school, they might) is that your need for MBA just does not compute. You really should reframe your story as someone who wants to go into energy consulting either at a big firm or boutique, and use your global savvy plus what you will learn in a B-school to advise companies about energy,  security, and how to reposition themselves (whatever that means, but it’s a business). I don’t know what energy consultants actually do, but my guess is there are “real” ones, who know about technical issues surrounding  drilling and  mining, etc. and then higher-paid BS consultants who do what consultants do for anything, which is to tell firms to fire people, or take over other firms, or get out of this sector of the business and into that one, and whoopee, you don’t really have to know all that much about drills and atoms and oil or the ocean, or pirates,  and you are in business. I would suggest you say you want to be one of those guys, and build off your base.

That would really up your chances, and stay away from the idea of returning to government, and being some kind of wise counsel about “energy security, climate change, and economic/trade relations” because nobody is going to pay for advice about that except a government, well, maybe advice about trade defined broadly, but “private” companies  will pay you to come in and fire people, so that should be what you want to do. Except, of course, not stated quite like that.  With that story, you got a fighting chance at places like Lauder,  Northwestern, Berkeley, Yale, Michigan, and  UVA.

All that said, my bottom line advice is find someone in government you know who knows someone at The Kennedy School. They will take upstanding dudes like you. Go there for one year, get a Harvard brand, and apply for a gig at McKinsey coming out. You got a lot to offer and they hire K school kids. Man, that would save you a lot of time and money—and amazingly, you might wind up in a better place. My guess is, it is easier to get a McKinsey, Bain, BCG gig coming out of the Kennedy School than most non-“Big 5” MBA programs.

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