Handicapping Your Elite B-School Chances



Mr. Silicon Valley


  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.13 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in political science from Stanford University
  • Work experience includes two years in sales at a Silicon Valley tech start-up (promoted to a position in under a year that typically takes five to eight years of experience;” earlier internships include working for a Kansas Senator and for a company that provided micro-loans to Latinos
  • Extracurricular involvement for four years as a Division 1 wrestler, member of an improv troupe; voted as president of the athlete student council
  • Goal: “I know my work experience is all over the board but b-school will be a career change in the government sector, specifically consulting with a long-term goal of international politics”
  • “Wondering if I should try to retake the GMAT and get that score up, also which schools to target”
  • 23-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 20% to 25%

Harvard: 30%

Wharton: 30% to 40%

Columbia: 40%

Northwestern: 40% to 50%

Michigan: 50+%

Berkeley: 50+%+

Dartmouth: 40%

Cornell: 60+%

UCLA: 60+%

Yale: 60+%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is not really “all over the place.” You are a 23-year-old Stanford college grad with two years of work experience at a growing Silicon Valley tech start-up. You got a 720 GMAT and are probably in a very select circle of people who can claim being both a  “4-year Division 1 wrestler AND member of an improv troupe.” Also real strong extras, including “president athlete student council” and government internship work (was that a state or federal Kansas senator?) and  “a company that gives micro-loans primarily to under-banked Latinos.” The only black mark on this impressive resume is your GPA of 3.18.  Maybe should have cut back on the improv?

I don’t think a higher GMAT is going to help you (unless the splits were unbalanced). We get the idea. You’re a smart, interesting guy with a lot of service and interests, and currently doing great work at that booming Silicon Valley start-up (“promoted to a position in under a year that typically takes 5-8 years of experience”).

Guys like you can get into HBS and Stanford with luck and rock solid execution and recs.  At Stanford, you have the space to tell your whole story and put this all together in terms of goals, which is a real weakness in your original post. At HBS, you will have to capture your best features in two shots and with real solid recs which are integrated to a revised goal statement. As to goals, you say, “b-school will be a career change in the government sector, more specifically consulting with a long-term goal of international politics . . . .”

What does that mean? If you want to join the government and international politics, well, go to law school or get an MPA (or joint MPA-MBA). What you should be saying, for MBA purposes, is what you hint at, you want to do consulting, but not as some cross-over to government, but as a way of helping exciting, job-creating emerging companies, like the one you work for, grow, add value, jobs, etc. You can tie that type of consulting into having an international dimension as well. You can then hint at some “trophy lap” in government or international politics, way down the road, but do not make that the center of your goal statement, especially, if you are not applying for some joint-degree. Stick with business as the emphasis. Wharton also gives you space to spin this story out (HBS gives you 500 characters for goals, which is often enough for vanilla types but may be hard for a guy like you) and they might also like the start-up success and strong service background.

Columbia will be the least likely of your first-tier schools to blink at the low GPA, but they are also the least selective, so it may even out.  It is a REALLY good idea, for you and everyone, to get an app into Columbia before Xmas despite the nominal deadlines. They are rolling admissions, and once they are no longer hungry, they stop eating. Other schools you mention, Kellogg, Ross, Haas, Tuck as well as Cornell, UCLA, and Yale—sure, those are good back–ups, and you should have a chance at most. With strong recs and a clear story, you are a strong candidate, with a low-ish GPA at a top college. Schools often give varsity athletes with high-ish GMATs (and lots of community service) a break on the GPA, and if they ever do, well, they will for you.