Handicapping Your Elite B-School Chances



Ms. Project Manager


  • 680 GMAT (practice tests)
  • 3.3 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in journalism and political science from Northwestern University
  • 3.9 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in global communications from a university in Paris
  • Work Experience includes three years in journalism split between the world’s largest magazine publishing house and a big three NYC newspaper; currently have spent one year as a project manager/biz development executive for the world’s leading digital advertising/direct marketing firm
  • “I’ll admit that I’m worried my journalism experience will deflate my chances, since I already made a career change once, and my work/educational backgrounds aren’t terribly quant-heavy.)
  • Extracurricular involvement as a writing tutor for three years for high school students from underprivileged backgrounds like mine (director of program this year); also two years as a volunteer in Africa for non-profit organizations (projects in Zambia, Morocco, and Tanzania); created corporate employee engagement initiative for volunteers in Southeast Asia; professional development chair for corporate affinity group for African Americans; committee member for Urban League of NY Young Professionals; volunteer to tutor kids afterschool twice each week while in college; editor of award-winning black student magazine; member of National Greek Honor Society
  • Goal: To work in non-profit consulting and philanthropy advising for a few years; “ultimately, I’d like to run a corporate foundation/CSR for a Fortune 100 company”
  • Conversant in French and Spanish (self-taught)
  • 26-year-old African-American female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 35%

Stanford: 20% to 30%

Wharton: 40% to 50%

Dartmouth: 40% to 50%

Columbia: 50+%

New York: 60+%

Yale: 60+%

Berkeley: 50+%

Sandy’s Analysis: Let me make sure I understand this: You’re 26, female, African-American, with a 680 GMAT (in practice tests); a 3.3 GPA Journo major at Northwestern; a 3.9 GPA in a master’s program (Europe); three years of Journalism experience after college (one for big NYC paper, two for big magazine company).  Then you got the master’s degree, in Paris, and then for the past year, you have been doing  “project manager/biz development  . . .for the world’s leading digital advertising/direct marketing firm.” And you have tons of extracurriculars. Your goals are to: “To work in non-profit consulting and philanthropy advising for a few years out of b-school; ultimately . . . run a corporate foundation/CSR for a Fortune 100 company.”

Let me suggest that a strong part of this story is your current job doing  “project manager and business development . . .for the world’s leading digital advertising/direct marketing firm.”  I would use that as a lever to say you want to build out your journalism and digital advertising experience to be an innovative leader in the brave new world of media and journalism — where no one quite knows what the landscape will look like in 10 years, but that you are the very person who can help any large media company navigate its way.

People who want to work for foundations and do Corporate Social Responsibility are a dime a dozen, not that there is anything wrong with that, and you certainly have the street cred and experience to make a real case.  BUT, a black women with both journalism experience and project management experience in digital advertising, and plenty of board work with non-profits, jeepers folks, that plus a classy MBA sounds like someone on the launching pad for the CEO or Editor-in-Chief or President of CBS, CNN, The Wall Street Journal or whatever the parent companies of those outlets are.  (OK, not likely you are going to replace Rupert Murdoch or his family but you could be a big deal at a Murdoch property, or say that is a possibility).

So that is the way I would spin it. I would leave advancing the case of CSR as a side dish in your goal statement and try to show schools that in addition to your great CSR work, which kind of speaks for itself, you have also been a firecracker in the murky world of digital advertising. Let us just hope that is true enough for you to get a boffo recommendation from your current supervisor.  That, and an actual 680 GMAT, and you are a real good candidate at schools you mention, to wit, HBS, Wharton, Tuck, Columbia, NYU Stern, Stanford, Berkeley and Yale. Stanford is always looking for exciting stories like yours, and if you present yourself the way I suggest, this becomes a three-fer for them: Black-woman (we are only counting that as one!), solid business AND social enterprise background (only counting that as two) and super impactful goals.

HBS goes for stories like that as well, as do all the other schools you note.  Presenting yourself my way changes the entire narrative from “hey, I am changing careers for the third time and I got low-ish grades, but my heart is in the right place” which is OK but shaky, to “hold on, dude, I’ve been a journo, I’ve been a project manager in digital advertising and I’m ready to set the world on fire.”

No kidding, you got a great story: take the GMAT as many times as you have to and make sure you can really talk with engagement and success about your current job.