Handicapping Those Tough MBA Odds

For the past six years, he’s been working for a private equity shop in the Midwest. With a 690 GMAT and a 3.3 grade point average from a state school, this 28-year-old wants to get his MBA to transition to an operating role in a company.

The dream of this 28-year-old woman is to work in design consulting at a hip company such as IDEO or Frog. With a 640 GMAT and a 3.54 GPA, she currently works in architecture and believes going back to graduate school for a business degree would help to realize her dream.

Ever since graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in political science, this 24-year-old professional has been working at a Washington, D.C., think tank as a program coordinator. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.71 GPA, he hopes that an MBA would ease a transition into strategic consulting.

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

What these MBA applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get an invite? Or are they likely to end up in a reject pile?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

In this, the 45th episode of our highly popular handicapping stories, Kreisberg is at his tell-it-like-it-is finest. He tells one applicant that his post-MBA goal makes it seem as if he is” bucking for a demotion.” He forewarns another that “business schools are suckers for brand names and distrust candidates who work at off-the-grid places,” not a good sign for her.

As he has in the past, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature.

Sandy’s assessment:

Mr. Private Equity


  • 690 GMAT (2nd attempt)
  • 3.3
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from a state school in the Midwest
  • Master’s degree in economics from same school under a 4+1 program
  • Work experience includes six years for a middle-market private equity firm in the Midwest, moving from entry-level analyst position to associate
  • “Currently I take part in crafting industry and investment strategies for our new investments, but do not play as large of a role post-acquisition”
  • Extracurricular involvement in a number of student organizations, including the undergraduate student government; elected student body president in senior year; now serve on board of one the city’s performing arts organizations
  • Goal: To assume “a more senior role within my firm or a similar group and take a more active part in crafting operational strategies for portfolio companies. Long-term, I see myself leaving private equity to work in an operating role within a portfolio company or other middle-market company”
  • Reason for MBA: “Many of the senior members of my firm have received their MBA’s (although not all) from schools such as Booth, Kellogg, and Ross. I see an MBA as a way to broaden my perspective on operational and strategic matters for businesses outside of just understanding the financials”
  • 28-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Chicago: 30% to 50%

Northwestern: 30% to 50%

Michigan: 50%+

New York: 30%

Columbia: 30%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, the good news: You are a serious guy with an MA in Economics, a six-year solid employment record with a Midwest, Mid-Market PE shop, and seem to be both a student body president type (you were one, in fact)  and upstanding citizen, “involved with our city’s young professional board   . . . performing arts.”

The not-so-good news: a 3.3 GPA, 690 GMAT, 28 years old (currently) with what could be seven years of work experience at matriculation. Some of that  (690 GMAT, age, work experience) is marginal versus not good, but it adds up. You are on the border of being a full-time MBA applicant and someone who should be looking at EMBA programs (which could save you a half-million dollars or so, if you count lost income).

Your goals, “to take a more senior role within my firm  . . . crafting operational strategies for portfolio companies [and] long-term  . . . leaving private equity to work in an operating role within a portfolio company  . . .” are reasonable.  But, jeepers, given that, you could make a real strong case for an EMBA, since neither of those goals (returning to your company or taking an operational role in a company) will require the, ahem, prestige or oomph! of an MBA.

If you still want that bauble, and want to spend $500,000+ dollars getting it, well, you will need to convince the schools you apply to of that, since they will be thinking along the same lines as me, viz. “Why does this dude with 6-7 years at a solid PE shop want to go back to  . . . er, college?”

Your stated reasons are: “I see an MBA as a way to broaden my perspective on operational and strategic matters for businesses outside of just understanding the financials.”

Hmmm, that has not happened in 6 years?

“Currently I take part in crafting industry and investment strategies for our new investments, but do not play as large of a role post-acquisition.”

Have you asked? It seems like you are bucking for a demotion. I don’t mean to be cute, but playing a role post-acquisition does not seem harder or something they only let senior people do. Sorry if I am missing something.

All that said, you are a solid and employable guy (a big issue for schools), and as you note, guys in your current PE shop have MBAs from Booth, Kellogg and Ross, so you may get in on the basis of those factors alone (which are both substantial). I’m just alerting you that you may need to sound more exciting to MBA programs about your motives. Try saying you want to add lots of value/innovate/re-make in such core, or happening Mid-west industries as 1 2 3 (whatever they are, it helps to build off industries you have worked with).

Or think hard about getting an EMBA and asking for more portfolio management experience while you are getting it.

Columbia may see this as an odd fit for them, ditto Stern, and I am not sure why you would want to come to New York in the first place. That will just make this even MORE expensive. Depending on rep of your current firm, and how much pull your alum partners have there with Booth, Kellogg or Ross, you might be able to make a solid case.  Strong work history, school and civic leadership, and real solid post MBA employment prospects may melt some ice.

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