Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

For the past seven years, he’s been an active duty Naval officer who has seen deployments on a submarine and in Africa. With a 710 GMAT and a 3.65 GPA, this 30-year-old male hopes to get an MBA and return to either the military or government in a leadership position.

This 25-year-old female professional works for a consumer technology trade association, managing events, trade shows and conferences. With a 700 GMAT and a 2.9 GPA, she wants an MBA to transition into a marketing job in the consumer tech industry.

He’s a first generation college graduate who works in sales for a medical device company in Silicon Valley. With a 720 GMAT and a 3.1 GPA, this 24-year-old Hispanic male expects to use the MBA to land a consulting job in the life sciences and biotech fields.

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 47th episode of our highly popular handicapping stories, Kreisberg is at his tell-it-like-it-is, laugh-out-loud finest. He tells one applicant who already has a one and one-half year MBA in entrepreneurship from Baylor: “Harvard, Stanford and Wharton do not consider an MBA in Entrepreneurship as anything but a money-driven brand extension, variants of which they offer themselves to geezer-dreamers and Gyro-Gearloose inventor types and certainly no substitute for their full-monty, transformational, gender-bending, soul-enhancing, divinity-creating, universe-expanding, Mount-Sinai mounting, mother-effing two-year program.”

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 next week.

Sandy’s assessment:

Ms. Tech Marketer


  • 700 GMAT
  • 2.9 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in business from Virginia Tech
  • “Chose to major in business midway through and my grades significantly improved in the second half of my studies”
  • Work experience includes three years at a consumer technology trade association in Washington, D.C., managing events, trade shows and conferences (two promotions in three years)
  • Extracurricular involvement in college as an officer of a business technology club and advertising sales for the university’s print and digital publications; now volunteer with a local technology professionals and entrepreneurs group
  • Goal: To land a marketing job doing brand development and strategic partnerships in the consumer technology industry; longer term would like to lead a marketing consultancy specializing in technology brand management
  • 25-year-old female


Odds of Success:

Berkeley: 20% to 30%
UT-Austin: 30% to 40%
Georgetown: 30% to 40%
New York: 20% to 30%
Columbia: 10% to 20%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, this is a perky message from the “belly of the beast,” the trade associations and trade shows, conferences and forums in such everyday products as consumer tech which drive a good deal of our economy. I’d be curious to know the number of our readers from IB, PE, consulting, and even tech itself, who have been to a trade show. Guys drinking real whiskey, furtive couplings in hotel rooms, bloated expense accounts . . .sorry if I got this wrong, I’ve never been to one either. And neither, my guess is, have most adcoms, although they may have been to business school forums, which my guess is, are a more sedate and less intoxicated set of grin and sedate gropes. (Yeah, I know, you’d be surprised.)

OK, moving right along. What we got here is a 700 GMAT, a 2.9! GPA (with ‘significant’ improvement once you found yourself as a business major) and, since 2009 a solid job as a SOMETHING, title not given (with two promotions in three years) for a consumer tech trade association in Washington D.C. (the mother city of all trade associations, so you are playing in the big leagues).

Plus a tightly-woven, in terms of your goals, set of part-time jobs in college (producing ad placements for the university’s digital and print publications/media channels) and current extracurriculars (“volunteer with a local technology professionals and entrepreneurs group – assist with monthly investor pitch/networking events”).

That GMAT may save you. I don’t see this at Columbia. They just won’t swallow a 2.9 in most cases, and marketing is not their sweet spot. Other places you mention, Berkeley, University of Texas, Georgetown, NYU, are all possible, especially if grades your last two years were really much improved and the schools will credit that as your ‘real’ GPA.

The fact that you have a tight story and seem like a marketing type, is a plus, and the fact you have only had one job and have received quick promotions is another. You seem like a marketing type, make that clear in your app and recs.

Your post MBA goal –a marketing position focused on brand development and strategic partnerships within the consumer technology/electronics industry–is right on and a big plus because you will be well positioned by experience and personality to do that. Schools like their grads employed.

If you want to give yourself two more inches of admissibility, take a course in Stats, or Microeconomics or Calculus this summer at some local college, just to show them you are walking the extra mile and can shut up and take stuff in, and then spit it back out on an exam, which is sorta a proxy for business school, all the smoke and mirrors notwithstanding.

  • Megan

    Interested in:

    – Berkeley
    – Columbia
    – NYU
    – University of Michigan
    – University of Virgnia

    Black spot in application is my GPA. 2.9 GPA (father had stroke that impacted him permanently). 720 GMAT. I started my career at Marlboro and I was promoted two times. I then made an industry switch to the pharmaceutical industry and I was promoted to Regional Director within my first year. I am the chapter director for a women’s rights organization and a volunteer for the Sierra Club political committee.

    I want to make a career switch to align with my personal and professional interests. Post-MBA I want to work as a consultant, specifically in strategy and sustainability (long-term sustainability, supply chain environmental impact, etc).

    What are my chances at the above schools?

  • Techie

    Hi Sandy,

    I’d love to get your insight into my chances of getting into the following

    GMAT: (700 expected)
    GPA: 3.1
    Degrees: B.S, Economics (Honors); B.S.,Finance degrees from University of Alabama at Birmingham

    First generation college student

    Gay black male

    I’ll be 30 when I apply (would like to know how that factors in)

    Current Employer: Microsoft

    Work experience:

    Immediately following graduation, I went to work for a financial software
    company where I managed accounts for 2 years. Halfway through my tenure, I was
    promoted to lead a 3 person team responsible for managing one of the largest
    accounts world wide. I left this role to go work at an 80 person startup for
    which I was one of the founding members of their CSM (Customer Success
    Management) team -the CSM role is a hybrid account management/strategic
    consulting role. I helped build out that team, designing and developing policies
    and procedures still in use today. The firm now has well over 500 employees
    and offices all over the world and was recently (about 1 year ago) acquired by Microsoft so that’s were I work now. I am still managing strategic accounts, but am also
    leading a global initiative within Microsoft that touches marketing, product, sales. After leading this initiative, I have realized that I really am tired of account management I am considering moving to another role outside of account management (Product Marketing), but think that I should probably stick with where I am until after B school

    Sit on the advisory board for a national LGBTQ rights organization
    Sit on the board for a non-profit that works with troubled african american

  • here not, but never again

    Your poor grammar, misguided attempts at humor, and flippant, stereotyping remarks about “the ladies on the adcom” and references to the racial characteristics of these potential applicants have lost me as a reader in the future. This “article” came off like a cold-reading fortune teller, being generalized enough to possibly be construed as somehow accurate without having to commit to any real predictions.

  • Charles

    I thinks Amberton’s MBA is one of the best degrees out there too

  • Zee

    I keep seeing the word “gut” being used (gut school, gut major). What is meant by that?

  • emergingmarkets

    Hi Sandy, If you could take a look at my background and let me know how I can strengthen my application, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!
    25 yo W.African female – applying 2013 (will have 5 years WE at time of app. yes I graduated at 20)
    Chemical Engineering Californian Public Ivy
    3.3 GPA
    GMAT – what should I be aiming for given my GPA
    1st 3 years with P&G in plant engineering. Delivered 2 impactful initiatives but realized the scope of impact was too small and I didn’t like the day to day grind . Took leave of absence to go home – did some non profit work on improving the access of goods and services produced by poor people to international markets. Think commodities not curios. This was by myself, so I can’t use this for Recos, maybe essays? However I used my experience researching this to pitch proposals at work for how my company could make an impact. Hopefully it gets acted on – looks like it will. Also did consumer research for the company on an emerging markets new business idea while on the leave of absence.
    Currently in product supply global innovation doing what I really love. Is product supply a dirty word here? I work with various functions like marketing and R&D to deliver global innovations and their supply chains with a focus on emerging markets. I am currently part of a team developing a very novel product for the BRIC markets – very much like FIELD. I’ve also delivered projects in North America, Asia and Western Europe
    I’d like to get an MBA so I can move into strategy consulting for companies that want to strengthen their footholds or profitablility in emerging markets via localized sourcing. Localized sourcing improves the lives of many more people than if you source the raw materials for your products elsewhere. I believe my roles thus far have allowed me to focus on execution and I would now like to focus on strategy, building on my experience in product supply and front end engineering. I think an MBA trains you think about the big picture and take a birds eye view of things. I love what I do now, but I want to have an even bigger impact.
    Extras – saturday classes for low income, first generation high schoolers looking to go to college while I was in college. Now I focus on coaching minority interns at work, working with senior mgt to deploy trainings on career progression in a way that’s relevant to Gen Y employees, and volunteering with the new hire group at work. I am looking to get back into more STEM show and tell type volunteer stuff in elementary schools.
    Recos – 1 excellent from former boss. 1 solid from current boss. 1 solid from Extras
    How can I strengthen my app for a chance at these schools
    Haas – my safety
    Any other recos I would be a good fit for?
    Thank you for your time!

  • Good post.more informative stuff about MBA Sponsorship and its Advantages

  • Audrey

    Dear Sandy,

    Thank you for providing this series; I have found it very insightful thus far.

    I’m writing because I am at a point where I am confused about what next steps I should take. I have realized that I have a rather “cookie cutter” background, and I’m not sure how to stand out.

    Here is my background:

    Asian American female.
    Yale undergrad, political science major, 3.9 GPA.
    GMAT 740. (I can definitely raise this, if it helps).
    Currently in second year at a major consulting firm (not M/BB)

    Extracurriculars: mentorship program for high school students, firm’s women’s association, leadership positions in various clubs in college, some international experience (teaching programs/study abroad)

    Career goals: I am not sure at this point. I like consulting, but don’t think I want to stay in it. I realize that knowing career goals is an important part of MBA admissions, but part of my desire to get an MBA is to help me figure out what I do in the long run.

    I would ideally like to get into HBS or Wharton; however, I realize I am at a disadvantage because I am not in MBB, and have a very standard background.

    I would appreciate some advice on how to position myself better for MBA admissions, and stand out amongst other applicants with my stats.

    Thank you!

  • Aditya

    Hi Sandy,

    I’m another one of your Indian brothers: first generation graduate (but not from rural areas), undergraduate+master’s in maths and stats from Indian Institute of technology (GPA 2.8 – top 25% of batch). Was involved in diverse extracurrics: editor of college newspaper, part of winning teams in national college dance competitions etc. Working in bulge bracket bank (Morgan Stanley/Goldman Sachs) in a quantitative derivatives role for last two years, above average performance. Fluent in two different Indian languages apart from English. Haven’t taken GMAT yet. I’m looking for a no-nonsense, quant-heavy program. Should I apply now or wait a couple more years? Advice will be appreciated.

    Stanford (daydreamin’)

  • Mr. Logistics

    Hey Sandy,

    I only applied to a few programs in the first two rounds (Kellogg, Sloan, Anderson) and I’m hoping you can help me decide if I need to apply to any others in Round 3 (ASU, USC, Broad, Ross). My goal is to transition into supply chain consulting.

    GMAT: 770 (49Q, 48V, 3.5 AWA)

    GPA: 3.1 in business/management at large 2nd-tier state college. I had a part time job throughout college and was involved in my fraternity and volunteer organizations, so I’m hoping that will dampen the negative impact of the low GPA.

    2.5 years of work experience in Logistics (3+ at matriculation) at a Fortune 500 CPG with one promotion. Commissioner of company basketball league that includes over 50 employees. I have supply chain and logistics certifications, but they’re not very well known.

    25-year-old white male.

    Thank you!

  • T

    Ok thanks. Yes, it’s helpful to know the date, so I can tell whether I’ve already read the story.

  • ChemAnalyst

    Hey Sandy, I’d really appreciate it if you could take a look at my profile:

    GMAT: 730

    GPA: 3.17 in Chemical Engineering from Howard University

    WE: Currently have a little over two years experience as downstream business analyst for a top multinational oil company (Think Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell).

    Extracurriculars: Currently on the board of local Boys and Girls club, focusing on club fundraising as well as programming and events for the children. I am also involved with the local section of AiCHE(American Institute of Chemical Engineers), and NSBE. In addition to these activities, I have held leadership positions in employee affinity group at work.

    Goals: I’d like to make the transition from the oil industry to more alternative energy industry. I envision making this transition by starting in consulting first, and then moving into industry.

    I’m 25 year old, African American Male. Not applying until Fall 2014, so I’d appreciate any advice that you can provide on how to become a more competitive applicant.

    Target Schools:


  • Justwanttogetin

    Hello – would be great to get your thoughts on the following bio. thanks!

    * 26 years old, male/gay, Filipino
    * 740 GMAT, higher in verbal vs math (i wish I were more stereotypical asian…)

    * 3.9 GPA from top 10 liberal arts college, philosophy major

    * three years at big 3 consulting firm, with sponsorship/offer to return after grad school

    * 1 year at internal consulting group of PE firm – left to get more involved in investment process

    * 1.5 years at healthcare-focused PE firm, where I am involved in all aspects of the investment process

    * executive board member in LGBT sports organization in major northeast city

    * grew up in southeast asian country (moved to US for college)

    * goal is to continue career in PE focused on either emerging markets

    * target schools are Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, MIT, and NYU

  • Would_love_stanford

    Hi Sandy,

    I’d really like to get a picture of where I stand. Thanks for the help!

    Currently 24 y.o. white male – I plan on applying in R1 2015 when I’m 26 and have had 2 more years of work experience.

    GMAT score – 730

    Education: B.S. in Physics from top public university (Cal, UCLA, Mich., UVA) – 3.55GPA

    M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from same university. I got this degree in 1 yr and it takes most people an average of 1.5-2. 3.6 GPA

    Work: As an undergraduate I did part time research (full time in the summer) in a particle accelerator laboratory. I was included on several publications in national journals (never first author). As a grad student I was a full time TA and taught the entry level pre-med physics series.

    After grad school I moved to Sillicon Valley to work as a design engineer for a mid-sized PE owned company in the optoelectronics industry (3,000 global employees, 500M in revenue). I have gained substantial experience in everything from production manufacturing to sales and customer support. My responsibilities have included training production workers on manufacturing processes, product design, and customer support visits around the world. Most recently, I have been assigned the responsibility of managing the technical aspects of the product line for all of our customers in Asia. This has included quarterly trips to China, Japan, and Korea. Currently working for 2 years, will apply after 2 more.

    I can get a solid recommendation from my boss and his boss (neither have MBAs). I also have a couple of family friends who are Kellogg and HBS alums but I’m not sure how much that can help.

    Extracurriculars: Founding father of my fraternity (was one of 20 members to re-charter the house which is now a full sized fraternity of 80-100 members). While in the fraternity, I participated in a variety of philanthropic events including habitat for humanity, boys and girls club etc.. I now volunteer for an organization of scientists and engineers that teach science lessons to underserved elementary school classes. I am also heavily involved in rock climbing and mountaineering and have led many group trips into the wilderness (leadership is important when you’re teaching a first-timer to rappel down a 200ft cliff!)

    Goals: This is where I’m a bit shaky. I always want to be involved in the tech world, but I’m not sure in what capacity. I’d love to get into consulting and use it as a stepping stone towards the goal of ultimately running a large tech company. I’d also like to get into VC, but i recognize that the chances of that are pretty slim.

    So where do I stand at the following schools? Any advice on how I can improve before I apply?


    Stanford (top choice)





    UCLA (is it safe to call this a “safety school?”)

    Thanks for the help!!

  • wannabeinsocent

    The more I think about this, the more I feel like I might need a real “second job” to tie things together rather than my current plan of hopping around after TechnoServe. Thoughts on what could be good for that, given my above-stated goal, would be much appreciated.

    Thanks very much and love reading this series!

  • wannabeinsocent

    Hi John/Sandy, I’d love an assessment of where I’m at. Could really provide some clarity for me!

    I’m a working-class white kid with lower-middle-class parents who went to 4-year schools but never did anything with their degrees. As such I’ve been very entrepreneurial throughout my life and haven’t had really any direction until now, aside from “make as much money as you can as soon as possible, while having as much fun as possible.”

    I’m currently 24 years old and I’ll be 25 this summer.

    -Started a couple tech-related businesses in high school but nothing special
    -3.3 GPA in Economics and Computer Science from a US News Top-15 university (Penn/Northwestern/Cornell)
    -GRE: 168V, 163M
    -LSAT: 176
    -Somewhat dodgy grades (including 1 F) due to lack of passion for the subjects I studied, taking too many quant courses, and, hopefully explanatorily:
    -Very significant extracurricular involvement including running the campus concert promoter (12-member board, 80 student staff, $500k budget), named to honorary society for leadership as one of the top 1% of senior-class leaders. Also did play-by-play for major-conference athletics on the radio during college
    -Significant work experience during college including a variety of part-time jobs for beer money, volunteering to drive the school’s drunk taxi to keep students safe, internships in banking, with my US Senator and with a tech firm

    -Will have outstanding recs from the University President (a respected Economist) as well as the Chair of the Econ department

    Since graduation:

    -2 years at a boutique consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategy in pharma. Not too selective, not well-known, but very analytical and quant-focused. Promoted after a year
    -6 months as an entrepreneur, working on an idea for an Internet startup. We’ve raised some seed money and I’ve learned a ton, but I’m bailing because it’s not really for me. I suppose it’ll be a “failure”

    -mediocre recs from work unless I get someone to talk about what a great failed entrepreneur I am…

    Through all of this, I’ve finally found my passion, which is to apply my background in business, innovation, entrepreneurship, and Internet technology to the less fortunate; i.e. I want to go to b-school to be a social entrepreneur and leader working on international development through Internet technology and American-style management, start a triple-bottom-line business or social enterprise that makes a difference in the developing world, and, long-term, think about going to the World Bank or State Dept, etc.

    I reached this do-gooding conclusion because of a girl I was dating, and I’m sure of my convictions, but I’m obviously completely lacking anything international or social enterprise-related in my own background.

    So I’m going to add that to my resume starting now, namely:
    -5 month stint consulting with SME in Africa through TechnoServe (fairly selective, I think?)
    -summer internship doing research I am very interested in, on Internet technology and international development at a top university or at a thinktank on Capitol Hill

    I suppose my pre-b-school plan would then be ONE OF:

    -continuing that internship research

    -pursuing a Fulbright to study development entrepreneurship

    -1 or 2 years in a fairly low-level role at a top tech firm (Goog, FB) or social enterprise

    The plan would be to fire off an app in the fall after I finish my summer internship, for Fall 2014, and to find a recommender from whatever work I do before I apply.

    Thoughts on my application? Target schools (in rough order of pref):

    Oxford Said
    Columbia Business School
    Yale SOM

  • KL

    Hi John/Sandy,

    I’d love an assessment of my profile and chances at a top MBA program:

    GMAT: 750

    Undergraduate: BS Mechanical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, 3.43 GPA

    Experience: 3 years in fast-track engineering rotation program at leading medical device company (just acquired by J&J), including roles in operations and product development and a year-long assignment in Switzerland

    Extracurricular involvement: Director of college outdoors program, 4 years of research in surgical robotics including guest researcher position in Japan, published at major medical robotics conference, played club soccer, running half marathons

    Volunteer work: Habitat for Humanity, mentoring at-risk girls

    Goal: Upper management strategy or operations role at tech/biotech company

    Schools: HBS, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth

    25 year old white female

    Thank you so much!

  • mrcollege

    Hi John,

    I appreciate you taking the time to work on all of these. I am hoping you can evaluate my profile and let me know where I stand:

    GMAT: 730
    Bachelors Degree: Economics from Public Ivy (UNC/UVA/UT/Michigan)
    Undergraduate GPA: 3.12
    Experience: 3.5 Years at a Big 4 Management Consulting Consulting (Accenture/Deloitte)
    Focus on energy – some experience in aerospace and healthcare.
    Promotion received.

    Extra Curricular:
    1. Help set up a program with my firm that works with a VC arm of my university – Supporting students who work with early stage companies as a part of their coursework.
    2. Lead recruiting for my firm within my major at my university.
    3. Member of an alumni organization that raises money through social events for diabetes research. Help manage the events during football games.
    26 year old white male

    Goal: To move into top 3 consulting or to work in VC – Hoping to focus on clean tech or software.


    Stanford (do I even have a shot?)

    Thank you!

  • JohnAByrne

    If you really want to know the date, there’s an easy way to find out. Just look at the URL atop your screen. The current article, you’ll see, is dated 2013/01/11 which shows it went up today. I know this isn’t as convenient as having the date at the start of the story, but every article on P&Q has the date in the actual URL for the story.

  • T

    why don’t these articles every post the date they were posted?

  • hbsguru

    FYI, here is the schedule of HBS Round Two interview invites, from her Majesty’s Blog

    09 Jan 2013

    Round 2
    Interview Information

    OK, here’s the plan for Round 2 interviews:

    We will send out interview invitations on two dates: Wednesday, January 30
    and Thursday, February 7.

    Interview locations for Round 2 are: On-campus in Boston, London, Paris,
    Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, Sao Paulo, Palo Alto and New York City.

    Detailed instructions for the sign-up process will be included in the
    interview invitation.

    Interviews will be conducted between February 11 and March 8.

    On February 7, all candidates not being invited to interview will be notified
    of their release.