Handicapping Your B-School Chances

engineerMr. Midwest Engineer


  • 730 GMAT
  • 3.2 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from a midwest public Ivy
  • Work experience includes three years as an application engineer at a large but unknown fiber optic cable and component maker
  • “My job gives me access to almost every aspect of our business (this is actually one of the things that made me interested in an MBA). I work with our customers and sales team to recommend products and receive feedback for new products. I work with our design team and product management to design and prototype new products, and I work with our manufacturing team to help implement and manufacture our products. Along side our product managers, I am the central hub for product expertise and customer support.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as a founder of an after school science program for youths in poorly funded school districts; have won awards for customer-based work and recognition from company president for an internal white paper
  • Short-term goal: To work as a consultant at a high-tech consulting firm
  • Long-term goal: To become CTO of a world-class firm n the high-tech industry and be “on the forefront of driving cutting-edge technology”
  • “I’ve noticed a gap between emerging technology and its respective business strategy, and I feel that with the skills an MBA will give me I can add value to these developing businesses”
  • 25-year-old white male from the U.S.

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 10%

Harvard: 15%

Columbia: 25% to 35%

Berkeley: 30% to 40%

MIT: 30% to 35%

Duke: 40% to 50%

Michigan: 40% to 50%

Carnegie: 40% to 50%

UCLA: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Lots to like including your hard-core business and tech experience and leadership in extracurrics (“after school science program for youths in poorly funded school districts. . .  partnered with and run under a larger non-profit). But all that said, the low grades (3.2), low-visibility company, and lack of any jet fuel in your several good points is going to make this a hard sell at Stanford and HBS.

Stanford will probably say to itself, ‘jeepers, if this guy is such hot stuff,  how come he didn’t get better jobs after the first one . . .” HBS’ thinking will be along the same lines.  A higher GMAT score (than your current 730) won’t help. White guys like you get into HBS and Stanford  with a 3.6 (not a 3.2, even with your upward trend), and the same title at  Google, Apple, Intel, or any well-known and selective tech manufacturing company, plus some window dressing extras.

Schools are looking for kids with manufacturing backgrounds, even non-electronics manufacturing, but they prefer companies who make consumer products (e.g autos!!!)*** while what you do is pretty hidden, “at a large (~$1B revenue), but not well known fiber optic cable and component manufacturing company.”

***Footnote:  There is some ‘upside-down’ way in which working for a hidden company like yours can actually be a virtue, especially since your company makes a “hot” product like fiber optics — if you were making styrofoam packing materials  well, it could be worse.  And as Jerry Seinfeld might say, “if you’re a company which makes styrofoam packing materials, how do you send it to your customers?”

You also ask about Columbia, Haas, MIT (both LGO program and Sloan), Duke, Ross, Tepper, UCLA. Columbia is real stats sensitive, and the 3.2 may jinx you there, plus there does not seem to be a match up in what you say you want to do –tech leadership/CTO–and any of Columbia’s typical interests. Tech is not their strong suit.

MIT Sloan could go for your story, big time, and it is just a matter of surviving the beauty contest there as to grades and what they think of your company, it will be a reach, although you have a lot of pluses for them, including strong GMAT (730). MIT is one place where a stronger GMAT (760+) could actually help (it might cast a warm light at schools other than H and S as well, it just confirms you’re a “real smart guy with shaky early grades story”). Duke. Ross, Tepper, UCLA, those places are inline, and will be open to your strong story.

As to goals, you say, “I’ve noticed a gap between emerging technology and its respective business strategy (my emphasis), and I feel that with the skills an MBA will give me I can add value to these developing businesses. My short-term goal is to work as a consultant at a high-tech consulting firm, while my long term goal is to become the CTO of a world-class firm.”

High-tech consulting as a short-term goal is good idea. As often noted, business schools love future consultants, and you are certainly a good candidate. It might help to mention some leading niche tech consulting  firms by name in your application and note how they are partial to hires with your background. Schools respect that type of diligence. The information will also suggest that you will be employed, which, in fact will come to pass, I predict, after you get in.

I am less sure what you mean by “I’ve noticed a gap between emerging technology and its respective business strategy . . .” which sounds like a quickie conflation of several buzzwords and concepts. Not that most schools super care about deeply deconstructing the reasons behind your goals but you might twist that along the lines of being excited at being at the intersection of engineering and strategy where you want to help create great products which work for consumers, blah, blah, blah.  That will go down like a vanilla smoothie and add to your digestibility as an admit. And aside from my version having better cliches, it is also superior on the merits, it is better to  present yourself as a visionary and innovator rather than a fix-it guy.