Handicapping Your Shot At A Top MBA

sales guyMr. Operations


  • 720 GMAT (Q47, V42)
  • 3.6 GPA
  • Master’s degree in engineering from a top five U.K. university
  • Work experience includes six years in operations: 18 months as a night shift manager with sole responsibility for a food factory; now a department head in a multinational consumer goods business, producing well-known, high-margin products worth $25 million a year
  • “Direct management responsibility for 25, responsible for safety, quality and cost of product”
  • Extracurricular involvement as deputy head an treasurer of the student-run college bar and shop; social and sponsorship secretary for college sports team; fundraiser for 100+ member sports club; active member of sports teams currently, but no leadership roles (a poor excuse but work has forced me to move around a lot)
  • Goal: To gain international experience
  • “Current business expanding into BRIC markets so want to lose U.K. emphasis. Perhaps move to technology sector – operations or elsewhere, or start own business with help of MBA network”
  • 28-year-old white male from the United Kingdom

Odds of Success:

Stanford: 10%

Berkeley: 30% to 40%

Harvard: 20% to 35%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, lots to like, but if you read the profile above with care, you can see that Stanford is going to real hard.

They are very snooty about undergraduate schools and GPA, especially in cases of regular white boys like you, and your non-Oxbridge high 2:1 could be a deal breaker at the starting gun, especially when combined with a 720 GMAT (OK-ish but not helping, and, as noted above, actually below Stanford’s  AVERAGE score of 729). As to the company you work for, “After 2 promotions in 2 years, now a department head in multinational consumer goods business, producing well known high-margin products worth $25M/year.”

$25M a year? High-margin products? That sounds like me.

OK, I exaggerate, but it does not sound like a world-striding colossal company, the type of company which is on Stanford’s dance card. “Well known high-margin [consumer] products”? Niche Vodka? Long-fly golf balls? I’m only partially joking. If the company makes luxury items, that is a small negative at Stanford, well, unless for some reason (they know company somehow via trustees) it is not. If the company does not have a pretty consistent history of sending one or two kids to Stanford, I’d say more trouble.

Also, as per the analysis in the last profile, you are not scoring on the Stardust category:

“College ECs: Deputy head & treasurer of student-run college bar and shop Social & Sponsorship Sec for college sports team.” Well, I’m impressed at anyone who can run a bar, but these are not Stanford sweet spot Extracurrics. “Responsible for fundraising and social events for 100+ member sports club” and neither is that, although once again, I’m impressed.

“Current ECs: Active member of sports teams, but no leadership roles”– just for the record, sports teams are not a Stanford fav. extra, especially teams you, yourself play on, rather than teams you coach composed of blind kids or victims of land-mines, or preferably both.

“Goals: Gain international experience. Current business expanding into BRIC markets so want to lose UK emphasis. Perhaps move to Technology sector – Ops or elsewhere, or start own business with help of MBA network.” Moving into BRIC markets is solid, and schools love BRIC, just because it is happening; they also love MIST countries, but you seem more BRIC-y than MIST-y.Moving into technology is nice to say, if you can back it up with some actual history (your work in operations, for instance). Starting your own business is not a goal that gets you anyplace with most business schools admissions committees, and you have a really thin entrepreneurial background. If you do start a company, and make a fortune, it is an accomplishment that gets you very far with the donations office–but first you have to get in.

Sooooo, I’m saying Stanford ain’t happening here. Always a good default call, given the odds (7.1% admit rate), but in your case, I really think it is going to be hard.

As to Haas (Berkeley), your 2nd choice, here things brighten a good deal. Your stats are more in-line. Operations is always an under-represented applicant pool, and you seem adept and successful at it, so you will present there as a solid guy with an interesting background doing complicated things in a $25M high-margin consumer company we can all understand (Altoids?) from a background, UK, that is interesting and you could use some sunshine. HBS is probably not happening for the reasons Stanford is not. Nothing pushing you in, although the larger pool there ups the odds and they like Engineering types more.

Good choices for you are also Wharton and MIT. MIT is “operations” centric, although that can be a double-edge sword, since they get lots of apps from ops guys. At Wharton, you are basically a solid Brit, and nothing wrong with that. Wharton is also tied No. 2 (with Tepper) in the USNEWS Specialty Rankings for Production and Operations specialty programs.  MIT is 1, Stanford is 4, Michigan is 5 and Kellogg is 6, and you might consider all of those as well. No Haas among the top 10, but as noted, sometimes being a fish out of water helps in the admissions process.