Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

After earning a finance degree from a liberal arts school in the Midwest, this 25-year-old professional has been working in corporate finance at a Fortune 100 company. He hopes an MBA will help him land a job at a hedge fund.

She’s an Ivy League grad who also boasts a master’s degree in arts history from one of Britain’s most prestigious universities. For the past five years, she has been working in merchandising analysis and strategy for an upscale retailer. Now, this 27-year-old Japanese-American woman is seeking an MBA to help her eventually start her own luxury label.

This 24-year-old Asian-American engineer applied to several top business schools in the past year with no success. So he plans on trying for a top ranked MBA again so he can leave his employer, a small biotech company, and work as a product manager for a Blue Chip firm in Silicon Valley.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

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 in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?

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.

As usual, 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, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature to be published shortly. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)

For the first time ever, a consultant who applied to Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Wharton and Booth this application cycle asks Sandy to guess his results. “Let’s see how close you get,” he wrote. Kreisberg rises to the challenge with a witty riposte.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is assessment:

Business woman

Ms. Luxury Brand


  • 690 GMAT (will retake)
  • 1490 GRE
  • 3.4 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in political science from Harvard/Yale/Princeton
  • 3.9 GPA
  • Associates in fashion design degree from a New York fashion school
  • Master’s degree in art history from Oxford or Cambridge
  • Work experience includes internships in college at the derivatives desk of a top investment bank; after realizing she hated the field, she has been working merchandising analysis and strategy for the past five years at three upscale department stores and vertical retailers with roles of increasing responsibility
  • Extracurricular involvement in collage as part of an elite music group that toured the U.S. and Europe; post-college volunteer in the arts for four years; volunteer supervisor for an after-school program that deals with underserved youth
  • Goal: To work in luxury retail strategy and eventually start her own luxury label
  • Fluent in Japanese
  • 27-year-old Japanese-American female
  •  “Sidenote: My older brother went to Stanford GSB and still keeps in touch with the faculty and program directors – not sure if that counts for anything however”

Odds of Success:

Columbia: 40%+

Stanford: 20%

London: 50%

INSEAD: 50%+

HEC Paris: 50%+

IMD: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: There is a place for luxury goods/arty chicks at schools like HBS, Wharton and Stanford, and man, you are close, with a classy H/Y/P education, elite music group experience, and jobs “in merchandising analysis and strategy for the past five years at three upscale department stores and vertical retailers with roles of increasing responsibility.”  Are those stores part of a brand?  Most luxury goods admits at top schools have worked for brands not stores, e.g. Vuitton, Chanel, Rolex, Prada, see this list (Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Gucci, Chanel, Cartier, Rolex, Hennessy, Moët & Chandon, Fendi, Burberry) all of which are billion-dollar companies and have analysts and strategists. I am assuming your “upscale department stores” and vertical retailers are also large enough in terms of sales and budgets to attract selective job applicants.

Your goal, “to work in luxury retail strategy and eventually start my own luxury label” sounds fine to me, but given the arts tilt to your story (masters degree in Art History, associate degree in Fashion Design) your desire to start a “label” can be misinterpreted as someone who really wants to be a designer and not a business executive. That is fine by me. Send me your first catalog, but schools may begin to wonder if you really need an MBA versus doing whatever designers do to get started. I would keep your goals real business-like, and stress the word “brand” not “label.” Being head of an innovative brand, which includes, clothes, watches, booze is actually better.

I don’t think you are getting into Stanford. There is not enough GPA/GMAT power here and not enough stardust besides to make them ignore your so-so GPA and GMAT. HBS would be a short reach and would depend on execution, strong recs, and the competition that year, to wit, the other 10-15 solid luxury goods applicants they consider strongly.

Wharton might feel that you would round out the class in terms of background and goals (the actual look and feel of the Wharton class is actually pretty luxe, stereotypes aside). You would need to be deadly serious and analytical in the app. Columbia might appreciate a higher GMAT if you retake it, and an early application, maybe even ED. You are in line there. Convince them you won’t have a problem getting a job.

“LBS, INSEAD, and maybe HEC Paris?” You should get into those schools on both numbers alone and the fact that your numbers come gift wrapped with a lot of interesting Euro-type jobs and extras plus the US luxury brand of an H/Y/P undergrad degree. To be honest, I am no expert in the ROI of attending those places. If you want a job with Vuitton, Chanel post graduation, that would be something worth looking into.

“Sidenote: my older brother went to Stanford GSB and still keeps in touch with the faculty and program directors – not sure if that counts for anything however.” Neither am I, but probably not much, unless you had some organized campaign to get into Stanford by leveraging your interesting extras and he was part of it, and involved some BFFs at the school, and you got lucky. Or unless he knows adcom director Bolton and gets him in a good mood, that could happen. Hint that a great scarf is in the offing.

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