Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

globalmanMr. Economic Consultant


  • 780 GMAT
  • 3.65 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a top liberal arts school
  • Work experience includes four years with a top economic consulting firm after spending one and one-half years with a relatively well-known clean tech firm
  • Extracurricular involvement as a varsity athlete and teaching assistant in school, but minimal post-school experience
  • Goal: To move into hedge fund investing
  • Applied in Round Two in early January
  • “Let’s see how close you can get?”
  • White male

Odds of Success:

Harvard:  50% (if you did not blow the interview, the seeds of which are present in your note)
Stanford: 30% to 40%
Columbia: admit  (if you convinced them you wanted to come)
Wharton: admit (if you did not blow the group grope interview)
Chicago: admit (if you convinced them you wanted to come)

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, this is not going to prove ALL that much given that anyone with a 780 GMAT and a 3.65 from “a top-couple” liberal arts school is in the running for all of those schools provided that

1. You applied round 1, which you did not, which could be an issue at Columbia and Booth, which may see a late-ish app as proof that you were not serious.
2. You made sense of transition into HF investing despite not having a traditional IB or PE background, and also had non-A-hole reasons for doing so. versus saying venture capital, which is the go-to choice of savvy applicants and  more to the school’s liking as doing something useful.  You can mold a HF goal into helping companies grow, creating great products, blah, blah, but did you? Versus raking in the $$$$.  (See below.)
3. Economic consulting firm? Is that expert trial witnesses prep, litigation support, or advising governments of a BVC “Beloved Victim Country” how to maximize its deposits in the World Bank, if you get the idea. Working with BVC’s is more powerful to a school than working with expert witnesses for tobacco companies on how to minimize the payouts to lung-cancer victims.
4. “1.5+ years in cleantech” doing what????

“Let’s see how close you can get?”

Hmmmm, actually, let’s see how close YOU can get. Because on this record, with a properly executed application, one which was timely to Columbia and Booth (with proper reasons for wanting to go there) you certainly should have gotten in, assuming your HF dreams did not make you sound like a jerk — a possibility given the post, which is fine for the snarky back-and-forth of this forum but is not fine for an application. You seem like a smart guy, so I am assuming application had the right attitude.

If for some reason you did NOT get in there, it was because you never convinced them you were serious. Wharton should like this, and so under normal circumstances, so would  HBS, and Round 2 was probably not an issue there. Stanford goes for 780 GMATs but also likes to ding dudes like you, just based on limited info you provide, especially your desire to work at a hedge fund, out of the blue, which is not their cup of tea, versus a make-nice VC/PE. I am speaking loosely and broadly, which is justified by your barebones post, to the point that HF’s are more transactional and short-term vs. VC/PE, which CAN BE more co-investing, more long-term, more societal-impact oriented.

If anyone wants to hear the Stanford Business School mantra for PE/HF, in its pure form, I suggest watching this recent tape from their website, where the legendary John Doerr, a guy about as Stanford-y as you can get in terms of public outlook, and a general partner at Kleiner Perkins, discusses the importance of examining a company’s culture. Doerr claims to be “neutral” about whether a business culture is “opportunistic vs.  strategic,” “mercenary vs.  missionary,”  but he clearly favors strategic and value-creating companies to pay-day lenders,  as does Stanford.

My guess is, if you did not get in there, you misfired on that message. The fact you would list Hedge Fund as a goal, assuming it was not a quick shorthand for value investing and was explained in some Stanford-y way, is one clue that you could have PO’d them. At HBS, guys like you can flub an interview if your wise guy and predatory teeth emerge from behind  your cover-up smile.

Soooooo, in summary, you are not a natural Stanford fit, although you may have faked them out (or your short bio is deceiving), you may have blown the HBS interview, you may have not convinced Booth and Columbia that you were serious due to timing and other issues. The one outcome that would really surprise me is you getting dinged from Wharton, man, that actually IS the place for you.

Just for the record, economic consulting (NERA, Analysis Group, etc) is a solid place to apply from, although my guess is, not as solid in terms of percent admits as Goldman or Bain Capital.  Economic consulting plus Clean tech is something of an outlier profile that would have needed explaining. Your lack of extracurriculars and varsity athlete background, again, working with limited evidence, is a pattern that could also damage you at Stanford and HBS. To wit, real smart jock, goes into economic consulting, helps asbestos companies prove the stuff is great, wants to make a lot of money as some Hedge Fund guy  and buy a football team. . . that is a profile that could damage you. Those schools admit smart jocks but it is a real small team.

If you got dinged at HBS, something like that, or a whiff of that in the interview, is what did you in. If you got dinged at Stanford, well, anyone can get dinged at Stanford, especially a white guy from a non-feeder firm. At some point Stanford  likes to ding guys with 780 GMATs just to say they do it. Derrick Bolton, the Stanford adcom head, has bragged about that in the past. I think one year, all five applicants with a 800 were dinged. Bolton was thrilled. “Hey, no 800’s around here, we don’t care that much about GMATs . . . all we care about is what matters most to you and why . . . .”

Stanford applicants, put that Kool-Aid in a glass and drink it.
And also have a 780 for when the buzz wears off.