Handicapping Your Shot At A Top School

male bankerMr. Biotech Engineer


  • 700 GMAT (projected)
  • 160Q/161V/5.5AW GRE
  • 3.4 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in engineering from UC-San Diego
  • Work experience includes three years (at matriculation) as an engineer for a small biotech company
  • “Incredible opportunities to show leadership and initiative . . . from setting up processes, establishing teamwork, and improving the culture.”
  • Extracurricular involvement minimal; “I plan on starting something this summer, perhaps volunteering in a local basketball youth league. Also played piano back in high school and participated in a few community service-based engineering projects (think Engineers without Borders)
  • Goal: To work as a product manager for a blue chip firm in Silicon Valley
  • “Actually applied this year but had no success”
  • 24-year-old, 2nd-generation Asian-American male

Odds of Success:

MIT LGO: 30%
Berkeley: 40%
Kellogg MMM: 40%
Michigan (Tauber): 50% to 60%
Duke: 50%+
Carnegie Mellon: 50%+
Cornell: 50%+
USC: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: You don’t mention what schools you were dinged at last year. You might add those in a comment once this gets published.
This is pretty simple: You got a GRE score of 160Q/161V/5.5AW.
Those are, by my lights, over 80 percent on both sides, and would be OK scores for the schools you are targeting. A similar GMAT score would also be OK, and I don’t think submitting GREs vs. GMATs made much a difference.

You report a GPA of 3.4 from UC San Diego, B.S. in engineering, which is a low-ish GPA in a hard field (Engineering) at a silver/bronze but not golden school.

You note that your work experience will be “3 years (if I matriculate ’14) working as an engineer at a small biotech company” where you have had “incredible opportunities to show leadership and initiative . . . from setting up processes, establishing teamwork, and improving the culture.” Well jeepers, that sounds real solid, and you have the right lingo. All you need is the details and the recs to make it real.

I do not think that your lack of extracurriculars was the issue this year. I think the issue was lousy execution, lousy recs, or that you applied to places like MIT or Stanford, where they just liked other techies better than you. One burden you have is that schools may not know your small biotech company so you need to be very clear about its size, revenue, and the credentials of its founders in your resume and other materials. You also need to make clear how much responsibility you have –that is one way that working for a small size company  can be an advantage. If the company only has 5 to10 professional employees, say that, and make it very clear what different hats you wore.

I got the impression from reading your original post that you may not be really familiar with how this game is played. I usually don’t say this but you should really think about hiring a consultant, someone who can give you a solid resume and who can make sure your recs are thorough and detailed.

Often leaders in small biotech companies are too busy or too inexperienced to write detailed recs but that is the part of the application where you can best explain the company, the culture and your various roles. You don’t need some super consultant, or, ahem, guru, just a real solid one who can sense what you need to convey to the adcoms in terms of basics about the company and your roles. I think if you do that, you got some positive odds at places like Michigan (Tauber), Duke, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and USC.

You have a solid job, OK enough stats, and realistic goals, to wit, “to eventually work as a product manager for a blue-chip firm in Silicon Valley.” I would make those goals more narrow– stick with biotech in your goal statement. You already have a solid background there and it will make you seem more employable to the schools.  At MIT LGO and Kellogg MMM, two programs focused on supply chain and fulfillment (the schools might state the goals more robustly), you are not as attractive a candidate because you don’t have solid supply chain background — well, reading your post that was not clear–and those schools are more selective to begin with.  They may favor applicants who have worked with larger companies.

Berkeley is a good choice for a small reach. Just get your act together as someone who is really interested in biotech/product management. You don’t need to be a biologist to do that, my guess, although if anyone knows differently, please chime in.