Can You Get Into An Elite MBA Program?


Ms. Marine Corps


  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.6 GPA in major
  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania
  • Work experience as a Marine Corps Communications Officer, instructs and mentors new officers, in charge of a class of 70 students
  • “I have focused my instruction on cyber/IT. Prior to this, I was a company commander (130 Marines) and prior to that a battalion communications officer (50 Marines/$10M gear–responsible for all communications both deployed and in the USA for a battalion of 800 Marines)”
  • 26-year-old female

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 45%+ (depending on actual GPA and GMAT splits in all cases)
Wharton: 45%+
MIT: 50%
Virginia: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: A female Marine Corps Officer with a U. Penn degree is a great start. A 700 GMAT evenly split is probably OK for HBS if grades were also OK. A 3.6 in your major sounds like you are hiding something. That “in my major” is an acceptable resume dodge, but the ugly truth is that B-schools care about your entire resume not just the courses you liked.

Their thinking is, 1. They care about the magazine rankings, which require schools to report your total GPA, 2. You probably won’t like most courses in business school, either. Mostly it’s about the magazine rankings, although they do appreciate good grades across the spectrum as well.

I cannot really judge the “success” of a military career by deployments and assignments, the way, no doubt, a recent officer could. It is also my understanding that women officers have not been allowed in combat zones (this is changing, I think), so the lack of an Iraq/Afghanistan deployment is not a red flag, the way it might be with a male (someone correct me if that is wrong, too, and apologies in advance). It is also possible you have been deployed (your note is unclear) so apologies to you too.

All that said, I once had a West Point client who got into HBS after being stationed in GITMO where he helped start a center, which did income taxes for enlisted men. I think he had an accounting background. He was later sent to Korea where he helped run civilian evacuation drills. Those did not strike me as premiere assignments either — and he got in.

Getting back to you. As noted, female officers are rare and my guess is, you will have real wind at your back in terms of HBS, Wharton, MIT and especially UVA, which is real military friendly to begin with. HBS says that 5% of its 940-member class is military, which equals ~48 people. My guess is that the female part of that cohort could be 0-8. Someone who knows the actual number please write in.

The three assignments you mention are each impressive in their own way: 1. cyber/IT instruction, especially if you really know IT, your current gig, and  2. Prior to that, “company commander (130 Marines) and 3.  “battalion communications officer (50 Marines/10M$ gear– responsible for all communications both deployed and in the USA for a battalion of 800 Marines).”

Those are real leadership showcases, especially leading enlisted personnel, leading males, and wrangling lots of expensive and technical gear. It’s just a real attractive profile and easy to use as the base for a solid goal statement.

Whether to retake the GMAT depends on what the splits were, what your total GPA was, and how many quant courses you took at Penn.

A GMAT with scores close to 80 percent on both sides would be a huge help. Especially at MIT and Wharton, where the Quant GMAT really, really counts.

I think you are solid at UVA in your current configuration. I think HBS might go for the female Marine story in a super big way, and give you every benefit of the doubt. If you are interested in consulting after B-school, and many military personnel are, a solid quant GMAT score, and a higher total score could help.  Bain and McKinsey ask for your GMAT score and actually care. They also make exceptions, one of which could easily be you.

Good luck, it’s a great story.