Handicapping Your Elite B-School Odds

She’s a 28-year-old American woman who works in finance for a software startup. This ambitious professional wants an MBA to transition into consulting. But she worries that her low grade point average of 2.3 from an “average university,” earned while a parent was dying, may make it hard to get into a top ranked business school.

After a nearly three-year stint for an HR consulting firm, this 28-year-old professional now works at Goldman Sachs as an operations analyst. But his long-term goal is to become the COO of a global consumer products company and that’s why he wants an MBA.

In the past nine years, this 32-year-old woman from Puerto Rico has held several jobs: a paralegal, a journalist and editor, director of a retail store in New York and currently a business development manager for an international law firm. Now she’s hoping to go to business school to move into consulting.

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?

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

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.)

In this episode of our highly popular MBA handicapping series, Kreisberg is his usual witty and insightful self. He tells one applicant she seems “scattered” and wryly observes that “there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors in your story.” To a Mexican engineer whose dream schools include MIT, Chicago and Duke, Kreisberg issues a very big thumbs up assessment.

Sandy’s tell-it-like-it-is analysis:


Ms. Finance


  • 740 GMAT (46Q/46V)
  • 2.3 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from an “average university” (grades suffered due to distraction of terminally ill parent)
  • Work experience includes year and one-half in current job as head of operational finance for a software startup with 90 employees in seven countries, managed growth from 20 employees to current size, experience with PE capital raise with major PE firm, up for promotion in the next three to six months; year and one-half as a regional finance manager for a telecom company, went from 2 to 35 direct reports, promoted three times, and two years in a regional CPA firm specializing in privately held construction and technology companies
  • “I’ve built a pretty solid career on being able to use my natural deductive and inductive reasoning skills to solve problems, but lack in fundamental “business” knowledge (i.e. during this capital raise, I’ve spent countless hours Google-ing investment jargon to translate what our investment bankers were saying). I’m also interested in using the MBA experience to become more ‘global.’”
  • Extracurricular involvement in board gaming (including some local tournament wins), state and county political party executive board member, treasurer of county political party auxiliary group, certified in campaign finance reporting, volunteer at local nonprofit in resume lab, congressional intern in undergrad
  • Goal: Consulting for rapidly growing companies to ease growing pains related to rapid expansion and using that experience to eventually move into a COO role at a mid-sized or large multinational
  • “LBS or Yale are my “dream” schools – Duke and UNC are local”
  • 28-year-old American female

Odds of Success:

Chicago: 20% to 30%

Yale: 35%+

Duke: 40% to 50%

UNC: 40% to 50%

INSEAD: 40+%

London: 50+%

Cambridge: 50%+

HEC-Paris: 50%+

ESADE: 50%+

IE: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: What we got here is a smart, 28-year-old, American female with a LOW GPA (2.3 from Average U.) and a Boffo 740 GMAT, who also has had five very successful years of trench warfare jobs at three companies we probably never heard of.  In reverse chrono:

  • 1.5 years as the head of operational finance for a software startup;
  • 1.5 years as a regional finance manager for a telecom;
  • 2 years as a galley slave for a regional, Southern CPA firm.

Since a) your current job as head of operational finance (whatever that means) with the software “start-up” seems to be with a substantial start-up and not two kids in a rented closet, i.e., it was “recently valued at $150mil with  90 employees in 7 countries,” and b) you managed growth from 20-90 employees, and c) you  seem like a real go-getter with promotions and accomplishments, there is d) lots to like, including your spirit, raises, and shoes on the ground work experiences.

Once we deal with the 2.3 GPA and the fact you have been in the boonies all your life (so it seems, regional CPA firm!), we got maybe not a diamond, but a diamond chip in the rough. Adcoms have a hard time judging work experiences at companies they don’t know, but sure, they know what a regional CPA firm is (no place they would be looking for applicants) and also a telecom (better fishing here, it depends on which telecom and what you did there, and how selective it was).

Your school choices are: Booth, Yale, Insead, LBS, Cambridge, HEC, ESADE, and IE, and also Duke and UNC, as “I’m local.”  “LBS or Yale are my ‘dream’ schools.”  Phew, maybe I’m missing something, but why are you considering Euro schools at all? Your great strength as an applicant is how down-home your work, attitude and accomplishments have been, and that would get bleached out  when read by some adcom in France or the UK. They are also less likely to cut you some slack on the GPA since they won’t understand that you have had a pretty gritty but successful U.S. career. Maybe I am being parochial myself, but Euro schools may just put you in the “Does Not Compute” file.  The odds I have listed for those schools are based on their liking paying Americans and your GMAT, but I could be woefully optimistic.

Also, getting a job back in the USA will be harder from those schools, as will schmoozing with future employers, who similar to the adcoms, may not instantly get this story.

Booth may gag at the GPA, however sympathetically presented, and the low-brow employment history. They are not totally robotic and wink at things, but you are asking for more than a wink. You are asking for a double wink or a brief turn-away. They may not do that, and your pick-up finance skills — in your own words “during this capital raise, I’ve spent countless hours Google-ing investment jargon to translate what our investment bankers were saying . . .” — is not the kind of charming detail they fall for.

It is the kind of charming detail I FALL FOR but  I’m easy –you had me at “Google-ing,” both the fact you did it and also fully spelling it, as if you have some inherent respect for the Google company. I could hear you saying all three syllables, almost Yoddle-ing them.***

*** FYI, fast-talking and nabe-bred wiseguys like me would say that, “Googlin” if not “Googlyn,” sorta like “Brooklyn.”  That would be one syllable and a slur.

I also don’t think Yale would like the cut of your jib, although unlike IE, HEC or INSEAD, they will have seen it before (low-ish  grades, high GMAT, bunch o’ heartland down-home jobs). In Yale’s  new incarnation, they are trying to upgrade stats and status. You are not their kind of current risk.

Duke and UNC and also Darden are where you should be focusing. I realize the fact that they are nearby could be a detraction at this point, especially for someone who is interested in using the MBA experience to become more “global.” But keep in mind, you’d meet some very global types in those programs, although, agreed, Chapel Hill is nice but it is not Paris.

Still, any of those schools are classy and you could start making real connections. Also, in light of your intense interest in local politics  (“state and county political party executive board member, treasurer of county political party auxiliary group, certified in campaign finance reporting . . .”) staying where your connections and support groups are is a worthwhile consideration.

You might also consider MBA programs like Michigan and Cornell, where, yes, you’d have to buy some winter clothing, but you would also have a ticket to schmooze with profs, visiting big shots, and the classier part of your peer cohort. If you want to locate some American reaches, try Berk, Tuck and NYU, which is a close reach.

Career goals  . . .you are “fuzzy” but thinking about “consulting for rapidly growing companies to ease growing pains related to rapid expansion.” And then using that experience to eventually move into a COO role at a mid-sized or large multinational.”  That is fuzzy — close enough for blogging, which is what we are doing — but come game day you will need to marshal your assets and present as yourself  someone who wants to build out your SME experience as either a consultant or the COO of such powerful and innovative SMEs as 1, 2 or 3.

Position yourself as someone who has seen the rodeo several times and who wants to help run it. Allude in your application to your political and business contacts so schools have a real good sense that you will be employed come graduation, one way or the other.  Cite leading SME consulting firms and say you could start there to learn best practices and then transition into being a leader in a dynamic and growing company.

If you make that case in spades and without hesitation, and if you quickly and compellingly explain the low GPA, and if you get two Boffo recs from your current employer (or one from the telcom), you might also break into Chicago or Yale.

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