Harvard | Mr. Fraternity Philanthropy
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Wharton | Mr. Energy Industry
GMAT 740, GPA 3.59
Columbia | Ms. New York
GMAT 710, GPA 3.25
Harvard | Ms. Chemical Engineer
GMAT 720, GPA 3.53
Harvard | Mr. Aspiring Social Investor
GMAT 730, GPA 3.4
London Business School | Mr. Global Graduate Scheme
GMAT 750, GPA 7.2/10
Stanford GSB | Ms. Startup Poet
GRE 330, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. Transformation
GMAT 720, GPA 3.6
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Startup
GRE 327, GPA 3.35
INSEAD | Mr. Sailor in Suit
GMAT 740, GPA 3.6
Tuck | Mr. Global Corp Comms
GRE 325, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. Aero Software ENG
GRE 312, GPA 3.3
Kellogg | Mr. Lucky Banker
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
Chicago Booth | Mr. Honduras IE
GMAT 730, GPA 3.4
Stanford GSB | Mr. Energy Reform
GMAT 700, GPA 3.14 of 4
HEC Paris | Mr. iOS App Developer
GMAT 610, GPA 3.3
IU Kelley | Ms. Biracial Single Mommy
, GPA 2.5/3.67 Grad
Harvard | Mr. Public Finance
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Almost Ballerina
GRE ..., GPA ...
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Darden | Mr. Engineer Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Stanford GSB | Mr. Systems Change
GMAT 730, GPA 4

Handicapping Your Elite B-School Odds

woman proMs. Business Development


  • “Hola Sandy, any chance you can assess my chances? I’m not afraid to cry”
  • 700 GMAT (expected)
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in journalism and political science from 
- Syracuse University
  • Work experiences over nine years, currently as Business Development Manager at an international 
corporate law firm; also had worked as a paralegal at another major international law firm, a store director of major retail luxury brand in NYC; and a journalist/editor of a national lifestyle publication
  • Extracurricular involvement as a tutor and volunteer for “Girls Write Now” program
  • Goal: To provide consulting services to law firms, and eventually other types of service firms, in emerging markets (Latin America, Africa and elsewhere) seeking to develop Business Development and Marketing departments
  • Fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and basic knowledge of Turkish
  • Expect to have strong recommendations from eminent business lawyers
  • 32-year-old Puerto Rican woman (raised on the island, moved to US for college)

Odds of Success:

Cambridge: 30% to 40%

Oxford: 30% to 40%

London: 20% to 30%

HEC-Paris: 30% to 40%

NYU: 30%+

Duke: 30%+

Virginia: 30%+

Michigan: 40%+

Cornell: 30%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Let’s start with the good news: coming from Puerto Rico makes you a bona fide minority, and schools in the U.S. are always looking for that. Finishing out the good news: 3.5 GPA from Syracuse.

On the other hand, thirty–two years old and nine years of eclectic work experience –paralegal at a major international law firm; store director of major retail luxury brand in NYC; journalist/editor of a national lifestyle publication — are going to be hard to sell.

It  seems scattered although your current job as a “Business Development Manager at an international corporate law firm” might be a  big string to tie this together. Still, there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors in your story, and my strong suggestion is to make your career as straight and narrow as possible. Schools distrust journalism degrees . . . not sure why, but they may blame you for not figuring out sooner that that degree would lead to you to being a paralegal.

You say your goal is to provide consulting services to law firms, and eventually other types of service firms, in emerging markets (Latin America, Africa and elsewhere) “which are seeking to develop Business Development and Marketing departments.” Hmmmm, first of all, I don’t fully understand that. If you can cite some actual businesses which  do that, be sure to name them, that can really make a difference.  I do understand what being a marketing consultant to a law firm is, or a service firm.

And I suppose there are business development consultants as well as marketing consultants, or are they the same thing?  What may be confusing me is the scattered nature of your goals which also focus law and service firms and also in such geographies as Latin America and Africa. There is lots of “this or that” and “this and that” in your story. Just try to locate actual exemplars of what firms you are talking about and cite them. That will make your life way easier.

And say you want to become a leader in such a firm. Saying you want to “start” a firm just adds another high-risk element to your story and resume which already is full of potential oddments and question marks. You need to convince these schools you have a clear idea of what job you can get, that an MBA from them will help you get it, and that such jobs actually exist and this is not just pie in the sky.

In your current positioning, you just sound burned out and desperate and trying to hook your wagon onto some new shooting star. The idea of going to school in Europe confirms that. The one strength of your current story is your contacts with international law firms in what sounds like New York City.

Why give that up? Those international law firms may be, ahem, international, but the kind of services you want to provide are usually run from HQ in the USA. Often that means New York.  Don’t plan on saying you want to move, and if I may be so bold, don’t move period. Yes, given your Latin roots, you could work in Spanish speaking countries, but law firms are in-grown and so is the marketing business in most cities. Go to school in the USA. I just don’t see this story at Oxford or Cambridge or HEC or Insead. If I am totally off base here, I will  be  happy to be bitch slapped into sense by someone who knows more about what a fertile field law firm business development is in Europe and Latin America.

If you get that 700 GMAT — and that would really help anchor this story — that and your long-ago 3.5 from Syracuse, and being a woman from Puerto Rico could make you attractive at places like Duke, Darden, Michigan, Cornell, maybe UCLA. Oddly, NYU is a great choice for you because you could stay in New York and hustle work your second year, although I have a feeling that idea does not excite you because it is not escapist enough. What all those schools will want to see is some clarified account of your past nine years and a really clear goal, one which is possible and will not leave you unemployed or on Kickstarter in two years after you graduate.

Euro schools might go for the exotic elements of your story, especially if you get that 700 GMAT since your stats will be in-line.

You began this by saying, “Hola Sandy, any chance you can assess my chances? I’m not afraid to cry.”  I don’t want you to cry. Stay in the USA-unless you are rich or have lots of connections in Europe. You should also look into EMBA programs. That is, on the facts, where you belong, and an EMBA done while you are still working, could save you big bucks. I got an idea, though, that you are not looking for an EMBA, but a lottery ticket on changing your life. Here is some tough love.  An EMBA could do that, although it would be “p0und and ground,” as they say on the wrestling shows.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.