Handicapping Your Elite B-School Odds

Geeky GuyMr. Mobile Startup


  • 750 GMAT (49Q/42V)
  • 3.4 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in business and film from Tel-Aviv University
  • Work experience includes three years in an elite infantry combat unit in the Israeli Defense Force, serving as a combat field medic and as staff sergeant, and one and one-half years in a mobile advertising startup company (promoted once from account manager to team leader in business development section), currently head a team responsible for developing smartphone app advertising capabilities and strategic operations
  • Extracurricular involvement as a counselor for youth at risk and mentally challenged youth, volunteer on film projects for a couple of social organizations
  • 29-year-old Israeli male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 35%

Stanford: 20%

Columbia: 40%

Berkeley: 40%+

NYU: 40%+

Chicago: 35%+

MIT: 35%+

Sandy’s Analysis: This is going to be a toss-up. Israeli Army Elite guys are always welcome, same way as most soldiers are, especially from countries where military service (or alt service) is mandatory (Israel, Austria, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, etc.)

In your case, there is a small added risk, that the adcom reading your file does not have a hair across her *** about the Israeli military, overt or covert. I’d say chances of that are sorta 10 percent. There is just a lot of anti-Israel sentiment in the academy and adcoms, while not in general as stupid about such things as professors, are more stupid than the woman in the street.  Being a medic sounds wholesome and not too warlike. I am not sure what they will make about being a sergeant. I am not sure if the rules are different for dudes in conscripted armies, but the number of enlisted men ever admitted to e.g. HBS from the U.S. Armed Forces is really, really small. The game could be different with foreign armies.

The other downside is that adcoms have a hard time making sense of military careers, so the other aspects of your application grow in importance, e.g. grades/GMAT and jobs after the military. Here you got a rock solid 750 GMAT, an iffy 3.4 GPA (in business and film, two gut majors) and a job that could be interesting or could be non-existent, account manager in a mobile advertising start-up. That is the kind of thing kids without jobs say they are doing. Your version of it, “promoted once from account manager to team leader in business development section. [Now] head of a team responsible for developing smartphone app advertising capabilities and strategic operations . . .” sounds pretty convincing.  You need to make it clear by metrics (sales, number of employees, venture funding) that the company you work for is real.

You asked about your chances at HBS, Stanford, Columbia, Haas, Stern, Booth and MIT?  MIT goes for big GMATs and also Israelis, and also military, and start-ups, so you may have a shot there, if you present well. HBS and Stanford may take their Israeli Army cohort from guys with better pedigrees, both in the Army (officers, although I am not fully sure of this) and post-army gigs at brand name companies.  I just flipped through a recent-ish  resume books at both Stanford and HBS: HBS had two IDF vets in one class, one was an enlisted guy, the other  was an officer.  They both had real classy post-military jobs. Stanford, surprisingly, had several IDF guys, mixed bag of enlisted men and officers but all had elite post military work gigs. Your lack of super save-the-world-extras and other PC-earmarks may also dim your chances at Stanford.

Stern should be good to go on stats alone. Columbia is toss up and will depend on execution a good deal, Haas is solid if you can convince them you want to come, Booth may bite, the GMAT a real plus there. You need to make it real clear in all cases how start-up work has driven your goals and why MBA now. Oddly, majoring in business (and film!) is not that compelling to business schools. You need to somehow make all this add up to your goals—which significantly you never mentioned in your profile.  Don’t make that mistake in your actual application.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

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.