Assessing Your Odds Of Getting In

computer galMs. Math Degree

  • 690 GMAT (on mock test with no prep)
  • 7.4/10 GPA (qualifies for honors)
  • Undergraduate degree in math from a top university in the Netherlands
  • Writing a thesis in bioinformatics in cooperation with the university hospital (brain cancer research)
  • “Scored 690 on my first mock GMAT test, no prep, near perfect verbal, plan to take in August and obviously put in hours for practice”
  • Work experience includes internships in Munich, Germany, at a pharma consulting firm, in the corporate credit analysis department of a commercial bank; and two years as a part-time research assistant in data analysis with the university’s politics department
  • Extracurricular involvement in key leadership roles in the study association of faculty; ex-chair for local chapter of a national charity; recreational runner
  • Last summer went to a Yale SOM Pre-MBA Program (fully sponsored by Goldman), later same summer went volunteering in Latin America
  • “I’m not sure whether to apply to HBS 2+2 now, after a master’s degree in computational biology, or not apply at all now and get some job experience ideally in Russia or another BRIC and do business school a few years down the line”
  • Goal: To move into healthcare & life sciences venture capital
  • “At Yale I was given feedback that for the Silver Scholar they were
  • looking for academically stronger people and I should be a strong regular candidate after a a few years of work experience. My question is, whether a more focused master’s degree would strengthen my statement”
  • 22-year-old female from Eastern Europe

Odds of Success:

Harvard (2+2): 20% to 30%

Stanford: 10%

Yale: 20% to 30%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, I’m impressed, and you seem to be focused and mature beyond the average 22-year old.

The advice you got at Yale is true as far as it goes: 2+2 programs (at Yale, at HBS and at Stanford, the three classic offering schools) do have certain sweet spots. They demand very high grades and GMATs in most cases. They favor STEM candidates, although they take other kids from consulting and finance, and they prefer brand name companies and universities. All of those criteria can be, and have been winked at, if you are extraordinary in some other way, or likable for other reasons.

The Yale folks may have been responding to your “lowish” GPA and GMAT (if in fact they knew of your practice score, unclear from above), but let me explain.

1.  GPA–7.4/10: your reported GPA above, sounds low to me, and “qualifying for honors” the way you summarize it, in the USA means not much. Get a 4 point conversion from WES, or otherwise indicate class standing. If I am wrong about your GPA and university and you are, in fact, in the top 5% of your class, well modify my advice accordingly.

2. GMAT: you say, “GMAT: a week ago scored 690 on my first mock test, no prep, near perfect verbal., plan to take in August and obviously put in hours for practice . . .”

As a rule, a 690 GMAT and 7.4/10 would be a deal breaker, right there, for 2+2 programs, so Yale advisors may have been responding to that.

Getting near a perfect V score is rare, and getting Q score up via practice is way easier for most people, including it seems you, so if your real GMAT score can come in at 730+ or even better, 750+ (adcoms, like frat boys, like jumbo numbers in certain areas, GMATs being one of them) that could light up your whole profile.

THAT WOULD BE WAY MORE IMPORTANT than getting good grades in some master’s program, if that is what you were suggesting as one road forward. I believe you can apply for most 2+2 programs from final year in a grad school program.

How come college grades are more important?  Because the undergraduate GPA is more of a beauty contest to adcoms, which is sent to magazines, and just generally more what they look at for no rational reason except that most kids in grad programs often get A’s and well, you only go to school once in their mind. That is college, and that is the GPA that counts.

What I suggest: All that said, come back with a 760 GMAT, and like the frat boys they are, that can often be ALL most adcoms look at, for the first five minutes or so of gawking, and after that they will be attracted by your science-sounding major, your good graduate school grades, your Euro sense of purpose, your Dutch “dutchness” (Dutch things have a good rep in the USA: serious, focused, bicycling, business-like, smart, wooden shoes, etc.  The sex and drugs stuff of second-half 20th century Amsterda  has somehow receded in the USA imagination).

So, bottom line, get a big GMAT, explain your undergrad GPA as best you can, get good grades the first semester of your graduate program, and sure, apply to 2+2. It is not some super big deal, especially at HBS. Those actions will serve you well if you don’t get in to 2+2 and apply as a regular student in two or three years.

If you don’t want to go to graduate school, well, get the big GMAT. That is real important. If next year is your senior year in college, I don’t think you will get into 2+2 unless I am way wrong about how high your GPA is on 4.0 scale.

Oddly, even though the undergrad GPA is the one that counts the most, by a lot, you applying from graduate school, in a hard-sounding program like computational biology (whatever that is) will really help, especially with a jumbo GMAT.

You said, “In essence, my question is, whether a more focused Master’s degree would strengthen my statement.”

YES.

General Note about 2+2: The 2+2 program at HBS was started as a clever trick by Dee Leopold, the lovable and much-scheming HBS adcom director, as a way of convincing real smart undergraduates with no real sense of what they wanted to do in life, NOT to go to law school. Too many really smart kids way back then were just blindly applying to law school under the theory, “what the hell, it beats working and I can figure things out later.”

I mean who would not want some kid like that in your program. They are really smart in some GPA-way. They don’t have any real ideas or nutty urges to “change the world” (like dumber kids with much lower GPAs). They are situational, and they are frequently rich enough not to care about wasting money in law school. Stanford GSB immediately realized the correctness of the above analysis, and without ever giving HBS credit, started their own runt 2+2 program (called deferred admission) shortly thereafter.

Then a funny thing happened. Law schools, even top law schools, began to lose a good deal of cachet for lots of reasons, including popular press stories about unemployed and unhappy lawyers. Really smart kids with no focus and no urges stopped going to law school. They started creating apps and joining start-ups. The ever alert and lovable Dee Leopold at HBS, having no real need to seduce these future unhappy lawyers away from law school, quickly moved on to a new quarry: STEM kids.

STEM stands for Schmucks Thoroughly Entertained by Math (schmuck is a Yiddish word which means someone who has someone else paying his tuition). Hence. the new focus on STEM kids at 2+2 programs (Stanford fell into place, as usual, quickly and silently). STEM goes beyond math and includes science, and in a pinch, general technology and engineering (hence the joke that STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). For 2+2 purposes, the sweet spot is really quanty science, hence, some business doing computational biology (whatever that is, again) as proposed by the poster, is quite that jelly roll of a 2+2  proposed career focus.

The world being what it is, 2+2 still does admit a fair number of very high performing bankers and consultants for no reason whatsoever. I mean those folks ain’t going anyplace in two years, so duh, why bother admitting them early,  and it is always a tense moment in a 2+2 HBS interview when those bankers and consultants are asked, “What freedom does the 2+2 program allow you?” Meaning, how do you benefit from being admitted to 2+2, beyond, I mean, the very normal human desire for security, which is something, well, that we certainly do not care about, since one it is human and two it is a desire?”

The first blush  answer, should any readers get to this point, is “Well, I could tell my boss at Goldman to go F himself, and I can still go to Harvard Business School. Cool.”

Cool, indeed. The preferred answer is more along the lines of, “I could work for Goldman or McKinsey for one year and then I would have the freedom to work with indigenous peoples or Teach For Wiseguys Without Borders. A bad answer is, “Huh, how come you’re still offering this program when no one really smart applies to law school anymore, anyway?”

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.