Handicapping Your MBA Odds: Mr. International, Mr. Toastmasters, Ms. Entrepreneur, Mr. Non-IIT, Mr. Real Estate


Mr. Toastmasters


  • 690 GMAT
  • 3.54 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from Portland State University
  • Work experience includes five years in sales, operations and finance at Apple where I focused on the retail store channel and the customer experience; also one and one half years in Hewlett Packard’s supply chain division; also worked at a commercial real estate investment company and engaged directly with the CEO
  • Won three awards, including a $15,000 Presidential scholarship based on my entering GPA and exam scores; first place for a Toastmasters’ speech on how to start your own business, and also helped to led an intramural team to the championship game during a summer tournament with eight teams
  • Extracurricular involvement as a group leader at church; went to South Korea after graduation to teach English to students in the Gwangju Province; helped sign on several NPOs focused on providing charitable programs for underserved children; managed club finances and fundraising for Toastmasters Club; YMCA basketball coach for sixth grade boys; led a team to Lima, Peru, to help underserved children
  • Goal: To return to the tech industry as a product manager or strategy analyst for a consumer product firm; longer term, to become an impact leader and run my own teams that have a direct impact on the customer experience
  • Fluent in Korean and conversational Japanese
  • Black belt in tae kwon do
  • 30-year-old male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 15% to 20%

Stanford: 10%

Wharton: 20% to 30%

Duke: 50%+

Northwestern: 40%

Berkeley: 40%+

Sandy’s Analysis:

As to HBS, in the not-quoted-often-enough words of MBA admissions director Dee Leopold, “There is nothing wrong with you. We just liked other people more.” She would tell you that, if somehow you ever got the chance to speak to her.

That’s not to say I don’t like you. What we have here is an attractive candidate, with a lowish GMAT (for schools he wants in to), an OK GPA from a not-known school, and a guy with long and significant work experience at Apple in operations and finance. Apple experience is really valued by business schools.

You also have a lot of extracurriculars, which impresss me, but in the big bad cynical world of adcoms won’t move the needle much because they are not explosive and your role is not #1 at them. (If that is NOT the case, make it real clear in the app.) Well, those extras won’t move you from group two to group one of all applicants to a given school, but they may move you to the top of group two. That could be something, depending, so all your good works may be for only you, those impacted, and God to notice.

Since we are now talking about God, if she were placing you, she would put you in Wharton. You could be a value to their program and to them. You are a solid guy with terrific experience. You are very likable and would be a useful balance to Wharton’s more typical suits in finance. Every school is looking for supply chain people, and schools like Wharton may actually find some with better stats. Your 690 might disproportionately impact you at Wharton and also at Columbia. Those schools might not be willing to pay the “mag ranking” price for those stats. They will find someone with a 3.7 and a 720 who does something sorta like Supply Chain.

That’s a shame because two or three math questions on the GMAT are severely changing your outlook. With a 720 GMAT, you would be a different candidate. And yet the difference between a 690 and a 720 is just three questions or so on the exam. If you are a guy with a 3.8 and a 740 with Apple on your resume, we are talking about someone whose chances at Harvard and Wharton are in the 50% range. (Over 50% at Wharton!)

Let me add a note about Toastmasters, again, an organization I admire which does not always play well in apps. Toastmasters frequently gets international students, obviously who have greater concerns about public speaking in English. So it becomes self-identifying in a way that could harm you. I admire people who want to improve themselves and so do adcom members–when they are relaxing at home and no longer thinking like adcom members. So you could make a case to keep that out of your application. I don’t think it helps unless you have had a major leadership role there. It would be a bad combo with a low GMAT verbal score.

All that said, for you and other do-gooders, the cumulative impact of your extras, including church activity and the YMCA, at some point will register. Just a note on packaging extras: try to make one cause a so-called Marquee Cause, and really stress impact and leadership there.

Here’s my tough love for you, I mean in case somehow the above has not been tough enough: Retake the GMAT. A 690 is just torture for many reasons. Taking the GMAT twice is the new normal. I don’t know how many times you have taken it but if you took it two more times you could get a 720. That would get you more scholarship money and it might also get you into Wharton. It might make your short reaches solid. After all, 720 is the new 700. GMAT scores have just gone up as result of better GMAT bootcamps and people taking the test again and again.

Sad but true.

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