Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds: Ms. CPA

arty woman female

Madame Future Museum Director

  • 760 GMAT (I’ve only taken it once – might be able to raise it to something like a 770-780)
  • 3.1 GPA (polarized grades — one year of extenuating life circumstances that can be written about in an application, but not on an internet forum)
  • Undergraduate degree in art history from a top 20 liberal arts college (Think Wesleyan, Vassar, Oberlin)
  • No-profit Management Graduate Certificate (6 courses) from a well known national university with a 4.0 GPA
  • Have also taken Intro Finance, Intro Accounting, Intro Microeconomics, Stats I, and Calculus I w/ 4.0 GPA
  • Work experience includes internships at art galleries and an art museum; managed a women’s clothing boutique, worked as an art gallery assistant at three galleries (press releases, sales, managing client files, marketing strategizing, etc.), marketing and development assistant, and also promoted from gallery assistant to development and executive assistant at an international, well-publicized start-up art gallery (which is my current position)
  • Extracurricular involvement as a weekly volunteer at a domestic violence shelter; maintains an active yoga blog; “But most of my free time, over the past few years, has been taken up by studying math in order to make myself a more competitive MBA applicant”
  • Why I’m interested in an MBA: “Directors of galleries and museums have, in the past, typically come from curatorial backgrounds, but it seems ludicrous to me that the directors – the people at the helm of these multi-million and often, in the case of major museums, multi-billion dollar ships – do not have the requisite management and financial backgrounds to run these nonprofit organizations in a more efficient manner. I would like to move from my position of assisting the directors to becoming a director myself. I would like to gain the business acumen I believe is necessary to positively influence the way these institutions are managed.”
  • 28-year-old white female

Odds of Success:

Harvard Business School: 30%+

Stanford: 20%

Yale: 40%+

Northwestern: 40%+

Berkeley: 40%+

USC: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Lots to like and you could be making this too complicated.

As they say someplace, a 760 GMAT can cover a lot of boo-boos, and beyond that, you have done a good job of curing the 3.1 GPA issue with a very powerful alternative transcript, including “a Nonprofit Management Graduate Certificate (6 courses) from a well known national university w/ 4.0 GPA” and after that, “an Intro Finance, Intro Accounting, Intro Microeconomics, Stats I, and Calculus I w/ 4.0 GPA.”

Wow. Good work.

Just out of curiosity, were those Intro courses online or not? Your alternative transcript is deep and impressive and the 760 GMAT gives it credence, so no worries. My strong hunch is, schools applaud any alternative transcript, but prefer “real” courses. E.g., getting an A in Calculus in a class of fire-breathing and back-stabbing pre-meds is really impressive.

I think you got the GPA issue neutralized, even before you go into the cause, “one year of extenuating life circumstances that can be written about in an application, but not on an internet forum.” Ah come on, how about a hint? We all love extenuating circumstances stories!

O.K. back to what you are willing to share “on an internet forum.” (Hey, no judgment here, just empathy and odds-making).

Another thing to consider, and this is for deep admission wonks, is that even at schools which are obsessed with GPA/GMAT scores because of magazine rankings (I’m talking to you Wharton and Columbia, and even Stanford, too), given the choice they would rather blink at a low GPA rather than a low GMAT.

Anyone know why? Because the GMAT score makes up slightly more than ~16 percent of the total U.S. News MBA ranking while the GPA makes up just a bit more than ~7 percent. I’d be interested in knowing which number taken alone is a better predictor of B- school success, my hunch is GPA, but who cares about that, render unto U.S. News that which is U.S. News, and if they say that for whatever reason, they are counting GMAT twice as much as GPA in determining the best B-schools in the U.S., who are we to wonder why.

Back to you, Ms. future director. Your more significant issue may be work history, which you list as: “interned at art galleries and an art museum, managed a women’s clothing boutique, worked as an art gallery assistant at three galleries (press releases, sales, managing client files, marketing strategizing, etc.), marketing and development assistant, and also promoted from gallery assistant to development and executive assistant at an international, well-publicized start-up art gallery (which is my current position).”

It is real important that you craft those many, many jobs into some deeply normative, upward sloping, and present-centric resume real estate.

That could mean some catch-all resume mumbo-jumbo describing ALL your jobs prior to the current one as the tail being wagged by the very big dog of your current job, in reverse chronological order, so the dog (current job) is first and most prominent in terms of space, elaboration, energy, etc.

Reason for MBA: You say, “Directors . . . the people at the helm of these multi-million and often . . . multi-billion dollar [institutions[ – do not have the requisite management and financial backgrounds to run these nonprofit organizations in a more efficient manner.”

Nix that. This is real important: Get that very idea out of your head, whether it is true or not. The formula for the goals part of your story is as follows.

Museums and other cultural institutions are facing challenges from several fronts: yadda, yadda, and yadda.

Here you need to be very smart and informed about what those challenges are in terms of finances, law, globalization, new audiences, technology, etc.

I admire Director’s One and Two from X and Y who have met those challenges by doing 1, 2, and 3 [those people do not need to have MBAs, as illogical as that may sound at first hearing, trust me].

In order to meet those challenges, directors of the future will need to be yack, yack yack and an MBA can help me become Wonder Woman like that.

You said, “I would like to gain the business acumen I believe is necessary to positively influence the way these institutions are managed.”

Well, that’s close enough for an internet forum, where you are reluctant to share important details, but in your real app, you have to juice that up. The juice coming from the mildly substantive song-and-dance you include about what the problems facing museums are, etc.

I think with serviceable execution of the above and your powerful alternative transcript and your Mona Lisa GMAT profile, you can present a clear and powerful case for becoming some kind of arts manager. Try to also include what a roadmap to that position would include.

If you got recs some reputable people in your current ‘real’ job, that would also help to shore up your story.

HBS is always looking for cogent, liberal arts, arts-minded, hi-GMAT performing “classy” kids like you to round out the nerds-finance-consultant axis.

A lot of your HBS outcome will turn on what they think of your current job in terms of the prestige and impact you are having. How you present that is real, real important, there and elsewhere. Yale used to be known as an arts management place and is now trying to redraw that picture but they may like you for old-times sake and that 760. Kellogg goes for this story and types like you, so does Berkeley and USC.

I’d say you’re getting in someplace like that. Stanford may like you but balk at what seems like a confused white girl profile without any X factor to rebalance that.

You asked: “My last comment: if my low undergraduate GPA and atypical background is too much for top 10 schools to blink at, would investing in an MA in Art Business or trying to get a management/directorial related position (or even something in nonprofit management consulting) and then applying in a couple more years improve my lot?”

Hmmmm? Getting that degree would not help, that is usually considered terminal, and I am no expert as to how an MA in Art Management is considered an entree to the art world or what MBA programs think of it as being a selective marker. Getting some executive gig at a prestige gallery or museum is always a plus, but the prestige of the institution really counts. I would create your best current resume as instructed above, apply now, and see what happens.