Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

blackbusinessman

Mr. Telecom In Ghana

  • 710 GMAT (practice test score)
  • 78.9 out of 100 GPA (1st class honors top 5%)
  • Undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from a university in Ghana
  • Work experience includes one year as a product manager at a global telecom giant in Europe, managing tactical marketing strategies across 16 countries, increasing subscriber base by 58% in three quarters, and raising Net Promoter Score (NPS) by seven points.
  • Led international cross-functional teams to deliver exciting products based on innovation and customer insight, resulting in customer satisfaction (highest rated app).
  • Defined high level strategy and roadmap for Messaging and Voice Services; for the past five months, mobile data manager at global telecom giant in Ghana, working out of London; consistently exceeded monthly subscriber and revenue growth targets by a minimum of 4%, and won award for fastest growth in mobile data among all six mobile operators in Ghana;
  • Embarked on educational and affordable smartphones campaigns to increase awareness of and accessibility to data. Introduced exciting and competitive data products/propositions, and coordinated strongly with brand and sales teams to sell these; also spent 14 months as a network planning engineer, a year as a graduate management trainee, chosen as one of ten grads out of 1,400 applicants; and one year as a wireless network engineer at Huawei Ghana
  • Extracurricular involvement as a board member of a U.S. non-profit, focusing on encouraging science, technology and math education among youths (especially black Americans) in poor communities; four years as the youth president of a local church in Ghana; Created annual youth activity programs including sports, marriage seminars, health, technology, bible studies; Led donations to prisons and hospitals; president, drama and prayer director for three years at the campus church
  • “Eldest brother: supported mother to pay school fees for three siblings after father died; mentored younger siblings in various aspects including coaching younger sister to win national reading competition (award was trip to South Africa)”
  • Goal: To gain a more senior level product manager role with a high tech company (Google, Facebook, Apple)
  • “I have a passion for entrepreneurship – started a few stuff, but none got anywhere significant. Can I mention this passion (and possibly my ‘failed’ attempts) and my desire to make use of entrepreneurship opportunities while on campus (for e.g. HBS’ Rock Center)?”
  • 26-year-old Ghanaian male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40%
Stanford: 30%
Northwestern: 50%
Yale: 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: This is real solid: You have first class grades at a leading University in Ghana, a seemingly very successful rise through “Global Telecom Giant HQ in Europe,” and some OK extras, including “Board Member of Non-Profit in USA, focusing on encouraging Science, Technology and Math education among youths (especially black Americans) in poor communities” and “Youth President of local church in Ghana” where you “created annual youth activity programs . . .led donations to prisons and hospitals and taught math, English and science . . . .” and much else, including, as eldest brother, supporting mother to pay 3 siblings’ school fees after your father died and mentoring younger siblings . . . .”

You say practice GMAT is in 710 range. Friend, if you can come close to that in reality, well, you got all the bases covered.

Stanford is really interested in Africa and you might consider applying for the Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship which “pays for tuition and associated fees (approximately US $140,000) for citizens of African countries with financial need who wish to obtain an MBA at Stanford GSB.” That program is focused on applicants who plan to return to Africa (it is a requirement) and that may not be you, but the program is worth looking into because the application for the program happens in June, before applying to GSB, and it is a good way of getting Stanford Adcom attention. You may need to get on the stick, however, this year’s application is due on June 8th.

I think your chances at Stanford outside of the fellowship are also OK, given background, scores (assuming 700+ GMAT) and overcoming adversity story. The fellowship essay however asks (in 250 words) ‘What impact do you plan to have on Africa?’

That may not be a perfect fit for you, given your stated goals, “to go into a more senior level Product Manager role with a high tech company (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.) . . .” although sure, you can rework that goal to be more Afro-centric. I also think Stanford might give you a solid fellowship outside the Africa MBA Fellowship just based on your core story.

At other schools, this is also a powerful story. I will give to you the same tough love, however, I am giving everyone these days, “plan on taking the GMAT more than once if you do not get 700+ the first time.” Given the current GMAT-focused environment we are drifting into in MBA admissions, there is NOTHING not even close to getting a solid score between now and applying. Think 700. You are a powerful candidate and could get into even Stanford with a lower score, but why not solve that problem before it arises with some added effort to get your score beyond 700 if somehow that does not happen the first time.

You asked, “I have a passion for entrepreneurship – started a few (companies), but none got anywhere significant. Can I mention this passion (and possibly my ‘failed’ attempts) and my desire to make use of entrepreneurship opportunities while on campus (for e.g. HBS’ Rock Center) ?”

Well, you can mention this, but this is not your major attraction to schools. You are an accomplished African undergraduate with good grades. You have worked at a leading telecom and received steady promotions over 24 months. You have the quite rare experience of working for an African-based hi-tech firm [“Wireless Network Engineer at Huawei Ghana”]. You have extensive volunteer work at your church. You have overcome adversity in your family setting, and you have coached your younger sister to “win a national reading competition.”

Friend, that, and some kind of near 700 GMAT, is all you need.

You can usefully talk about your failed attempts and what you learned about yourself in your Stanford essay, if those failures were important to you. At HBS, your desire to make use of “entrepreneurship opportunities while on campus (for e.g. HBS’ Rock Center)” is about the 245th thing they will like about you.

Stick to the basics, which in your case are very strong.