Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

brunette business woman

Ms. Payday Loans

  • 700 GMAT (projected)
  • 2.99 GPA in architectural engineering from a less known tech school in the U.S. (only a handful of schools offered the program). “Due to personal reasons, my GPA went below 2.0 in my second semester but I was able to bring it up to a 2.99 by the time I time graduated. I didn’t have passion for Arch E but realized this too late. Minored in business in my senior year to get a feel for it and loved it. Instead of wasting time on a career I knew I was not going to enjoy, I decided to pursue a masters degree. Wanted an MBA but didn’t have any work experience.”
  • 3.56 GPA in Dual Masters in Management and Management Information Systems from a state school in Texas. “I think this makes up for my poor undergrad performance. It’s proof that I can handle the coursework especially since I took a lot of hard finance courses as part of my Masters program)”
  • Work experience: Three years in e-commerce product management at a Payday loan company in the U.S. (gained promotion seven months after joining and named senior product manager a year later; also awarded two bonuses which only go to top performers); manage three out of the four biggest projects for the company. Also internships during high school with PwC in Pakistan, Barclays during the summer before grad school in Pakistan, and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services while going to grad school full time
  • Extracurricular involvement teaching at a Juvenile Detention Center, volunteer at a Senior Living Center; several dance performances throughout college and graduate school
  • Goal: To work for a tech start up as a product manager
  • “I am brushing up on my technical skills – learning HTML, CSS etc. on my own to know the tech lingo better”
  • Plan to apply to seven to nine of the schools below
  • 26-year-old female from Pakistan (I have a lot to talk about here – what it’s like to be a Pakistani and a Muslim female both in my home country and the U.S.)

Odds of Success:

Duke: 20% to 25%
Berkeley: 15% to 30%
Michigan: 20%
Virginia: 20% to 25%
Cornell: 20% to 25%
UCLA: 20% to 25%
UNC: 20% to 30%
Carnegie Mellon: 20% to 30%
Georgetown: 30%
USC: 30%
Indiana: 30%
Notre Dame: 30%+
Washington Univ.: 30%+
Univ. of Washington: 30%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, it’s a mixed bag, as you seem to suspect, being a Pakistani woman is not a super important part of this story, although being a woman might be, and my guess is, you will not be treated any differently than an Indian or Chinese woman.
I’d be happy to hear any opposing arguments on that score.

The important parts, to me, both good and bad, are:

–Low grades in college (that never disappears since they have to be reported to the magazines, even if schools think you can do the work);

–Better grad school grades which prove you possess the three pillars of business school success: 1. Sit still, 2. Eat the dog food the profs dish out, and 3. Spit it back on exams! No barking, just eat and spit back. Bark when called on in class.

–Odd, but impressive internships in high school! and college and grad school, which may prove you are an okay fit for classy corporate environments like PwC, Barclays, and Mercedes.

–Full time, VERY successful job at Payday lender with what seems like increasing responsibility, bonuses, and success. That is good in general since it shows that you can fit in a corporate financial environment. If you had a three-year career like that at Goldman Sachs (ahem! Payday lender, mutatis mutandis,  to major corporations and others, but we skip over that) you would be on a fast track to acceptance at many business school. But a large part of that would be the built-in grades, schooling etc. which got you the Goldman job in the first place.

For readers who do not what payday lending is, it is making short-term loans to poor people at very high interest rates, with the idea the loan will be repaid on the next payday. Hence, the practice is often called, more accurately, “Payday Advance.”  Payday lending is held in low esteem by business schools and, ahem, “real” banks, because you are dealing with disorganized poor people as consumers (and not victims, which is great). There is a history of predatory come-on practices, high interest rates, and often “tough” collection processes.  The Wiki entry is comprehensive and quick, as per usual.

Business schools don’t respect payday lending as a feeder profession, mostly because getting a job in the industry is not super selective. B-schools would prefer someone who got an IB job at a Bulge Bracket bank, and who already survived three rounds of competitive interviews and hellish “make-work” work conditions (a good proxy for B-school), to this applicant despite the fact she probably has more general management and general street business experience than most Ivy IB types. To wit:

Three years in e-commerce product management at a Payday loan company in the US  . . . Given a promotion 7 months after joining the firm (no change in title) and promoted to Sr. Product Manager another year later. Handling three out of the four biggest projects for the company. Accomplished a lot in a short amount of time – earned two bonuses only given to the best employees at the firm.

Not many bankers can make that impressive a case for actual accomplishments on the job.
Although sure, we do notimagine this woman was competing with many magna econ grads from Yale and Princeton over there at Payday Inc.

How the Payday “curse” issue will play out in this case is hard to predict. One hopes that the  adcoms can see past the stereotypes and low-status and notice how solid the actual work accomplishments are here, and the reasons why this applicant wound up in Payday in the first place. Well, one hopes. Stereotypes and status are major drivers in the business school ecosystem (“Guilty as charged” admits the hbsguru.) And in this case, the schools will also have to swallow your low undergrad GPA, 2.99. That is why the GMAT here (to come) is so important.

“Looking to get an MBA at a top 20 school. I would like to work for a tech start up as a Product Manager. I am brushing up on my technical skills – learning HTML, CSS etc. on my own to know the tech lingo better.”

Hmmmm, not sure I buy transitioning to tech start-up as goal, although your bon eleve attempts to brush up on tech lingo is admirable and even charming, your real accomplishments have been at old line (Payday lending probably existed before the invention of money) and established companies. “Three years in e-commerce product management . . .” is a good platform to build off of, and you might say you’d like to join e-commerce efforts of a more traditional lender. As a reach alternative, say maybe established e-commerce retailer like Amazon. You got enough loose ends for adcoms to wink at, so you don’t need to throw “start-ups” into the mix.

Not a super big deal, but saying that you want to work in e-commerce at a conventional lender sounds boring and connected and also plausible. Those are all good in this context.  Also, it works in a Divine Comedy way, you are now in the bowels of hell at Payday lending, you are going to business school to extricate yourself from the Devil’s mouth and begin your assent to Heaven. But not too fast. You need to pass through commercial banking, a.k.a. Purgatory, before finding Heaven in some tech start-up. Adcoms like morality hierarchies like that because they view their own time in AdcomLand as career purgatory (although they often harbor deep  insecurities about which direction they are heading).

“Target Schools ( will choose 7-9 schools amongst these): Duke, Berkley, Ross, Darden, UT, Cornell, UCLA, UNC, Carnegie, A&M, Georgetown, USC, Kelley, Notre Dame, Foster, Olin.”

I’m no super expert in this neck of the woods, although as they used to say on Seinfeld, “not that there is anything wrong with it,” but those seem like sane choices. If you find those schools (which are mostly U.S. News’ 10-25) don’t work out, you might try the next tier in big cities, e.g. Boston College, BU, Minnesota, and Ohio State, on the theory that those schools often have connections with local commercial banks on the hiring side. Which, if you do as I suggest, and position yourself as future e-commerce banking person, can be a plus.