Handicapping Your MBA Odds: Ms. Nielsen’s, Mr. Coca-Cola, Ms. Payday Loans, Mr. CPA, Ms. Naval Academy, Dr. Baseball


Mr. Sports CPA

  • 710 GMAT (50Q/36V/7IR/6AWA)
  • 3.22 GPA (trending upwards) in accounting at a Top 40 university in 3.5 years
  • Work experience includes four years in public accounting, servicing professional sports organizations, private equity firms, and hedge funds; interned at public accounting firm in Prague during college
  • Extracurricular involvement as business manager of the college newspaper
  • “Seeking MBA to gain necessary valuation skills – I have modest experience through accounting engagements”
  • Post-MBA Goal: Return to current firm to contribute on high-level projects for professional sports organizations and pay off company-sponsored MBA. Will also seek to get into Sports Banking (small, niche market).
  • Long-Term Goals: Earn a position in the finance department directly with a team or sports league and work way up to an executive position such as CFO
  • 26-year-old American male

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 10% to 20%

MIT: 10% to 15%

Columbia: 10% to 20%

Chicago: 10% to 20%

Northwestern: 20% to 30%

NYU: 30%

Sandy’s Analysis:

“Would you kindly estimate my chances at Wharton, Sloan, Columbia, Booth, Kellogg, and Stern?”

Ouch, what you got going for you is that you are being sponsored by your CPA firm and will go back there after graduation to repay the sponsorship. That is good and bad from an adcom’s POV.  Good in that you are well thought of by your employer, and let’s face it, they are the people who really know you. You will also have a job after graduation which is always a relief to adcoms and everyone else.

At “classy” schools like Wharton, Sloan, Columbia and Booth sponsored candidates from McKinsey and other prestige consulting firms and investment banks/financial organizations are thought of highly. Those are selective organizations to begin with (so those applicants have ‘won’ in some internal process among strong competition) and also MANY kids go to business school to break into those companies and industries.So those kids enter business school with a job that many of their classmates have applied to business school to obstain.

I am not sure how that dynamic plays out about returning to your CPA firm (especially if it is not a mega firm). The fact that your firm does “sports organizations (teams and league) and private equity and hedge fund” work smells good and seems to indicate your firm is either a mega firm or a well respected smaller firm (which can still be quite large).

Here is where it gets dicey. Top-10 B schools (e.g. your target list, mostly) are not usually in the business of upgrading the business skills of CPAs. Many business schools are happy, happy, happy to do that, but they are often regional or tier two or three national schools. The top-10/20 business schools look in the mirror and see transformation: They transform bankers into private equity associates; they transform consultants into MBB consultants with a plan to become PE dudes or CEOs; they transform do-gooders into do-greaters.

Here is where it gets more dicey. Even if those schools do take in the random CPA who is heading back to an accounting firm to pay off sponsorship, that admit may not be you. With you, we got a 3.2 GPA and 710 GMAT. Both of those are probably sub-par or just average at each of your target schools (well, GPA is sub-par fer sure, GMAT is OK-ish).

If your target schools are going to slum it a bit to admit a CPA, they want a CPA without any footnotes, e.g. one with both a strong GPA, strong GMAT, and probably mega firm experience and maybe something else interesting.

Ah, you say, what about this? “servicing professional sports organizations (teams and league) and private equity and hedge funds  . . .Will also seek to get into sports banking (small, niche market) . . . Long-Term goals: earn a position in the finance department directly with a team or league and work way up to an executive position such as CFO.”

That is an OK point. Every business school would be happy to have a snappy sports banker (I’ll take your word that that job actually exists. It sounds like it should) or the CFO of a  professional sports league, or even team, as an alum. Your picture in that role would really brighten up the brochures. So I would stress that in your resume, recs, and story, as you have.

The question is, will schools believe it, since it is a two-cushion shot, e.g. what you say you are going to do TWO (or more) jobs after graduation and there just ain’t a lot of jobs like that, compared to say, being a manager-CPA at some no-glam industrial sub-divison, which is also a good job, but not one that Wharton, let’s say, is going to bend their normal admit criteria to buy a lottery ticket on.

Let me get a bit psychic here. I am going to project myself into the head of the Wharton decision maker (even though that could be a collective process). There actually comes a moment, in close cases, when the mountains of paper, data, essays, discussion and interview reports  have been digested and internalized, and you and your committee are talked out. There is nothing more to say, all of the above has been said, in its own way. Adcoms are not usually super competent in articulating their motives to others, the public, or even to each other, for lots of reasons–including modest IQs and indirect personalities–but in actually taking action, they almost always rise to the level of George Will’s law: practice makes mediocre. In this case, mediocre being a good term, meaning just plain competence.

When that final moment comes in a hard decision, there is a tendency to almost (or even for real) close your eyes, go blank, and see what floats up–the final symbol or fact or thing that embodies the outcome.

In your case, that final fact is going to be your GPA.

I just went through the process myself, and that is what I got. Not that a GPA is that important by itself, the same GPA with a different applicant might not be so important. In your case, it just becomes mega-meaningful in light of what is at work, are they going to take a bet on you, a bet that you will be a league CFO or hot-shot sports banker? What your GPA symbolizes is that you are not that lucky or connected or disciplined. Even though it was a long time ago, that is no longer the point. Nor do they have any doubts that your GPA in business school can be OK.  What they need is some mystical assurance that you are going to land a glam job and have a glam life because, in your case, that is the ONLY reason to admit you.

The low GPA just becomes a symbol that includes everything else in your record which is dross,  no-glam, off-grid and while perfectly fine, is not Wharton.

Admitting you to have you become a hedge fund accountant is not something that interests them. Wharton has future hedge fund accountants and helpers (consultants, valuation mules, compliance puppies)  up the wing-wang, and all of them, including many they will reject, have higher stats and resume cred than you do.

The same process will be repeated at all your target schools in their own way. Stern is your best bet because they are most OK with your becoming an employed CPA and possible hedge fund mule. Kellogg might cut you some slack because they are often taken a bit with any quant focus.

Booth is not in the business of taking chances, my guess. Sloan is small and not all that intrigued with sports as a modifer to any job title.

Stern would ba good choice. And by the way, for your plan to come true, you don’t need a tier one MBA. Just get an MBA, go back to your CPA firm and make it happen.  ou will more quickly than most be at a point where your pedigree counts less than your actual special competence. It’s like patent law. Where you went to law school counts, but not super much.

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