Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

Mr. Defense

  • GMAT: 750 GMAT (41V, 50Q, 8IR)
  • 3.66 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from a private school on the east coast (think RPI, RIT or WPI)
  • 3.61 GPA
  • Master’s degree from UCLA in electrical engineering (online while working)
  • Work experience includes three years at a small defense contractor on the east coast and then a move to Los Angeles for a job in a technical role at a large defense contractor (Lockheed/Raytheon/Northrop Grumman) where I work on designing and testing satellites.
  • “Initially I was in a technical job (designing radar algorithms) but it transitioned into a more business development role where I worked with customers and tried to sell them our products/solutions. A lot of face-to-face meetings with customers (domestic and international) and helped write proposals for large $100M+ programs.”
  • Goal: To transition to consulting (M/B/B) and eventually return to a technology company in management
  • “I was nervous that I wasn’t using my engineering degree and that is why I took a more technical role, but now I realize I enjoy the strategy and business side more than the engineering.”
  • Extracurricular involvement as the captain of intramural sports teams, teaching assistant in college.
  • 28-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%

MIT: 40%+

Northwestern: 50%+

Yale: 40%+

UCLA: 50%+

Columbia: 40%+

Wharton: 30% to 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: Solid story, solid stats, and guys like you from big defense contractors often get admitted to your target schools, including MIT and HBS.  The one wrinkle here is that you went from what seems like a very robust and interesting business development suite of roles BACK into a purely technical role at a big defense company. Most people start out in a tech role and branch out into sales, product development, etc.

What difference that is going to make is hard to say but you probably would do best by framing your applications to account for that –e.g. by saying in your Introduce Yourself essay at HBS, “Some of this seems reverse chrono but it’s the path I walked and let me tell you why.” Then just tell your story and try to explain transition from job 1 to job 2 as best you can. At other schools, where the application questions are not as flexible, some variant of that would be helpful, even it means not keeping within the straight lines of the question prompt.

Adcoms are more understanding than you may think, and open to some travel in the breakdown lane, as it were, of the essay highway. Just don’t get up on the grassy median strip.

This is going to be a coin flip at HBS just based on the fact that you are real solid but not glowing, e.g. this could be silver+ but maybe not gold based on age, odd story, and especially what they think of your current job and role and recs. In your case current job description and recs will count more than usual because you need to show them that your new job was not some compromise to get to the West Coast and spin your wheels while applying (even if that is the truth).

Soooooo, you need to make it sound selective and a good way to get tech chops at a major company before transitioning into MBA and management.

“My goal is to transition to consulting (M/B/B) and then eventually return to a technology company in management.” That is fine.

Some of your HBS outcome may be based on this year’s cohort of Big Defense tech guys, an evergreen category fer sure, but one that waxes and wanes with the economy and some random factors. I am not sure where we are now in terms of applicants being pushed into MBA applications because of defense spending, but if there are a higher number of guys with Ivy/near-Ivy (MIT, Caltech, Stanford)  undergrad educations, high GPAs and 750+ GMATs, with classy rotational leadership gigs at major defense contractors, well, those guys are in a line ahead of you.

Same is true at MIT, but they run older, respect your straight tech work more, and will value the 750 GMAT a lot. So chances there are better.

“Kellogg, Yale, and UCLA (potentially Columbia and Wharton)”

Man, those places should happen, if you can convince them you are serious. Once you get a shorter list, it might make sense to visit and wag your tail, meet people, and try to kick open some angle or at best sound really, really informed of their assets, culture, and current student body. At those schools as well you really need to sound convincing about wanting to be a consultant. That is something they can understand.

As often noted, Columbia is first come, first looked at, and it is getting late in the season over there. If you are serious about Columbia, get app in ASAP.  For the others, you just need to meet Round 2 deadline. [Someone correct me if this is not the case.]

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.