Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds: Ms. Fortune 100, Mr. Military, Mr. Pawn Shop, Ms. Private Equity, Mr. Boutique M&A

Mr. Intelligence Officer


  • 690 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • 3.8 GPA
  • Masters degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • First generation American, first in the family to earn undergrad and graduate degree
  • Work experience includes three years leading 30 soldiers as a combat arms officer (voted by peers to lead more than 120 soldiers later on); two years as an intelligence officer, working with multiple intelligence agencies and special ops
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer for Teach for America who taught children from economically struggling families; helped organize volunteer events for Beta Alpha Psi on campus, including helping disabled soliders
  • Goal: To pivot toward impactful consulting
  • 29-year-old Jewish-Asian male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 25%

Stanford: 15%

Wharton: 20% to 30%

MIT: 20% to 30%

Chicago: 20% to 30%

Northwestern: 30%+

Duke: 50%+

Wisconsin: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: Here is some tough love: retake the GMAT and try to get closer to 720, even if you need to take it two to three more times.

How come? As often noted, adcoms either cannot or will not appraise military careers, so all the credit you think you deserve for being beloved by your men and superiors, etc. don’t translate as value in this process. Adcoms can and do, however, stand tall and cry and salute the GMAT flag, with much more gusto, love, passion and belief than they ever do the flag of the United States of America.  Given the choice between a silver star or 25 GMAT points, that one is a no brainer for an adcom.

OK, with that toxic but correct squirt of bile out of my system, moving along.

Are you in the military now? And getting out next year, after five years, so this will be a military application?

That would mean the Teach for America gig was not a classic two-year TFA in-place teaching gig but something you did as an extracurricular while in the military???  If not, write back and clarify,  but it is unlikely to change my fundamental analysis.

This is pretty straightforward story. You are a white male (Jewish Asian does not really register for application purposes, neither does first generation college, although sure that is essay fodder), military guy with a 690 GMAT, 3.5 GPA from University of Wisconsin – Madison Undergrad and a 3.8 GPA from

– University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Masters (Accounting).

As often noted, ahem, at the very beginning of this post, business schools are not super capable of “reading” military careers in terms of selectivity and accomplishments except for pilots, special forces, and more generally, any military guy who has been “deployed” to “conflict zones” (I believe that is the correct lingo, e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, etc).Â

Your military career has none of those elements (sorry if you were deployed to conflict zone, but that, according to adcoms, not me, is the least impressive of the three). While what you did do in the military sounds impressive in reality, e.g. “3 years leading 30 Soldiers as a combat arms officer. Was voted by peers to lead over 120 Soldiers later on. Second job: 2 years as an intelligence officer. Worked along side with multiple intelligence agencies and special operations,” it will not move the needle much. If you can capture some of that leadership and those extraordinary accomplishments in a recommendation that could really help. It can also be solid fuel for essays at many schools which ask you to describe accomplishments, alas, an increasingly shrinking number.

Saying you want to “pivot towards impactful consulting” as a goal is perfect. For you and for any other military guy.

Soooo, summing up, what we got here is military “silver plus” and not “gold minus.” How come? Your lowish GPA (3.5), low-ish GMAT (690), better than average extras but no single marquee accomplishment with YOUR NAME ON IT. Although let me say, I am impressed. This is just one of those military applications (of which we have discussed several) where reality is not given full credit by the adcom military algo.

Is it possiblle some adcom officer will see behind the algo here and add back in some extra points for your in-service leadership and very impressive extra-currics???

Maybe, but don’t count on it. They will admit a perfectly banal military guy, a 3.75 GPA and 730 GMAT, ahead of you almost all the time.

I once worked with a guy who spent most of his military career (post West Point) doing tax returns for the enlisted team at Gitmo, at the time, like 15 years ago, a large cohort. He had super strong stats and flew into HBS.

And not to be more devilish than I usually am, but do you think they made a mistake?

For instance, in taking him over someone like you?

One of the strongest parts of this app to business schools is your masters in accounting. To the average adcom, THAT may or may not take leadership, teamwork and innovation blah, blah, but THAT is a very good predictor of business school success. See the profile on the following page of the guy who started a pawn shop — and my analysis of the very most important trait that adcoms really look for, especially when they are not being interviewed by the B-school media.

Another way of saying this, will adcoms lie, misrepresent, and muddy the waters about this basic truth in any public forum where it somehow comes up? E.g. in answer to the popular question, “Do you consider applications holistically or mostly on numbers?”

Hmmmmm, maybe some of our readers who have attended those forums can write in and tell us what they said. It is a perennial question.

What does this mean for you?

I don’t think you are getting into Harvard or Stanford. Those schools got pilots, special forces, and regular military guys with higher GPAs and GMATs .

MIT, Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, UW-Madison?

MIT, might prefer higher numbers.

Chicago ditto, but you are getting warm if someone there credits the extras.

Kellogg could be a match if you check out to them, and they may give you extra credit for the intangibles. They are a school more likely to do that.

Duke should happen, with a serviceable application. They are pro-military.

UW-Madison, ditto.

Sandy’s once-again tough love sign-off: Retake the GMAT. The clowns reading your application really understand and deeply credit 700+ GMAT scores and so do the brass they report to.

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