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Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds: Mr. Big Four To Big Three


Mr. Global Pharma


  • 780 GMAT
  • 169Q/170V GRE
  • 3.43 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from middle Ivy (Penn/Columbia)  with a double major in engineering and economics, graduated cum laude
  • 3.98 GPA master’s
  • Master’s degree in engineering from same university
  • Work experience includes four years at a Fortune 500 U.S. pharma company with global operations,  starting as an analyst and promoted twice to an associate and then junior manager
  • Goal: Wants to jump from commercial strategy/operations to business development and move up the corporate ladder in big pharma
  • Extracurricular involvement and leadership positions in a major charitable organization, one of the philanthropic initiatives in my company s and my university alumni club
  • 28-year-old male, non U.S.-citizen from an underrepresented European country

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 40% to 50%

MIT: 50%+

Wharton: 50%+

Chicago: 50%+

Columbia: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: You’re in a good job with a big phama Fortune 500. It’s a plus that you come from an underrepresented European country. If it’s a country that HBS doesn’t have a flag for, that is a real plus. But I doubt it is that underrepresented. Your age tells me to advise you to apply now friend. The fact that you are a European who got into an Ivy League school is a super pllus.

But you have a 3.4 grade point average on your undergraduate transcript. You have finessed it because you have a graduate degree with a 3.9 GPA. That means you can eat the dog food and spit it back. File this on how you overcome a 3.4 at Harvard Business School: You get a 780 GMAT. You also took the GRE for your master’s and got a near perfect score. It was 169 out of 170 on both sides. That is good shootin’.

As to your extracurriculars, you say you have active involvement in leadership positions in a major charitable organization, one of the philanthropic initiatives at my company and my university’s alumni club. This is no dis on the charitable organization but the fact that it is an initiative of your company makes it almost a part of your job. The alumni stuff they couldn’t care less about. I tip my hat to you for your involvement in the alumni association, but it’s not going to have an impact. If you are keeping score at home, business schools like extra where the impact is beyond yourself. It’s something you’ve done that affects other people. It’s not through your company.

You are not getting in based on your extras. You are getting in on what looks like a very tight, straight career at a big pharma and the fact that you are a European guy able to have whatever it takes to then go to an American Ivy League school where after learning your lesson as an undergraduate you got a master’s degree with a 3.9 and jumbo standardized test scores. You just seem like a super smart guy.

At Harvard, you’re in the pharma bucket but I think your odds are good, 40% to 50%, depending on how well you do in your interview. Sloan, Wharton, Booth and Columbia are suckers for the high GMAT. You are applying to all the GMAT loving schools and your chances are naturally very good there given your super GMAT score. You just have to convince them you want to go there. Visit at Columbia. I wouldn’t spend the six grand to do early action at Columbia but I would get the application in ASAP after that early deadline. Sloan is a natural for you. Just visit and make yourself known. You are getting in.

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.