Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

After working for Oppenheimer & Co. in private equity, this 29-year-old male professional raised $5 million to start up a small oil company that had a $12 million valuation in just 16 months. Besides a 690 GMAT and a 3.95 grade point average, he has an unusual distinction on his resume: he is a whistleblower who helped the SEC catch a crook.

This Aussie male professional has done a little bit of everything, from working for a Silicon Valley start-up to an Asian-focused hedge fund. He’s scored more than 750 on GMAT practice tests and has a 3.7 GPA from a highly ranked Australian business school. Now, he wants an MBA to transition into a venture capital firm in the U.S.

He’s a 29-year-old U.S. Air Force Captain who, in his own words, “plans missions, operates weapons, and tells the pilot what to do.” With a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA in finance from the University of Memphis, he’s hoping an MBA degree will allow him to move into a consulting job in civilian life. His ultimate ambition: To “develop into a future CEO.”

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

What these applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get in? Or will they get dinged by their dream schools?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

As usual, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. There’s also a video portion of the series (above) featuring Kreisberg live evaluating the prospects of one of our candidates: our gung-ho Air Force Captain who wants to become a future chief executive officer.

If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments, we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature to be published shortly. (Please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience. Make sure you let us know your current job.)

Sandy’s candid analysis:

PilotMr. Air Force Captain


  • 680 GMAT
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Memphis
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in economics from Penn State’s online program
  • Work experience as a combat systems officer in the U.S. Air Force
  • “I plan missions, operate weapons, and tell the pilot what to do. CSO is a rated slot (pilots, CSOs, RPAs and ABMs are all rated) and like all rated slots, they are highly competitive. I was an ROTC cadet.”
  • Extracurricular involvement in community service, including 150 hours during my Air Force career and more than 33 hours in college
  • “I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person. I want to be a consultant so I can develop into a future CEO.”
  • 29-year-old Air Force Captain in the Air Force

Target Schools:

Harvard: 20% to 30%
Stanford: 15% to 20%
Chicago: 40%
Columbia: 40%
Berkeley: 50%+
UCLA: 50%+
Yale: 20% to 30%

Sandy’s Analysis:  I’ve said this before about the military and it’s important to underscore: The people who read admission folders are not veterans as a rule. They don’t have an understanding of what people do in the Armed Services. They have a very hard time determining whether you have a Gold, Silver or Bronze military career. They do understand that a military pilot is an elite thing. They understand that being a Navy Seal is an elite thing. They probably understand that being an Army Ranger is an elite thing.

If you are in the military, it’s very important that you give them a flavor of your career in terms they can understand. Unfortunately, what happens with military applicants is that your GPA and GMAT wind up counting a lot because those are easy elements for  admissions people to  understand.

What rank should you have? Most people who apply to business schools are captains. I think it is hard to get a rank higher than that within the typical five-year stint that people apply from. I don’t see many Colonels apply to business school. This guy is going to be a long shot at Harvard and Stanford with a 680 GMAT and a 3.5 GPA. There is nothing driving him in­in terms of gender, or an overcoming adversity story. Harvard and Stanford would just look for someone with higher stats.  The average GPA and GMAT scores of military admits to Harvard and Stanford would be an interesting set of numbers but I think it is higher than 3.5/680.

The only story that would overcome that would be a personal adversity narrative. He also comes across as a little too gung-ho, believe it or not. He says, ‘I am an extremely ambitious, business-minded person.’ You might think, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Oddly, schools don’t like to hear that as directly as he puts it.

And they don’t want to hear that you want to be a consultant so you can be a future CEO. They want to hear that you want to be a consultant so that you can help companies grow and provide jobs and new opportunities.  Sure, that is what he meant, or maybe meant, but if the full application and touch and feel of the thing is too directly ambitious like that, it could be trouble.  Once you get outside of H+S, and if this application gets hip to the standard application BS, well, what you got is a pretty solid guy whom you’d like to have on your team in most situations. That should be enough at other schools he is interested in.

  • EconConsultingGuy

    Hi Sandy, can you handicap my odds?

    25 year old white male
    GMAT: 770 (V47, Q49, AWA6, IR8)
    Undergrad: 3.9 GPA from a business program in a US Top 20 school

    Work Experience: Top economic consulting firm since graduating (think Brattle Group, Charles River Associates, etc), will have been working here for 3 years by the time I matriculate for my MBA. One promotion (standard for company), good reviews. Involved in multiple firm initiatives, like undergraduate recruiting and new hire training. If I stay an additional year, I can probably get promoted again. Between junior and senior year of college, I interned at a tier-1.5 management consulting firm (think L.E.K., Oliver Wyman, etc).

    Extracurriculars: Tutor high school students from underserved neighborhoods for the Math section of the SAT on Saturdays, ~3 hour commitment per week. If I delay applying for my MBA by a year, I will probably have the opportunity to take an operational leadership role next year (i.e. planning tutoring sessions, managing tutors, working to implement new initiatives with national board, etc). In college, I was on the board of a student consulting club and helped with operations and fundraising for a friend’s non-profit startup.

    Goal of MBA: Need to iron this out, although at this point I’m shooting for MBB immediately after graduating with the long-term goal of corporate strategy in tech. I may jump straight from my MBA to tech if doing so seems like a viable option. I think the technical and analytical skills I’m learning in my current job would serve me well in such a role.
    Reach: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton
    Target: The rest of the M7

  • AK

    Hi Sandy,

    Could you provide a brief feedback on my stats as well:

    Age: 28

    GMAT: 710
    IELTS: 8.5

    Undergraduate degree in Business Administration (from outside US) – GPA 3.9
    Master degree in international business and management (from UK) – Merit

    internship during undegrad. 1.5 years in retail (consumer electronic),
    started as assistant product manager, promoted to product manager after 1
    year. 2 years in education in middle east as a TA and in
    administration. 2 years back home in healthcare sector (1.5 year as ERP
    project manager and later a head of unit, and now head of financial

    Planning to switch career to financial consulting (later in the career focus more on healthcare)

    Volunteered in several NGO in the past, and participated in project to help small business find investment.

    Currently CFA Level II candidate
    Fluent in English, Russian, Georgian, some German and Japanese
    Citizen of Georgia

    Thinking about Columbia, Stern, Haas

    Thanks a lot in advance!

  • phd applicant

    Hi Sandy, could you advise on my profile for a management Phd? Thank you!

    31 year old Indian male
    – 730 GMAT (V44, Q48, AWA6, IR8)
    – 3.2 GPA from a top 15 Indian B-school (MBA, 2009)
    – 5+ years experience in research and analytics arm of one of the Big Four consulting firms on global client assignments (including significant number of internal research publications).
    – Worked for 2 years with a top indian financial conglomorate as a key account manager for large corporates
    – Volunteered with many social impact organisations over the past 10 years, the latest involving mentoring 10-12 year old underprivileged children on academics, extra curriculars and life goals
    – Certified canine behaviorist and trainer

  • Ms.HollywoodMarketer

    Hey Sandy & Team,

    Would love some feedback on my profile to appropriately assess my chances at my dream schools, and what I can improve!

    Ms. Hollywood Marketing Guru

    Asian Female, 25 years old (at time of applying)
    740 GMAT (Q49, V42)
    3.2 Undergrad GPA from Top 25 US school (Due to severe depression, plan to write separate essay on this; have taken post bacc quant-heavy courses with a 4.0 GPA)

    Work Experience
    2.5 years of internships at top entertainment companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, and William Morris Endeavor

    Post grad:
    6-month internship at major marketing agency account side, which turned into a full time promotion to digital analytics
    1 year full time at Edelman, promoted to Senior Analyst running major entertainment accounts (Activision and Starz)
    1.5 years (at time of application) at major Hollywood Studio providing marketing strategy and analytics for multi-million dollar movie campaigns, also overseeing teams from IBM/internal IT group for the creation and implementation of our in-house Box Office prediction model tool

    Extra Curriculars
    Mentoring at a non-profit devoted to children who have relatives diagnosed with cancer (my father has Stage 4 cancer and it’s shaped much of who I am)
    Serving as co-chair of marketing of Studio business group aimed at promoting women in the workplace

    Goal: To head up Worldwide Marketing at a major Hollywood Studio. I’ve reached a point in my career where in order to move up, they’d prefer I have an MBA and my boss highly encourages it. After consulting with multiple executives and learning their career paths, I’ve concluded that obtaining an MBA would allow me to become more well-rounded marketer, and allow me to unlock the next step in my career.

    Target Schools: Kellog, Wharton, HBS (top 3), Stanford, Columbia

    Please let me know if I’ve omitted any information :). Thank you guys!

  • chemalytics

    Hi Sandy,

    Really appreciate your time in doing this and hopefully you find my profile interesting enough to evaluate.


    Work experience: 2 years at an F500 chemicals company in UK. (controls/automation engineer -> project engineer) 1 year as an Analytics Consultant at Deloitte Advisory USA in risk analytics.

    Internship: With one of the major international orgs (WB, IMF etc).

    Publications: 3, not amazing work but in the analytics space.

    Extra curriculars: Many leadership roles in school, college and post-university including: school government, marketing head for large university clubs, promoting STEM education in local community, currently leading the deployment of solar power in rural India through a start up I started in graduate school (finalists in two major international social enterprise competitions).

    Undergrad school/major: Top 3 UK University, Chemical Engineering

    Undergrad GPA: First Class Honours (UK System) ~ 3.8 GPA

    Other education/coursework: Grad School, Masters in Econometrics (3.82 GPA), Duke University

    Race/nationality: Indian, Indian

    International experience: Born in India, grew up in Thailand, 6 years in UK and 3 years in USA. Worked in all three countries.

    Sex: Male

    Age: 28 at matriculation

    GMAT Score: 720

    MBA Info

    Goal of MBA: I want to be a leader in data science consulting. Post-MBA, join MBB and become a key part of their growing big data/analytics practice.

    Target schools: H/S/W. MIT Sloan (Top choice), Columbia, Booth, Kellog, Fuqua, Yale, Tuck, Michigan, LBS, & INSEAD.

  • keven lariviere

    Hi Sandy, great work !
    Please rate me – VERY atypical profile, an HR headache, GOOD or BAD?
    Codename: Mr. FORTUNE 500 Career Changer

    Work experience:
    1 year Internship in project management at Big Oil (Exxon / Shell / Chevron)
    1 year Technology consulting at top IT Consulting firms (Deloitte / Accenture / IBM)
    0.5 year Business project management at top 5 Canadian bank (TD / RBC / CIBC)
    1.5 years Brand management at top CPG company (P&G / Unilever / Nestlé)

    720 GMAT
    3.4 GPA Engineering Undergraduate from Canadian University (first year below 2.00 GPA due to personal/family circumstances , last two years above 3.6+ GPA)
    Professional certificate in Strategic planning from top US University (Harvard / Stanford / Booth)

    Extracurricular: A lot of pro bono consulting / strategic planning for major non-profits in Canada. Director of a corporate governance non-profit promoting board of directors training to young professionals.

    Goal: in three letters, MBB. I have been a generalist problem solver since the beginning of my career and I want to stay a generalist post-MBA for a few years with a strategy powerhouse like McKinsey. Coming from a non-target Canadian school with a relatively low GPA due to exceptional personal situations (I was carrying my family for two years by working full-time during my engineering studies), my goal was to get top brands on my CV no matter in which industry to help me land an offer at MBB.

    Target Schools: Harvard, Booth, Kellogg, Wharton, Stanford, Tuck

    28 years old visible minority male (immigrated to Canada with family from Africa 15 years ago)

  • 2001Boy

    Sandy, could you please handicap my odds? Thank you!

    730 GMAT
    3.59 GPA from top 3 Ivy
    28 year old white male

    Work experience:
    Executive assistant for Producer at elite film/tv production company, and before that, for executive feature film studio (4 yrs)
    – Introduced senior executives to emerging filmmakers, writers, and playwrights
    – Read and tracked substantial volume of high-priority books, articles, scripts and finished films. Maintained extensive company grids on recommended talent so top executives could fulfill open writing and directing assignments on all projects.
    – Managed demanding schedule, travel, and correspondences for Producer and Head Studio Executive during all stages of development and production on several films with budgets over $50m, including two Academy Award winners
    – Monitored company slate of 40+ film and TV projects set up at multiple studios, distributors and financing companies.

    Private Tutor and Mentor through three separate companies
    – Designed extensive strategies with parents and administrators for college consulting clients
    – Taught individual sessions and group classes in all humanities, specializing in standardized test strategy

    Digital Producer at top advertising firm
    – Devised budgets up to $150K and schedules for site, social media and banner ad projects for Fortune 500 Brands while presiding over team of account managers, creative producers, technical developers, media buyers, and analytics experts
    – Helped launch major luxury property through a sweepstakes campaign featuring promotional material from a current musical talent

    -Reading mentor at largest LA-based non-profit for children’s literacy + writing that also has a large NY presence. Been there for over 3 years. Awarded as one of the top volunteers out of over 3000 for my service.
    -Member of college a cappella group for four years, touring the world to perform. Member of professional a cappella group for 1.5 years touring Los Angeles.
    -President of college Film Production Company
    -Graduate of Upright Citizen’s Brigade improv and sketch program in LA

    Short term – Consult at a media strategy/research firm
    Long term – Pivot back to entertainment to lead a strategy department at a feature film financier or distributor. “I’ve been in a creative development track through much of my professional track, but I want my MBA to gain hard analytical skills/managerial perspectives to transition to strategy. Goal is to carve out a space in feature film marketplace for low-to-midbudget movies of social substance.”


  • John

    Forgot to add
    I’m a 27 year old white male

  • John

    Hey Sandy – Can you handicap my odds?

    740 GMAT
    3.5 GPA from BYU

    Work experience:
    Deputy Regional Finance Director for Romney 2012 campaign (took time off during college)

    Bulge bracket investment bank – credit risk analyst (3 years at time of application)
    – Responsible for primary analysis on portfolio of 400+ entities
    – On track to receive promotion to post-MBA role next year

    High school teacher and coach while at college
    – Taught: economics, research writing, health
    – Coached: soccer (led team to first state championship) and basketball

    – President of economics club
    – President of college of social sciences student organizations
    – Captain of office soccer team
    – 3rd year Big Brother’s, Big Sister’s mentor


  • HBS’17

    1. Depends on the schools you want to get in and not sure if all don’t report GPAs of international students. However, top schools will not accept you with a lower GPA thinking they will not report it, they have enough Indian applicants with top GPAs to choose from. So your first point is a huge misconception.

    2. Again depends on your school. Since your GPA is so low and you are bombing your gmat, i don’t think you will have a chance at a top 20 school. Choose a top 50 school and they will not care as much about your GPA, gmat, and age.

  • Anirbaan Sen

    Sandy, I am curious about two things.

    1. Schools obviously report the average GPA of an entire class. However, many universities outside the US don’t use the standard GPA metric to grade. I am from India and we use the percentage system. I am assuming that schools don’t have to report this and hence this doesn’t really have a big impact in terms of the school’s ranking in USNW. Would you say that because they don’t have to report this metric, schools would be generally more willing to admit a guy with a patchy track record that they don’t have to report than they would be if they had to report a 3.1 or 3.2 GPA?

    2. I understand that age plays somewhat of a role in the admissions cycle. I am 27 right now and have bombed the GMAT twice. I will be applying to round 1 next year instead of round 2 this year. I’d be 28 then. I hope schools won’t make a big deal out of my age then, or would they?

    Thanks Sandy