Handicapping Your MBA Odds: Mr. Zimbabwe Big Four, Mr. Commercial Banker, Couple Applying Together, Ms. Russian Consultant

A Couple Applying Together


  • 760 GMAT
  • 6.9/10 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from a selective non-IIT school
  • Work experience includes six years at an oil and gas EPC company at one of the world’s largest firms (Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering / Samsung Heavy Industries / Hyundai Heavy Industries); worked in a leadership position managing 10 persons directly and 40-50 persons in a project management matrix; currently a deputy lead engineer South Korea; also had been involved in a failed entrepreneurship project in biofuel farming for six months in rural India and worked for 11 months at an Indian IT firm
  • Co-Founded two firms: one in Cookware manufacturing industry and another in road construction
  • Extracurricular involvement leading an education team for a well-known NGO in rural India for imparting science education; worked in Ebola awareness programs in Lagos during Ebola breakout; worked in relief teams during three natural disasters in India
  • Short-term Goal: To transition into consulting in the energy sector
  • Long-term goal: Venturing in Alternative / Non-conventional energy industry in emerging economies
  • 29-year-old Indian male


  • 740+ GMAT expected
  • 8.2/10 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in computer engineering from a non-IIT school
  • 7.8/10 GPA
  • Master’s degree in computer engineering from an IIT
  • Work experience includes five years at a top IT firm (Think Oracle, Google or Microsoft) in India as an applicant developer, working in a leading position in one of the three services being offered as part of Oracle Management Cloud
  • “Assisted in leading the Cloud framework management team for an enterprise scale product to support private, public and hybrid cloud setup, monitoring, management and development of other cloud services; responsible for SaaS based applications like Sales Management, Partner Relationship Management within Fusion CRM product line”
  • Co-founded one firm with husband in cookware manufacturing industry
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer in an NGO for women emancipation in rural India; Captain of House in school; National Cadet Corp member; lead an adventure trekking camp to Sikkim; lead youth parliament in school; Organized Tech Fest in undergrad college. Taekwondo yellow belt holder; Leads a Women in Leadership wing in her firm
  • Short-term goal: To lead a product development division (Google/Apple)
  • Long-term goal: Entrepreneurship in Product Development
  • 29-year-old Indian woman

Odds of Success:


Harvard: 20% to 25%

Stanford: 10% to 15%

MIT: 40%

Dartmouth: 30%

Chicago: 30%

Michigan: 40%

INSEAD: 40% to 50%+


Harvard: 30% to 35%

Stanford: 15% to 20%

MIT: 30% to 40%

Dartmouth: 30% to 40%

Chicago: 30% to 40%

Michigan: 40% to 50%

INSEAD: 50%+

Sandy’s Analysis: First, let’s deal with some general advice for couples who apply together to a business school. If possible, you should apply to more than one school in the same city, such as Harvard and MIT in Boston, Columbia and NYU in New York, or Booth and Kellogg in Chicago. That way, if one of you is stronger and one is weaker, you may be able to get into both schools and can live in the same city.

You should signal to the schools that you are applying together. If there is a stronger partner and a slightly weaker partner, there are occasions when a school will give a slight break to the weaker candidate if they really like the stronger partner. There aren’t a lot of statistics on this. I’d say it doesn’t happen a lot and it especially doesn’t happen a lot at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. That’s because the applicant pool is so strong they wouldn’t give a break to a weaker partner. If you’re presenting super high stats and work in something they are really interested in, they might say, ‘This person could really add to our class and we’ll blink at the small deficiency of the other partner.’

As a rule, they consider each of you on the merits. Now there are a lot of couples at business schools but the more frequent couple is a matriculated student and a spouse. If you Google ‘couples at business school,’ the first thing you get is a blog entry at Harvard Business School where you will be transported to a cavalcade of couples of all kinds. There aren’t many married couples who applied and got in together. It won’t give you any hint whatsoever as to how to gain admission as a unit.

So let’s deal with the two of you. With your backgrounds as Indian engineers—the most overrepresented pool at U.S. business schools—it’s going to be very hard for both of you to get into the same MBA program. Still, you just might both get in on your individual merits. But it won’t matter to admissions that you are a couple. I don’t know how effective it is to say to a business school that you can have two Indian engineers for the price of one. There are so many Indian engineers in the pool already.

The husband has had one job for five years working for a company that does oil and gas engineering, procurement and construction work. You should play up your international experience and your management roles. I’m guessing you build offshore oil platforms. So a lot will depend on your actual employer and what the schools think of that company. I don’t come across Daewoo at Harvard, Stanford or Wharton.

As for your entrepreneurship ventures, you don’t want that stuff to sound confusing to schools, and you don’t want to sound like building an oil rig is a second job for you. It’s okay to mention it as an influence. You can say you are interested in starting companies and you helped your barely literate uncle start companies. That would be more believable and you would get credit for it as well.

What you have are the extras of a golden applicant. But what you don’t have is the main course. You are a little old. It remains to be seen whether you are working for a gold or silver company. And it’s hard to figure out exactly what you do so my advice is to make your application super clear and get rid of the jargon. You are competing with anyone who works for an energy major and anyone who works for the oil service companies like Schumberger and Baker Hughes. It’s a mildly crowded cohort. The 760 might give you some daylight if you can present yourself clearly and you work for a company they know like Samsung or Hyundai.

In your wife’s case, it’s really important for her to get a 740 GMAT. I would take the test three times if that is what it takes to get that 740. I imagine you’ve worked for five years for Oracle but what you have done there is incomprehensible. Make it real clear what you do. Don’t engage in technical language. You also have a lot of women’s mission extras that are powerful. Rural emancipation in rural India is something Stanford would love.

In some sense, you are the stronger candidate. You work for a frequent flyer company and you are a female engineer. You also have a master’s from an IIT. If you can present yourself as a woman who can understand management and engineering, there is a chance for a Hravard admit. And I can see that sooner for the wife than the husband because he falls victim to the Indian male engineeri curse. One problem is if you work for Oracle it is a small negative because admission committes don’t love Larry Ellison. And Oracle doesn’t make anything you can touch and hold and love like Apple or Microsoft.

Among the schools you are targeting, your best chance may be MIT. The school goes for engineers and the 760 cuts a lot of mustard. The fact that you both do different things also helps. The odds also favor both of you at INSEAD.

One last important piece of advice for you: Please hire a consultant or have someone help you explain yourself and what you do. What you sent us was annoying and gobbledegook.

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