Assessing Your Odds Of Getting In

Mr. Unicorn

  • 760 GMAT (49 Q/46 V)
  • 3.63 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in Economics and Business Studies from a top 40 private university
  • Work experience includes two and one-half years working in market strategy and operations at a unicorn (think Uber/AirBnB) with a heavy analytics focus; one promotion, and am directly managing a team of three people
  • “The role involves making very high impact decisions for our market, and we’re given the freedom and autonomy to fully strategize and own these decisions”
  • Previous work experience includes three years at an economic consulting firm doing business valuation and damages modeling, with one promotion; a year-long college internship at a large bank doing private wealth management
  • Extracurricular involvement as co-captain of a USTA tennis team; volunteer with an inner-city tennis league teaching underprivileged children living in low-income housing projects; spent two summers coaching tennis with the Special Olympics, specifically teaching children with intellectual disabilities; organized annual office tennis events at my last company for three years and office ping pong tournament for the past 2 years at current company; and academic chair in college fraternity.
  • Goal: To transition to a large tech company (think Google/FB/Amazon) and lead a strategy and analytics team
  • 28-year-old Indian-American male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 25% to 35%
Stanford: 20%
Wharton: 35% to 45%
MIT: 35% to 45%
Columbia: 40% to 50%
Chicago: 40% to 50%
Northwestern: 40% to 50%
Berkeley: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Economic consulting is not usually a feeder for H and S (unless you are URM, and you are the opposite, an ORIM, or over-represented Indian Male), BUT you’ve left that job for the below. That job is really important and will determine a good deal of your fate at business school admissions lottery. So let’s read this closely because it all counts:

“2.5 years working in market strategy and operations at a unicorn (think Uber/AirBnB) with a heavy analytics focus (SQL, heavy spreadsheet modeling, etc). Have received one promotion, and am directly managing a team of 3 people. The role involves making very high impact decisions for our market, and we’re given the freedom and autonomy to fully strategize and own these decisions.”

Ahem, in order:

Two and one-half years is good. That is a long time and by the time you matriculate, you’ll have been at the new job longer than the old boring job at Economic Consulting.

Your job in market strategy and operations at a unicorn (think Uber/AirBnB) is great. For those who do not know the term, it means a start-up, often techy, which has remained private and is valued at over $1 billion. Usual suspects are (some of these may have been acquired since their Unicorn days):  Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Snapchat, Pinterest, Dropbox, Spotify and my own favorite, Vice News.B-schools love Unicorns and jobs there are considered, in most cases, highly selective. That is why describing what you do there is so important. You have to feed into the preconceptions of the Adcom.

Your heavy analytics focus (SQL, heavy spreadsheet modeling, etc) I would actually go light on. You want B-schools to think you were hired, especially since this is your second job, to do something beyond the donkey work that business analysts typically do. I don’t care what the actual truth is. You need to spin this so it sounds less SQL and more deep interaction with company leaders and clients.

You also said that your role involves “making very high impact decisions for our market, and we’re given the freedom and autonomy to fully strategize and own these decisions.  The lady, or in this case, the Indian male, doth protest too much.  By making this special pleading argument about how much executive decision making you have within your little SQL kingdom, it makes us wonder a bit what is actually going on and just how important those decisions are. You really need to present this job more broadly and capture it in a best light, by citing actual things you have done.

I also note your impressive list of extras: “Currently run SQL classes at my company to teach all new-hires as well as anyone else who wants to learn SQL in the office.” This could be a two-edged sword. Sure, it’s good that you are the SQL expert and enjoy teaching it to others. On the other hand, this supports the bad vision adcom may have of you as a Nerd-Savant vs. the version you want to present, Trans-Techie (no, not someone who has become trans-sexual with the addition of robotic parts, although that profile might be powerful as well, but rather someone who is a techie by background but very interested in transitioning to general management.)

Rounding this out: your other extras, especially teaching inner-city kids to swim and Special Olympics work are better than average and might help you in a close case.

Besides Stanford and HBS, other schools you identify—Wharton, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Kellogg,  and Haas — will go for your strong GMAT (760), OK grades, and Unicorn experience.  You should really be in-line at those places, especially given your goal of “While I am already a manager leading a similar team at my current company, I’m looking to move to a larger, more established tech company and acquire the softer skills to become a stronger leader.” That goal is solid for a guy with your background. With serviceable execution, you should be an in-line candidate at all your targets besides HBS and Stanford.

HBS will probably go for this, if you can present yourself as more of a generalist, even within a techy portion of the company.  You will be competing at HBS with other guys with similar stats, or better, including near-Ivy colleges, higher GPAs, and who also work for Unicorns and have more powerful first jobs, e.g. at Google or blue-chip IBs.

Stanford is always hard to predict and a good deal of the outcome might turn on what relationship your Unicorn has with Stanford. Not all Unicorns are created equal over there. If your company does not have side-door connections with Stanford, you really need to execute strongly with both recs and present yourself as very high-potential late bloomer who is real strong now.