Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

Ms. Bulge Bracket Banker

      • GMAT Unknown
      • 3.3 GPA (2.1 British scale)
      • Undergraduate degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University
      • Work experience includes three years as an equity research analyst for a bulge bracket American bank in London
      • “I was promoted to associate a year early and am now the number two in my team with two juniors reporting in to me. I am the analyst and associate representative for equity research – responsible for representing juniors to management and organizing training and events”
      • Extracurricular involvement in college as the founder of an online newspaper and president of the business society; now actively involved in a choir and local taekwondo club; volunteer tutor of underprivileged students in a level English weekly
      • White, female

    Odds of Success:

    Harvard: 30%
    Stanford: 20%
    Wharton: 30% to 40%

    Sandy’s Analysis: You are in a category, IB/PE, where most resume/work items  for white females need to be gold and while you got some, it may not be enough.Sure, you’ve got a “gold”  three-year career in equity research at a bulge bracket bank and you went to Oxford, a gold and gold foil place, but the fun stops there.  Your GMAT/GRE score will be important for you (unless I missed it some place) because you are competing with applicants from banking and private equity who were born with golden spoons in their mouths and proceeded to acquire the entire  24-piece Christofle mood flatware service along the way.
    Huh?

    The negatives for you include a silver GPA (2:1 Brit scale; ~3.3 translation into U.S. 4-point scale) and nothing compelling in terms of extras, although there is plenty for a non-adcom to like, including Chorus and Taekwondo (maybe you can scream and kick your way in?). All that is fine, but there are many white females in IB/PE land with better grades, potentially better GMATs, and extras which have an impact beyond yourself.

    OK, let’s start with the pluses.

    You say “promoted to associate a year early and am now the number 2 in my team with two juniors reporting in to me. I am the analyst and associate representative for equity research – responsible for representing juniors to management and organizing training and events.”  That is a chunk of substance which is more impressive and weighty in reality than on Planet Adcom, which has its own gravitational field. You got promoted a year early, that is good for sure and needs to be deeply captured in your recs. You have juniors reporting to you, which is also a powerful learning experience, and beyond that, you are “responsible for representing juniors to management,” which is very serious indeed.

    Gee, if HBS and Stanford cared about “leadership” (cough, cough) instead of the  other things we are about to mention, you’d be a super strong candidate. You also add that you organize “training and events . . . .” I’d soft pedal that, it sounds too much like women’s work, not to grizzly ol’ male me, who recognizes how important that can be, but to the cynical and “seen-it-all” adcom regulars who by dint of long experience have worked out a tacit rule of thumb when it comes to extras: “If you ain’t helping victims, preferably victims in some remote and benighted land or zip code, it ain’t an extra we care about.”

    Well, despite the quotation marks, no one ever utters those exact words in Adcom Land, but the idea is in the air and in the adcom drinking water. (By the way, providing clean drinking water for humans, or even animals in need, is an excellent extra, in case you were wondering what I meant.)

    “At Oxford I founded an online newspaper and was president of the business society . . . .” Well, joining the business society is a banal and possibly negative and self-serving thing to do but being president does show an ability to show up for a meeting, sit still, and have a long fuse, which are traits HBS and Stanford DO sorta admire. That is why they like high GPAs which to them means your ability to

    1. Show up,
    2. Eat sh!t,
    3. Spit back–the holy trinity of success in B school (and possibly life beyond, but B-school for sure).

    As to founding an online newspaper, well, I love it but I am not an adcom.  They might want to know how large your readership, if you sold any ads, and maybe how many stories were published about helping victims.

    “I also volunteer tutoring underprivileged students in a level English weekly.”
    Grrrrrrrr, too little, too late.  You needed to be president of THAT at Oxford.

    And let me add, for the sake of completeness, that in your league, spending three years at one job, and even doing as wonderfully as you did, is not as impressive as leaving the same job after two years for some selective PE firm or some ultra-selective and hot-seeming and growing tech/online/blah-blah start-up.  After all, nothing can compare with testing your value on the actual market.

    Sooooooo, what we got is a white female, with low-ish grades, a good job, great job performance, and OK but not bonus points extracurrics. For the sake of argument, let’s also give you a 720-730 GMAT. (I would keep taking the damn exam until you got that, if possible. Schools sometimes blink at lower GMATs but rarely for folks like you.)

    Stanford is not going to bite, my guess, for all the reasons noted above. They got a real but not vast IB hole, and they got lots of white women without the tiny but real infirmities in your case.

    HBS, ouch! It’s close. And I rarely say this, but this is a case where execution can make a difference. There is a good deal of intangible but “likable” stuff in your story, you need to have your recs go beyond the usual very strong rec blah, blah and capture that too. It would help if your essay also did that, viz., actually showed them how you are a star at work, and maybe explained your decision to stay for year three, and also somehow highlighted OTHER stuff that makes you different than other white woman IB types, may peace be upon them.

    Wharton is the same analysis as HBS, although you will need to chuck some I LOVE WHARTON cow patties into the app furnace.

    You should be real solid at most other schools if you can convince them you really want to come.