Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds

Mr. GMAT Rocket

  • 770 GMAT
  • 3.4 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in humanities and law from a top ten Australian university
  • “I’d estimate my humanities grade to convert to a 3.7 and my law to a 3.2”
  • Work experience comes to two years of in-house strategy at a publicly listed multinational (think top 20 nationally by market cap & revenue) managing ad hoc teams on a project-by-project basis
  • Extracurricular involvement includes working as a pro bono advisor to NGOs, with the biggest side project for an interfaith dialogue group which organizes goodwill tours of places of worship and a youth assembly with 200 people; during undergrad, did two exchange programs in Asia. During the first, he volunteered for a social enterprise teaching finance and entrepreneurship to migrants; in the second, he co-founded a student club for SE Asian international students on campus; led national youth delegation to a global summit which heads of government attended; volunteered for an education NGO (including a one week volunteer promo campaign in Latin America and an appearance at the UN); interned at a community law firm in China
  • Short-term goal: To transition into consulting with MBB in a large Asian city or office which has many engagements across Asia
  • Long-term goal: To found social enterprises (or co-found a company that invests in and consults social enterprises) across APAC, and in fields of environmental sustainability and economic empowerment for culturally diverse minorities.
  • Fluent in English and his SE Asian mother’s tongue, conversational-to-intermediate Chinese and Spanish
  • “I’m targeting INSEAD (alternatives would be IE and IESE, but INSEAD is the goal). However, since taking the GMAT, I’ve started thinking about HSW, and perhaps Columbia and Haas, but haven’t done research on them since I didn’t expect that score. Scholarship eligibility and competitiveness would also be factors. Haven’t heard of any M.B.A. alumni in my office; details of how many in my undergrad university went on to target schools are sketchy.””
  • 26-year-old Aussie born first-generation male of Southeast Asian immigrant descent

Odds of Success:

INSEAD: 50%
Harvard: 35%
Stanford: 30%
Wharton: 40%

Sandy’s Analysis: So you wanted to go to school in Europe, then you got that jumbo GMAT and either the U.S. schools contacted you or you decided that Harvard, Stanford or Wharton might be a better bet.

The only thing that makes you less than a perfect candidate is your lowish GPA. If you had a 4.0 GPA and a 770 GMAT and everything else, including working for a world-leading international company, it would make you a powerful applicant with a history of volunteer NGO work. 

The way to look at it is how much will the 3.2 screw you? With that GPA for schools whose average GPAs are 3.6 and 3.7, adcom people start sneezing as soon as you walk in the room, and they may do more than sneeze, they might cough, particularly because you are a Southeast Asian male. After all, how many Indian males do you know at Stanford GSB with a 3.2 GPA?

You say your humanities grades translate to a 3.7 and your law school grades come to a 3.2. I would hire a lawyer to deal with that. Not literally, but by that, I mean you need to really focus on those two things. Say ‘my undergraduate GPA was  3.7. It was 3.2 in the law program but the law school grades on a much steeper curve.’ This is where you try and make a statement, arguing that the 3.2 translates into a 3.6.

Still, you have a 770. You work at a major company. You have an okay undergraduate degree. You have only made one mistake in your life, being interested in the law. And then you took the GMAT and it saved you.

Even Harvard is impressed with a 770, although they reject 770s every year. For Harvard, write your essay about your NGO work and get a recommendation from someone at the NGO. Same for Stanford which is just more selective.

This is really a case where all you can do is execute well on the application. Good results should follow from that.