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The Odds of Getting Into a Top MBA Program

Reprinted from
The most common question MBA-wannabes are asking right now: "What are my chances of getting into a top-ranked business school?"

As would-be applicants pore over the raw stats and acceptance numbers of their dream schools, they're sizing up their own odds of getting into a Harvard or Stanford, Columbia or Chicago, Kellogg or Tuck. And they're making the inevitable calculations to answer the question: Should I invest the time and energy to apply this year?

Do you have what might be called "nosebleed stats" likely to open the doors to a top school? Or did you goof off during your undergrad years and worry about whether your work experience offsets your low GPA? Did your undergraduate degree get stamped at the right institution for an elite grad school? And do you work for a "sexy" or "dull" company that is not a feeder into the best business schools?

To handicap the odds for various candidates, we turned to Sanford "Sandy" Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru, and asked him to analyze a half dozen composite profiles of typical MBA applicants. (If you include your own stats and characteristics back at Poets&Quants, we'll pick six of them and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature.)

The odds assume a serviceable application and a not damaging interview--with or without the guidance of an admissions consultant. "Consultants can teach you how to stand up straight," says Kreisberg. "They can teach you how to stand on your toes. But at the end of the day, they can't make you taller. What consultants most often do is protect you from making damaging mistakes while making sure your core message is delivered. The schools themselves have evolved X-ray vision about what they are looking for, although they rarely reveal those traits fully."

Indeed, as Kreisberg's analysis on each composite profile will show below, the schools often apply different standards to different numbers and backgrounds.

Here's his lowdown:

Mr. Perfect

  • 750+ GMAT
  • 3.8 Grade Point Average
  • Ivy League Undergraduate Degree
  • Work experience at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Co.
  • Extracurricular includes alumni involvement and very active participation in an ethnic identity organization
Odds of Success
Harvard Business School: 85%
Stanford: 80%
Wharton: 90%
Tuck: 95%
Kellogg: 95%

Sandy's Analysis: "The biggest risk this person has of not getting into HBS or Stanford is screwing up the interview, especially at HBS where the interview counts. (It does not count at Stanford in any meaningful way.) I am assuming the recommendations are in line and this applicant does not have a secret hater out there. HBS and Stanford, of course, love to reject kids like this, just so they can say they do. But they rarely do.

"Another danger, though rare, is just going a bit weird on the application through a combination of odd and unsupported goals, annoying and naïve enthusiasms, or just plain stupidity. Stanford could reject a kid like this if the 'what matters most to you' essay is a blatant and unreflective brag sheet.

"As to Wharton, Tuck and Kellogg, the issue is not blowing the interview and the related issue of convincing them that you are not using them as safety schools. If this kid really wants to go to Kellogg, he should apply very early. Otherwise, they will make the guess that the applicant is somehow toxic to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton."

Mr. UnderAchiever
  • 720 GMAT
  • 3.1 Grade Point Average
  • Ivy League Undergraduate Degree
  • Work experience at Raytheon as financial analyst
  • Average extracurricular activities
Odds of Success:
Harvard Business School: 10%+
Stanford: 10%
Wharton: Less than 10%
Columbia: 35% if early decision
Kellogg: 30%
Duke: 55%+

Sandy's Analysis: "He's a long shot for Harvard because he'll never overcome his low GPA. Raytheon is not a sexy company. That's a bad job for a smart guy and a great job for a first-generation college grad. This guy can only save himself by getting a job elsewhere at a Google, Apple, or Microsoft and thriving there and then pumping up the extras. Basically, guys like this don't get into Wharton either because they are below par on both the GPA and GMAT or there is no counter reason to take them. Columbia might take this guy if he could prove New York reasons and goals, which grew out of his work and maybe had an alternative transcript. This seems in the Duke wheelhouse, especially if he is older."

Ms. First Generation

  • 720 GMAT
  • 4.0 Grade Point Average
  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland
  • Work experience at Raytheon as financial analyst
  • Average extracurricular activities
  • First generation college graduate
Odds of Success:
Harvard Business School: 50% to 80%
Wharton: 50% to 90%
Chicago Booth: 75% to 95%
Dartmouth: 65% to 85%
Duke: 95%

Sandy's Analysis: "She has the same so-so job as the other guy, but in her case, it is considered a step up, and adcoms know that even 4.0s coming out of Maryland don't get Wall Street gigs in most cases. Her 4.0 GPA as a first generation college grad really makes a difference here. The fact that she's female improves her odds by five to ten percentage points. As always, her chances at non-Harvard, Stanford Wharton schools depend on her convincing them that she is serious about them, by visiting, meeting other students, and having solid personal and professional reasons to attend."

Ms. Sotheby's
  • 690 GMAT
  • 3.4 Grade Point Average
  • Undergraduate degree from Barnard College
  • Work experience at Sotheby's
  • Extracurricular involvement in art
Odds of Success:
Harvard Business School: Less than 50%
Stanford: Less than 40%
Wharton: Less than 50%
Chicago Booth: 60%
Columbia: 60%+ if early decision
Kellogg: 60%

Sandy's Analysis: "HBS has a pot for this kind of cream but it is pretty small and usually requires a higher GPA. Other schools might fall for the glamour and imagine on their websites in front of an old master painting, as an implicit advertisement saying, 'there are more than just wonks and nerds here.' Booth goes for this type, and if the application were solid and the PowerPoint was tingling, well, why not? I go for this type myself."

Twin Brothers From India
First Brother:

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.5 Grade Point Average in U.S. terms
  • Undergraduate degree from Indian Institute of Technology
  • Work experience at INFOSYS and Dell Computer as engineer
  • Average extracurricular activities
Odds of Success:
Harvard Business School: 50%
Wharton: 65+%
Columbia: 70% if early admission
Tuck: 80%
Chicago Booth: 80%

Second Brother:

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.9 Grade Point Average
  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan
  • Work experience at McKinsey & Co.
  • Average extracurricular activities
Odds of Success:
Harvard Business School: 70%+
Wharton: 80%+
Columbia: 80%+
Tuck: 85%+
Chicago Booth: 85%+

Sandy's Analysis: "The brother who stays home is at a disadvantage. It would have helped if he had a sexy job, but he doesn't. INFOSYS is a good job, but Dell is not a tier-one feeder to HBS the way that Apple, Microsoft, and Google are. The Dell cohort at HBS usually have real nosebleed stats or powerful people at Dell who support them because of extraordinary accomplishments.

"The McKinsey brother gets McKinsey odds everywhere, which are very high. (More than 60 partners at McKinsey, for example, are Wharton alums and at least one Wharton graduate works in 71 of McKinsey's more than 90 offices around the world, according to the firm's website. Some 50 members of Wharton's Class of 2011 were former McKinsey consultants.) He's in the wheelhouse as long as he executives well on the application and recommendations. The way he does not get in is interview upset or really low performance at McKinsey."

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