Creative Strategies to Break into HBS or Stanford GSB - Please Help

Hello monkeys, Wanna B MBB's Q&A depressed me (very strong credentials / similar to mine, no interview at even Wharton), and got me thinking - there has to be some clever strategies to earn acceptance to HBS or Stanford. So, I'm turning to the out-of-the-box thinkers on this forum to generate some strategies.

What we're working with:

Currently, my profile is a 3.8 Econ major (4.0 in major) from top 50 US News undergrad, ), 780 GMAT, not URM, approaching 2 years of experience at a top tier 2 consulting shop (Deloitte S&O, Strategy&, Oliver Wyman, etc.). I will have the option to work another 2 years and attend b-school with a sponsorship from my firm, or I can change companies in a few months after I promote to spice up my story.

The Vanilla Strategies:

1) Apply as a company sponsored applicant - from what I gather, this will be fine for most schools outside of HSW

2) Corporate strategy before business school - Generally, this will also cover the bases for most schools outside of HSW (Corporate strategy for Google/Facebook might marginally improve odds)

3) Aim for PE before business - getting a prestigious PE name would strengthen the application for sure, but would it be enough? There are plenty of PE folks with more golden backgrounds than mine, if I could even break into a top shop

4) Entrepreneurship - Even if the business fails, it would be good essay fodder. Harvard is focusing in on entrepreneurship, and Stanford has always had that vibe. Makes me a less safe candidate for other schools, but IDGAF.

The Creative Strategies:

This is where it's gets fun, and where I need your help. I am trying to brainstorm any way to improve my chances at getting in. For this exercise, assume no option is too extreme.
1) Become Mother Teresa - Serve for ~2 years in the peace corps, or some other similar world helping organization. Move to war torn Africa and save victims of civil war. Something like that.

2) Creatively Network my Balls Off - Date a professor's / admin's daughter, work directly for someone with significant influence at the school, etc. and try to weasel a recommendation from said someone whom the school will make accommodations for

3) Be the Enthusiast of Something Super Specific - Determine something super specific that the school / one professor is really leading the world in, and pursue that (i.e. search funds at Stanford). Network with that professor / within that small community, and the school could open a spot.

4) A+ Extracurricular - Continue in consulting or take a standard 2nd job, but in my free time do something extreme that blends with the rest of my story (which is TBD). Ideas include taking time off to bike across the continent, swimming across the English channel (or similarly impressive length of water), breaking a few random world records, open to other ideas

5) JD / MBA - Assuming I could perform well on the LSAT, could applying as a JD / MBA candidate add some juice to the story? Either drop the JD eventually, or ride it out (the dual degree wouldn't hurt, shout-out to Mitt Romney)

The Ask:

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I'm hoping to hear feedback on the above, and any other crazy strategies you might have.

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Comments (44)

Feb 18, 2016 - 2:40pm

Just here to say that it is really pathetic that someone with acceptances from Booth and Kellogg but a rejection from Harvard depresses you.

C'mon, what depressed me is that he didn't even get an interview at Wharton. It seems like he did most things within his control to polish his profile while simultaneously still pursuing his interest in retail, but was automatically not considered by the top 3 b schools because he didn't go MBB out of undergrad (or isn't URM, or international). I'm just trying to determine to what extent were his (and my) business school prospects capped as soon as we took our first jobs.
Feb 18, 2016 - 3:11pm

By the way, what are you such a perfectionist about now? You went to a top FIFTY undergrad. You don't work at a top tier firm. You have never accomplished anything that is "perfect," besides your GMAT from what I can see. Neither have I. You may get into HBS, but you probably wont, and that is the case even for those perfect applicants. You WILL however get into a top school, so stop complaining.

Dude... I'm not a perfectionist now, just trying to think a little outside the box. I don't see what's so offensive about trying to best play the cards in my hand.

Also, for the sake of argument, no one has accomplished anything that is "perfect". That's not the point, and that's not what adcoms say they look for.

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Feb 21, 2016 - 7:21pm

I'm so sick of people always making comments about URMs. You didn't see his application so to say that he wasn't automatically considered is absurd. Maybe his application sucked other than the few stats that he posted. When will people learn that the MBA admissions process is more than GPA and GMAT

Feb 18, 2016 - 12:07pm

If you have the chance to do a rotation outside the states, ideally in a developing nation, that would really strengthen your profile. These B-schools have all the summa cum laude, 780 GMAT, consultants they can handle. What they want is someone that 'stands out'. Not trying to say you aren't a strong candidate, just that a global experience would help differentiate you.

Feb 18, 2016 - 12:58pm

Creative approaches 2,3, and 4 sound like perfect plots to a movie.

Feb 18, 2016 - 1:08pm

I'll tell you my goal. I have already taken the GMAT with a 760 and have an abyssmal GPA (i.e. 3.10) but I'm building 'creative strategy' to get into a top 6 MBA.

I'm literally one of the first dozen sales professionals for a startup which actually has venture funding from some TOP firms and names. I'm going to kick ass, and then hopefully launch the international office. That'll give me like 3 years of 'different and cool' entrepreneurship/sales experience. And hope that if we can carry out an IPO in the next 4-5 years it'll be even better.

It might not work, but eh, worth a shot.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller. "Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL
  • 4
  • 1
Feb 18, 2016 - 1:11pm

1) Could get killed
2) Nope.
3) Boring
4) Oh, so now you want extracurriculars...
5) Not as easy as you think

How about trying to get into government projects in a developing state inside a developing country (Ex- India)?
(Has worked for some people in the past)

  • 1
Feb 18, 2016 - 2:09pm

He was my uncle's next door neighbor in hostel while he was pursuing electrical engineering. What a genius.

Feb 18, 2016 - 2:26pm

I get it, I'm also a super competitive person with a similar background, but this seems so over the top. Think about it, are our lives at a Tier 2 consulting firm THAT different from our MBB friends? Or are the Kellogg people at your firm THAT different from the HBS people?

Count your blessings - there were about 50 people each who wanted our spots at our respective firms when we got offers and literally millions around the world that will envy us the opportunity to go to a top business school. Even if it is "lowly" Kellogg rather than Harvard.

Feb 18, 2016 - 3:00pm

I get it, I'm also a super competitive person with a similar background, but this seems so over the top. Think about it, are our lives at a Tier 2 consulting firm THAT different from our MBB friends? Or are the Kellogg people at your firm THAT different from the HBS people?

Count your blessings - there were about 50 people each who wanted our spots at our respective firms when we got offers and literally millions around the world that will envy us the opportunity to go to a top business school. Even if it is "lowly" Kellogg rather than Harvard.

I'm not saying our lives at Tier 2 shops are THAT different, but the experiences are clearly not viewed the same by adcoms. Also, compensation trajectory is significantly more steep at MBB than the Tier 2s (maybe not the case at OW, but definitely at any of the Big 4), so there's that.

And I do count my blessings, I get it. But if I have a shot at HBS or GSB and waste it, am I really appreciating the opportunity I've been blessed with? Saying "count your blessings" and then not working as hard as you could seems like a lazy approach.

I never said Kellogg is "lowly", I would be pumped to go there. Heck, for Chicago enthusiasts, Kellogg or Booth might even make more sense than HBS and Stanford. I'm just trying to figure out what is within reach, and going for it.

Feb 18, 2016 - 2:34pm

Do the mother teresa route so you get some perspective and get in touch with reality. Because if not getting accepted to H/S depresses you then you're going to live a very unfulfilling life.

  • 7
Feb 18, 2016 - 4:42pm

2 could turn out to be really really bad. I know someone who dated the daughter of the former vice chair of the biology department. His sole purpose for dating her was to get into that college for undergrad. Long story short...he has another girlfriend...daughter finds out he has been cheating the whole time...bragged about dating her to get in...daughter is pissed...a lot of drama between him, the daughter, and the other finds out...he still got in on his own merit but he didn't go to his dream school because that episode...oh and he was premed and that dad also taught core biology classes he would have to yeah he got in but didn't go.

Feb 19, 2016 - 10:13am

As the poster who inspired this post, felt like I should weigh in with my 2 cents. Not at all offended that OP was depressed by my story. It's always depressing to hear that there may be a ceiling on what you can achieve, even if that ceiling is high and might be above 99% of other folk's ceiling. Also nothing wrong with thinking about how to break through that ceiling, which is what this post is about.

As to your specific ideas, I think vanilla #s 3 & 4 and creative #s 3 & 4 are the best options. I hope creative #2 is a joke, that is the only thing about your post that I do think is truly stupid/pathetic.

Feb 19, 2016 - 12:57pm

Creative #3 is probably going to work best.

I heard a majority of GSB graduates have crazy X-factors like sky diving or dog whispering.
If not, I know a friend whose dad is a professor at HBS. She's in tech consulting but I think you two can make it work.

Feb 19, 2016 - 3:33pm

Unless you can figure out a way to make the NBA or get a gold medal in the Olympics, I don't see H/S happening. Why should they take you over the plethora of white/male 3.9 HYP/MBB/780 candidates?

  • 1
Feb 21, 2016 - 8:09pm

it's unlikely his application sucked when he got into multiple M7s and content can generally be recycled across applications

Jul 23, 2018 - 6:20pm

Bumping this. Agreed the attitude is a little over-the-top but can we get any serious responses from the traditionally super-helpful people here? There has got to be a way to break out of the IB/PE mould!

Would the peace corps help? International finance experience (even at a smaller shop?) Trying a search fund? What else? Some of these options are actually not off-the-wall, are within reach for me, and would be very interesting to me on a personal level.

@Linda Abraham" mbaMissionKrista @Frank Slaughtery"

Thanks so much.

  • 1
Jul 24, 2018 - 11:56pm

Thanks @monkey_brah the shout out.
There are several ways you can distinguish yourself from people superficially like you. Here are a few. I'm not going to focus so much on VodkaRedBull's post, but more on some general ideas.

  1. Do something meaningful to you and of high impact. It can be something like joining the Peace Corps, (if that is a form of service that appeals to you) or it can be something local reflecting an interest, passion, or commitment of yours. I think commitment is the key word. and like I said, high impact.
  2. International experience is definitely valued. Quality experience may include living and working abroad. Stretching yourself and adapting to new circumstances, culture, and environment.
  3. Initiative is key, especially for Stanford. Are you the kind of person who sees a need or problem and works to address that need or solve that problem? Or do you walk away and go about your life. The former is what GSB is looking for. Think "Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world."
  4. Present a thoughtful perspective in your essays. Really think before responding to those essays. Ask yourself "why" a few times to go deeper into yourself. Both HBS and GSB have thought-provoking questions. don't answer them generically or superficially.
  5. Above average achievement at work. Were you promoted faster than usual? Given a high level of responsibility either in terms of reports or $$$? Tell them if it isn't obvious.
  6. Entrepreneurship is also valued, but it can't be just you running a solo-shop/pseudo business. To impress, it has to be impressive and not necessarily successful, although that certainly wouldn't hurt.
  7. Last but not least, leadership. It's absolutely critical for both HBS and Stanford (and the rest of the top MBA programs.) Leadership is not merely a matter of title. It's assuming responsibility for an outcome and through your powers of persuasion, organization skills, initiative, and grit -- making that outcome happens with the assistance of others. They can be higher or lower than you on an organizational chart, but there have to be others involved.

As it happens tomorrow, I'm presenting Get Accepted to Stanford GSB . While the webinar is not specifically geared to financial professional, one of the elements I discuss is how to distinguish yourself.

You may also be interested in a podcast I gave. It's not exactly on point, but it is close enough: Stand Out! A Critical Goal for Your Application.
Here's another one that may be helpful: Dimensions of Diversity

Linda Abraham President, Accepted | Contact Me | Admissions Consulting
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Jul 24, 2018 - 3:56am

thanks monkey_brah for the shout out.

Lots of different thoughts. Stats here are great. Wharton seems to like great stats. If you want to stand out in a sea of other Deloitte/Accenture/Oliver Wyman etc consultants, stats is (unfortunately) one way to do so. Might get you to the interview stage alone but probably not right now with only 2 years of experience.

Assuming VodkaRedBull stays in the same job, here's what I would want to see to help the candidate stand out:

  • Firm sponsorship. This does the AdCom's work for them and signals that you are the best of the best
  • International experience either with client work (preferable) or offshore teams
  • C-suite exposure through client work
  • Faster than average promotion speed
  • Biz dev experience -- supporting new business and/or additional revenue
  • Apply in R1. This is a MUST. We've actually heard Wharton provide feedback to WL'd candidates along the lines of "If you had applied R1, you probably would have gotten in." (NOTE: Wharton does not traditionally give feedback. Just in some isolated situations.)

Of the paths above, I'm least interested in the entrepreneurship route unless VodkaRedBull can build something significant with external validation. This needs to be a going concern, with tax records and press etc. (Maybe in an incubator program.) While anything can happen, is this really possible within the next two years?

Other thoughts; GSB. 6% admit rate. Tough nut to crack for anyone. They have said themselves that 80% of the people they reject are totally qualified to be there. The closer you can be to "Change lives, change organizations, change the world," the better. So what to do? Firstly, I think you have to do what makes you happy and you should not overthink this. If you want to be Mother Teresa, go for it, but if you don't, please don't put yourself in this situation where you have the potential to negatively impact a lot of other people because you are unhappy. This is where I think changing jobs now and moving to a high profile, non-vanilla firm could be helpful. Also, and this goes without saying, recommendations must be fantastic and personal and human. I mean, they need to be so across all schools but I think for GSB more than anyone, they matter tremendously just because of the volume of competition vs. quality of pool vs. number of spots in the class. Last thought..a "Why Stanford" essay that doesn't spend 250 words telling GSB how excited you are to take Touchy Feely that just regurgitates the school's own marketing material.

HBS: For a mid-tier consultant to stand out, the tradition of leadership that HBS talks about needs to be clear, both in client work and in corporate level work and ideally, university and extracurriculars. So here's where I'd want a consultant to have some meaningful committee work at the firm. And I'd want some good stuff from college. I'd also want an essay that doesn't spend 347 words on why you can't wait to experience the case method. Sell the AdCom on you! Not them. (On that note, try to come across as a humble, down-to-earth, self-aware individual in the HBS essay. There is a fine art to the humble brag.)

Re "creative networking," recommendations should be powerful professional ones. Personal ones don't really help. HBS has said themselves that if they let in every candidate who had a rec from an important HBS person, there wouldn't be any space left in the class.

Obviously, I can talk about this stuff all day. I'm scheduled to do free consults on Sunday if anyone wants to talk more! (Can also organize other times.) Krista

mbaMission Admissions Consultant For personal advice, please see up a free consultation: Website: Blog:
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Jul 24, 2018 - 10:51am

Thanks so much for the lengthy response, both to you and BreakingOutOfPWM. I will likely take a free consult in the coming weeks. I can draw some parallels just from reading but do you have any IB -> MM PE outside-the-box ideas off the top of your head (vs. this post, which is focused more towards OP/consulting). Some initial ones geared more towards IB/PE would be search funds, impact investing, and things like sourcing deals.

  • 1
Jul 24, 2018 - 11:16am

Just off the top of my head, in the last 18 months or so, I've seen a lot more international PE than I have previously. ("A lot" is still small though.) I do think US candidates who have proactively sought out international experience are just that much more interesting. (Although I am fairly biased in this regard, as an international person myself.) So assuming you are a US candidate, and assuming it's interesting, think outside the US and start networking.

Think about soverign wealth and foreign investment types of roles...Mubadala, Qatar Investment Authority, ADIA, KIA, GIC, etc...they seem to like bulge-bracket backgrounds and these are generally markets where the work permit process is not overly burdensome. I've never seen anyone from the Norwegian Government Pension Fund but there is A LOT of money in Norway right now which I find fascinating on so many levels.

I've also seen a few high profile family office associate-level candidates from the US, KSA, and Asia mostly. I think it can be a tougher sell for the AdCom for some reason but the work that these candidates do seems deeply interesting and hands-on and there's a lot of freedom because they are generally smaller shops. (Also, it seems, better work/life balance.)

Hope that helps with the out-of-box part...

mbaMission Admissions Consultant For personal advice, please see up a free consultation: Website: Blog:
  • 5
Jul 24, 2018 - 9:28am

There is drive, and then there is desperation.

  1. If this is your passion - go for it. It's not necessarily going to help an application. It will raise a lot of questions that you would need to show drive and passion to answer. And the "Why MBA?" becomes a lot trickier when you've made a career of shielding babies from bullets. But to spend years of your life sweating in a bunker just to hope you go from the #5 ranked bschool to the #2? You need to reevaluate your self worth.

  2. This is pathetic. You would seriously coerce someone into an intimate personal relationship to abuse an MBA recommendation? Don't be a sociopath.

  3. If you're into it, again, sure. But this puts you in a niche, which also has its own risks. And again, are you comfortable dedicating years of your life to a cause you don't give a shit about in order to gain a marginal step up in grad schools? I don't get it.

  4. Schools don't really care much about extracurriculars. As before, if it is a passion, go for it, otherwise, find other ways to spend your time.

  5. Getting into a JD/MBA is harder, not easier, as you need to be accepted to both programs. The dual degree CAN actually hurt some candidates (do your research), and if you have no interest in law, it's a huge money and time sink.

There's a reason that some strategies are "standard" and others are "creative/crazy". It's like taking medicine versus alternative medicine. To quote Tim Minchin, "Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proven to work?....medicine".

Focus on being the best you, on advancing your career while making an impact on your firm and those around you, and in finding rewarding ways to grow yourself outside of the office. Everything H/S/W or any other program is looking for can be summed up in that one sentence.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
May 8, 2021 - 4:40pm

How about getting a therapist to fix your outcome orientation, jeez. The problem here isn't the resume (though that's a problem too if you're dead set on H/S), it's the mindset. Smacks of validation seeking and low self-esteem. How about you live your life?

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
May 9, 2021 - 5:21pm

Not worth stressing out this much over this. I went to a top program at a top 15 school, had a 3.9/4.0, great college extracurriculars, 760 GMAT, BB/EB and blue-chip UMM PE experience, incredible recommendations, and I didn't get an interview at HBS. It stung a lot, especially after seeing some weak performers from my current and past jobs get in, but it may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it seems like I now have a shot at a direct promotion at my current firm, which I am very happy with. You can't re-orient your life toward trying to get accepted at one of these programs. As others have suggested, you will go crazy / feel depressed and unsatisfied.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 9, 2021 - 8:11pm

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  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
May 9, 2021 - 8:41pm

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