Sorebrek's Musings and Ramblings

In search of the holy grail of an MBA (class of 2008 hopeful), this space will hopefully chronicle the search and my other quixotic pursuits.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Yeti goes to HBS

So what is common between the Yeti and the most common MBA applicant? For one, they're both from the Indian subcontinent (or thereabout). They're both male (Unexplained Mysteries is yet to feature the Abominable Snow Woman, so I'm assuming). Both do pretty geekish stuff: one keeps busy churning out computer code and the other leaves silly, giant footsteps in the snow to scare the crizzap out of people; in the process, both are generally pretty adept at avoiding contact with humans. The uncanny similarity doesn't end there: both generate ample discussion, but like the mythical snowman, in its dream-habitat, a top-10 business school, only rare sightings of the Male-Indian-IT applicant have been reported, there is no documented evidence! Ok, I'm obviously getting carried away; but indulge me while I try and make my argument half plausible.

I was at the IMD reception last night and I thought that I had my Emperor's New Clothes moment. My politically correct, well-meaning friends will dissuade me from posting this, but I need to do this for my own sake, so here goes. Blogging is cathartic, believe me.

This is probably the fifth or sixth information session I've been to since I made up my mind about applying in August last year. About 40% to 50% of those who show up at these events fall into a specific demographic group: yeah, the Yeti brotherhood. Here is the stone I'm lobbing at my roomies in the glass-house:

I was flipping through the brochure with the profiles of the current IMD admits and I couldn't resist doing a back-of-the-envelope analysis. Now IMD, it appears does guzzle the diversity kool-aid from a fire-hose, no less. Let me try and describe this in b-school terms using the concept of Correlation. Two stocks are negatively correlated, if circumstances leading to the rise of one stock cause the other to dip. A Perfectly Negatively Correlated pair of stocks would move in opposite directions in perfect proportions. The IMD class of 90 students is pretty close to a perfectly negatively correlated portfolio of students. The biggest demographic group (I'm told this changes every year), the East-Indians (or those of East-Indian ethnicity from other countries) constituted less than 6% of the class (5 in all).

And here is my point: of this, all of one student was a member of the 'hood. Here is a scarier extrapolation: let us say that IMD is an aberration and that business schools in general admit this profile group at double that rate: approximately 2.5%. Let's look at the HBS class-size for a second: roughly 900 admits each year. Again erring on the side of abundance, let us multiply this by 10, i.e. the top 10 schools. At 2.5%, these schools would end up admitting all of 225 male, Indian, IT applicants! Now that by itself is not such a bad number; yeah, it won't be as soon as California, Massachusetts and parts of Texas and the mid-west decide to secede from the union and descend into a stone age where software programmers have better things to do than applying to b-schools. If the information sessions, the forums, the mailing lists and blogs or the buzz in the valley were any indicators, on the conservative side, at least 30% of the applicant pool would fit this profile. Now let us try and figure out the statistical population size of this applicant pool. Assuming that the average selectivity is around 15%, and using the Harvard class size of 900 as a benchmark, this would result in around 60,000 applicants for the top 10 schools. Ok, now for the money shot: this puts the probability of acceptance for a male, Indian, IT applicant at 1.25%. The 15% average selectivity rate means nothing for this demographic group. Ever wondered why schools don't publish applicant demographics? A lot of my Yeti brethren simply wouldn't bother. Couple of things before we leave this 'analysis': for one, this is a liberal estimate; the actual numbers could be lower. Second, I'm basing my yield numbers not just on IMD, but also on anecdotal information from current or past students. I will only be thrilled to be corrected - prove me wrong. Now this may not be something new to many of us - I didn't exactly have a rosy picture for this group to start out with, but the numbers sure make me want to go to the Himalayas, for good.

"The mathematical expectation of the speculator is zero", said Louis Bachelier. Perhaps it is because members of this profile does geeky things like computing speculative acceptance ratios that they have such a hard time breaking into the ivies (instead of focusing on world peace) :-). I give you that, so let us put on our empirical hats on for a second. Surprise, surprise: the scene isn't much different. Look around: the blogs, mailing lists and forums are strewn with carrion of desi ding-a-lings.

However, differentiation on any of these attributes (gender, ethnicity and industry) seem to dramatically increase the odds of admission. No, the schools aren't lying; they value diversity and I for one don't want to question the benefits of a diverse classroom yet, not without the benefit of experience. In fact my work experience alludes to the beneficial effects of diversity. But then the selection criteria at work is not the same as at a b-school - axiomatic concepts like demand and supply prevail in a laissez faire atmosphere. Oh well, I am rambling and getting hung up on using big words. I will take the current and past students for their word on this issue. However, considering the analysis above, it does behoove the schools to maintain this less than weak form efficiency. It is just that applicants of this profile group need an expectation adjustment; which is all I'm really trying to get at.

I was talking to a fellow-applicant during the reception and his rant went: "Everything that worked for you all your life - your ability to reason and use logic, sticking to the beaten path to success, everything that you associated with achievement, all of this is now working against you." You're boring because you're one of many, albeit with 750+ GMAT scores and two-startup histories. The no-good, neighbor kid your mom used to calibrate the lower-limit of achievement, ended up at an ivy thanks to majoring in, well, world-peace at the University of Iaminthesticks.

You will take comfort in that there are one or two other demographic groups that feel the same way. I've said more than my fair share of politically incorrect things for a day, so I won't go there, at least not today. I'm tired: this post will have no witty coda - you have endured enough.