Wharton Applicants, Get SBC’s Inside Scoop
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is one of the trifecta of programs so many MBA aspirants covet. That’s why Stacy Blackman Consulting is proud to have several former Wharton admissions officers on our consulting team. SBC consultant Anthony, once the associate director of MBA admissions at Wharton, stopped by our B-Schooled podcast to share his insider advice for Wharton applicants.
As someone who:
- Read and reviewed thousands of applications a year,
- Traveled domestically and internationally to recruit and interview prospective MBA students,
- Led the recruitment strategy for the Americas and EMEA region,
- Managed the current MBA Student Admissions Fellows program,
- Led the campus visit program at Wharton, and
- Helped create and launch the Team-Based Discussion interview format,
Anthony offers excellent insights into what it takes to make Wharton applicants shine. If you want to understand the school’s curriculum, culture, and admissions practices, take advantage of today’s deep dive.
Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.
You worked at Wharton for ten years. Tell us what makes the school so unique.
Wharton’s brand speaks for itself as one of the oldest and most prestigious programs in the world. The program focuses on building community with its cluster cohort learning team model and allowing students to personalize their experience.
Another notable feature is that Wharton is student-led. The school gives students a chance to impact the program with varying fellows positions, taking on leadership roles in myriad areas, including leadership training, student life admissions, and career development.
The curriculum has a flexible core in general business education, plus the depth of various majors and nearly 200 electives. Wharton has over 240 faculty members, each contributing invaluable research and teaching insights on the evolving business environment.
It has experts in every aspect of the business world, from data analytics to entrepreneurship to diversity and inclusion. The breadth of the program and the enormous resources of the University of Pennsylvania make Wharton a business school that can help you achieve almost any goal.
It’s also an environment that creates a dynamic community and ultimately allows students to foster relationships as they join the largest alum network of any business school.
Additionally, the new quantitative finance major is interesting as it takes advantage of Wharton’s strength in finance and in other quantitative areas. The major includes cross-disciplinary course content from accounting, statistics, and operations. It really appeals to students with strong quantitative backgrounds who want to develop their skills for quantitative applications in finance.
Lastly, it’s an exciting time to be at Wharton, with Erica James taking over the leadership of this school as Wharton’s first female dean and person of color in that role.
What misperceptions do some people have about Wharton School?
Wharton will always be known for their expertise in finance, but it’s not all they are known for. Wharton is equally robust in areas like entrepreneurship and technology, which are powered by huge investments Wharton has made in those areas.
For example, the school built Tangen Hall, Wharton’s state-of-the-art home for entrepreneurship. It’s a significant new aspect of the school that gives credibility to Wharton and Penn in terms of supporting students who want to pursue a career in entrepreneurship while at school.
Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #80: Spotlight on Wharton
They also created the San Francisco campus to host one of their cohorts in the executive MBA program. Later, Wharton began hosting a rotating group of full-time MBA students through the semester in San Francisco program.
People also assume that Wharton is a cutthroat environment, but the competition is all in good spirits. Students push each other to better themselves and there’s a real emphasis on community throughout the program.
What is student life like at Wharton outside of class?
The school has over a hundred student clubs that shape the Wharton MBA experience outside of the classroom. Clubs focus on interests ranging from social, cultural, athletic, and professional based activities.
Students have created and run all the clubs, which makes for an exciting environment. Also, many different conferences take place each year. These allow students to lead and plan large-scale events and connect with various industry players while tapping into the large and diverse Wharton network. Some popular conferences are the Wharton Women Business Conference, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference, and many other industry-specific conferences.
One of Wharton’s most unique events is Wharton Follies, a student organization in the MBA program that puts on an annual amateur musical theater production. It’s one of the largest clubs and highest-profile organizations at Wharton, staging one of the largest productions of its kind at any professional school.
Over the years, Follies has become a Broadway-level production with successful producers and directors building on their predecessors’ accomplishments.
@be_yinsane To the class of ‘23 #mba #wharton #follies ? All The Small Things – blink-182
Finally, one of the most fun parts of Wharton is Wharton Pub, which is one of the school’s greatest traditions. Every Thursday, students gather to celebrate the weekend, connect with classmates across years, clusters, and cohorts, and enjoy different clubs, shows, and events. It’s the perfect place to meet new peers, catch up with friends you haven’t seen since preterm, and enjoy unlimited wine and food.
For those unfamiliar with Philadelphia, can you share what activities and environment successful Wharton applicants can look forward to?
First, Philadelphia is an ideal location for a business school, something many students underestimate before they move there. It’s the sixth largest city in the U.S. but still small-scale and historical, with the resources of a major East Coast city.
Just a train ride away from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston, Philadelphia has been an academic hub for centuries, inspiring students with its entrepreneurial culture, educational opportunities, and impressive culinary scene. Philadelphia is walkable, it’s affordable, it’s big enough—but not too big—and rich in culture and diversity, which makes it a great experience for business school.
Wharton is in University City, in West Philadelphia. Most MBA students live in Center City, where there are plenty of options for cultural attractions, restaurants, and nightlife. Recreation opportunities include the fields and courts at Penn Park, the beautiful Schuylkill River Trail, and nearby Fairmount Park. It’s the largest urban park in the world and has many running, cycling, and riding trails.
And finally, students can take trips to both the beaches at the Southern Jersey Shore or go skiing at one of the mountains in the Poconos in under two hours from Philadelphia.
Moving on to information for Wharton applicants, what is the admissions committee looking for overall?
Wharton seeks to enroll a diverse class each year. Like most business schools, this means representing different professional and personal experiences and interests, varied global exposures and citizenships, and numerous identities and backgrounds.
Wharton truly does take a holistic approach when reviewing applications. They think about applicants’ achievements, potential performance in the MBA classroom and Wharton community, and future careers.
In particular, the AdCom looks for individuals who exhibit professional maturity. They evaluate work experience not only in terms of years. They’re also interested in the depth and breadth of the individual’s contributions to their work environment and level of responsibility and progression.
Let’s discuss the Wharton MBA essay questions. What does the AdCom want to see in applicants’ responses that they can’t get elsewhere in the application materials?
Wharton always keeps its essay questions more traditional. So, in the most straightforward terms, the first question asks what you’ll get out of Wharton. The second question wants to know what Wharton will get in return. They want to understand your reasoning for the MBA, why it is the right time, and why the Wharton MBA is the right program for you.
The Wharton experience is team-based and relies heavily on community. It’s being a part of this much larger organization than your learning team or cohort. And you also want to explain how your unique experiences will shape the experiences of many of your fellow students, the program, and the overall institution.
See more expert Wharton MBA essay tips for the 2023-2024 application season.
Don’t be afraid to get personal in the second essay, given that the first essay will cover your professional goals. That allows the AdCom to get to know you on a deeper level that they might not see elsewhere in your application.
What insights can you share about the Wharton interview process?
The team-based discussion (TBD) models the highly collaborative nature of the Wharton MBA environment. It’s a way to assess characteristics such as communication style, level of engagement, leadership skills, and decision-making that the AdCom believes contribute to the success of a Wharton student.
This interview is an opportunity to express who you are as an individual and team member. The exercise will reflect what it’s like to be on a learning team at Wharton. They’re evaluating and observing your approach to the prompt and how you navigate the different aspects of the exercise, how you present yourself and think on your feet, and how you work cohesively toward solutions in a small group context.
You want to be yourself and be active in the conversation. And as I talked about in the other podcast, remember to have a little fun while doing it. That really adds to the experience.
Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #148: Advice on Wharton’s TBDs
How much does your performance during the TBD affect the AdCom’s ultimate decision to admit or deny your admission?
The TBD is just one piece of the evaluation process. After the team-based discussion, members of the AdCom review the entire application package, including the notes from the TBD.
So, while the notes might contain some information on how the team did overall, Wharton applicants are not necessarily evaluated directly against their teammates. For instance, there could be times when all the members of a specific team-based discussion get admitted—and vice versa.
The one-on-one portion after the TBD is a good place for applicants to be self-aware about their performance. If they felt it wasn’t the best representation of how they would perform on a team, they should be honest and explain why and what happened during the exercise.
Wharton applicants aren’t dinged exclusively because of the TBD. A successful interview doesn’t guarantee admission, and a less-than-stellar performance doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It just depends on your overall package and fit with the class the AdCom team is crafting.
Finally, what advice would you give those applying to Wharton this year?
First, take some time to research and understand what the Wharton MBA experience is. You should apply because it would be an excellent fit for you personally and professionally.
An MBA is an investment in yourself, so you want to make sure you choose the right school. And for a lot of people, Wharton will be a great fit. Get to know the school, attend events, and reach out to current students and alums—and not necessarily because that will increase your chances of getting in.
It will, however, help you make a more informed decision on where to attend business school. This advice isn’t just Wharton-specific, but applying for an MBA is a demanding process. So, give yourself enough time to assemble the best application possible to feel good about your chances.
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.