Winning Admission to Wharton: Four Steps

by Shawn O'Connor on

Shawn O'Connor is the chief executive of Stratus Prep.

Shawn O'Connor is the chief executive of Stratus Prep.

As one of the top three business schools in the country, Wharton has a highly selective MBA admissions process. While Wharton expanded its class size from 817 to 845 students last year, the school still accepted only 16.8% of applicants. And, Wharton is looking for a distinct profile from other top schools; so a personal story that would help you gain admission to Harvard or Stanford will not necessarily get you into Wharton. Instead, you must tailor your application in a way that clearly demonstrates to the admissions committee that you are a perfect fit for Wharton, and that Wharton is a perfect fit for you.

Drawing on decades of collective admissions experience, my colleagues (who include a recently-departed Wharton admissions reader and numerous Wharton admissions experts) and I have chosen the following four tips which will help maximize your chances of gaining admission to Wharton.

1) Leverage your unique work experience

If you are in finance:

Do not shy away from elaborating on your experience, leadership, and accomplishments in banking or private equity. While your finance background may not help you stand out at Harvard or Stanford (and can, in some cases, be considered at drawback at those schools), it will appeal to Wharton. Wharton’s greater emphasis on data-driven analysis make it an ideal fit for those coming from the world of venture capital, hedge funds, and investment banks.

If you are not in finance:

Do not assume that Wharton is only looking for financial geniuses. Do not try to be someone you are not in your application. Wharton is a much more diverse school than many applicants initially expect. Indeed, it may surprise you to learn that Wharton’s marketing program is regarded as one of the top in the country. The school also has a renowned healthcare program. Wharton actively seeks out leaders in these fields so if you have a background outside of finance be sure to connect it to Wharton’s specific programs through your essays.

Finally, Wharton is also more demographically diverse than many other top business schools. In fact, 45% of its incoming class is comprised of females (the highest ratio of any top business school). So, be sure to convey your unique personal background through your application and interview.

2) Show your love for Philadelphia

All business school admissions officers want to hear why you want to attend their particular school, but Wharton also wants to see that you are excited to study in Philadelphia. So, make sure your application emphasizes your passion not just for Wharton, but also for the West Philadelphia community. I’m a Philly native myself, and I love this diverse and vibrant part of the city along the banks of Schuylkill River. Consider emphasizing how you would give back in West Philly through, for example, the tutoring programs that Penn runs in local schools. Communicating your desire to interact with and improve the Philadelphia community will really resonate with the Penn admissions committee.

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  • 1st year

    Shawn,

    Are you sure that the acceptance rate remained at 16.8% for the Class of 2013? If so, why wouldn’t the school post that on this website:

    http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/mba/student-life/class-profile.cfm

    This would be great marketing for Wharton because it would suggest that the yield improved. What is your source for the acceptance rate?

  • srini

    Hey Shawn — Your article was very informative. I would like to add though — that the GRE quant is actually much easier than the GMAT quant. You seem to suggest the opposite. The GRE quant is more focused in areas such as geometry. The GMAT quant on the other hand gets tricky with tough number properties questions, probability and combinatorics, and word problems. Many test takes who have taken both exams will attest to the fact that GMAT quant is much more difficult than GRE quant. Many engineers score 800 on the GRE quant but get no where as close in the quant section on the GMAT. As far as GRE verbal is concerned — you should check out the new format of the test — there is less emphasis on learning words lists and more emphasis on reasoning and logical thinking. GRE has changed its format to appeal to B-Schools. While the GMAT is still the preferred test for b-school students — the new GRE is also a good option for candidates who are also considering a PhD or masters degrees.

  • http://www.stratusprep.com Shawn O’Connor

    Thanks for the comment. The exact acceptance rate for the Class of 2013 has yet to be released, however, based on our proprietary data, we estimate that it will be very close to if not identical to the 16.8% from last year.

    We do believe the yield increased this year, due to changes in the makeup of the HBS class, which likely led to a higher yield among finance professionals at Wharton.

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    1st Year, it seems probable that their yield was up (consider the huge number of disappointed waitlisters and Wharton’s likely success in mining the Seven Sisters demographic). Maybe they’re not showing the number because it’s vulgar? “80+ of the people who apply here are wasting their time.” I’m tired of the rhetoric of “exclusion,” unless it’s blackballing annoying strivers from my country club!

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworth

    correction: 80+ percent

  • 1st year

    Thanks Shawn. It just puzzles me that Wharton would release the other statistics (class size, gmat, etc.) but not release acceptance rate and yield – especially if these stats were particularly good from Wharton’s perspective (i.e. low acceptance rate and high yield).

  • Sangeev_S

    I think blowing the trumpet on 45% women, gmat and class size intake while not disclosing acceptance and yield is telling. More likely because acceptance and yield are less flattering.

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