Wharton Emails Spook MBA Applicants

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is warning some of its applicants who are being invited to interview that their quantitative preparation for the MBA program may be wanting.  Wharton’s admissions office is suggesting that the applicants retake the GMAT or GRE or, in the alternative, take a continuing education class in calculus or statistics.

The emails being sent to applicants are causing a good deal of anxiety among already anxious candidates who worry that even though they’ve made it to the interview step they will be at a disadvantage for getting admitted. Typically, business schools that have issues with an applicant’s quant scores are told after acceptance that it would be a good idea to attend a summer boot camp. It’s rare for a school to invite an applicant to interview and note a possible deficiency in his or her application.

Some MBA admission consultants are highly critical of the Wharton move. “This is yet another Wharton adcom screw up,” says Sanford Kreisberg, a Boston-based consultant and founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru. “One gets the feeling they actually hate applicants or have an emotional intelligence score of zero or both. What do they think some poor bastard who gets this is supposed to think and do?”

Last year, a leaked email to Wharton interviewers detailing the six behavioral questions the school was asking candidates caused some controversy. The Internet link to how those questions were to be graded, among other things, were being used by some admissions consultants to give their clients an advantage in the interview process.

This time around the Wharton emails to applicants already are beginning to fuel debate on some of the online discussion boards frequented by applicants. At GMATClub.com, for example, a candidate identifying himself as “Nikini” seemed shock to have received the email from Wharton. The Wharton applicant says he minored in business and has two calculus courses on his transcript along with completed courses in accounting and finance. “Although I did major in a language in college, I have been working in Financial Services consulting and passed all three CFA exams since that time,” wrote Nikini. “And with the score 49 (85%) in the quantitative part on the GMAT, I do not really feel that I am on the weaker side there.”

It’s not clear how many Wharton applicants have received the email. During an admissions cycle, Wharton can get some 6,800 applications for about 845 seats in an MBA class. In the past, the school has invited roughly 40% of its applicants to interview. This year, all interviews are being conducted by Wharton admissions staffers. Second-year MBA students and alums have been cut out of the interview process.

After congratulating the applicant for being invited to interview, the latest emails include the following passage:

“After a careful review of your application, we have some questions about your quantitative preparation for the Wharton classroom experience. Should you be admitted to the program, we want you to be as prepared as possible to be successful in our analytically rigorous curriculum.  Therefore, we encourage you to consider spending this time strengthening your quantitative acumen.  Many have found taking a continuing education class in Calculus or Statistics, or retaking the GMAT/GRE, with a focus on the quantitative section, to be helpful preparation.”

Wharton’s admissions office is calling the passage a “helpful suggestion” and “not a requirement” to applicants to move forward in the school’s admissions process. “Should you choose to undertake any of these preparatory steps, please send us updated scores or grades at mba-admiss@wharton.upenn.edu,” the email said. “We look forward to further exploring your candidacy to The Wharton School over the coming months.”

Nonetheless, the admissions staff’s decision to identify a potential weakness in an application will cause most candidates to retake the GMAT or GRE or quickly enroll in a calculus or statistics class because they fear that failure to do so would likely result in a rejection. A spokesperson for Wharton could not be reached for comment.


  • Sandy

    @fn – GMAT unfortunately only tests basic math aptitude and while there is a decent correlation between gmat scores and class room success in an MBA program, the message sent out by the ADCOM is confusing. May be they are confused themselves. I would like to believe that a CFA certification is a closer yardstick to predicting success in a quants-driven program than the GMAT score. There is no way that improving GMAT from 80% to 95%ile would make youbetter at solving a partial differential equation of the second order.

  • fn

    So we are basing our analysis on some applicants self reported GMAT scores and CFA results..

    Wharton has a very quantitative program and it would be heart breaking to have someone admitted to wharton and then have them fail out of the school.

  • mainhoon

    What an idiotic move.. Are there really no good applicants left that they have to add the disclaimer.. well we are going to interview you, but you know.. if you had a better quant background, it would help.. makes no sense..

  • Alois,

    Thanks for coming to the rescue. There clearly is another side to this story and it’s worth putting out there.

  • Alois de Novo

    Somebody has to take up the cudgel in behalf of Wharton and Ankur Kumar.

    These commenters obviously can’t read (which is why I believe that verbal scores matter more than quant scores on the GMAT).

    Wharton obviously has doubts about Nikini. In the absence of further information they will surely reject him. However, they are giving him a chance to resolve their doubts in his favor.

    From my point of view, this treatment is far more charitable than Nikini deserves — if he can’t make the case for admission within the limits the standard application, they should reject him without further ado.

    Wharton, obviously, is being much nicer about it than I would be. No good deed …

    These commenters, most of whom appear to be disappointed applicants to Wharton, simply can’t read. And that’s probably why Wharton rejected them.

    But Huntsman sure is ugly.

  • Sanjay

    I agree with Kwame and Betsy. Wharton’ stance on waiting list and treatment of applicants has a bad reputation. What is Wharton thinking? Treat applicants mean and keep them keen? Imagine customer service of organisations, does Wharton act on what its profs preach? This reminds me of firms with worst customer service. In fact, Wharton really just treats applicants like a number without personal touch.

  • Sandy

    I have heard some horror stories and had some first hand experience in dealing with Wharton. I have since decided against applying here even after getting my recommdations and half the application filled out.

    Respect is a very important element in the whole application process, and by asking a CFA with strong GMAT that he will struggle on quants, Wharton is showing disrespect. I would rather be rejected than be told that I am weak and then be put on a 6 month long waitlist during which time I have no feedback from school whatsoever. Is Wharton the only supposedly good school on this planet? Does the ADCOM really believe that good students are so obsessed with its brand that they will do anything to get in?

  • Betsy

    Hi, I was waitlisted last year in Wharton and in other top schools. Wharton waitlist management was BY FAR the worst. 6 months with no news. In addition, they said: “we won’t accept supplemental materials because it is unfair to other applicants”, and I know at least 5 waitlisted people who sent supplemental material and got admitted as a result (new GMATs, new recommendation letters, etc.). I finished withdrawing my application as I was convinced that Wharton wasn’t my place