40% of Wharton Apps To Take New Test

by John A. Byrne on

Roughly four of every ten MBA applicants to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School will be invited to a new team-based discussion as part of the school’s admission process, according to the school’s admissions director. That’s the same percentage of applicants who pass the first application hurdle and are typically invited to an admissions interview at the school.

In an interview with Poets&Quants, Wharton Admissions Director Ankur Kumar said that applicants will receive their invites to the new test at the same time they are sent their interview invitations. The majority of the team-based discussions, featuring five to six applicants at a time, will be held on campus. But Wharton also will conduct the team-based exercise in major cities all over the world—just as it does admission interviews.

For Wharton’s Class of 2013, about 2,580 of 6,442 applicants were interviewed. So if the size of the school’s applicant pool is similar, Wharton will have to hold as many as 500 of the new team-based discussions to accommodate the new and novel admissions test. Kumar said the first of the discussions would be held in early November, after first-round applicants get their invites for both interviews and the team meetings. Wharton accepts about 19% of its MBA applicants.

Kumar said that virtually all of the on-campus discussions would be managed and observed by Wharton Admission Fellows, a group of roughly 45 second-year MBA students who volunteer to help with admissions. “We’ll also have the admissions team traveling around the world so we’ll have slots in every region of the world for our international applicants,” she said.

This makes Wharton the only prominent business school in the world that requires a team-based exercise for entrance to its MBA program. Few other schools are expected to follow Wharton’s lead, primarily because of how labor intensive the new test will be. So the discussion could give Wharton an advantage over key B-school rivals in picking some of the more articulate, personable, and thoughtful candidates in this year’s elite MBA applicant pool—and in rejecting candidates unable to withstand the rigors and exposure of a team-based discussion.

Wharton piloted the new test on a small group of about 30 third round candidates earlier this year. The stated goal, according to an email then sent to MBA applicants, was to create “a lively and thoughtful discussion based on a real-world business scenario. Our hope is that through a team-based discussion, applicants will not only be able to present how they approach and think about certain situations, but will also have a chance to experience, firsthand, the team work experience and group learning dynamic that is central to our program.”

Wharton officially announced on July 20 that it had decided to make the discussion part of its admissions process this year after an evaluation of the pilot. “After thoughtful discussion and positive feedback, we are excited to officially launch this evaluation method during the upcoming application cycle,” said Vice Dean Ulrich, in a statement on the school’s website. “The team-based discussions will allow candidates the opportunity to interact with fellow applicants through discourse involving real-world business scenarios, which will highlight how they approach and analyze specific situations. We believe that this type of assessment also serves as a tool to take prospective students ‘off the page’ and allows us to see firsthand the ways in which they can contribute to our community of diverse learners and leaders.”

In a brief interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Ulrich said that one of the reasons for the new test is to get MBA applicants in “an unscripted environment,” free from the influence of admission consultants and other advice givers. “Over the last 10 to 20 years, because of blogs and the applicant community and discussion forums, people have developed a really good sense of what the admissions process looks like, down to what kinds of questions are asked and how they manage the interview,” he said. “So in some ways that was one of the reasons we wanted to try some other approaches, because it had become kind of a game in which everyone knew the rules. We wanted to get the applicants in an unscripted environment, with a more dynamic kind of interaction. That was one of the main goals.”

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  • Guest

    Interesting.. although I am still not sure if the selected applicants would go through the interview process AND group discussion. If yes, then would the weightage be 50-50? And if not, then which one would the adcom prefer – interview or group discussion? Do the applicants have a say in this?
    Also, just out of curiosity… what sort of ‘real world business scenarios’ were the 3rd round applicants given last year?

  • JohnAByrne

    Applicants who get invited to an interview will also be invited to the discussion. Wharton won’t disclose the weight it puts on any one part of the application because there is no definite weight. It varies by applicant. Applicants have no say. This is now a required part of Wharton’s admissions process. Not clear on which scenarios were discussed because Wharton has declined to disclose that info.

  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

    Actually, John, Wharton isn’t the first. IMD has had a team-based “mini-case” discussion for years. I believe INSEAD also is considering or testing group interviews.

  • Inherent biases?

    How can the admissions committee ensure that the “business scenario” doesn’t give an inherent advantage to a certain type of applicant? It seems like a scenario like this would favor a management consultant–someone who might have the exposure to a broad set of issues vs a manufacturing engineer or IT layman, who may not necessarily be familiar with the issues being presented.

    Also, what kind of attributes would a Wharton adcom be looking for? Someone who is assertive (read: dominating and/or brash) or thoughtful (passive)?

  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

    The admissions committee will be looking at the substance of the applicants’ comments, AND at applicants’ interactions with their piers. Are they grabbing for air time? Or do they thoughtfully contribute when they have something to say and take a back seat when someone else knows more? Are they a constructive contributor to the group?

  • M7

    Yes Linda, I have been through it at IMD and it is not only a group discussion. It is a whole assessment day with personal interview, impromptu presentation (30mn preparation + 5 mn presentation), group discussion with a faculty member on a business case sent 2 weeks before, group presentation on a case with recommandations required, class attendance, Lunch with current MBAs (I think they also evaluate the applicants motivation).

    IMD can afford this structure of interview as they interview only about 200-300 applicants each year. But I do think that nothing can beat such a long day of assessment to pick the right person for their program and understand who is behind the essays.

    I also interviewed with wharton but as I live far from any hub cities we did it over a very formated phone call where they only asked 3 typical questions that anyone could have prepared before. Very disapointing and frustrating evaluation as I really didn’t feel having the chance to say what I wanted and fully express myself.

    It will certainly be a challenge to implement such kind of interview for all b-school but I hope they will find a way to overcome the hurdles.

  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

    The IMD interview process is by far the most demanding of any MBA interview that I know of.

    It will be interesting to see if Wharton maintains this approach and if other schools adopt it.

  • dejong

    this is also a concern of mine….what kind of situations can someone expect? some people will have an advantage in this scenario.

  • JohnAByrne

    You raise an interesting issue and ask a question that isn’t easily answered. First off, this test will favor some applicants over others and that is exactly what Wharton wants to happen. The school wants an edge in selecting the best possible applicants–the ones who will be easiest to place at graduation and the most likely to succeed throughout their careers. Chances are the applicants who will really do well in this environment are those who are thoughtful, articulate, and engaged–not passive nor dominant.

  • Inherent Biases

    I would expect most applicants to be thoughtful, articulate and engaged during a Wharton interview. Wouldn’t you think the same?

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