Early Verdict On New Wharton Test

by John A. Byrne on

Invited round one applicants to Wharton are facing a new and novel admissions test: a team-based discussion

The early results of Wharton’s new team-based discussion format are now trickling back from mostly jittery round-one applicants who have sat through ordeal.

The early verdict on the Survivor-like test, which Wharton rolled out during the first week of the month? Based on interviews with admission consultants whose clients have already endured the unusual hurdle as well as a few invited applicants, the reaction is mostly positive.

But many report that their fellow applicants have been unnaturally, even painfully, polite during the 45-minute discussion and they’re leaving campus uncertain about their performance or their prospects for admission.

‘PEOPLE ARE ON HIGH ALERT FOR POLITENESS’

“People aren’t coming out feeling horribly negative,” says one consultant who preferred not to be quoted by name. “But they are saying that people are on high alert for politeness. Everyone is trying to be polite and respectful so it may not approximate reality.”

In the past, most applicants had a fairly good idea if they aced or bombed the interview. That’s less true with the new format, according to several participants. “People are a little bit bewildered,” says Angela Guido, a senior consultant with mbaMission. “Applicants had gone into the interview and had come out with a fairly strong sense of how well they did. This interaction is so different that people are not really sure.”

Wharton decided to add the novel test this year after a small pilot of the experience for about 30 round three candidates in the Class of 2014. The school expects to invite 40% to 45% of its applicants to the discussion followed by an admissions interview, though actual numbers will depend on the strength of the applicant pool in each round (See Wharton email invite to round one applicants).

Although one stated reason for the change was for Wharton to get applicants in “an unscripted environment,” MBA admissions consultants have quickly announced products to help applicants prep for the new test. The MBA Exchange, for example, has a half dozen simulated, video practice sessions for clients, while mbaMission created an online simulation for clients with two evaluators to critique communication, collaboration and demonstrated leadership skills.

THE TWO PROMPTS ARE NOT ALL THAT CHALLENGING

In advance of the campus visits for both the discussion and a shorter one-on-one interview, invited applicants were given two “prompts” and asked to spend about an hour prepping a response to both issues. They are:

1) The Wharton School is committed to supporting our stakeholders as they acquire and refine the knowledge and skills they need to be successful professionally. As potential Wharton students, what is one key business skill that you think post-business school professionals must have in order to be successful, long-term, in their career?

2) The Wharton School’s mission is to enhance economic and social good around the world by turning knowledge into action and impact. What is the most important societal challenge that could be addressed more effectively by the business community today?

Typically, four to six applicants are put together in a room and given one of the two prompts. “The evaluators basically sit back and do nothing in the session,” says one applicant. “So we’re not getting any feedback during or after the session.”

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  • smoothie

    It was actually rather enjoyable and an interesting discussion. I even forgot the admission committee member was there for a while as I was so engaged.

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    I enjoyed my discussion as well; definitely a big step for Wharton. There are tons of douche bags who know how to put on a face to slam an interview; less, however, who can keep a lid on their unsavory personalities during a group discussion where others might be getting on their nerves. Fool proof? No. Process improvement? Without a doubt. I did see one comment, however, that threw me off. It stated that only 1/6 people in each cohort on average will get accepted; that would give Wharton about an <8% acceptance rate (given that they traditionally interview 40-45% of applicants). My understanding was that their acceptance rate was closer to 19%, with 12% as a low. That would mean that about 2-3 of each group will be accepted. If 850-875 will enter class, then that means that they'd need 10k+ applications, and no one gets that many. A class of 850 means ~1220-1250 will receive admittance (given a 70% yield). Historically the sweet spot on interviews for them seems to be between 2200 – 2500…etc.

  • Sali

    IMD is doing this for decades. It is the pioneer of such practice, the credit goes there.

  • youngr

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

    I did the same math and found the offer rate for those who interview to be between 35-40%. So, roughly 2-3 people in each group might get in.

  • LB NYC

    I was really underwhelmed with the Wharton interview process. I had my HBS interview the week before and my interviewers had obviously reviewed my application very thoroughly beforehand. We were able to discuss my experiences and career aspirations in much greater detail than I expected. During the HBS reflection “How well did we get to know?” I was able to honestly answer – pretty well! The entire day was very well organized and the admissions team wanted to make sure we had time to talk with professors, students, etc.

    Wharton was completely different. One of the student interviewers showed up over 30 minutes and didn’t look particularly interested in being there. Neither interviewer knew anything about the 6 candidates, so the 10-15 discussion afterwards was a bit superficial. The team-based discussion was kind of interesting, but this article is spot on – everyone was polite and I don’t think any candidate really distinguished themselves. I left the interview feeling like Wharton found out very little information about me through this process. Even now I can’t say I really know what they were hoping to get out of this. It’s important for you to impress the ad-coms on interview day, but I think it’s equally important for them to show an interest in you. Wharton fell short in this regard for me.

  • Dreamer

    I honestly don’t think the purpose of the interview is to weed out douchebags as anyone can be nice for 45 minutes even if someone is getting on their nerves. I think the interview is probably about how you think and express yourself. I think they are trying to see if you can contribute on the spot and change and mold your opinions as a discussion progresses. I think they knew that most douchy people can hide it well.

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    good point; and I agree that the primary goal is most likely to simply see how you A) influence and B) contribute to a group.

  • anonymous

    Honestly, I thought it was total BS. One of the team members had a horrible command of the English language, so that obviously knocked the person out–but Wharton would have found that out in a traditional interview anyway. Another was a type-A jerk from abroad, who tried to tone it down; that person will get in regardless I’m sure.

    I absolutely agree with the sentiment of it being painfully polite. Irritatingly so.

    The worst part was the 1-on-1. The person OBVIOUSLY didn’t know a single thing about me, which I frankly found insulting. It’s not like there were hundreds of applicants they were meeting that day! It takes 30 seconds to glance over a resume, it is NOT that much effort. The line of questioning was so shallow as well; it left zero room for the interviewer getting to know what was unique about me or what I would bring to the class. It really annoyed me that they’d ask such non-substantive questions.

    Whatever, I’m so over this whole process, and that school in particular. Just about everyone I’ve met there has rubbed me the wrong way and has come off in some way arrogant or full of it.

  • http://essaysnark.blogspot.com EssaySnark

    The HBS interview experience is very, very different from most schools. Only a few others (MIT, NYU) have open interviews with an adcom member who’s read your whole app; LBS does similiar but with alumni which is very unique. You will find that most other schools with 2nd-year or alum interviews go the same as it apparently did for you at Wharton: your interviewer knows little to nothing about you and it’s up to YOU to impress THEM. Yes, they are also typically trying to sell you on their school, so if that didn’t happen at all at Wharton then that’s a miss on their part.

  • JW

    Wjhat other schools did you apply?

  • Tzeentch99

    Why is it less than HBS? They just interview more people?

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    HBS has the highest yield and gets by far the most applicants. Wharton still have an extremely high yield themselves, but HBS’ is 90%

  • Dreamer

    My guess is that 1) most likely HBS is constraint by their resources (only members of the ad comm. can do interviews as opposed to students or alumni) so they interview less people 2) HBS has a high yield so they can afford to interview less people 3) they invite people who they really want as they have to meet them lol.

  • hbsguru

    Applicants have told me that during the touchy -feely group-grope that the Wharton puppet master was checking off a master grading sheet with boxes for
    1. works and plays well with others,
    2. cannot speak English,
    3. Real Smart,
    4. PU, BO and LOL and
    5/ “Over my dead body,” and more, blah, blah (leadership, empathy, listening skills, )
    of course all those concepts translated into adcom-PC talk.
    The point being, there WAS some master grading sheet, as you can visualize, and that is what is being reported.
    BTW, did you wear name tags???

  • Kip

    Ha ha! Great descriptions…you are the best!

  • anon

    we didn’t have name tags.

  • Dreamer

    I did not like this interview. I was actually excited about the interview but after going through it, I think is pretty useless at seeing true character. My interview everybody was too polite. Basically nobody was willing to engage and discussion and challenge each other’s opinion which lend to a very boring conversation. Basically every point had to be deemed a good point and incorporated, I was guilty of this as well but it is too risky to have a real discussion. Not sure if other’s felt the same. Obv. i still pray I get in but did not feel the interview format is optimal.

    I like HBS’s better.

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    Makes sense. I saw my interviewer making notes, but never saw the actual sheet. I guess that would be the only way to compare large numbers of people (a scoring system). We did not have name tags.

  • minnesotamba2016

    I conducted the TBD earlier in the week. I did see a lot of note taking. I did not see how any of us differentiated ourselves in the meeting. Everyone was overtly polite.(fake) In an actually academic or work team environment I feel people would be a lot more candid with their thoughts of others’ suggestions, so I did not feel it was real life applicable. After the TBD, my team all met and we did not get how we would be evaluated since we all felt we portrayed the same exact attributes equally. (not a ball hog, polite, friendly, engaged, thoughtful suggestions). I’m guessing if you have a solid app otherwise, you just need to be neutral on this TBD portion. (ie at least speak english and not be a huge A-hole). Bottom line is I hope this isn’t weighted much cause I left wishing I could have let the school know a lot more about me (and my teammates in the TBD had the same exact concerns/thoughts )…Sandy any intelligence on this?

  • hbsguru

    shrewd description: I don’t have any inside info, but your conclusions sound right to me: English language speaking etc and A-hole filter, with the post TBD 1-1 an added sniff for them on issues like 1. Is Wharton first choice (esp. if you present as possible H+S, that could =WL) or 2. if you present more as K, Chi, etc. who do you love more?

  • TFAtoMBA2016

    I did mine as well. although we had all type A people in my class. (from professional standpoint) Everyone was overly polite and acceptive of each others ideas (even if they were stupid). For example members of my group came up with an idea and in a friendly way, were insistent on that idea. I did my research before hand and knew wharton already had done something similar to that idea… but there is no upside in calling people out/making them look like the rest of the group didn’t do their homework, so I let it slide and said the typical wow great idea, this is how we can enhance it, etc.

    I do not know how it can screen out the jerk or A-hole since the GS/JPM/MA or MBB jerk or A-hole is smart enough to know how to play the game… we did have 3 foreigners but their english was fine.

    i too left thinking hm…how were we evaluated as we all should get 5s.

    a major wall street bank did team interviewers for college seniors for one year and then scrapped it…

    i’ve done other interviews over past weeks – K, Chi,Stan, Darden, Duke, Tuck, Columbia and really felt they knew more about me/my candidacy after.

    I’m on board with this counts in your file (but maybe 4%)…no smart adcom will dismiss you for using he more than she.

  • hbsguru

    “no smart adcom will dismiss you for using he more than she.”
    Well, I was just using a shorthand and no fairs prefacing that opinion with ‘no smart adcom’ –and even with smart ones, the flawed process makes for a trained ‘incapacity’ where they are looking for reasons to ding you [considering that they ding 60 pct of the group]. Also many adcoms and MORE SO, the kind of students who volunteer for this gig, run more PC than the average Wharton citizen. I don’t think too many Wolves Of Wall Street [a large Wharton cohort, or cert. wannabes] are volunteering for this. More the HR and do-gooder consultant types. Also, Adcoms run PC and cis-feminine to begin with, and if you thoughtlessly used ‘he’ instead of ‘she’, and there were other stray un-PC pixels in your picture, e.g. the way you looked, talked, the fact you were cis-Male, etc, it all could crystalize out in some subtle and unfair way. There are also lots of variants of that scenario. .

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