Prepping Applicants For New Wharton Test

by John A. Byrne on

When the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School announced last July a new team-based discussion as part of its MBA admissions process, the school made it clear it wanted to assess applicants in “an unscripted environment,” free from the influence of admission consultants and other advice givers.

Instead, Wharton has unwittingly given the admissions consulting business a big boost. Several of the leading MBA admissions firms have since launched specific offerings that are being priced between $500 and $400 a pop to help prepare anxious applicants for the group-based discussions. The online simulations by consultants are largely meant to mimic the real thing at which six applicants are posed a question they are expected to discuss.

“We knew people were going to be freaked out about it so we developed a way for them to feel more comfortable with it,” explains Angela Guido, a consultant with mbaMission who spearheaded the development of a 90-minute WebEx-like simulation for the firm. “It’s a pretty exact replica of what happens in their interview. We have four to six participants and the conversation is modeled on exactly what the real thing is like. Our objective is to give an applicant the chance to experience it for him or herself so they are not a deer in headlights.”

ONE FIRM SOLD OUT TWO PRACTICE SESSIONS OVER THE WEEKEND AND A FORTHCOMING FEB. 27 SESSION

By month’s end, mbaMission expects to run at least ten of the audio/whiteboard sessions. The firm charges applicants $400 for the practice session unless they purchase a full admissions package of consulting that would run $3,600 for one school to $9,400 for seven schools. Practice sessions run by mbaMission this past Saturday, Feb. 23, and Sunday, Feb. 24, were sold out as is a forthcoming Feb. 27th session.

The MBA Exchange and Accepted.com, admissions consulting firms that are among the largest in the business, are selling similar offerings. Several other firms, including Clear Admit, say they are helping applicants prepare for the test with more traditional consulting assistance. Accepted.com said it began offering its $500 service–which includes mock team and individual interviews, written feedback on both, and a one-on-one telephone consult– after being “bombarded” with questions about the Wharton interview and requests for specific coaching.

It’s an unintended outcome of Wharton’s initial hope to take prospective students ‘off the page’ of a typical MBA application. “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,” Vice Dean Karl T. Ulrich, explained in an interview when the school announced the new test. “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.”

‘THERE IS TREMENDOUS VALUE IN HAVING A DRESS REHEARSAL’

But the new test set off a new round of anxiety among applicants who want to put their best foot forward. “There is tremendous value in having a dress rehearsal, explains Linda Abraham, founder and CEO of Accepted.com. “That benefit is why MBA programs provide mock interviews and mock group interview to their grads. The participants in our Wharton prep are also receiving from us feedback on their participation and coaching on improving it – just as they would when preparing for interviews at Wharton or any other top school. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Even before Wharton officially announced the new team-discussion admissions test, The MBA Exchange had introduced its new service to help applicants prep for the novel addition to the school’s MBA application. The Chicago-based firm announced its $395 video offering nearly ten days before Wharton confirmed it was going forward with the new test. The MBA Exchange says it has already run 14 sessions for 63 clients and has three more scheduled through early March.

“Because facial expressions, gestures, body language, etc. are so important, our prep sessions take place via high-definition video using a password-protected platform,” says Dan Bauer, founder and managing director of The MBA Exchange.  A consultant plays the role of Wharton admission officer, welcoming the participants and presenting the “prompt” for them to discuss. Clients select and use pseudonyms to ensure confidentiality.

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  • socrates

    I don’t have a problem with my peers prepping for this style interview. Two people will pay for that service: (a) the person who must cover all his bases, who has probably already been part of a round table discussion several times and who probably will not benefit much from the service, and (b) the person who may come from a background in which he was not exposed to a great deal of team based problem solving, and who, by using this service, improves marginally. My guess is this mainly improves confidence.

  • Gogol

    This reminds me of an arms race with admissions consultants making a killing.

  • matt

    Why would someone who comes from a background without much team based experience only benefit “marginally”? With your logic I do not see how anyone at all could benefit more than “marginally” and for some reason I think you are likely sorely mistaken.

  • hern007

    I had a Wharton interview last week. My advice would be come prepared with an idea, but engage in the discussion, and be present. The discussion flows, and people coalesce around the best idea. Be sure to contribute, don’t talk over others, and think on your feet. There, I just saved you $500.

  • WorriedInterviewCandidate

    Wharton should not let candidates know the prompt in advance. That way, while consultants can help candidates practice body language, etc – they cannot prepare the content for candidates. In the current situation candidates who can spend multiples-of-$500 will get training on how to speak as well as what to speak !!!!!!!! Imagine ppl coming into the discussion with notes prepared by the consultants, that’s happened in R1.

    Can someone pls tell Wharton to change it to a structure where the prompts will be given at the start of the discussion & not before hand ? That will make it somewhat unscripted atleast.

    – WorriedInterviewCandidate W/o’$500’sToPayToConsultants

  • socrates

    I think it would take a lot more than a single session to improve that group.

    In my mind, I picture a group of people who struggle in team settings and would only marginally improve after one practice session. As compared to a group of people who already master that kind of interaction and dialogue and who, by taking one practice session, have “covered their bases” and feel hyper-confident walking into an interview of this style.

  • gtt31

    Totally agree hern. Come up with a thoughtful idea, listen, and don’t be a jerk. I found the process to be pretty enjoyable.

  • Jp

    Copy of IESE’s assessment day…

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