Wharton | Ms. Ultimate Frisbee
GRE 326, GPA 3.47
Columbia | Mr. Worker Bee
GMAT 710, GPA 3.56
Yale | Mr. Environmental Sustainability
GRE 326, GPA 3.733
Tuck | Mr. Recreational Pilot
GRE 326, GPA 3.99
MIT Sloan | Mr. Semiconductor Engineer
GMAT 750, GPA 3.68
Kellogg | Mr. Sales Engineer
GMAT 740, GPA 3.00
Yale | Mr. Project Management
GRE 310, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Ms. JMZ
GMAT 750, GPA 3.47
Harvard | Mr. Renewable Energy Investing
GMAT 740, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. JD To MBA
GRE 326, GPA 3.01
Kellogg | Mr. Boutique Consultant
GMAT 760, GPA 3.67
INSEAD | Ms. Startup Enthusiast
GMAT 750, GPA 3.6
Wharton | Mr. Food & Beverage
GMAT 720, GPA 3.75
INSEAD | Ms. Humble Auditor
GMAT 710, GPA 3.56
Harvard | Mr. Markets Guy
GMAT 760, GPA 3.62
Kellogg | Mr. Hope-I-Get-In
GMAT 720, GPA 3.62
Yale | Mr. AI & Fitness
GMAT 720, GPA 3.88
Stanford GSB | Just Jim
GRE 335, GPA 3.99
Harvard | Mr. RIPKobe
GMAT 750, GPA 3.87
HEC Paris | Mr. Indian Journalist
GMAT 690, GPA 2.8
Kellogg | Mr. Andrew
GMAT 720, GPA 3.6
Kellogg | Ms. Clean Tech
GMAT 690, GPA 3.96
Chicago Booth | Mr. Masters To MBA
GMAT 730, GPA 3.9
NYU Stern | Mr. Long Shot
GRE 303, GPA 2.75
Kellogg | Ms. Kellogg Bound Ideator
GMAT 710, GPA 2.4
Darden | Ms. Teaching-To-Tech
GRE 326, GPA 3.47
Harvard | Mr. Amazon Manager
GMAT 740, GPA 3.2

Getting Into Wharton: Does College & Work Pedigree Trump Merit?

This is not the bargain most applicants think they’re signing up for. Most sweat through the GMATs and the essays in the belief that their academic achievement, job accomplishments, and overall character are going to be thoroughly and fairly assessed. The idea that they might be excluded or at least severely penalized before they even fill out the application is not supposed to be part of the deal. At its worst extreme, rampant credentialism could spell a return to a variant of the old boys club, where outsiders, regardless of merit, tend to get excluded.

While the system can undermine egalitarianism, it does boost the likelihood that Wharton’s graduating MBAs will have successful careers and earn far more dollars than others—thus allowing the school to post top numbers for its grads, keeping the merry-go-round turning. It has been said that the dirty little secret of a highly ranked business school is that it only accepts those who have already been successful and then takes credit for their success after they leave with the degree.


Wharton argues that admission to its MBA program is fair and open to all based on merit. Ankur Kumar, deputy director of admissions at Wharton, says the incoming class comes from about 250 different undergraduate institutions. “Being a preeminent business school, it’s only natural that ourselves and our peers will have people in each of our classes from other preeminent institutions,” says Kumar. “That’s no surprise. But it certainly is not a prerequisite. For us, it’s much more about achievement. We are far more concerned with a student’s performance while they are in school than the actual school itself. “

Wharton also denies that candidates have a leg up if they come from an elite firm. “By no means is that a prerequisite,” insists Kumar. “So just as with undergraduate institutions, it’s no surprise we are going to have people come to us from top institutions.” Kumar also takes issue with conclusions drawn from a sample that represents about 73% of the incoming students. “The data is inherently incomplete because a good portion of the class isn’t on the Facebook site,” she says. “It may not be representative of the broader class.”


All that matters little to Goldberg. Though he went to prestigious Johns Hopkins, that institution simply lacks the cachet of the many of Wharton’s major feeder schools. This year, for example, one in three of Wharton’s first-year MBAs hail from one of the eight private universities that make up the official Ivy League. When admits with undergraduate degrees from foreign schools are excluded, the percentage of students from the elite Ivies shoots up to 44%. Taken together, the top 25 feeder schools make up two-thirds of the entire class. That leaves a very small window for everyone else to crowd through.

Not surprisingly, the largest single group of students in Wharton’s Class of 2013 had their undergraduate diplomas stamped at the B-school’s parent university, UPenn, whose undergrads make up an estimated 7.3% of the class with more than 60 of the 845 students enrolled. Next? Harvard (6.5% of the class), Princeton (5.4%), and Yale (3.8%), making the top four feeder schools to Wharton all Ivy League.

Though he didn’t get an offer letter, Goldberg had a better shot at admission than some others. He would have been at even a greater disadvantage if he went to a public university. The only state institutions in the top 25 feeder schools to this year’s Wharton MBA class are all prestige places: Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Texas at Austin. Those five universities alone account for an estimated 8% of the class. All the other students from state schools in the U.S. make up less than 9% of the incoming first-year students.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.