Harvard | Mr. Low GRE
GRE 314, GPA 3.7
Stanford GSB | Mr. Ambivalent Applicant
GMAT 720, GPA 3.7
Wharton | Mr. Data Dude
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Columbia | Mr. Reinvention
GMAT 780, GPA 2.3
Kellogg | Mr. Hopeful Green CPA
GMAT 690, GPA 3.96
Harvard | Mr. Infantry Commander
GMAT 730, GPA 3.178
Stanford GSB | Mr. Latin American
GMAT 770, GPA 8 of 10
Columbia | Mr. Brandless
GMAT 730, GPA 3.7
Tuck | Mr. Mega Bank
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Tier 2 Consultant
GMAT 770, GPA 3.65
Harvard | Mr. Latin International
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. Indian Deferred
GMAT Will take next month but expecting 750+, GPA 8.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Immigrant Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Ms. Decision Scientist
GMAT 730, GPA 3.9
NYU Stern | Mr. Media Tech Hopeful
GRE 321, GPA 3.2
Stanford GSB | Mr. Future MBA
GMAT 740, GPA 3.78
Wharton | Mr. Biotech Social Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
NYU Stern | Mr. Indian Data Guy
GRE 325, GPA 7.06
Harvard | Mr. Tech Start-Up
GMAT 720, GPA 3.52
NYU Stern | Mr. Beer Guy
GRE 306, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. HR To Finance
GMAT 760, GPA 7.65/10
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Microsoft Consultant
GMAT N/A, GPA 2.31
Columbia | Mr. MD/MBA
GMAT 670, GPA 3.77
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Social To Tech
GMAT 700, GPA 2.7
Harvard | Mr. CPG Product Manager
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5
NYU Stern | Mr. Brolic Bro
GRE 305, GPA 3.63
Tuck | Mr. Running To The Future
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5

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.