Chicago Booth | Mr. Plantain & Salami
GMAT 580, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Tech Start-Up
GMAT 720, GPA 3.52
Stanford GSB | Ms. Education Non-profit
GRE 330, GPA 3.0
Harvard | Mr. Deferred Admission
GRE 329, GPA 3.99
Harvard | Mr. Football Author
GMAT 760, GPA 3.4
Tuck | Mr. Running To The Future
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5
Kellogg | Mr. Digital Finance
GRE 327, GPA 3.47
Stanford GSB | Mr. Filling In The Gaps
GRE 330, GPA 3.21
Tuck | Mr. Tech PM
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Wharton | Mr. Data Dude
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Tech Impact
GMAT 730, GPA 3.8
Columbia | Mr. MD/MBA
GMAT 670, GPA 3.77
Chicago Booth | Mr. Community Uplift
GMAT 780, GPA 2.6
Rice Jones | Mr. Simple Manufacturer
GRE 320, GPA 3.95
London Business School | Ms. Social Impact Consulting
GRE 330, GPA 3.28
Ross | Ms. Business Development
GMAT Targetting 740, GPA 4.0
UCLA Anderson | Ms. Triathlete
GMAT 720, GPA 2.8
Columbia | Mr. Oil & Gas
GMAT 710, GPA 3.37
Chicago Booth | Ms. IB Hopeful
GMAT 710, GPA 2.77
Kellogg | Mr. Digital Finance Strategy
GRE 327, GPA 3.47
Wharton | Mr. Market Analyst
GMAT 770, GPA 7.2/10
Harvard | Mr. Banking & Finance
GMAT 700, GPA 3.8
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Hanging By A Thread
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
MIT Sloan | Ms. Canadian Civil Servant
GRE 332, GPA 3.89
Wharton | Ms. Energy To Healthcare
GMAT 740, GPA 8.4/10
Wharton | Mr. Finance to MBB
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0
MIT Sloan | Mr. Generic Nerd
GMAT 720, GPA 3.72

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

Of the 613 MBA candidates in the sample whose undergraduate degrees could be verified by Poets&Quants, there’s not a single student from Arizona State, Ohio State, Michigan State, or Penn State–four of the country’s largest public universities. Outside of Berkeley and UCLA, there are just two students in the sample from California’s massive and highly regarded public education system, one each from UC at San Diego and UC at Santa Barbara.

“That’s odd and a little bit disturbing,” says Steven C. Currall dean of the school of management at UC-Davis. “It raises questions about diversity because diversity doesn’t only mean gender and race. It also means experience, background and geography.”

In almost all cases, the top public university in any given state has very few or no admits in the Wharton class. When applicants from state schools managed to break through the Wharton screen, they tended to do so in very small numbers. In the sample, for example, there is one from Delaware, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Maine, two each from Maryland and Florida.

Adds Currall, who had been a professor at the London School of Business: “It reminds me of something I found very troubling in the U.K. which has the lowest degree of upward economic mobility in Europe because its institutions create impenetrable boundaries. The clubs, schools, and universities are used to put people on a track. If this country loses the hope of upward mobility we are in real trouble. It is a fundamental value that your access is based on merit.”


A similar pattern can be seen in the work backgrounds of the incoming Wharton class. The top six feeder companies this year are McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, Bain, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley. Nearly one in five students (19.2%) worked for one of those half dozen tony firms. Roughly 27% of the entire class comes from Wharton’s top 12 feeder organizations, a select group that includes consulting firms Accenture, Booz & Co., and Deloitte, as well as Barclays Bank.

Not surprisingly, McKinsey & Co. is sending the largest single contingent to the Wharton School. As much as 5.5% of the entire class of 845 admits come from the prestige management consulting firm. McKinsey is not merely a feeder to Wharton. It is also the school’s top recruiter, having scooped up 44 MBAs–roughly the same number of McKinseyites (46) estimated to be in this year’s incoming class. Of course some of those McKinsey alums came from the pool of high potential employees who are attending business school on the firm’s dime, with the caveat that they must return to the consultancy for a certain number of years or repay the cost of tuition.

None of this could have helped Goldberg who worked for what he himself calls a “no-name-local firm” in Beijing. Four months after being rejected, the decision still doesn’t sit well with him. “For the companies, there is definitely a quid pro quo,” believes Mark. “All those companies are also some of the biggest recruiters of MBAs. So they are recruiting out of the same pool later on. What can you do about that? Not much. What frustrates me is that if they took an extra five seconds to read your resume instead of just looking at which firm employs you, they would realize you are more than qualified.”


To some extent, the insularity is self-fulfilling. “If an applicant is coming from a top-tier firm, that speaks pretty highly for their ability to handle the analytical rigor of the program,” says Kimberly Raynor-Smith, the former associate director of admissions at Wharton and currently an admissions consultant at The MBA Exchange. “All the top-tier firms only hire at the top undergraduate schools and then they help groom these same people to go to a Harvard or a Wharton. They have people who help their young people prepare their applications to these schools. So it all works in a cycle. The pedigree of a top school should continually open doors for you. But I don’t know where that leads everybody else.”

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.