Wharton Emails Spook MBA Applicants

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is warning some of its applicants who are being invited to interview that their quantitative preparation for the MBA program may be wanting.  Wharton’s admissions office is suggesting that the applicants retake the GMAT or GRE or, in the alternative, take a continuing education class in calculus or statistics.

The emails being sent to applicants are causing a good deal of anxiety among already anxious candidates who worry that even though they’ve made it to the interview step they will be at a disadvantage for getting admitted. Typically, business schools that have issues with an applicant’s quant scores are told after acceptance that it would be a good idea to attend a summer boot camp. It’s rare for a school to invite an applicant to interview and note a possible deficiency in his or her application.

Some MBA admission consultants are highly critical of the Wharton move. “This is yet another Wharton adcom screw up,” says Sanford Kreisberg, a Boston-based consultant and founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru. “One gets the feeling they actually hate applicants or have an emotional intelligence score of zero or both. What do they think some poor bastard who gets this is supposed to think and do?”


Last year, a leaked email to Wharton interviewers detailing the six behavioral questions the school was asking candidates caused some controversy. The Internet link to how those questions were to be graded, among other things, were being used by some admissions consultants to give their clients an advantage in the interview process.

This time around the Wharton emails to applicants already are beginning to fuel debate on some of the online discussion boards frequented by applicants. At GMATClub.com, for example, a candidate identifying himself as “Nikini” seemed shock to have received the email from Wharton. The Wharton applicant says he minored in business and has two calculus courses on his transcript along with completed courses in accounting and finance. “Although I did major in a language in college, I have been working in Financial Services consulting and passed all three CFA exams since that time,” wrote Nikini. “And with the score 49 (85%) in the quantitative part on the GMAT, I do not really feel that I am on the weaker side there.”

It’s not clear how many Wharton applicants have received the email. During an admissions cycle, Wharton can get some 6,800 applications for about 845 seats in an MBA class. In the past, the school has invited roughly 40% of its applicants to interview. This year, all interviews are being conducted by Wharton admissions staffers. Second-year MBA students and alums have been cut out of the interview process.

After congratulating the applicant for being invited to interview, the latest emails include the following passage:

“After a careful review of your application, we have some questions about your quantitative preparation for the Wharton classroom experience. Should you be admitted to the program, we want you to be as prepared as possible to be successful in our analytically rigorous curriculum.  Therefore, we encourage you to consider spending this time strengthening your quantitative acumen.  Many have found taking a continuing education class in Calculus or Statistics, or retaking the GMAT/GRE, with a focus on the quantitative section, to be helpful preparation.”

Wharton’s admissions office is calling the passage a “helpful suggestion” and “not a requirement” to applicants to move forward in the school’s admissions process. “Should you choose to undertake any of these preparatory steps, please send us updated scores or grades at mba-admiss@wharton.upenn.edu,” the email said. “We look forward to further exploring your candidacy to The Wharton School over the coming months.”

Nonetheless, the admissions staff’s decision to identify a potential weakness in an application will cause most candidates to retake the GMAT or GRE or quickly enroll in a calculus or statistics class because they fear that failure to do so would likely result in a rejection. A spokesperson for Wharton could not be reached for comment.


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