Wharton Adds Team Test For Applicants

Wharton Vice Dean for Innovation Karl Ulrich

The Wharton School has made it official: the school is rolling out a new team-based discussion for MBA applicants as part of its new admissions process. The announcement by Karl T. Ulrich, Wharton vice dean for innovation, confirms earlier reports by PoetsandQuants that the school would add the new novel test for the 2012-2013 admissions cycle. Ulrich said the test gives the school a new “tool to take prospective students ‘off the page’” of a typical MBA application.

The school also announced a pilot of something it is calling a” Semester in San Francisco,” which will allow second-year MBA students the opportunity to spend their fall term at Wharton’s San Francisco campus. The West Coast option, an important marketing asset for Wharton, was initially reported by PoetsandQuants last February.

MBA admissions consultants believe the option will make Wharton more attractive for applicants who want greater exposure to the technology industry, venture capital, or entrepreneurship. “In a U.S.-centric sense, students will get the best of both worlds: east and west,” said Betsy Massar, founder and president of Master Admissions, an admissions consulting firm. “A whole semester is more effective for potential business launches and full-time careers than a week long trek. As virtual as we are these days, there’s nothing like being in the heart of it all.”

But the bigger news is on the innovative change in Wharton’s admissions process and the fact that it was not announced by Wharton’s admissions staff but rather its vice dean for innovation. Vice Dean Ulrich had worked with Admissions Director Ankur Kumar to develop a pilot test of the discussion for a few third-round applicants earlier this year.

“After thoughtful discussion and positive feedback, we are excited to officially launch this evaluation method during the upcoming application cycle,” said Vice Dean Ulrich, in a statement on the school’s website late Friday (July 20) afternoon. “The team-based discussions will allow candidates the opportunity to interact with fellow applicants through discourse involving real-world business scenarios, which will highlight how they approach and analyze specific situations. Our hope is that this will give applicants a glimpse into Wharton’s group learning dynamic—which is central to our program. We believe that this type of assessment also serves as a tool to take prospective students ‘off the page’ and allows us to see firsthand the ways in which they can contribute to our community of diverse learners and leaders.”

In a brief interview with BusinessWeek, Ulrich said that one of the reasons for the new test is to get MBA applicants in “an unscripted environment,” free from the influence of admission consultants and other advice givers. “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,” he said. “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. That was one of the main goals.”

But that is not how some in the MBA admissions industry saw the announcement. “If there were ever an exercise that begged for additional coaching, this is it,” said Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, an MBA admissions consulting firm. ” I imagine that many applicants will make misguided attempts to dominate conversations and try to be something or someone they are not. We will be very careful to coach our clients in the opposite direction.”

A month ago, Poets&Quants reported that  Anthony Penna, Wharton’s associate director of admissions and financial aid, told a group at the Harvard Club in San Francisco that it is “98% confirmed” that Wharton will make a team-based discussion among applicants a new part of its admissions process. But the school hadn’t officially announced the change until now.

The change occurs just as Wharton rolls out a newly revamped MBA curriculum this fall that offers students greater customization of their MBA education based on their earlier education and work experience.

Ulrich offered few details of how Wharton would administer the discussions or whether applicants would now be required to come to campus to participate in them. “As we continue to roll out information regarding the team-based discussion process, please check the Office of MBA Admissions website for further details and updates.

Wharton began to actively considering the change after a pilot test of the new process for a few third round MBA candidates earlier this year. The test involved inviting groups of six third round candidates to campus for a recreation of an interactive discussion in an MBA classroom. In all, some 30 third round applicants were involved in the labor-intensive evaluation process. The test informed some of Wharton’s third round decisions, which were released in early May.


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