The early results of Wharton’s new team-based discussion format are now trickling back from mostly jittery round-one applicants who have sat through ordeal.
The early verdict on the Survivor-like test, which Wharton rolled out during the first week of the month? Based on interviews with admission consultants whose clients have already endured the unusual hurdle as well as a few invited applicants, the reaction is mostly positive.
But many report that their fellow applicants have been unnaturally, even painfully, polite during the 45-minute discussion and they’re leaving campus uncertain about their performance or their prospects for admission.
‘PEOPLE ARE ON HIGH ALERT FOR POLITENESS’
“People aren’t coming out feeling horribly negative,” says one consultant who preferred not to be quoted by name. “But they are saying that people are on high alert for politeness. Everyone is trying to be polite and respectful so it may not approximate reality.”
In the past, most applicants had a fairly good idea if they aced or bombed the interview. That’s less true with the new format, according to several participants. “People are a little bit bewildered,” says Angela Guido, a senior consultant with mbaMission. “Applicants had gone into the interview and had come out with a fairly strong sense of how well they did. This interaction is so different that people are not really sure.”
Wharton decided to add the novel test this year after a small pilot of the experience for about 30 round three candidates in the Class of 2014. The school expects to invite 40% to 45% of its applicants to the discussion followed by an admissions interview, though actual numbers will depend on the strength of the applicant pool in each round (See Wharton email invite to round one applicants).
Although one stated reason for the change was for Wharton to get applicants in “an unscripted environment,” MBA admissions consultants have quickly announced products to help applicants prep for the new test. The MBA Exchange, for example, has a half dozen simulated, video practice sessions for clients, while mbaMission created an online simulation for clients with two evaluators to critique communication, collaboration and demonstrated leadership skills.
THE TWO PROMPTS ARE NOT ALL THAT CHALLENGING
In advance of the campus visits for both the discussion and a shorter one-on-one interview, invited applicants were given two “prompts” and asked to spend about an hour prepping a response to both issues. They are:
1) The Wharton School is committed to supporting our stakeholders as they acquire and refine the knowledge and skills they need to be successful professionally. As potential Wharton students, what is one key business skill that you think post-business school professionals must have in order to be successful, long-term, in their career?
2) The Wharton School’s mission is to enhance economic and social good around the world by turning knowledge into action and impact. What is the most important societal challenge that could be addressed more effectively by the business community today?
Typically, four to six applicants are put together in a room and given one of the two prompts. “The evaluators basically sit back and do nothing in the session,” says one applicant. “So we’re not getting any feedback during or after the session.”