Despite a 5.8% fall in MBA applications, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said it has enrolled a larger first-year class of 855 with an average GMAT score that is seven points higher at 725.
Wharton’s average GMAT score is now the second highest of any school in the world, behind only Stanford University’s 729 average from last year. With a 725 average, Wharton just edged by Harvard Business School’s average of 724 last year. Most other schools have yet to report their new numbers, however, so it’s possible that Wharton’s newfound advantage could be easily erased.
Wharton also said that it admitted applicants this year with a range of scores that vary from a low of 630 to a high of 790. Last year, Wharton’s lowest accepted GMAT score was 70 GMAT points below this year’s bottom at 560. The school said that the middle 80% of the Class of 2015 scored between a 690 and a 760, compared to a middle range of 660 and 770 a year earlier.
For Wharton, the GMAT average is a new record and something of a surprise in a year in which the school rolled out a novel team-based discussion to admissions that most observers thought would put more emphasis on the poise, presence and communication abilities of applicants rather than the scores on their entrance exams.
HIGHER GMAT AVERAGE A RESULT OF MARKET POSITIONING CONCERNS?
MBA admission consultants suspect that the increase suggests that GMAT scores are assuming greater significance in Wharton admission decisions. “The lesson is, at Wharton, GMAT is becoming more important,” says Sanford Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com, a Boston-based admissions firm. “All the ‘holistic’ mumbo-jumbo does not really count when push comes to GMAT. Many Wharton applicants are told in various ways that the reason they did not get in was pretty simple, a low-ish (~670-680) GMAT or low quant score.”
Kreisberg believes that Wharton’s seven-point jump might well be motivated by marketing concerns. “Being one trivial point ahead of HBS actually has significant ‘branding’ consequences,” he adds. “Wharton can now be positioned, by students and others, as the serious place for smart people while HBS becomes the interesting place for diverse people. Of course, no one says that out loud, but that ‘meme’ works itself into the eco-system of clichéd business ideas – an extremely important set of half-truths, prejudices, and firmly-held mantras. It is real important for Wharton that upper-crust applicants still think of the top of the B-school heap as H/S/W rather than just H/S with Wharton getting mixed in with Columbia, MIT, and Chicago in some Tier A-1. This trivial one point GMAT difference is actually huge in terms of perception.”
RECORD GMAT SURPRISING IN A YEAR WHEN APPLICATIONS DECLINED
It’s also surprising that Wharton reached the new GMAT milestone in a year when application volume dropped yet again, to 6,036 from 6,408 a year earlier. It’s not clear why Wharton experienced a near 6% fall in applicants when MBA applications at many other peer schools were up. This past year, Chicago Booth, which has consistently finished ahead of Wharton in BusinessWeek’s influential rankings for the past eight years, reported a 10% increase in applications. After being ranked first by BW in four consecutive rankings from 1994 to 2000, Wharton hasn’t topped BusinessWeek’s list. Chicago, on the other hand, has now been ranked first by BusinessWeek since 2006. Finance rival and powerhouse Columbia Business School had a 7% rise. Harvard was also up, with a more modest 4% increase.
The latest decline at Wharton will likely push the school’s acceptance rate, which was undisclosed in the profile, to slightly above 20%. Only five years ago, some 7,328 applicants vied for a seat in Wharton’s Class of 2010. Since then, the school has suffered a 17.2% drop in applications.
Yet, this year the school enrolled 18 more MBA students in the Class of 2015, up from 837 in 2012.
PROFILE OF THE INCOMING CLASS SHOWS LITTLE CHANGE
The data was released by the school’s admissions office with the publication of its Class of 2015 profile. Both Harvard and Wharton release this information early. Most business schools, including Stanford, wait until September to publish class profile demographics.