What’s wrong with Wharton?
That was the highly provocative headline on a Wall Street Journal story published Friday (Sept. 27). The article suggested that the University of Pennsylvania’s business school has fallen behind rivals in recent years. The Journal cited a 12% drop in MBA applications over the past four years, a market shift away from Wharton’s strength in finance to technology and entrepreneurship, and a years-long decline in the rankings in concluding that “something at Wharton doesn’t add up.”
Several MBA admissions consultants reinforced the story line by telling the Journal that Wharton’s luster has recently faded. Eliot Ingram, a Wharton alum and CEO of Clear Admit, said that one of the firm’s clients turned down a $70,000 scholarship from Wharton this year to attend Harvard Business School because the applicant believed HBS had a stronger global brand. “We’re hearing (applicants say) Stanford, Harvard or nothing. It used to be Stanford, Harvard or Wharton,” the Journal quoted Jeremy Shinewald, founder of admissions consultant mbaMission.
Some Wharton insiders, understandably angry with the Journal’s conclusions, grumbled that the newspaper was looking for a deliberately provocative article on business schools in the wake of The New York Times’ story on gender inequality at Harvard Business Schools. Both media outlets furiously compete with each other in business coverage and clearly the NYT story fueled much discussion and debate.
THE GOOD NEWS MAY OFFSET THE BAD NEWS AT WHARTON
Did the Journal over reach? After all, MBA graduates from Wharton this year had one of the best placement records in the school’s history. Some 97.8% of the class had job offers three months after graduation, up from 95.5% a year earlier, and median base salaries rose to $125,000, up $5,000 from 2012.
This year’s entering class at Wharton, moreover, is arguably its best ever–at least as judged by average GMAT scores. The 725 average GMAT score for the Class of 2015 is a record and seven points higher than the previous year. 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.
And unlike many other business schools, Wharton has led the way by enrolling record percentages of women, higher than either Harvard or Stanford. This year, 42% of the entering class is made up of women.
‘A WHARTON MBA IS LIKE A BLUE-CHIP STOCK…THE LONG-TERM ROI IS SOLID’
Instead of floundering, Wharton is seen by some key observers as a true innovator. “Having met with the Wharton admissions staff and heads of several initiatives a few months ago, I’m impressed by how they’re changing the game,” insists Dan Bauer, founder of The MBA Exchange, a leading MBA admissions consultancy. “Wharton is implementing a more flexible curriculum, improving the overall experience with a new student center, and leveraging their San Francisco campus. The Lauder MA/MBA Program, the Healthcare Management Program, and the Zell-Lurie Real Estate Center are second to none. The concentration in retailing is a well-kept secret. And Wharton’s offer of a free exec ed class every seven years for MBA grads is amazing.”