More importantly, perhaps, there have been a series of miscues by the school’s admissions office in recent years. In 2010, Wharton’s confidential instructions to its alumni interviewers–along with the behavioral interview questions–leaked and were being sold to applicants by some admission consultants. The leaked slideshow includes all six questions, suggestions for follow-ups, as well as detailed guidelines for how to grade the applicants’ answers. The upshot: applicants who were willing to pay for help were getting inside information that made it far more likely they would do well in the crucial interview session that is the last hurdle to an acceptance.
A TELLING SIGN: A MAJOR ADMISSIONS CHANGE WAS NOT ANNOUNCED BY KUMAR
It was under Kumar that Wharton decided to no longer use second-year students as first readers on MBA applications, a move that some students felt disenfranchised them from the admissions process. It was telling, too, that a major change in admissions policy last year was announced not by Kumar, but rather Karl T. Ulrich, Wharton vice dean for innovation. That change, the introduction of a novel team-based discussion component, may have led to at least part of the fall in this past year’s applications to Wharton, turning off applicants who speak English as a second language.
Some applicants also privately groused that the new test required that they return to Wharton on set dates and times that were often inconvenient for them when traveling from afar. Then, in August, Wharton’s director of MBA career management, Maryellen Reilly Lamb, was placed over Kumar when Lamb was promoted to the position of deputy vice dean for MBA admissions, financial aid and career management.
It also could not have helped that this year Kumar’s essay questions for applicants drew ridicule from some MBA admission consultants. Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com called them “dullsville made worse by confusion.”
‘HAIRSPLITTING, UNIMAGINATIVE’ ESSAY QUESTIONS?
“Even after you explain to clients that the first question wants you talk about what Wharton can do for you, both professionally and personally, and the second one wants you talk about what you can contribute to Wharton, they still gag and say ‘what is the difference?’” he said. “They are right, of course, in the grand scheme of all possible questions, this is hairsplitting, unimaginative, Wharton-centric (in a bad way) and not likely to capture any new or interesting information about applicants.”
Some consultants believe that Kumar’s departure signals deeper issues for the school and its place among the world’s elite MBA programs. Fewer students are taking jobs in fields that were once Wharton’s mainstay–investment banking and investment management. And Kumar isn’t the only top official to leave in recent years. In June of last year, Yale University’s School of Management hired away a highly admired long-time leader at Wharton, Anjani Jain. For Wharton, it was a major loss: Jain had a distinguished and impactful career at Wharton over 26 years, spending ten years as vice dean of the MBA program and his final two years there as the vice dean of the MBA program for executives.
“The bottom line is that Ankur is taking the fall for a lot of macro issues that she can do nothing about,” thinks Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, a leading admissions consulting firm. “Wharton is being affected by so many factors, some significant and others subtle. For example, on the significant side, Columbia and Chicago’s brand strengths have improved tremendously in the last decade. The opportunities available upon graduation are now basically the same as those at Wharton – so some applicants are just choosing the city they like more and New York and Chicago are winning that battle.
“On the subtler side,” added Shinewald, “Wharton is doing a great job of educating its undergraduates and some are doing so well that they are not returning for their MBAs and others who do want their MBAs just want to try a new campus and have a different experience. Of course, there is the “fall of Wall Street story” and the fact that HBS and Stanford are creating more headline grabbing start-ups. All of that said, the Journal article really upset alumni and set off alarms with the administration and they could not be seen to be standing still. Now, the hard work begins.”