Why Wharton Will Go By The Numbers

Wharton's Maryellen Reilly Lamb foresees no admission changes

Wharton’s Maryellen Reilly Lamb foresees no admission changes


Lamb insists that there will be no changes to Wharton’s admission policies or process. “I think that the team she leaves in place is incredibly strong,” says Lamb in an interview with Poets&Quants. “From the perspective of the candidates, our admissions process and everything that happens once an application is submitted will run very smoothly. For the most part, the team and the school itself is super strong.”

Lamb said Wharton’s MBA applications for round one are up in the “mid-single digits.” In a blog post, she conceded that she was watching the numbers for the first round as if she were a Wall Street trader.  “I felt like I was back in the trading room waiting for the Non-Farm Payrolls number to come out,” wrote Lamb. “If you believe that application volume is an indicator of the relevance of an MBA program, then I’m pleased to announce that our Round One numbers are up.”

Admission consultants believe that Wharton should experience a continued upswing in the next rounds as well. “I think it’s application volume will climb round 2 and 3 as a result of this publicity,” says Abraham. “Applicants will realize there is greater opportunity to get into Wharton, a top MBA program, and will apply.”


Wharton’s Lamb dismisses the Journal’s recent article. “I look at Wharton as being in a really good position. For the class of 2013, we have 97.8% who had job offers (three months after graduation). That tells me employers still look to Wharton as a strong source of talent. That is a resounding market reaction from our employer base.”

In replacing Kumar, Wharton will probably have to reach outside its admissions office for Kumar’s successor. Lamb, who had run career management at Wharton, only gained oversight of the admissions office in August and has yet to make a single admit or deny decision on a candidate.

The most experienced admissions official left in the office is Tiffany Gooden, director of recruitment and enrollment. She joined Wharton admissions in 2008, with four years of undergraduate admissions experience under her belt at Dartmouth College. She has also been responsible for diversity recruitment at Wharton, including what the school terms “pipeline development for prospective students of color.”


Otherwise, the remaining five members of Wharton’s adcom team have little to light backgrounds in MBA admissions at Wharton. Rebekah Jackson, one of two senior associate directors, joined Wharton in July of 2012, after a nine-year stint in undergrad admissions at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore County campus. Claire Bruno, the other senior associate director, joined Wharton in November of 2010, after working in admissions for Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

Associate Directors Anthony Penna, Blair Godfrey, and Megan Gallagher combined have been on Wharton’s adcom staff a total of less than six years. If you add together the team’s total undergraduate experience at other schools, Wharton says the group has 40 years of admissions knowhow.

Abraham predicts that Wharton will strive to hire an admissions director who will stick around. After all, Lamb is the fifth head of admissions at Wharton in the past eight years. “If the school goes outside of Penn for a new director, it will hire someone with a track record as a successful admissions director,” says Abraham.


Meantime, Kreisberg thinks Wharton’s adcom team can’t afford to take many risks. “Even if you are stupid enough to have your own idea about how admissions could be run, it would take you a year to massage that through the powers that be,” he says. “So now they are in cover your ass mode. It’s ‘Don’t worry about exceptions. Let’s make the numbers and move on.’ In this environment, they become GMAT sluts. They don’t want any lesser numbers next year. They don’t want less of anything that can be measured. A candidate’s addition to the diversity pool or interest or do-gooder things cannot be measured so they won’t be interested in those things.”

Looking further ahead, some believe Wharton will end up dropping its team-based discussion (TBD) admissions requirement which some believe is at least partly responsible for this year’s fall in applications because it scared off applicants who speak English as a second language. Combined with Wharton’s image as a finance school at a time when Wall Street is retrenching, the school could ill afford to put off any applicants.


“I’m not sure the TBD will survive,” adds Abraham. “I don’t understand why international applicants could fear the TBD more than a conventional interview or a video essay. However, if Wharton administrators feel that the TBD may be reducing application volume and  hurting Wharton’s brand, I suspect they will scrap it. While I felt it provides valuable insight into candidates and how well they present themselves as well as how they perform in group settings, the TBD takes resources to run and the logistics are tough. If it’s costing also in terms of application volume, the benefits may not be worth the cost.”

Wharton will have to work harder to convince MBA applicants and recruiters that it is far more than a finance school, which frankly it hasn’t been for a very long time. “The talk about Wharton being a “only” a finance school is nonsense,” insists Abraham. “It excels in finance, but it excels in other areas of business too. For example, it does a great job of preparing people for careers in consulting (close to 30% of the 2013 grads), and that is the field that is the big draw today, at least among Accepted’s clients. I visited Wharton in June, and the sheer breadth of Wharton’s offerings is dizzying. Whether it’s healthcare management or global management, real estate or retail, Wharton has tremendous resources to bring to the table and to prepare its students for amazing careers — outside of finance and off of Wall Street.”

Otherwise, consultants think Wharton needs to immediately polish up its image. “Wharton should chat with its own corporate communications professors to be sure they get past this quickly,” says Shinewald of mbaMission. “Otherwise, the continued black cloud could lead to a drop in applications, which could lead to diminished rankings. In short, they could find themselves in a vicious circle. Far more likely is that this is all forgotten in two weeks and that 850 people find themselves delighted to be in their next class and then build careers on the Wharton name.”

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