Conservative Shift Seen In Wharton Admits

Walnut Walk at Wharton

Locust Walk on a beautiful fall day at the Wharton School of Business

Admissions consultants say that Wharton’s Round 1 admissions decisions are more focused than ever on whether the school believes a candidate can achieve his or her post-MBA career goals. Highly qualified applicants who tell the school they want to use the degree to make what could be perceived a more difficult career switch are getting dinged, says Adam Hoff of Amerasia Consulting Group.

Hoff says he has seen several clients rejected in round one who he would have considered as close to a lock as ever–yet they were dinged with no interviews. Even accounting for the often random nature of admission decisions, where 20% or fewer applicants are accepted when as much as 80% of the applicant pool is qualified, Hoff said “these results are jaw-dropping.” He is advising applicants in Wharton’s second and third rounds to “proceed with caution when it comes to laying out your post-MBA plans. If your goal is even remotely hard to achieve, we strongly advise reconsidering that goal as it relates to your Wharton application.”

SHIFT TOWARD MORE CONSERVATIVE DECISION MAKING DUE TO ADCOM HEAD CHANGE?

Wharton’s new-found conservatism may be the result of the abrupt departure of the school’s head of MBA admissions on Oct. 4, just a few days after Wharton’s round one application deadline. Ankur Kumar, director of MBA admissions and financial aid, had held the job for only two years. Kumar has been at least temporarily succeeded by Maryellen Reilly Lamb, who has been in charge of career services at Wharton.  She is now managing her former function as well as MBA admissions and financial aid.

Several admission consultants felt that Kumar’s sudden leave would likely force Wharton to make more conservative admission decisions, in part because it was the only top ten business school in the U.S. that reported an application decline last year. Wharton also reported a record average GMAT of 725 for the just entered MBA class, a seven-point jump in a single year that was seen by many as defensive given the school’s 5.8% drop in application volume. Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, had earlier told Poets&Quants that If you are the next director, all you are going to do is say you are not going to admit any difficult, complex case. You are going to make sure the numbers are in line.”

Now, with round one decisions more apparent, it turns out that is not only the case, but those decisions are being informed with a career services slant. Lamb’s name and electronic signature were also affixed to the round one decision letters that went out, Hoff makes clear in a blog post yesterday (Nov. 14). “It is unclear if this is a temporary  or permanent solution for Wharton, but it is certainly mind-blowing. And it changes everything about the way you approach your goals with Wharton. You are no longer writing goals to admissions folks; you are writing them for career services people. And that’s a huge difference.”

APPLICANTS WHO ADMIT AMBITIOUS POST-MBA CAREER GOALS GETTING DINGED

The difference, of course, is that heads of career service are largely focused on whether or not they can help a candidate achieve his or her job objective. If a career goal is too much of a stretch, an acceptance to such a candidate would be viewed as too risky because there is a higher chance the student would be disappointed in failing to achieve a goal. This is especially true for applicants who want to do a simple career switch, going from consulting to finance, where jobs are not as plentiful as they once were, or for an applicant who wants to move from marketing to finance. It’s true for so-called “double switchers”–applicants who want to change industries and functions–and especially the case with “triple jumpers”—applicants who want to change industries, functions and their country of employment.

“There is tremendous skepticism at all schools over career changers, so saying you want to move from a tech background to financial/investing (IB, VC, or PE)  is suspect, the adcoms secretly think you are either uninformed about developments in the  financial sector or have seen the movie Wall Street too many times, or you have dead-ended in your current career or all of the above,” believes Kreisberg. “Saying you want to be a consultant is a safer way to say you want to switch careers because, well, you might, in fact, be able to do that.”

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.