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Wharton Hires Firm To Test Its Reputation

Lobby of the Wharton School, ground zero for evaluation of Wharton's reputation

The Wharton School

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has hired a market research firm to assess Wharton’s reputation and rank among rivals, Poets&Quants has learned. Among other things, the firm is interviewing MBA admission consultants and asking them to rank the top five MBA programs and whether they agree with the statement that “Harvard and Stanford are for CEOs and Wharton is for CFOs.”

The study, by Neustadt Creative Marketing, comes after The Wall Street Journal published Sept. 27 an article under the provocative headline: “What’s Wrong With Wharton?” The article suggested that 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 storyline 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.

QUESTIONS INCLUDED ‘WHAT IS HARVARD’S REPUTATION?”

Wharton’s market research firm, which has also done work for Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University and Wesleyan, initially teed up their telephone interviews with an email that said the school’s Lauder Institute had hired Neustadt. But when the firm’s staffers called the consultants, they asked specific questions about the overall business school’s reputation, where it stood among the top five business schools, and how it compared to Harvard and Stanford, in particular.

One question seemed to suggest that Wharton, renown in the field of finance for the strength of its faculty and the important finance roles held by its alumni, remained concerned that it was viewed too narrowly as a finance school. “Someone has said that ‘Harvard and Stanford are for CEOs, and Wharton is for CFOs.’ Is that accurate?,” the interviewer asked an MBA admissions consultant.

The email, obtained by Poets&Quants, is as follows:

“The Lauder Institute at Penn’s Wharton Business School is partnering with Neustadt Creative Marketing, in a research project focusing on its communications with prospective and current students, as well as with its alumni. As part of this research initiative, the principal researcher is personally interviewing select MBA admissions consultants. We recognize that you can provide unique insights into current trends in the graduate business education market, and would appreciate your unique perspective. I am writing to see if you would have time for a brief, 20-minute confidential phone conversation to discuss your perceptions of both Wharton and the Lauder Institute, as well as glean insights from your experiences working with prospective MBA students.”

‘HARVARD AND STANFORD ARE FOR CEOS, AND WHARTON IS FOR CFOS. IS THAT ACCURATE?’

During the interview, one consultant who asked not to be named, said he was asked the following questions:

  • Can you rank the top five MBA programs?
  • What is Harvard’s reputation? Stanford’s? Wharton’s reputation?
  • Are those reputations “off” from reality?
  • Someone has said that “Harvard and Stanford are for CEOs, and Wharton is for CFOs.” Is that accurate?
  • What are the essential components of the Lauder Institute?
  • Does the Lauder Institute remain distinctive from other schools in today’s environment?
  • Is the language component either an attraction or a barrier for Lauder applicants?

Asked about the study, Wharton spokesperson Malini Doddamani insisted that “no one at Wharton is doing reputation research.” When sent the email from Neustadt Creative, she amended her remarks, saying: “That is true. The Lauder Institute, which is part of Wharton and The University’s School of Arts and Sciences, is doing some research as part of its 30th anniversary as they now have an optimal number of alums who can speak to this. Most of the administrative part of Lauder (admissions, career management, etc.) is handled in conjunction with UPenn.”

In any case, Wharton won applause from some MBA admission consultants who thought it was a good idea for the school to do the market research. “Surveying admissions consultants is an offbeat idea, and easy to mock, but consultants are actually in touch with reputational issues, and I salute the effort,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru and a prominent consultant.

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