On a blustery April afternoon dozens of undergraduates filed into a high-ceilinged auditorium in the University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Hall. They had gathered to see tiger mom Amy Chua and her husband talk about their new book as part of the Authors @ Wharton Speaker series. The room was packed; when all the seats were filled, students sat on the stairs or leaned against the railings.
A young, grinning professor went to the podium to introduce the program. This was the last speaker event of the spring, but he had good news.
“We’ve just lined up our first speaker for next year,” he said. “Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal.”
A collective “oh!” rose from the audience. Thiel is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and hedge fund manager—he was the first outside investor in Facebook, and recently launched a fellowship to pay students to drop out of college and create their own businesses. The crowd buzzed; students shifted in their seats. In the main building of the Wharton undergraduate business program, this is the sort of news that gets people very excited.
IN A SO-SO JOB MARKET FOR UNDERGRADS, WHARTONITES SEEM TO HAVE IT MADE
But Thiel will be hard-pressed to find drop-out candidates on this campus in Philadelphia. With graduation just a couple of weeks away on May 18th, the latest crop of Wharton undergrads is being eagerly received by an otherwise so-so job market awaiting most undergrads. A veritable Who’s Who of America’s Corporate Elite have been waving some hefty job offers at the roughly 650 students in the Class of 2014, making freshly minted Whartonites among the most richly paid business undergraduates in the world. (See Top 25 Employers Of Wharton Undergrads).
On point with Wharton student success, more than 80% of the class is expected to receive average sign-on bonuses of nearly $10,000, on top of annual bonuses over $26,000 each, more than what many MBAs get. And the base salary for these undergrads? While the numbers aren’t yet in, last year’s class averaged an enviable $67,986–and this year the average is likely to pop slightly higher.
Wharton is one of the most respected, and selective, undergraduate business programs in the country. The University of Pennsylvania has a 12% acceptance rate, and doesn’t break the statistics down by school—though the rumors are that Wharton is harder to get into than Penn. It’s not difficult to understand why: Besides the obvious rewards after commencement, students at Wharton have the opportunity to take classes in any of the four undergraduate schools at the University of Pennsylvania, while also studying with leading professors of business and innovation in their own program.
Lynda Yang, a sophomore interested in business and journalism, knew she wanted to go to Wharton from halfway around the world. In her high school in Shenzhen, China, Yang founded a company that sold USB drives in the shape of bracelets. Each bracelet said “I <3 SZMS”; her target consumers were students, parents, and teachers at Shenzhen Middle School, or SZMS. She sold over 600 USB drives, and ended up hiring 11 employees (all of whom were her friends, she says).
‘I THOUGHT WHARTON WAS THE BEST PLACE FOR ME’
During her senior year of high school, Yang went on a multi-week U.S. college tour, where she and her family visited seventeen colleges, including Yale, the University of Chicago, Wesleyan, and the University of Pennsylvania. When she arrived back in Shenzhen, she knew she wanted to go to Wharton.
“Because of my strong business-related experience, I thought Wharton was the best place for me,” Yang said.
She was initially hesitant about focusing exclusively on business; after all, she saw a liberal arts education as the best part of the American education system. But when she learned that she could take 40% of her credits in non-Wharton programs, including Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences, she was reassured. A history minor, Yang hasn’t been too limited: she spent last summer studying German in Berlin and traveling across Europe. Some 27% of students at Wharton study abroad, 21% pursue minors, and more than 30% graduate with more than one undergraduate degree from Penn.