Most Transparent MBA Admissons: Tuck, HBS, Ross & Fuqua

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

University of Pennsylvania Wharton School


And what of Wharton’s low score for transparency? Some attribute its failing grade to the school’s team-based discussion test for invited applicants. The unusual exercise was put into place three years ago for admissions to judge how candidates engage with each other in an unscripted environment. It’s normally a 45-minute exercise, followed by a brief 15-minute interview. “It’s ironic that Wharton ranks at the bottom given the importance that their admissions staff places on the ‘team-based discussion’ for applicants,” says Bauer. “No other top-10 school invests the time and effort to see how prospective admits interact. This negative score implies that applicants — or at least their admissions consultants — don’t consider these facilitated group sessions as a valid platform for Wharton to understand who they really are as individuals.”

Wharton’s group interview, adds Leventhal, was “probably conceived in part to get to know applicants better. I am in favor of the group interview as a foreshadowing of how somebody may handle the class dynamic in terms of energy and confidence, but many applicants feel it is a forced, unnatural exercise that you can prepare well for. I certainly feel confident that I can prepare a client for it. Maybe a longer personal stay with candidates with a more informal tone, like at Duke, may be a better way to ‘get to know folks.’ A candidate is more ‘exposed’ in a longer, personally focused interview forum. You can’t really hide. ”

Yet, Michael Cohan of MBAPrepAdvantage says that admissions for Wharton’s Executive MBA program has an entirely different reputation. “As part of the EMBA admissions process, Wharton interviews candidates in Philadelphia or San Francisco,” says Cohan, whose practice also includes EMBA applicants. “Over the past eleven years, I have found that the Wharton Executive MBA program will be very flexible for candidates they like, whether in admitting candidates with less experience or in even providing deferred admits.”

Schools That Get To Know Their Applicants LEAST


Rank & SchoolIndexDirector
   1. Pennsylvania (Wharton School of Business-100.0Mary Ellen Lamb
   2. Columbia Business School-87.5Amanda Carlson
   3. UCLA (Anderson)-37.5Alex Lawrence

Source: P&Q survey of MBA admissions consultants


Tuck’s Clarke also wins kudos for the way admissions uses social media to gets its message across to prospective students. “One factor in Tuck’s success is the way that it uses online communications to engage with applicants,” says Bauer. “Their ‘Tuck 360 Blog’ and ‘Ask Dawna’ videos convey that the school truly welcomes questions and has nothing to hide.”

Harvard Business School, which evaluates nearly 10,000 applications a year, came in right behind Tuck. Consultants gave Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid, plaudits for her unusually candid and personally written blog posts and webinars. “Dee, in particular, has gone to great lengths to be open about the process, and became a huge game changer with early release notifications,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “But also in keeping students up to date on announcements, timing, and other technical details. Showing that students come from 260+ undergraduate institutions, releasing a histogram of years of experience, they all help. It does reduce the anxiety in a drawn-out, somewhat mysterious process.”

Tyler Cormney of MBA Prep School agrees. “Harvard Business School gets my vote for running one of the most transparent MBA admissions programs,” he says flatly. “Unsuccessful candidates won’t love being “released” on a specified date, but I think a compassionate release is preferable to being imprisoned for weeks on end in Stanford GSB’s whimsical and mysterious admissions calendar. No surprise that Stanford found its way to the bottom of the list on transparency.”


Some consultants also pointed out that Harvard’s Leopold should be given credit for what she doesn’t do–as much as she is praised for what she does do. “Dee is really a star in this world,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of “She has been around a long time, and she has not used her position at an ultra-elite school to say basically ‘screw you’ and ‘take it or leave it’ to applicants, as have, ahem, some other adcom directors at other ultra-elite schools. And she is totally out there at forums and interview sessions, trying to make sure everyone is comfortable. She also manages what has to be the biggest staff and admissions budget of any school in the world, and that is a major task. It is one thing to keep a bunch of under-employed and seasonal alum interviewers under control. It is another to manage a real full-time staff of between 20 to 25 professionals.”

Adds Shinewald of mbaMission: “It is appropriate and amusing that HBS gets points for tranparency, but not for engagement. Dee Leopold is such a straight-shooter, but she just does not suffer fools gladly and can get a little impatient with applicant nonsense at times. I am a little bit surprised that Yale didn’t do a little bit better. (MBA Admissions Director) Bruce DelMonico is truly one of the nice guys and he is just as transparent as Dee – same transparency but with a smile.”

Consultants also heap praise on Soojin Kwon, MBA admissions director at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, for her frequent and forthright blog posts, proving that savvy and open communications on the web can go a long way in giving the impression that a school is at least trying to be less mysterious about its selection process.