What Wharton Seeks In MBA Students
In a core marketing class, you’re certain to study “branding.” It’s an elusive and elastic term, no doubt. At its heart, it refers to shared values and identity, a promise of an experience that customers will share with the brand.
Business schools are brands too – with a major caveat. Consumers choose brands, while business schools choose their consumers. Often, schools use the term “fit” to distinguish the accepted from the rejected. Like brand, fit means different things to different people. For some, it is code for someone with the wrong background or employer. For others, fit is a litmus test for maintaining the culture, traditions, and high expectations that made the school so successful.
Recently, admissions consultant Stacy Blackman shared her insights on what “fit” means at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Ranked among the “Big Three” MBA programs, Wharton itself is a Rorschach. To outsiders, Wharton is a finance school that churns out corporate America’s CFOs. For insiders, it is a hotbed of innovation with a growing global footprint in entrepreneurship and social enterprise. With such divergent communities, are there any shared characteristics that unify the best candidates for admittance at Wharton?
In Blackman’s experience, one trait you’ll find across Wharton students is an innovative mindset. And that has a very specific meaning at the school. “The key to being “innovative” in Wharton’s eyes is evidence that you think and act like a “change agent,” Blackman writes. “They’re looking for people who aren’t satisfied with the status quo and think businesses, agencies, communities, and even countries can be run more efficiently and effectively with the help of innovation.” For candidates to demonstrate that they are “change agents,” Blackman suggests that they focus on how they pushed change or designed something new, whether it was a physical product or a simply a process. “Find examples of how you’ve seen the potential to make things better — and taken action to create positive change,” she advises.
Applicants accepted into Wharton also carry a stronger global awareness, says Blackman. In the 2017 Class, for example, nearly a third of the class hails from 73 countries overseas. And this creates an opportunity for a dialogue that elevates the overall learning experience and spawns new ideas. “What Wharton is most interested in is candidates’ ability to understand, adapt to, and accept people from other cultures or with different points of view,” Blackman observes. In doing so she adds, students simulate a post-graduation world where they’ll face challenges from across both oceans. “Showing global awareness isn’t necessarily about the number of stamps on your passport. Rather, it’s about showing that you thrive in new and unfamiliar environments, and can successfully navigate the challenges of competing in a global marketplace.”
Forget the ‘dog-eat-dog’ and ‘all about me’ ethos you’ll find in some industries. At Wharton, team trumps all else. How interwoven is team into the Wharton culture? For starters, potential admits must complete a timed group project as part of their admissions interview and present their results to administrators and select second years. In doing so, they are able to reveal the ‘real’ candidate, not the scrubbed and coifed applicant you find in the application. And it is behavior – not ambitions and aptitude – that is tested in this exercise says Blackman. “Keep in mind that observers want to see candidates contributing without dominating the discussion; the idea is to see how you might engage in a productive conversation with a group of future classmates. To make a positive impression, be sure to share your point of view, but also listen thoughtfully; respect differing points of view; and bring others into the conversation.”
What’s more, shares Blackman, students work in learning teams during the core curriculum. And they do so to prepare students to assume different roles in graduation based on their strengths and the situation. “Being a strong collaborator means being able to take on feedback and shift fluidly between leadership and supporting roles as new challenges arise…Wharton wants students who can fully maximize the strengths and contributions of every team member — so much so that at the end of a project, it would be difficult to identify an MVP.”
Not surprisingly, Blackman also cites leadership as a differentiator between candidates. However, it might not be for the reason that many would assume. In Wharton’s view, Blackman emphasizes, passion is leadership – and those with passion are often those who build bridges, act as change agents, and are most likely to apply the strengths of those around them. “It’s often said that leaders can be divided into those who are “takers” and those who are “givers,” Blackman concludes. “Wharton is most definitely looking for the latter. If you can show how you’ve worked to understand the needs and goals of a team, helped others grow, put the group’s needs ahead of your own, and achieved some lasting impacts — however small — then you’re the kind of high-impact leader Wharton wants to help develop.”
DON’T MISS: MEET THE WHARTON MBA CLASS OF 2017