Donald Trump is fond of noting that he is a proud and smart graduate of the “Wharton School of Finance.” For a world-class school that has persistently battled the myth that the Wharton School of Business is merely a place to study finance, Trump’s declarations must make Director of MBA Admissions Frank DeVecchis wince.
“The breadth of this place is staggering,” DeVecchis says. “So when I hear people ask if Wharton is still a finance school, my answer is usually, ‘Yes AND’ — and then I go on to talk about other things.”
The school was originally named the Wharton School of Finance and Economy in 1881, and then the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce in 1902. The University of Pennsylvania shortened the institution’s name to the Wharton School in 1972, some 44 years ago. So when Trump graduated its undergraduate business program in 1968, the school was generally known as the Wharton School of Finance.
But this is not your father’s — or Trump’s — Wharton. Long regarded as a finance Mecca and a golden ticket to Wall Street, Wharton is proud of its finance roots —and it continues to reign as the top finance school according to U.S. News & World Report. You’d be hard pressed to find a more academically diverse MBA program. According to the same U.S. News survey, which is based on the opinions of B-school deans and MBA directors, Wharton ranks as a top-five program in six fields: marketing, management, international business, operations, accounting, and finance.
One question on the school’s MBA application, asking candidates to name their intended major, provides a good glimpse of Wharton’s vast offerings. Among the choices are actuarial science, insurance and risk management, multinational management, and organizational effectiveness. And despite its supposed “corporate” reputation, it has emerged as an entrepreneurial hotbed as well, with recent Wharton grads behind headline-grabbing startups like Warby Parker, Harry’s, and CommonBond.
“Wharton is a really easy place to get inspired,” DeVecchis tells Poets&Quants in an interview. “The students here and the faculty and staff are all driven in such a way that it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the place and the energy that surrounds you. When you work with these individuals, you’re reminded on a daily basis that these are some of the best and brightest in the world. That’s not hyperbole in a place like Wharton. Working with these individuals and learning more about their own experience is infectious. It’s inspiring and it’s a lot of fun.”
A DIVERSE CURRICULUM AND CLASS THAT DEFIES ITS ‘FINANCE SCHOOL’ LABEL
An English major from St. Joseph’s University in Philly, DeVecchis had been director of alumni relations at his alma mater for nearly two and one-half years when he joined the Wharton School in late 2009 as associate director of the Wharton Fund. Two years later, he moved to director of global immersion programs at Wharton and then, in mid-2013, he took on the job as director of MBA academic operations. He became director of MBA admissions in March of 2015. This year the father of three (all sons aged 6 to 10 months) was a graduate himself, earning a master’s in higher education administration from Penn.
DeVecchis’ first full class of MBA students, the Class of 2018, is composed of 44% women, one of the top rates for business schools. At the same time, 32% of the class consists of students of color, with another 32% hailing from overseas. In terms of career background, just one field —consulting — encompasses more than 20% of the class (though private equity, investment banking, investment management, and other finance, when combined, account for 36% of the class). One big surprise, however, is the popularity of the liberal arts, with 46% of 2018 students coming out of the humanities —nearly double the number of undergraduate business majors.
DeVecchis witnessed this diversity in action during the leadership program in pre-term. Here, 2018 students with backgrounds ranging from a fighter pilot to a MD student would present their solutions to global issues. DeVecchis says he came away dazzled. “To see that remarkable diversity of thought in one place and put toward such diverse and noble goals is really inspiring,” he says. “I can’t wait to see what these students will do. The breadth of experience in this year’s class is just staggering. It’s great for us to see them already leveraging that.”
SMALLER AND LOWER COST THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
You’ll find other surprises at Wharton. One underrated aspect of the Wharton experience, DeVecchis says, is Philadelphia itself. “The vast majority of our students are living in and around Rittenhouse Square,” he notes. “It’s one of the nicest areas of Philadelphia, but the rents are about half of what you’re going to find in New York, Boston, or the Bay Area. At the same time, Philly has one of the best restaurant scenes in the country and it’s remarkably affordable. That cost of living really does play a big benefit.”
Another involves the school’s 851 full-time first-year students, a size that may intimidate those with their heart set on an “intimate” experience. But the school is far smaller and more personal than applicants might assume, DeVecchis says. “I mean, you’re with those 850 students for three or four times in your entire experience. Our average class size here is much closer to 50 students. That’s more of the size we’re comfortable with in the classroom. … We have academic advisers who are working hand in hand with these smaller groups. We have student life advisers who can help them navigate through the experience. Our size is a strength, certainly, but we put a lot of thought into how the process leverages those interpersonal interactions.”
So what can prospective students expect at Wharton? DeVecchis, who has also worked in fundraising, global immersions, and academic affairs during his seven-year run at Wharton, describes the DNA of a Wharton MBA student as “collaborative, curious, and engaged.” While students compete, DeVecchis frames it as a collective striving to be the best versions of themselves. Even more, students are heavily involved in the direction of the school through the recruiting process and by partnering with professors on curriculum. “What students have is a real stake in their experience and the experience that their future alumni are going to engage in,” he says. “That really speaks to the kind of culture they want to be a part of.”
Looking to learn who Wharton is targeting in admissions, how to excel in their team-based interviews, or how admissions really views GMATs? In a wide-ranging interview with Poet&Quants, DeVecchis, who took over the job as admissions director in 2015, attempts to answer these and other questions.
Let’s look at Wharton’s recruiting efforts. When it comes to applicants, are there any demographic groups that you are increasingly targeting and what are you doing to attract more applications from them?
Globally, we’ve made some great strides in terms of increasing the number of female applicants. There is still a lot of work to be done in that regard both here in the United States and I think abroad. We’re really lucky to have a wealth of support.
Domestically, the data is showing us that black and Hispanic students are just not applying to two-year MBA programs at the levels that we’d expect. We’re working closely with students, alumni, faculty, and administrators to make sure we are addressing areas of importance among those communities and that we’re bringing more students to campus for campus visit days. We’re engaging with candidates earlier in the process. Our students have been really fantastic partners. Their support of our initiatives and the candor that they offer has really helped us grow and improve. Again, there is a lot of work still to be done.
In 2014, Geoffrey Garrett took over as the dean of Wharton. Over the past two years, what has changed in terms in Wharton’s recruiting, from your process of selecting class members to what you are seeking in candidates?
From day one, Dean Garrett has really made it known that he has an incredible respect for the school and our programs. At the same time, I think he has helped us think about ourselves in a different light. For example, he owns our strength in finance, but he sees it as a function of something even greater, kind of a commitment to data and analytical thinking that runs through the entirety of the program; it is a thread that runs through marketing, management, and operations. That’s always been there; we’re just seeing it more through fresh eyes. That kind of reframing really helps us speak to the authenticity to a much broader audience. I really think we need to credit Geoff’s leadership in helping us get there.
Let me talk a little more about the broader audience. If you look at the class profile this year — and even in years past — you’ll see an increasing diversification of the pool. You’ll see more and more individuals coming out of tech. More folks are coming out of social impact, CPG, and retail. The message with which we have to speak to those individuals is arguably different than the message we have for those who may be coming out of consulting or financial services. I think he has helped us to pivot in that regard and, like I said, bring greater authenticity to the school.