A truly unique admissions hurdle at Wharton involves the team-based interviews, where prospective students spend a half hour together working on a problem before presenting their solutions to second years and adcoms. What are you really looking for in the team-based interview?
My advice for people who are coming into team-based discussion and curious about how to prepare for it is to pay attention to your day-to-day interactions. We engage in team-based discussions almost every day of our personal and professional lives. Most of us have had a lot more team-based discussions than one-on-one interviews. So understanding that is a really important part of a successful team-based discussion. So I tell folks to pay attention to the role that you usually play in those discussions and to own that role. I also encourage applicants to remember that the team-based discussion isn’t a second hurdle in the application process. We take a look at the results of team-based discussions in the construct of the entirety of the application. We’re looking to see what kind of teammate you’re going to be or what kind of leader you’re going to be in our community. We think the team-based discussion helps us do that with a high degree of reliability.
What are some of your early impressions of the Class of 2018? What makes them potentially different compared to other classes who have studied at Wharton?
Our leadership program is during pre-term, which are the weeks before the fall semester begins for our first-year students. The program offers an exercise called “The Big Idea.” Essentially, we give our students a really overbroad sketch of a problem that’s facing the world and we task them with finding novel solutions. We put them into learning teams, a group of six individuals from diverse backgrounds who will go through our teamwork and leadership course. This year, we worked with McKinsey to come up with the idea and it was focused on machine learning. It was a Wednesday afternoon and they got together and the leading learning teams gave a presentation to 850 of their peers in Annenberg Auditorium. We really got a chance to see them in action.
As we admitted these students, I was amazed throughout the process by the breadth and depth of their experience — and to actually see it in action was really inspiring. The real magic happens when they start learning with and from each other. You see one learning team up there with a fighter pilot who’s working with professionals in public policy and tech and they’re developing novel solutions around how air traffic control can benefit from machine learning. We had another group composed of students from Africa, Asia, and the Americas that was focused on dairy farming techniques. The third group had an MD-MBA, a student who was studying for the MD at the same time as her MBA, and she was lending her expertise to a product that was designed to increase the reliability and decrease the wait time of reading radiological tests. To see that remarkable diversity of thought in one place and put toward such diverse and noble goals is really inspiring. 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.
Talk to us about the Wharton value proposition. What does Wharton bring to the table that not only differentiates it from other schools, but has also enabled it to attract stronger classes?
There are three things that I always talk about on the road. The first is our curriculum. It really allows for flexibility while at the same time giving our students the very fundamentals of what makes business possible. We have a core curriculum that caters to our students’ interests and learning styles. It teaches them those core concepts that are relevant to their aspirations and interests, while at the same time giving them additional flexibility to perhaps push elective classwork earlier in the process by choosing when they’re taking core courses or waiving out of a course where they can prove mastery. I think our students respond really well to that high degree of both rigor and personalization. That’s a big part of it.
The second thing is our career management team is organized a bit different. We’re organized by industry vertical. When you’re engaged in your career search, you’re working with a professional who specializes in the industry that you’re targeting.
For example, if you’re looking to go into tech, which more and more of our students are doing, you’re working with Sam Jones who has several years of experience in the industry — plus years of experience he has spent helping students get jobs in tech. He can really help you dig deep and take advantage of our alumni network and his relationships with hiring managers. He can help you understand the resources that are available to you; connect you with student-led treks; and help you make best use of our San Francisco campus if your journey takes you out west. I think this unique structure is one of the reasons we see more than 98% of our students reporting that they have a job offer within four months of graduation.
Third — and I mentioned this earlier but it’s still worth talking about — our students really have an authentic voice in the program. Just a couple of years ago, we had students in our energy club approach the faculty and work with them to get two new courses added to the curriculum. We have a program here called P3, which is Purpose, Passion, and Principles. It’s offered through our leadership department and there are about 500 students who engage in it every year. They have a discussion about their own definition of success and what success means to them as a program. Students saw a need for it and worked in concert with our leadership office and faculty to bring it to life.
If you look at our team-based discussions, half of them are conducted by students, admissions fellows who we bring into our process . We train and trust them to help select the next generation of Wharton students. What students have is a real stake in their experience and the experience that their future alumni are going to engage in. That really speaks to the kind of culture they want to be a part of.
Every business school comes with stereotypes. Booth, for example, is considered hard core finance and academic. Columbia is allegedly hypercompetitive. Stanford is supposedly a laid back band of geniuses. Tell me about what you hear as the worst stereotypes about Wharton and tell us how you would dispel such impressions? Similarly, what are some things about the Wharton curriculum or community that you wished applicants knew more about?
I don’t want to endorse any stereotypes first of all. I’ll say that one of the big perceptions that students have is that Wharton is a finance school. We’re unapologetically proud of that strength. We’re strong in so many other areas too. Our marketing and real estate departments are widely recognized as some of best in the world. Our entrepreneurship program offers remarkable opportunities for students inside and outside the classroom. Our management and operations faculty are leaders in the study of people analytics and we have faculty like Kevin Werbach and Ethan Mollick who are doing really remarkable work around gamification that is literally changing the way that we learn and teach. The breadth of this place is staggering. 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 other thing we sometimes hear a lot is around competition. I think some people perceive the Wharton MBA as being very competitive in a negative sense. I have to say: I don’t see that. I see a really collaborative experience with people within teams throughout the program. Where the competition does exist is internal: It is us striving to be the best versions of ourselves.
When I talk about this, I usually talk about the week right before the focus recruiting period. That’s when a lot of employers come to campus to conduct interviews. In that week before, we see our first year students huddle together to prep each other. They’re doing case prep for jobs that, in a lot of cases, they’re in direct competition for, but they’re willing to help each other because, like I said before, we want to be the best versions of ourselves. That’s the Wharton that I know, so I would encourage people to come and experience that and talk to our students and alumni and determine whether or not that is the case.
I also think, every now and then, we’ll have folks who mention the size. We have a class of 850-860 students that we’re bringing in every year. But that’s not the way that we operate. 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’ve put a lot of thought into how we actually structure those 850 folks. We have academic advisors who are working hand-in-hand with these smaller groups. We have student life advisors 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.