For many would-be MBA students, a school’s location is a big factor in where they apply. Do you go east to take advantage of the world’s largest concentration of big banks and consulting firms. Or do you head west where it’s easier to amass the connections to break into the tech and venture capital scene.
Then again, who said it had to be an either-or proposition? Most MBA programs offer a week-long pilgrimage to Silicon Valley. Few offer the opportunity to spend a semester in a Bay Area satellite campus. That’s one unique benefit to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Each fall, 70 full-time Wharton students head to Hills Brothers Plaza overlooking the scenic Embarcadero and San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. Here, they take courses in tech strategy, venture capital, and digital marketing before completing an intensive field application project. For A.J. Steigman, who had already been a successful entrepreneur before joining Wharton’s Class of 2018, the San Francisco campus gives his classmates an advantage right out of the gate.
“This proximity to Silicon Valley is essential for any entrepreneur wishing to start a tech venture,” he says. “While some schools are geographically capped in a certain region, Wharton is not. By having the San Francisco campus, Wharton provides its alumni and student population with a deeper bench of talent and resources to utilize.”
Indeed, tech and entrepreneurship probably aren’t the first associations that prospective MBAs make with Wharton. Long known as a finance school, Wharton is first-and-foremost a pioneer. Take entrepreneurship, where Wharton was the first program to teach students how to start businesses in the MBA curriculum. Over time, the program has become increasingly celebrated for its business plan competition, Venture Initiation incubator, and entrepreneurship research center, with recent alumni success stories including Warby Parker and Common Bond. While Wharton has poured heavy resources into its startup offerings, it has also built an entrepreneurial culture to match. “Wharton has a rich history of encouraging entrepreneurship,” Steigman adds. “I wanted to team up with the brightest minds there to identify the next industry disruptor.”
CLASS INCLUDES A CHESS CHAMPION AND A HIP-HOP LOVING ENTREPRENEUR
In fact, you’ll find Wharton’s incoming class skewing towards being highly entrepreneurial. That doesn’t mean they all aspire to launch their own companies. Instead, they are self-starters. More important, they are finishers. In fact, the class is hardly pinstriped and sharp-elbowed. Frank DeVecchis, director of MBA admissions, describes MBA Wharton students as “collaborative, curious, and engaged. They’re constantly striving to explore new ideas to better themselves and better the community around them.”
That’s the spirit you’ll find across the Class of 2018. Ioana Calcev, a former finance and strategy manager at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, describes herself as “passionate, driven and I strive to have profound and positive impact on the world.” Adwoa Konadu Perbi, who worked at Goldman Sachs before pursuing fashion entrepreneurship in her native Ghana, is “a dreamer who takes action and inspires others to do the same.” At the same time, they come to Huntsman Hall with diverse backgrounds. James Levy, a legal assistant and Penn alum, is someone you’ll just as easily find at a museum as a startup fair. Will Saborio takes pride in being a “first-generation American into hip-hop, economics, startups, and Latin America.” Tim Hill has set his priorities as being a “Father. Husband. Naval Officer. BBQ Fiend. Football nut. Terrible golfer. In that order.” At just 31, Steigman has seemingly lived a full life: “I’m an international chess champion, investment banker turned entrepreneur, and Lyme disease survivor.
Maryellen Reilly, the school’s deputy vice dean for admissions, financial aid and career management, is particularly bullish about the 2018 Class. “Looking around a classroom, we want incoming students to be able to identify with their peers, feel a sense of ‘home,’ but also see new faces that reflect an array of experiences and backgrounds,” she explains. “The Class of 2018 really embodies this sense of diversity and inclusivity — they come from so many places, occupations, and circumstances, while also bringing a spirit of openness, curiosity, and purposefulness.”
FORMER GATES FOUNDATION STAFFER HELPS REVAMP A $5.5 BILLION DOLLAR PROGRAM
This class has experience aplenty. Konadu Perbi, for one, speaks three languages and has visited 15 countries on five continents. She could swap plenty of stories with Tala Al Jabri, who comes from Saudi, Canadian, Palestinian, and Syrian descent and has “lived and worked in nine countries on three continents.” Saumya Jain, who loves to sing and backpack, founded a non-profit school for underprivileged children in India when she was just 22. Education has also been vital for Saborio, who went from not knowing English when he started school to earning a degree from Princeton University. Wynne Evans caught the startup bug at 12, eventually building a beaded necklace and eyeglass chain empire by high school. “Sadly, college classes, varsity rowing, and then a more traditional career have kept my business to a smaller scale ever since,” she sighs. Whatever you do, don’t play chess with Steigman for money. He was a Master at age 13, faster than even Bobby Fischer.
The incoming class is also as accomplished as it is diverse. Al Jabri previously headed up government affairs and strategy for Dow Chemical in Saudi Arabia, where she was the youngest (and only) woman to work in this capacity. The Harvard-trained Calcev, a former White House intern and associate at both Goldman Sachs and BCG, considers her most rewarding accomplishment to be “leading WHO, UNICEF, and CDC experts to revamp the $5.5B Global Polio Eradication Initiative.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. At one time, Steigman ran a startup, Soletron, that ranked among the top 99.7% of websites in terms of traffic. In the process, he built a board that included a “former CEO of Adobe, the co-founder of AND1 Basketball (a Wharton Alumni), a prominent hedge fund owner, a founder of a private equity fund, a successful entrepreneur and board member of Blackberry, and a professional football player and Super Bowl MVP.” Equally impressive, Konadu Perbi founded AfroChic, Ghana’s first successful online clothing retailer through social media marketing — despite limited internet access in her native Ghana.
APPLICATIONS UP AS GMATs SLIP
By the numbers, it was a banner recruiting year for Wharton. The school received 6,679 applications for the full-time Class of 2018, the most since 2011-2012. That said, the enrollment, 851 students, was down by 10 from the previous year.
Academically, the mean GMAT was 730, slightly down from the 732 high water mark for the Class of 2017, with scores ranging from 700-700 in the 80% range. Wharton also posted the highest percentage of women in its history, with females constituting 44% of the class. That number beat out Harvard (43%), Yale (43%), Booth (42%), Northwestern (41%), and Stanford (41%) for high honors among the top business schools. Wharton’s percentage of international students held steady at 32%, with the percentage of U.S. students of color experiencing an uptick from 30% to 32%.
Despite Wharton’s quant reputation, the program is actually a bastion for the liberal arts. 46% of the incoming class holds undergraduate degrees in the humanities, up from 42% last year. STEM (28%) and business (26%) account for the rest of the class. Like previous years, the largest proportion of the class hails from consulting at 23% (the same percentage as last year). Private equity (13%), government, non-profit, and the military (12%), investment banking (11%), and technology (9%) also make up sizable chunks of the class.
Go to next page to read 10 in-depth profiles of incoming Wharton students.