From tiny houses to smaller portions, we live in an era of miniaturization. That’s true in business too. “Don’t generalize – specialize” could be the new mantra. “Be great at one thing,” you hear. To some, scaling small confers focus and expertise that fends off nippy competitors. You’ll even find this bias for being lightweight and compact in some MBA programs too. Small schools call it “intimate”: a find-your-tribe experience where schools play to their strengths.
Few organizations can buck this “you can’t be good at everything” frame. In the MBA arena, you could describe The Wharton School as the Google of business schools. Always stretching and innovating, Wharton has managed to become a powerhouse in nearly every discipline it touches. Ranked as the top research school for business and boasting an all-star teaching lineup, Wharton is one of those rare programs that checks every box. For Yusuf Kosoko, a first year and a professional DJ who holds degrees in electrical engineering and operations research, the school’s diverse curriculum was hard to beat.
“I’m very interested in finance and there’s no better MBA school at that than Wharton,” he argues. “It’s also one of the best in marketing, entrepreneurship, and other areas. I will be able to get the best exposure to other areas and interests at Wharton.”
A BIG SCHOOL THAT EXCELS AT JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING
How dominant is Wharton? In U.S. News’ 2017 specialization ranking, rival school administrators ranked Wharton in the top five programs in six of ten disciplines measured: finance, accounting, marketing, international business, management, and operations. It also ranked 6th and 7th in information systems and entrepreneurship respectively – and that doesn’t count its revered programs in real estate and healthcare. Indeed, Wharton is a prototype “big” school, which includes 5,000 undergraduate and graduate business students along with nearly 100,000 alumni members. Students can choose from 18 majors and 200 electives. On top of that, Wharton maintains exchanges with schools in 15 countries and offers a dozen dual programs ranging from engineering and environmental studies to an exclusive partnership with Harvard’s Kennedy School for public policy.
Jennifer Mi, a Berkeley grad and Accenture consultant before joining the Class of 2019, was stunned by the size of Wharton’s class catalog during the recruiting process. A business major, Mi was afraid of being stuck reviewing a “generic curriculum” that she had already mastered. Instead, she found a flexible setup where she could leverage the breadth and depth of the school while being immersed in a hands-on, data-intensive approach across the board.
“Wharton not only has more marketing electives than I’d have time to take,” she explains, “but it also allows students to take courses through other fantastic graduate programs at Penn. I am particularly excited to marry marketing, analytics, and design coursework together! There are also a ton of opportunities for experiential learning – putting knowledge into action.”
A PLACE FOR LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE TO FIND EACH OTHER
Wharton is one of those schools where, according to first year Alex Daniels, if you can’t find it, you’re probably not looking hard enough. While smaller schools may tout a closer-knit student body, Wharton can easily counter with a class size – 864 MBA candidates alone in the Class of 2019 – where students have far greater odds to building a stellar network.
“I think the big differentiators for Wharton, relative to other schools, are our size and scope,” observes Karl Ulrich, the vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation, in a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants. “We’re a really big community and that makes it very easy to find like-minded classmates who are interested in similar things. If you’re interested in something relatively specialized, Wharton would be a very good choice because you’re likely to find 20 other people who have similar interests.”
The scope is even more impressive when you factor in the University of Pennsylvania, adds Ulrich. “The other great thing about Wharton is that we’re seamlessly connected into the rest of the university. We have very strong connections to the medicine school, engineering school, the Graduate School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences. We’re on the same campus as the rest of the university.”
NOT A FINANCE SCHOOL (NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT)
That said, Wharton is sometimes reduced to be being a “finance school” in the eyes of some. That stereotype annoys students like Mary Gamber, a 2017 Best & Brightest MBA graduate, who believes this label obscures the program’s heavy investments in areas like social impact. “Wharton is so much more than just one thing,” she tells Poets&Quants. “All 1,700 of my classmates have unique passions and interests, and I’ve loved learning from all of them. Every academic department here is world-class, and resources to pursue your interests are (nearly) unlimited.”
Then again, there is no shame in being known as the best in something. Wharton’s accolades in finance are well-deserved, says first year Eric Majors, who credits the school’s prowess in this area for bringing him to Philadelphia. “I was naturally drawn to Wharton because of its reputation for educating the most world renowned leaders within the finance community. I knew that I wanted to take an even deeper dive into both the technical and theoretical aspects of finance, and Wharton is the top school globally to do so.”
A “go big” MBA program like Wharton – rich in resources and reputation – is bound to attract big personalities. The Class of 2019 is hardly the exception. The class’ experiences stretch from working for Google to Sean Combs to the U.S. Department of Justice. William Vuillet’s “day job” was even flying F-18 aircraft off carriers. They are a class that describes themselves as adventurers and dream chasers who are “fiercely optimistic” and possess “infectious determination.”
TOP GUN GRAD TRANSITIONS TO THE DANGER ZONE – THE WHARTON CORE
You have to be like that to win a Clinton Fellowship. That’s what Majors achieved in 2011, which enabled him to travel through the Middle East and even meet with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Looking for an all-purpose MBA? Meet Suyog Karnawat, an engineer and analytics aficionado who was a street performer across India, making him (in his words) a true “Quant AND a Poet.” As a child, Nicole Robertson once performed a duet with Diana Ross – at Madison Square Garden, no less. Think Latin is for losers? Thanks to studying classical languages, Pablo Tempone has mastered several modern ones. If you’re wondering which first-year will turn out to be the next Ken Moelis or Neil Blumenthal, put your faith in Davis – Faith Davis.
“My first business was selling golf balls at the golf course near my house,” she shares. “I would find golf balls, clean and package them in egg cartons, and sell to golfers. I would often order a pizza, go out to the golf course and sell golf balls with the goal of having enough money to purchase the pizza by the time it was delivered.”
Is Wharton high pressure? Probably not for Vuillet, a proud graduate of the United States Fighter Weapons School – better known as TOPGUN. However, Vuillet was no maverick, as he stayed around to teach at the school for three more years. “I was able to instruct and learn from some of the best fighter pilots in the Navy,” he says.
Want more? Majors left J.P. Morgan to work for Sean “Puffy” Combs, where he was tossed into the fire: Being a key player in selling Combs’ “iconic” clothing brand. Similarly, Tempone helped re-open the Argentine financial markets, which showered needed capital on some of the nation’s leading companies. Other class members pursued the social enterprise route. Rachel Cohen majored in biology at Penn before matriculating at Prudential Financial and Accenture. During that time, she founded Hand2Paw, which trained homeless young adults to work in animal shelters. It is an initiative that has, in her words, “impacted the lives of over 10,000 animals and over 11,000 homeless youth.” Not to be outdone, Kosoko founded an event company for young African professionals that now connects over 10,000 people globally.
CLASS PROFILE ACHIEVES TRADITIONAL HIGH STANDARDS
The profile for Wharton’s 2019 Class is eerily similar to its predecessor – and that’s good news. During the 2016-2017 admissions cycle, Wharton received 6,692 applications – a 13 application increase from the previous year. In the larger context, this represents an 11% jump over the past three years. In the process, Wharton accepted 864 students, up 13 from the previous year. At the same time, the program remained one of the most selective anywhere, accepting just 19.2% of all applications. More than that, it was a highly popular choice, with 2 out of every 3 students receiving an acceptance letter ultimately enrolling in the program.
Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Wharton students.