No school inspires more myths that Wharton. Think of it as the MBA Rorschach. For the general public, Wharton conjures images of privileged bankers downing Cognacs and savoring Montecristos. Indeed, Wharton is America’s oldest business school, with roots stretching back to the 19th century. Even more, it has set the bar for finance education for generations.
It is elite…but is it really elitist?
Among MBA candidates, Wharton is hardly old money rife with cutthroats and controllers, let alone legacies and ladies-in-waiting. For them, Wharton is energy personified – a playground for the curious, creative, passionate, and prolific. It is the place to test imaginations and lay foundations. This cultural underpinning explains why Wharton has evolved as market drivers have shifted from profit to product to customer to purpose. In the process, it has emerged as a powerhouse in the areas that attract MBAs most: analytics, entrepreneurship, innovation, and social impact.
FAR MORE THAN A FINANCE SCHOOL
Indeed, Wharton stuns most visitors due to its stunning size and scope. The full-time MBA program alone encompasses over 1,730 students – not to mention 240 faculty members. However, the size is obscured by something more profound: across-the-board excellence. Ranked as the top business school for research in the world by The Financial Times, Wharton also earns plaudits from rival schools as perhaps the most complete American MBA program. According to a 2018 U.S. News survey of leading MBA administrators and faculty, the program ranked first in finance and finished among the top six graduate business programs in accounting, entrepreneurship, information systems, international business, marketing, management, and operations. On top of that, Wharton boasts the world’s premier executive MBA and undergraduate business programs – with the latter including over 2,500 business majors.
In a 2018 interview with Poets&Quants, Dean Geoffrey Garrett notes that the program’s scale enables it to “do almost everything a business school could do, which is not true of any of our competitors.” However, Wharton’s advantage, in recent years, has been where they devote their resources – walking the fine line between reinforcing the school’s overall excellence while beefing up its intellectual capital and resources in strategic growth areas.
“It’s great that Wharton is the finance school, but Wharton is so much more,” Garrett tells P&Q. “How we deliver on that and what we focus on is important. First, with finance, we want to make it forward-looking, not back-looking, so we want to lead not only in private equity and hedge funds but also in fintech, cryptocurrency, and blockchain…What’s distinctive about Wharton is that it is a pretty technical and analytical place so Wharton should be known as the analytics school, too. We are not only analytical in finance, we are analytical throughout.”
A WIDE RANGE OF EXPERIENCE
The other distinction is perhaps the people. Wharton doesn’t draw the blue bloods and corporate careerists. These days, you’ll find classes populated by students with the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. Take last year’s class, for example. Here, you’ll find everyone from a U.S. Justice Department analyst to a TOPGUN-trained U.S. Navy pilot to an associate who helped manage Sean Combs’ portfolio. This year’s class, says Daniel M. Rooney, is equally distinct.
“The diversity of Wharton’s student profile was extremely attractive to me. I feel that rather than specializing in a specific field, it encompasses a dynamic range of experienced individuals that I look forward to learning from and collaborating with. I believe exposure to this multitude of expertise will only give me a leg up when re-entering the workforce.”
Rooney certainly fits the Wharton profile – which prizes an eclectic mix of academically fierce striving, a modesty-driven instinct to collaborate, and a deep engagement to the world around them. Before joining Wharton, Rooney studied history at Dartmouth College before working in scouting and coaching with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2020 who made the big leagues. Alongside Rooney, you’ll find Cooney – as in former MLB pitcher Tim Cooney, who boasts a 1-0 record in the bigs. For Cooney, who spent four years riding buses in the minors, the payoff paled in comparison to what he learned along the way.
“My biggest accomplishment was making it to the major leagues in 2015 with the St. Louis Cardinals, he shares. “Pitching in the major leagues was something I dreamed of as a 5 year- old, so actually achieving that goal was surreal. My first game was against the Phillies, the team I grew up cheering for, and I even got to pitch against some players that I idolized as a kid. The grind of climbing the minor league ladder made this accomplishment even more special for me, as it gave me the assurance that I could handle adversity in the future and motivated me to do great things in the future.”
The “WHAT GIRL” EARNS RESPECT
Think petroleum engineering is a man’s game. Meet Julia Stock, who worked as a petroleum engineer before moving onto McKinsey. However, that obscures the best parts of her story: “Professional ballet dancer, turned petroleum engineer, turned businesswoman. I’m a poet and a quant.” Stock wasn’t the only Wharton woman to make her name in this oil industry. Logan Piper served as a reservoir and production engineer at Chevron – paying her dues along the way as an intern in Louisiana.
“As a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed sorority girl, I was immediately out of place in the male-only oil field setting,” she recalls. “I was labeled the “what” girl due to the high volume of questions I asked—the operator of my field made a “what” label for my hard hat just for good measure. After weeks of waking up at 4:00 a.m. and doing the lowliest tasks to win over my counterpart, he finally acknowledged my growth and invited me to his son’s birthday in Gueydan, LA, where we shot clay pigeons in the backyard and had gumbo with three generations of his family! This intern experience taught me the importance of building relationships, especially with people from different backgrounds.”
Kaila Squires would certainly fit in the quant quadrant. An “energetic world-traveler, fitness enthusiast and food connoisseur,” she was the senior manufacturing operations manager for General Electric’s renewable energy division. So too would Thurgood Powell, a proud Pomona College grad whose efforts led to PIMCO expanding the risk factors used to rate municipal bonds. Julio A. Cabral-Corrada is another can-do quant. After the Cornell-trained banker completed a stint at Morgan Stanley, he moved on to Stone Lion Capital where he was promoted to the firm’s investment vice president. In the process, he was able to fulfill his personal mission to “positively transform communities and people around me.”
“I was proud to be able to help my native Puerto Rico through my job at Stone Lion by investing significant capital, and also at times intermediating for a consensual positive resolution between our government and the largest investors in the world, in our historic $70 billion debt renegotiation.
NO FEAR: A CLASS OF HIKERS, DIVERS AND BUNGEE JUMPERS
Like Wharton contingents before, the Class of 2020 also features a strong military presence. Richard A. Rasco, for one, spent 14 years in the U.S. Navy, where he rose to the level of a SEAL team executive officer. In contrast, Brittany Fearnside is U.S. Army, where she held leadership roles in information operations, psychological operations, and engineering. However it was her role as a cultural support team leader in Afghanistan that left the deep impression with her.
“I was fortunate to be on the forefront of advancing women’s roles within the Special Operations community, responsible for engaging the female and adolescent population during sensitive missions. We were proving that a woman’s presence, even in the most austere of situations, can have an incredibly constructive impact on mission success given the cultural sensitivities of the areas we were operating in. I found myself in a role that not only challenged the status quo, but positively influenced perceptions, both within the units we were assigned to and the people we interacted with, in a way that led to lasting change.”
There is another quality that Wharton taps in the students they select: a sense of adventure. The Class of 2020 possesses this virtue in spades. Katharina Schwarz, who studied government at Harvard, has dived in the Icelandic Silfra, the fissure between the North American and Eurasian plates. Squires completed the world’s highest bungee jump – 773 feet – in China. Fearnside walked the 500 mile version of the Camino Frances, a Spain-to-France pathway that was first immortalized in the 12th century. Think that’s long? Dheeraj Chowdary Nekkanti drove his Royal Enfield motorcycle 20,000 kilometers across India.
APPLICATIONS DOWN BUT QUALITY IMPROVES
Then again, how is this for an Africa travel story? “During my travels, I was once charged at by a wild mountain gorilla when I was doing gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park in DRC (Congo),” relays Sylvie Shi, a Canadian investment banker. “I survived and later self-invited to his home under a large tree to hang out with 11 other gorilla family members.”
That’s not the only great cocktail story that the Class of 2020 can whip out. When Rooney met his hero, Arnold Palmer, he “fell flat on my face” – an event that Rooney jokes left a “memorable impression” with Palmer. Piper actually has an outfit named after her with a fire retardant clothing brand. At the same time, Powell has placed first in three Pennsylvania state judo championships. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Cabral-Corrada wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. His volunteer team delivered over 5 million pounds of relief supplies on the island.
By the numbers, the Class of 2020 was a close facsimile to the previous year. One difference, however, was the number of applications, which fell from 6,692 to 6,245. Overall, this decline had little discernable impact on the class. In the end, Wharton enrolled 862 full-time MBAs during the 2017-2018 cycle, just two members short of the 2019 Class. At the same time, the school’s acceptance rate rose a nominal 1.4% to 20.6%. By the same token, Wharton admitted two more students than the year previous. Translation: 67% of applicants who received an acceptance ultimately joined the class.
SO-CALLED FINANCE SCHOOL IS A HAVEN FOR LIBERAL ARTS MAJORS
Average GMAT represented a slight uptick from the previous class, with scores rising from 730 to 732. However, average GPA held steady at 3.6. The percentage of female students fell a point to 43%, while the number of international students increased two points. Minority students, which Wharton defines as African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American, and Hawai’ian, again accounted for 33% of the class. In the biggest divergence, the number of countries featured in the class jumped from 65 to 80.
While Wharton is regaled for its finance chops, the school’s 2020 class profile reveals a secret. Nearly half of the class hails from the liberal arts! This year, 45% of the class holds undergraduate degrees in humanities-related fields. This number equates to a 4% improvement over the previous year. With every rise comes a fall – and STEM took the brunt of it. Two years ago, the percentage of STEM students rose four points. This year, it dropped three points to a return-to-normal 29%. Business-related majors hold the remaining 26% of class seats.