Insider Tips For Wharton’s Team Based Discussion

Last week, Wharton began releasing MBA interview invitations. If you’re among the lucky candidates to get one, you’ve likely received the outline for your Team Based Discussion (TBD) and expectations for presenting your pitch. So let’s talk strategy – from tips for developing your pitch to what success looks like. Beyond the decade I spent at the helm of Wharton’s MBA admissions, my insights on this dynamic interview experience are informed by my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and the recent experience of our clients.

THE BASICS OF THE WHARTON TEAM BASED DISCUSSION

For quick context, Wharton debuted the team-based discussion (TBD) in 2012, which has since become an integral part of its assessment. It’s reflective of the Learning Teams model at the heart of the Wharton experience, which exults teamwork in the spirit “persuasive rather than positional leadership.” Wharton’s adcom wants to observe how you approach challenges, present yourself, and cohesively work towards solutions in a small group context. As such, it’s an opportunity to showcase what you’d bring to your future study group at Wharton – both in terms of your personal presence and as a member of an effective team.

In terms of format, the TBD takes place in a room with four to five other candidates, where you debate and present a proposal as a group. Your discussion will have a prompt and a purpose, and, together, you will work together to achieve a tangible outcome. You’re typically given one minute to introduce yourself, and the sequence lasts in total 35 minutes, when the team of candidates comes up with a topic and presentation model that is ultimately shared with the adcom observer. After the TBD, you’ll have a 10-minute debrief, which takes place one-on-one with an admission representative. The time goes very quickly.

Prepare to present your own ideas with care and precision, as well as situational awareness. It’s less about your own particular answer and presentation (although of course you should thoughtfully prepare this in advance) and more about how well you interact with other candidates. Expect to be assessed on how well you listen to others and facilitate the group’s dialogue.

TIPS FOR CREATING YOUR WHARTON TBD PITCH

“In recent years the prompt is typically been around the creation of a GMC – or a ‘global modular course,’” notes Fortuna’s Brittany Maschal (former member of admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton and Johns Hopkins) in her 10-minute video strategy session on preparing for team based discussions. “This year, the teams are being asked to prepare a three-day learning team retreat for the 70-member cohort of first year Wharton students.” You’ll obviously want to do your research, but with an awareness that there’s no right answer.

Here are four top tips on how to bring your best to the table:

  1. When creating your one minute pitch for the Wharton TBD, consider introducing yourself briefly and talking about why your idea is resonant with you.
  • For example: “I spent my junior year in Argentina and I have always been interested in how the wine industry has grown at a fast pace when compared with Europe.”
  • Or: “I have volunteered for a week every year in Ghana where I have become really interested in issues of access to capital for rural farmers. I think that this is going to help us work together as a team and know one another because…”

This way, when you intro you are not only giving your team a sense of your background, but also what it is that compels you to that particular area of interest.

  1. You will want to flush out your idea so that, if it is selected by your teammates, you are prepared to be the “go-to” person with an additional layer of information.
  • You may want to have the names of specific places you want to go during the three day retreat, and explain why they are related to your idea.
  • If your idea is chosen, you may find your teammates looking to you for an additional layer of guidance, so be prepared to offer the “next level” of detail in the discussion.
  1. Remember that Wharton has a very strong alumni association and world-renowned faculty. You will want to think about whom you can draw upon to help strengthen your program. To consider:
  • Will you have a faculty advisor? Will they meet with the group before you head on retreat?
  • Or, will you ask for recommendations on academic links you should make to your proposal?
  • Connecting with local alumni groups on-the-ground might also be beneficial. Don’t be afraid to avail yourself of the extensive Wharton network to help you flesh out the ideas before you embark on your program.
  1. We know that Wharton really cares how you present yourself and engage with the team, not necessarily what you are saying, but “how you are saying it.”
  • So, in addition to being “all in” during this discussion, you will want to watch your “ums,” “ahs” and incomplete ideas. (See tip #2 above about having an additional layer of deeper information.)
  • You can take notes while you are in the room, and we generally suggest at least jotting down everyone’s name and perhaps the basics of their plan.
  • If you end up being the “note-taker” for your group throughout the sessions, don’t forget to verbally contribute just as much, if not more, than you are taking the time to note-take.
  • And, thinking of ways to “toss the ball” back to your teammates is a great way to show your ability to engage them, which is always a beneficial trait to show to the admissions office.

WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

A common question from anxious applicants is how much it matters whether their idea is chosen. Ultimately, it’s not whose idea is chosen for the final presentation that matters most in the adcom’s assessment, but rather your ability to showcase collaborative leadership. As Brittany underscores, “What matters is how you interact with your group and that you’re really facilitating the group’s discussion and the development of the end goal. And the end goal is that this group of people that have never met before, and have varied interests-backgrounds-experiences, have to come up with an idea together and advance it in a compelling way within a very short amount of time.”

As you prepare for the Wharton TBD, and work through your own “pitch,” reflect on the following questions:

  • After each team member has introduced themselves and offered a quick pitch, how might you help facilitate discussion to arrive at a consensus?
  • How might you reflect on the discussion taking place while helping advance the deliverables to support the group’s final presentation to the adcom in the room?
  • How can you support your teammates and collaborate – even if you have to abandon your own idea – versus solely promoting your own ideas?
  • Will you evidence leadership behaviors that draw out your other team members? How are you able to enrich the discussion by encouraging others to voice their opinions?

Finally, remember that Wharton’s TBD, like all MBA interview experiences, is an opportunity to bring your unique candidacy to life. By all means, embrace your own style and don’t try to be something, or someone, you’re not. Whether you’re an extroverted idea person, quiet consensus-builder or on-the-spot synthesizer, there’s room for you to shine in the Wharton TBD.


Judith Silverman Hodara is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Wharton head of Admissions. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.