AT WHARTON, GMATS, GRES, INTERNATIONALS AND WOMEN IN CLASS FALL
As the old cliché goes, the proof is in the pudding. While Wharton’s newly arrived MBA class is larger, the makeup of that class is dramatically different than earlier cohorts. The average class GMAT score plunged ten points to 722, the lowest class average at Wharton since 2012 when the average was 718. HBS does not report average scores in its class profile, but its 730 class median was retained. Wharton’s also lost two points on its average class GRE score (see below table).
More strikingly, Wharton saw a massive decline in the percentage of international students in its new class, shrinking noticeably to just 19% from 30% a year earlier. Despite its open deferment policy, HBS was able to manage the international diversity of its class much better: internationals were off only four percentage points vs. the 11-point drop at Wharton. At Harvard this fall, international MBA students make up 33% of the class, down from 37% a year earlier.
HBS also did significantly better on women. The percentage of women in Wharton’s Class of 2022 sank by five full percentage points to 41%, from a level that approached gender parity last year at 46%. That is the smallest percentage of women in an entering MBA class at Wharton since 2014 when 40% of the incoming cohort was female. Unlike Wharton, Harvard was able to increase the percentage of women in its class by a percent to 44%, up from 43% a year earlier. That is a new record at HBS.
AN MBA ADMISSIONS SEASON FULL OF SURPRISES
Abraham notes that if Wharton had extended its final deadline by more than two weeks, as any other rivals did, the school could have had a better result. “We had many applicants come to us after April 15 — in May and sometimes June — and say. ‘I decided I want to apply this round. I don’t want to wait until next year,'” she says. “Those additional applicants gave the schools options and choices. Some were quite impressive. Wharton and Harvard missed out on all those applicants. And those applicants were also people who knew they were going to start in a hybrid or off-line environment. Schools that had the third round and extended that round by a month or more, or added a COVID round, had to deal with more waitlist hand-holding, summer melt, and uncertainty, but whether you look at CBS, NYU or Darden, they grew their application volume and at least CBS and NYU were better able to maintain class quality as reflected by GMAT, GPA, and class diversity.”
Whatever the case, everyone concedes that this past admissions season was full of surprises. One of them was the rush of late candidates rushing to apply to take advantage of those extended deadlines. “Everything was relatively ‘normal’ through February. Then when the pandemic hit, in terms of activity, we had an unseasonably busy March and April and even May. However, the percentage of ‘quality’ inquiries suffered. We turned away more prospective clients than we normally do. These were people where our assessment of their candidacies was not aligned with their target schools.
“We never say never, and for clients who still want to shoot for the stars, but are also willing to consider less competitive schools if that’s the result of our initial assessment, we will work with them all day. However, for clients, we assess where their candidacy is not competitive for their target schools, and they were not willing to consider less competitive schools, we politely decline even if they want to pay and work with us despite the lost revenue. We had a higher percentage of those this spring than we normally do.”
‘I CAN’T HELP BUT THINK THAT THIS IS ACTUALLY A STORY OF ENDOWMENTS’
That’s why this consultant, who preferred to maintain his anonymity, questions the overall quality of the late-round candidates. “Some schools may have had more applicants than in years past, such as Wharton. However, I question the portion of applicants who were qualified applicants. My conjecture is that it was less, and I’m willing to bet on that. We had prospective clients who realistically had near zero chance of being admitted to a top 10 school wanting to hire us to ‘get them in,’ and last minute at that. Wharton probably admitted more people than they normally would, thinking they might have a lower yield than normal, then it came back to bite them in the you-know-where. I would be very surprised if their incoming class is of the same caliber as a ‘normal’ year from the recent past.”
Were the different admission policies at Wharton and Harvard worth more than a $16 million loss to HBS and a potential $5 million gain to Wharton? That’s anyone’s guess. But the back story to those decisions may be more telling than the stats in a class profile.
“I can’t help but think that this is actually a story of endowments,” observes Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. The last major accounting of endowments in 2016 had HBS above Wharton, $3.3 billion vs. $1.3 billion. In fiscal 2019, however, Harvard’s endowment has climbed to a record $4 billion. “Harvard’s is often reported as 3x times that of Wharton’s and many of the decisions about whether to extend deadlines were made as the market swooned by a third. So, Harvard was in a position of relative strength as decisions had to be made. I would speculate that Wharton made a short-term financial choice to avoid running a loss, while HBS stuck to long-term considerations and ran a loss. Wharton students are fighting the administration right now, while HBS, having given students greater flexibility to defer, took pressure off of the school itself. How this plays out should be an interesting business case in the years to come.”