The Wharton School has a reputation as a hotbed for finance and a breeding ground for the likes of Michael Milken (if you are too young to know who he is, Google him). Preconceptions include that it is grade focused, not collaborative, and full of private equity hopefuls. As a Wharton MBA myself, I would like to clear up some of these misconceptions. Perhaps along the way, I can help you determine whether Wharton might be a good fit for you and, if so, how best to approach its application.
Myth 1: Wharton is just for people who have worked in finance and those interested in banking, private equity, venture capital, and/or consulting.
This perception is partially true. Wharton takes pride in its demanding quantitative curriculum (which employers also appreciate!), many admitted students have worked in finance before attending, and recruiters from banks and consulting firms are active on campus in large numbers. But this is only part of the story. Wharton has a large, diverse class, and the school has gone to great lengths to build up its course offerings in marketing, retail, entrepreneurship, and running a family business, among other areas.
What this means for you: Do not immediately discount Wharton as an option if you are not interested in finance. It is a well-resourced institution offering a broad range of courses of study, clubs, and post-graduation job opportunities. However, to gain a coveted spot in the program, you will need to prove your analytical chops, which you can demonstrate through your GMAT or GRE score (specifically, your Quant score), your work experience, and/or your undergraduate course load. The admissions committee also wants to know that you have done thorough research on your business school options and have a clear sense of both how Wharton can help you achieve your specific goals and how you envision yourself participating in the Wharton community. How can you do this? Speaking with Wharton students and alumni you know is a great place to start. Spend some time looking at the school’s website to familiarize yourself with available classes, conferences, and clubs, and make sure to join Wharton’s mailing list. Consider contacting the leaders of any clubs you are interested in joining to learn more about the club’s activities and how you might get involved. Consult the admissions website to check for events being offered virtually or in your local area—and then sign up. In short, don’t be shy! You want to learn as much about the program as you can and then figure out what the Wharton experience will be like for you if you do become a student.
Myth 2: Wharton is cutthroat and competitive.
FALSE! In fact, the exact opposite is true—Wharton is extremely collaborative. Students complete the majority of their course work, especially in the first year, in teams. The importance of collaboration and mutual support at Wharton cannot be overstated. This is reflected in the unique Team-Based Discussion format the Wharton admissions committee uses to assess candidates who have been selected for interviews.
What this means for you: If you do not enjoy working in teams, Wharton is likely not a good fit for you. On the other hand, if you do enjoy working in teams, you must ensure that this spirit is clearly reflected in your resume, recommendations, and essays. Collaborative leadership is the name of the game, and you can use both personal and professional experiences to reveal this element of your profile. For example, have you worked on a cross-functional team? Volunteered in a foreign country? Co-managed your local recreational soccer league? Organized tours of your undergraduate college for prospective students? These are all great examples of how you have worked with others to achieve or promote a common goal. Note also that Wharton has a grade non-disclosure policy, which means employers cannot ask to see your grades when deciding whom to hire. This encourages the school’s students to support one another, and you will find numerous classmates willing to help you with any concepts you might struggle to master. Most importantly (in my opinion), the policy frees students to step outside their comfort zone, whether by taking a challenging or unusual class or simply feeling more comfortable in voicing an opinion or asking a question.
Myth 3: Everyone at Wharton is similar (see Myth 1).
Wharton is an incredibly diverse program, with close to 20% of students hailing from outside the United States and representing more than 70 countries. Students embody a wide range of personal and professional experiences and interests and go on to have varied careers and lives after graduation. Wharton offers several interdisciplinary programs, including a Health Care Management program, a JD/MBA program, and an MBA/MA in International Studies from the Lauder Institute. Applicants are sometimes tempted to try to fit the stereotype of what they believe a “Wharton student” looks like, but this is a mistake. Wharton wants to know that you can perform the required work and excel, but beyond that, the school just wants you to be you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here!
What this means for you: Wharton wants applicants who use their strengths and skills to accomplish something meaningful. Don’t say what you think the admissions committee wants to hear but instead share your actual goals, experiences, and interests. When telling Wharton about what you’ve achieved, think about framing it within the context of a larger team or mission, while highlighting your role in an organization’s success. (Pro tip: You don’t have to have been the one in charge to have made a meaningful impact!)
Myth 4: Wharton has runner-up-itis with respect to Harvard Business School.
All too often, applicants view Wharton through the lens of “Wharton versus Harvard” or other MBA programs. Such comparisons can be instructive and illuminating, but they can also impede or distort one’s understanding and evaluation of what Wharton truly offers. Of course, Wharton keeps a close eye on what other leading MBA programs are doing and how Wharton is viewed “in the market” (as do all the top business schools), but it is a fiercely independent school that is proud of its resources and community.
What this means for you: Choose Wharton for Wharton. When writing your Wharton essays, make sure you clearly and thoroughly articulate “Why Wharton?” The school’s curriculum emphasizes data-driven research, so your essay should reflect your in-depth research on the school and illustrate why Wharton is the right fit for you and your career goals. You want to tell the admissions committee what you’ve done in the past, what you plan to do in the future, and—crucially—how Wharton is the pivotal link between the two.
I loved my time at Wharton and can’t recommend it highly enough. Although I enjoy working with and coaching clients through their applications to all MBA programs, Wharton will always have a special place in my heart.
Whether or not you decide Wharton is the right business school for you, I wish you great success with your application(s)!
Rachel Nelson has an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and an MBA from UPenn Wharton. While building her financial services career, Rachel also served as an alumni interviewer for Wharton, which gave her exposure to how increasingly large and competitive the MBA applicant pools were becoming. With that in mind, she pivoted away from interviewing MBA aspirants towards partnering with them on developing their applications. She loves building relationships with her clients and helping them increase their odds.
To learn more about Rachel, Gatehouse Admissions, or your MBA candidacy, request a free consultation.