The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is to finance what Harvard is to general management or Northwestern is to marketing. There’s an impressive variety of financial electives here taught by some of the best finance faculty in the world. We agree with Dan Bauer, formerly of The MBA Exchange, a leading admissions firm, who put it this way: “A Wharton MBA education is like a ‘blue-chip stock’ with a long history of growth. Yes, the market’s enthusiasm and demand for any investment will ebb and flow over time, but in this case, the long-term ROI is rock solid.”
Wharton, in fact, has consistently ranked as one of the top business schools in the nation for MBAs. Its earned recognition for its finance program and its total MBA population clocks in at over 1,730 MBA students and 240 world-renown faculty members.
But Wharton wants to be known for more than just “the finance school.”
“It’s great that Wharton is the finance school, but Wharton is so much more,” Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett says in an interview with P&Q.
Over the years, the school has focused on expanding its image to encompass more than just finance.
“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,” Garrett says. “It’s great that we have the history and the heritage in finance, but we need to leverage that to be forward-looking. Second, 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. We’ve got the university’s statistics department here. In a big data era, that is an incredible asset for us.”
To truly understand the wide-depth of a Wharton education, it may be helpful to look at the types of students the b-school accepts.
The MBA class of 2020 is 43% female, 33% international students, and 33% US students of color. On top of that, over 80 countries are represented, according to Wharton’s officially released numbers.
45% of the class comes from an undergraduate background of humanities, with 29% from STEM, and 26% from business.
Daniel M. Rooney, a class of 2020 Wharton MBA, says the school’s diversity was a huge draw for him.
“The diversity of Wharton’s student profile was extremely attractive to me,” Rooney tells P&Q. “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.”
In recent years, the school has made strides in investing itself in analytics. Wharton has developed 30 to 40 new analytics courses and currently employs 50 professors from the field.
A big part of the school’s focus on analytics is the changing job market.
“My students tell me that when they go for job interviews at McKinsey or Amazon, they ask about an experience at Wharton that has shaped how they think about things,” Eric Bradlow, the school’s faculty director and co-founder of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative, says. “Increasingly, it’s an experience in smartly using data. There will be a cement ceiling sitting on top of you if you don’t have an understanding of data analytics today.”
On top of analytics, Wharton has also been focusing on giving MBAs entrepreneurship opportunities.
The b-school now offers a second semester for full-time MBA candidates at its San Francisco campus, where students can complete coursework and partake in internships.
“Wharton was my top choice from day one,” Dheeraj Chowdary Nekkanti, a class of 2020 Wharton MBA, says. “It’s the only school that offers the opportunity to spend a semester at the San Francisco campus, giving students a unique East Coast cum West Coast experience. Given my entrepreneurial goals, this opportunity is essential to my b-school experience as it would expand the exposure I would get to the startup scene in the US.”
In 2018, 70% of MBA programs reported that their applications decreased.
When asked if he believes whether an MBA degree is still valuable, Garrett says, at Wharton—it most definitely is.
“Why is the two-year, residential MBA degree in less demand? The simple answer is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost for students and employers has gone up a lot. If you are going to stay in the full-time MBA business, the only places that will do well will be the places where the degree’s value exceeds the costs and opportunity costs. We are clearly in that group.”
Wharton’s MBA curriculum promises life-long education to MBA graduates, along with more leadership and communication experiences. The basic program will still evolve around an intensive core in general management, plus the depth of 18 majors and breadth of nearly 200 electives. The school’s month long pre-term session includes a two-day off-campus retreat where students begin the process of learning to lead in a team environment. The first year’s focus is a core curriculum that students complete together in learning teams of six. The core gives students the foundation of broad management skills that are applicable to any industry.
During the summer months between the first and second years, students are busy with internships, career treks, and volunteer projects around the world. When they return, the second year curriculum offers flexibility to follow personal interests and career goals. Students select from a wide range of majors and electives that help to develop one or more areas of expertise. And there is also an added bonus that is unusual if not unique for Wharton MBA students: the chance to spend one semester in the Bay Area at the school’s San Francisco campus.