Wharton, of course, 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. Even with Wall Street in decline, some 35% of Wharton’s Class of 2016 headed into the financial services industry, down slightly from 37% a year earlier. Most of them headed into investment banking and brokerage jobs, which took 16.1% of the class. MBAs landing jobs with private equity and buyout firms–which generally offer the highest total compensation packages–was 7.0%, down from 8.5% two years ago and the smallest percentage in five years. Yet, we agree with this assessment of Wharton’s programming strengths by a recent graduate: “The strength of the finance program probably overshadows other departments, but the school is strong in marketing, real estate, entrepreneurship, and is growing its social impact focus.”
In fact, when U.S. News & World Report asked deans to name the best schools in specific disciplines in 2016, Wharton emerged as one of the very few that was in the top ten in all ten categories: No. 1 in finance, No. 2 in accounting, marketing, and operations, No. 2 in production and operations, No. 3 in management, No. 7 in entrepreneurship, No. 9 in information systems, and No. 10 in supply chain management and logistics. The deans also rank Wharton’s Executive MBA program first in the nation. That is quite an impressive list of expertise for a single school.
That’s why–despite the slight erosion in Wharton’s rankings in recent years–we agree with Dan Bauer 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 has recently rolled out a new MBA curriculum that 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.
Big changes on rankings tend to get exaggerated attention, but often times it is smaller, less noticeable changes that could have greater meaning. Such is the case with Wharton’s rankings erosion in recent years. For the sixth time in seven years of P&Q rankings, for example, Chicago Booth has outperformed the Philadelphia giant in business education. In 2016, Kellogg has forced a two-way tie for forth in this year’s P&Q ranking. In a recent town hall meeting on campus, Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett addressed concern over the school’s declining rankings performance. “Correlation is not causation, but it is true that HBS and GSB spend considerable more money at the MBA level than we do and we suspect that’s true for Chicago Booth as well,” he told students. “We’ve talked about how important the financial aid is for the MBA program for you all and that’s a very big deal. The closer you are to the schools that you have more information, the less relevant the rankings are. We should just try to do the best job we can and it’ll work out in the rankings. I think it’s much harder to game at the top.”
Garrett acknowledged that Wharton is lagging peer schools on scholarship support, which other schools have been using to attract quality applicants who would have otherwise accepted Wharton offers, and that the school’s facilities are less than adequate today. “We seem to be out of space, and the indicator I have for that is the amount of time spent in my office trying to allocate 100 sq. ft., 200 sq. ft., which is enormous,” Garrett added. “I think that space challenges at Wharton are sufficiently serious right now. The other reality about the university is that if we turn the switch to build new buildings, it takes three to four years. If we debt finance the building, we need to take it out of our operation revenue. To be a 100% philanthropic building, we need to raise our fundraising campaign and there are other issues regarding this.”
In general, it would be hard for Wharton to decline much further because the school is simply too good on multiple dimensions to lost much more ground.