For a majority of MBA aspirants around the world, getting into the Wharton School is in some ways an end to the journey in itself. Consistently among the top in all existing international rankings, the School is on top of recall even for skeptics of the ranking system for indisputably combining the best in business education - content, faculty, research and of course, students.
Yes, there is no cookie-cutter way to ensure admissions into a Wharton program, but it certainly does help to know what the School values. Now for all those who wait with bated breath after having filed their applications in the second round, or plan to apply for admission in 2011 or after, Ankur Kumar, Deputy Director of MBA admissions and a Wharton alumna herself, explains what differentiates a successful candidate for Wharton.
IBTimes: Just as the financial crisis and subsequent recession has brought about an entirely new perspective and focus in terms of what business education should teach, do you feel that there has also been a rethink about what the ideal aspirant for B-school should bring to class?
Ankur Kumar: At Wharton, we're looking for the best and brightest candidates from around the globe, across different industries, and with an appetite to share their perspectives and learn from one another inside and outside the classroom. That hasn't changed in the wake of the financial crisis.
Every year each of our students brings a set of perspectives to the program and their classmates, which is shaped by their own personal and professional experiences. The recent financial crisis was a huge macroeconomic shift and event, which has undoubtedly impacted and affected all of us - and how we think about the world and business. However, this is not the first 'crisis' or learning opportunity incoming business school students have experienced. There are many other incidences in recent business history - the tech bubble bursting in 2001, the currency crises in Asia and Latin America in the 1990s - which Wharton students and alumni have experienced and leveraged as learning opportunities.
Given our highly diverse and global student population, we're fortunate to be able to bring students together each year who have experienced different macro and micro events that they can share with their classmates and faculty to help evolve business thinking.
IBTimes: Wharton announced a pretty comprehensive overhaul of key agenda and curriculum recently; do you feel that it will also impact how you assess or evaluate candidates?
Ankur Kumar: We're excited to be launching a new curriculum in the Fall of 2012 for our incoming Class of 2014 in the full time MBA program. Those changes reflect both our entrepreneurial and evolutionary approach to how we think about and teach business. Our curriculum is constantly evolving each year, from new courses and teaching methods to larger scale changes such as this. The changes we're launching include more flexibility, analytical and communication grounding, global and lifelong learning opportunities.
While all of these come together to enhance the delivery of our core Wharton MBA offering to our students, who we are looking for in terms of candidates remains the same; people who come to us because they want a rigorous business education that covers the whole value chain of business skills - from analytical problem solving to communication to leadership and management tools - not just for their immediate steps after school but for a lifetime of personal and professional pursuits.
IBTimes: The Wharton application evaluates a candidate from four angles - academic profile, essays, recommendations and resume. How would you rate these in terms of comparative importance in influencing the final decision?
Ankur Kumar: Our evaluation process is truly holistic in nature and there's not a formula or prescribed weightings on the different dimensions and elements of the application. We ask about and want to understand these different dimensions of our candidates because they are all important and taken into consideration in our evaluation process.
It would be much easier - both for us and for applicants- if we could point to a formula or magic bullet that leads to admission in the program. The truth is that every candidate brings different things to the table and our objective is to use the written application and in interview to understand what those are and assess a candidate's fit with our program and a given class.
IBTimes: Wharton says it does not look at a minimum GMAT score; a high score does not guarantee acceptance, nor does a low score rule it out; How does a school look at a candidate's GMAT score while arriving at the admissions decision?
Ankur Kumar: The GMAT (or GRE - we do accept either test) is just one piece of data that we look at when trying to understand a candidate's academic capabilities and achievements. We don't have cutoffs or minimums; a quick look at our class profile will eliminate any potential misperception around that.
We look at the GMAT or GRE along with undergraduate and master's degree performance to understand the academic piece of a candidate's profile. It's important to note that the context around undergraduate and any master's degree performance is critical as well -it's not just the GPA or marks at the end of the day that we care about. Factors like the level of rigor of your institutions(s), courses you took, how you challenged yourself, grade trajectory and context like extracurricular and other commitments are all important factors taken into account when evaluating this area.
IBTimes: The Wharton MBA website mentions that a strong grounding in quantitative areas is important for the MBA; what would this imply for students of the humanities or other subjects who have not had math/quantitative subjects at the undergrad level? Are they at a disadvantage? What could make their application stronger?
Ankur Kumar: Every year we have hundreds of entering students who come from Humanities and Social Science backgrounds. In fact, if you look at our class profile you'll see that over 50% of the incoming class of our 800+ students do not have a business or hard science academic grounding. So having one is clearly not a pre-requisite for the program.
We value academic diversity and want to bring together students who can share their different approaches to thinking about business issues. The way a Philosophy major may approach a problem relative to how an Engineer is likely quite different. To be able to have philosophers and engineers and artists and economic majors and so forth together in the classroom is part of the enriching and illuminating classroom experience where students are able to expand their range of thinking and learn from one another.
At Wharton, we are known for our analytical approach to all business disciplines, something that is highly valued by our students, alumni and employers. We're proud of providing our students with a robust and tangible set of business skills, but it's also something that we don't expect them to walk in the door with. Our program is designed to help students develop and hone these analytical skills. Our goal in the Admissions process is to ensure that our incoming students have the foundation to succeed in the program, which does include an analytical foundation. But we ensure this not only by looking at their academic background and quantitative courses taken, but also the GMAT or GRE, and work experience. We're able to assess a candidate's capabilities by triangulating across these dimensions.
IBTimes: What are the key areas/parameters on which you evaluate a candidate when you interview him? What would be the most critical skills for a prospective candidate in this round?
Ankur Kumar: The interview is one piece of information in our holistic evaluation process. It's not a 'make or break' point, and we review each candidate's application in its entirety after the interview before a decision is made.
The interview is a one on one interaction with a member of the Wharton community - candidates can interview on campus with a second year student member of the Admissions Committee; they can interview with a Wharton alumnus in their current city, or with an Admissions officer in one of several international locations we travel to for interviews.
All three options are conducted and considered equally; that is, there is no benefit to choosing any one course in particular. The goal of the interview is to understand and learn more about our candidates and their thought processes. We want to hear firsthand about their experiences -what they did, what they thought, what they learned. Our interviews are behavioral in nature, which means that instead of asking you to reiterate your resume or factual information we can find in the written application, we're looking for you to 'show us' who you are, not just 'tell' us.
IBTimes: Do candidates selected in the first round determine how you are going to look at candidates in subsequent rounds, or do you simply assess their fit to the program independently?
Ankur Kumar: Every candidate is viewed independently and each of our applicants is evaluated within the context of who they are - their circumstances and opportunities both professionally and personally - and their applicant peer set. We have nearly 7000 applicants to the program each year -they all come from different professional backgrounds, parts of the world and perspectives on life and the business world. We look at what each candidate has done, learned and contributed in that context to understand how they fit into our program and the class.
IBTimes: Finally, if you were to identify one single quality that truly differentiates a Wharton candidate, what would that be?
Ankur Kumar: There's truly not one single thing differentiates or 'tips the scales' for an applicant. Everyone brings different dimensions to the program. That's really the goal - to bring together 800 of the best and brightest from different backgrounds, ways of thinking, parts of the world and professional experiences and have them teach and learn from each other. I know that during my own MBA experience at Wharton, that was something I valued highly - the chance to learn from my classmates who had different life and professional experiences from my own.
I would say that the ideal candidate would have the quality that they would be successful without the degree. We're looking for candidates who are driven, motivated and focused on getting to wherever it is they want to go - and for whom the Wharton MBA is a vehicle - a means really to help them get there - not an end.
In addition to this mindset, our students are all highly engaged - with each other, with faculty and with staff and both inside and outside the classroom. They are engaged in the broader Penn and Philadelphia communities and in industries and geographies of their interest. We have a very student driven culture; our students come to Wharton because they have ideas and visions of how to make the people, processes, organizations, and communities around them better. And so, with that engagement comes a buzz and energy in the program. Candidates who share that enthusiasm and drive for excellence would certainly fit into our culture as well.