Handling Wharton’s Team-Based Discussion

Unniversity of PennsylvaniaIf you’re applying to Wharton this year, then you are likely aware of the school’s new addition to the application process: the team-based discussion.  Personally, I consider this new evaluation method an excellent idea, as much of business-school life consists of team-based discussion; it was certainly a big part of my life at Sloan.

Wharton says in its letter to applicants, “If you are invited to interview, you will participate in a team-based discussion with 5-6 other applicants during your scheduled session.  The team-based discussion will allow you the opportunity to interact with your fellow applicants through discourse, which will highlight how you approach and analyze specific situations.”

Wharton’s letter goes on to provide two examples of the type of prompts that may be used during a session, saying, “Your discussion will have a prompt and a purpose and you will work towards a tangible outcome with your group.”  The example prompts are:

  • What one talent or strength should a leader rely on most in daily life?
  • If you could teach one thing about innovation to a group of new employees, what would it be?

Because group evaluation is quite new to the admissions process, with no feedback from prior years to serve as guidance, interviewees are no doubt nervous about it.  So, how should you handle yourself during this discussion in a way that appeals to Wharton?  Here’s some advice.

    1. Don’t be confrontational.  This is not “Crossfire” or some debate where you’re trying to score points.  In a business school classroom or project group, discussion participants tend to build on one another’s comments, not cut each other down.  These are very smart people, so a show of respect is warranted and disagreements should be handled gracefully.
    2. Don’t hog the conversation.  Like other teaching assistants at Sloan who regularly scored students on their participation in class, I graded based on the quality of their comments and what they added to the discussion, not on the quantity of their comments.  Chatter is not appreciated in business school conversations; thoughtful points and succinct comments are, and no doubt the same will be true of these Wharton sessions.
    3. Keep it real.  Those Wharton prompts and others like them make it easy to have theoretical discussions about the way things should be, but doing so would be a mistake.  Avoid the exclusively theoretical.  Instead, support your comments with evidence from your own background – either what you’ve experienced firsthand, or what you’ve observed up close.  All business schools are attracted to candidates who have their own such stories to share.

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R. Todd KingBy R. Todd King, an MIT MBA, who has worked with MBA applicants since 2001. Todd can help you make the most of your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.