Last month, during the 2017 AIGAC (Association of International Graduate Application Consultants) conference in San Francisco, my consultants, colleagues, and I spent an illuminating morning visiting Wharton West. Wow. It’s on the Embarcadero by the Bay, next door to Google; it has exposed brick walls and soft gray carpets; quiet, glass-walled cubicles; spa waters in abundance; blue-chip art adorning the hallways and rooms; and loft-like eating space (“cafeteria” doesn’t quite fit the ambience) where on all tables, small vases hold an African daisy. Oh yeah, and school.
If you attend Wharton, you can apply to spend one semester in this paradise. Wharton West largely targets MBA students focused on entrepreneurship and/or technology, given its location, and it takes full advantage of the regional assets in these areas.
During our visit, we had the good fortune to hear directly from several Wharton adcom members including Frank DeVecchis, Director of MBA Admissions; Claire Leinweber, Managing Director of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship; and Barbara Craft, Director of Admissions for Wharton’s EMBA program, about the latest developments in the program and the application evaluation approach.
A key takeaway for me regarding the academic program was the ever-increasing emphasis on entrepreneurship. And the Wharton West opportunity is one major manifestation of that change. Of course, Wharton has always been a strong all-around program, which included entrepreneurship, but until recently, one would not necessarily think of Wharton first or even second when asked what the top MBA programs are for entrepreneurship. Speaking for myself at least, that’s changed. I’ll now include Wharton when that inquiry arises.
The Wharton adcom takes a close, thoughtful look at entrepreneurial applicants. For applicants who are presenting themselves already as entrepreneurs, according to Claire, they look at four things:
1. What are you doing?
2. Who is helping (employees, investors, partners…)?
3. How is it going (in concrete terms – how is it growing, how much funding, etc.)?
4. What have you learned?
Here are further insights about entrepreneurship and the Wharton MBA:
• It’s multidisciplinary – increasingly, non-Wharton students participate with Wharton students for entrepreneurial activities (e.g. engineering, education, etc.).
• “Entrepreneurship” for goals purposes includes people who want to be serial entrepreneurs and/or start ventures post-MBA (or even during), who want to take a position in a startup or young venture post-MBA, and who want to be entrepreneurial “disrupters” in an established company. You must specify your entrepreneurial goals; don’t just talk about being “an entrepreneur.”
• Increasingly, students are building social impact into entrepreneurship at Wharton.
• In five years, Wharton has doubled internships in startups, to about 13%. Employment offers from startups are about 7%.
• Career advisement has developed specific guidance for entrepreneurial minded students, and has them consider: personality fit, lifestyle, timing, and ecosystem.
• Current Wharton MBA students can attend Wharton’s “Scale School” which is mainly for Wharton entrepreneur alumni. The quarterly sessions are given by alumni and others experienced in the featured domain.
Frank DeVecchis and his colleagues discussed some other aspects of the admissions process – here are my distilled notes:
• Evaluation is three-pronged, looking at community impact, academic preparation, and professional focus.
• The GMAT is less important now; it’s used as a baseline predictor, whereas they see academic prep as more holistic.
• Tip for the application award section: select those awards that are significant and have impact, don’t write down everything just to show a lot. They’re interested in your judgment about the quality of the award/recognition, not how many you got.
• For extracurriculars, they are looking for and evaluating both breadth and depth.
• For the goals essay, no 20-year plan please. They are interested in how and why you chose your future path and how you envision that Wharton can help.
• They evaluate for your prospective contribution to a culture of innovation (and this certainly does align with their current entrepreneurship emphasis).
• They look for and evaluate alignment between your past experience and your future plans, and, even more important, why Wharton is right path – how you connect your actual learning/growth needs with Wharton’s resources.
• They get excited, ultimately, about applicants they can really “see in the program.” They want doers. NOTE: This is a great “guiding star” for how to approach your Wharton application.
Interestingly, they have revamped their recommendation approach completely. They talked to about 1,200 recommenders and companies/recruiters in an effort to make recommendations a better evaluation tool. Their new approach: offer two lists of positive traits and ask the recommenders to select three from each list that best describe the applicant. The premise is that this approach requires recommenders to make a decision. Then, they ask two questions, requesting examples illustrating why they think the applicant will do well (a) in the Wharton classroom and (b) in their career.
All Wharton adcom readers read applications from all regions, industries, etc., and they receive bias training to be able to evaluate without bias.
Finally, we gained some insight into the Team-Based Discussion (TBD) component of the application. It’s not binary (i.e., did well = admitted, did poorly = rejected); rather, the adcom reviews the whole application again, incorporating the TBD evaluation. In fact, they’ve been rigorously evaluating their own TBD process by running analytics on the process for five years on the back end. The aim is to ensure lack of bias and a process doesn’t favor extroverts over introverts, and does deliver gender balance. They do admit to “tweaking” to “normalize” before going to committee. At the end of the year, they use data analytics to provide feedback to evaluators on their own performance on these parameters.
Conclusion: the adcom not only seeks rigor in its applicants; they apply rigor to themselves.
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• From Wall St to Wharton, While Starting Wall Street Oasis, a podcast episode
• Wharton MBA Application Essay Tips & Deadlines