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Interview with Barbara Craft & Diane Sharp, Wharton Executive MBA Admissions Directors [Show Summary]
In today’s podcast we talk with Barbara Craft and Diane Sharp, Directors of Admission at Wharton’s Executive MBA programs in Philadelphia and San Francisco. They share information on the intricacies of the programs, how they relate to each other and to the full time MBA program, and how to stand out in the admissions process. Listen in!
Wharton’s Executive MBA, Where East and West Meet and Mix [Show Notes]
So what are Wharton’s Executive MBA options? Who is Wharton’s EMBA program for? And how do you as an applicant show the program is right for you? Today we speak with Barbara Craft and Diane Sharp, both Directors of Admissions at Wharton’s Executive MBA programs located in Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Can you share a bit about the history of the Wharton MBA Program for Executives with our audience? [1:44]
University of Pennsylvania has been around a very long time. It was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin. Wharton is the oldest collegiate business school, founded in 1881. I mention this because we were also one of the first to have a format for working professionals – we’ve had it for 45 years – and now almost 20 years in San Francisco. We are the only Ivy League offering a [non-distance learning] MBA for executives on the west coast.
We are especially proud of the fact that our EMBA program is the same as our full-time MBA program. It’s the same number of credits, and same level of academic rigor. It is not MBA-lite by any means.
Who should choose an executive program vs. a full time program? [3:58]
There are a lot of good reasons for choosing either, but we find that professionals further along in their career choose the EMBA program. They are typically at the cusp of higher level management and prefer not to jump off their career track and lose trajectory. Sometimes it is a life-style issue as well, as they have families and moving for a couple years is not feasible. You also have to have the buy-in from your company.
Full-time students tend to be more junior and often are looking to make a career switch, so having the internship makes it easier to have a change.
The average age of matriculants in the EMBA program is 35-36, with 12-13 years of experience. We like to see at least eight years of work experience, and also some management experience.
What are the distinctive elements of Wharton’s Executive MBA program (as opposed to other EMBA programs)? [6:31]
We are one program, two locations, so we span the country. Either cohort starts the program together in Philly as one big group, then everyone goes back to their respective coast for the first year of core classes. Later on in the first year the east coast cohort comes west for a week-long marketing simulation class. We also offer four different locations for global business residency, so there is another opportunity for merging of east and west. Second year students can take electives on the east or west coast. We have the largest selection of electives of any business school in the world, so in no way are our students limited, they can absolutely specialize if they like. We draw from students that are all over the country, and we attract from other countries as well – on the west coast we have students currently from Singapore and Mexico, and on the east coast we have students from Copenhagen and Jamaica.
What are you looking for in Wharton Executive MBA candidates? [9:05]
We are offering the Wharton MBA. We have the same admissions requirements, and faculty have the same expectations, and therefore we are looking for the academic foundation to succeed, and the energy to maintain the same academic standards while working, having families, and other things. We look for people who have shown a history of always wanting to be challenged. We don’t have a set expectation of where you are coming from. Sometimes people are concerned they don’t see their function or industry represented in the data. Check us out – we love to see diversity in any way we can get it.
We want to know about your goals, but we also want you to come in with an open mind. Sometimes students come in and take a class and then head off in a different direction, but having some direction prior to coming in is important.
The GMAT is required, though we do accept the GRE as well, and we started piloting the Executive Assessment for applicants with 10 or more years of work experience. A standardized test is required of every applicant regardless of advanced degree. It is just one piece of the application, however. We look at it along with work experience, level of support, and academic rigor of the institution. If someone didn’t perform as well as they liked in undergrad it can be really helpful to see the current skill level.
What about sponsorship? Is it recommended? Required? Nice to have, but strictly optional? [13:28]
We require sponsorship, and it is required at the time of your application. We don’t admit and then ask for sponsorship. Sponsorship comes in many different forms, and we don’t have a template for a letter of sponsorship. The minimum level of sponsorship is that time is made available. Whoever has the authority to sign the letter – HR, division head, etc. – needs to say, “We know he or she is applying and we support the time off. We understand the need to be in Philadelphia or San Francisco two Fridays per month.” Financial sponsorship is not a requirement for the program, and could be anything from 0 to 100%. We are not seeing as much of the 100% as we used to in the current economy. Again, this is an agreement between you and the company. Fellows candidates (candidates with less than eight years of experience) require financial sponsorship. They do need at least 50% of the cost covered by company, because if the company is not investing in you and you are at the lower end of experience level, then the full-time program might be a better option.
Wharton EMBA has 4 essay question: a goals question, a question about giving and taking in the program, a question about managing the time demands of the EMBA, and an optional where Wharton invites applicants to “explain any extenuating circumstances” or “share other defining aspects of [their] life.” What’s the “why” behind each question? They’re quite different. [16:33]
Please know we put a lot of time and attention into the application, so really be thoughtful and hone in on whether you are ready for this as you prepare the application – the circumstances we are asking about, and do they have this under control. What we are really trying to understand from the essays is “What kind of person are you?” Is this person a good fit? Is it a good time to get an MBA? We encourage applicants to write and rewrite, be very reflective, and be themselves. We want to know the true applicant, not answers they think we want to hear. We do have an optional essay to explain something if an applicant feels something may not be coming across in the rest of the application. Going back to undergrad performance, people might use that to explain a circumstance that had an impact on their performance. If you don’t take the optional essay to explain it, we’ll end up using our own imagination, which you don’t want.
Each essay comes from a different angle. The first one, what are your goals – we want to make sure you have some idea of what you want to do, and that what you want is what we offer. The second essay is one we tend to change from time to time, and we hope reflects your uniqueness. We are looking for people who are self-aware, thinking about things in a unique way, and also the voice they will have and bring into the program. The third essay forces you to think about time management. Not surprisingly people often write they juggle things and are always busy, but they don’t necessarily always talk about buy-in from their boss, or their family if they have one. We don’t expect flow charts, but we want to make sure you have thought about the stress of adding school to everything already in your life.
What are your admission deadlines and when does the program start? [23:33]
We admit one class per year that starts the end of May. The first deadline is December 5 and the second is February 6. There is no particular weight put on one deadline over another. Shoot for whichever deadline works for you, but I encourage people to aim for round one and then you have a buffer for the second deadline in case a recommendation letter is late, or other circumstances prevent you from completing before the first deadline. Otherwise you are looking at the following year. First and foremost, don’t compromise the quality of the application to reach the first deadline.
Would you tell me a bit about your students? Any stories that stand out in particular? [24:53]
Geographically our students come from many parts of the world. Even many of those based in the US are not US citizens originally, so classes are very diverse. We have quite a variety of industries represented – healthcare, biotech, physicians, veterinarians, public sector, military, etc. Also more than half have advanced degrees already.
One alum we like to mention is the CEO of Johnson & Johnson. He is a great alumnus, graduated in the 90s, and we see him a lot. On the other end of the spectrum are folks who start companies. In New York last week I saw someone who graduated four years ago and started a company having to do with online videos. It was bought by another company and was just bought again by ABC, so it’s an entrepreneur’s dream come true.
In San Francisco I was recently speaking with an alum in the program who was with Cesar’s and just took over as CMO of PetSmart, and he says he feels like he landed where he always should have been, and attributes a lot of that to the Wharton network.
Our students work with a fantastic career management team. It is almost like each student has an individual career coach, teaching you how to use the Wharton network, and figure out what you want to do. It continues after graduation, too. People really develop their personal brand. All students have access to all of our career services, including those who are sponsored. For the sponsored group they just can’t place their resume in the Wharton resume book or participate in on-campus recruiting unless they have express permission from their companies.
How much mixing if any takes place among Wharton MBA and Wharton EMBA students? Between SF and Philly EMBA students? [30:59]
With full-time students we have a cohort that does a semester in San Francisco in the fall and another in the spring. Just last weekend we had a mixer between executive and full-time students, when students finished class on a Friday. They don’t mix for academics except for the elective portion of the program when there is global modular programming in other places of the world – 3-7 day courses offered all over the place.
If someone lives in Kearney, Nebraska, which according to Travel Math is the “best city” and only city 45 miles away from the halfway point between Philadelphia and San Francisco, why should that person choose the Philadelphia program? The San Francisco program? Is there any reason someone would choose the east EMBA program vs. the west EMBA program or vice versa? [32:19]
We recruit in the center of the country together. We tell people to check both campuses out if they have the opportunity. There are a lot of reasons to pick one vs another. Perhaps someone in finance wants to be with more finance folks in Philadelphia. Another person who works in finance might want to get more of a perspective outside of finance, so choose San Francisco. Sometimes it is as straightforward as the schedule – whether it’s easier to catch a flight to Philly vs. San Francisco.
Whether you head east or west might also be determined by companies you work with, or you have family or friends in one area vs. another. A student currently in the San Francisco class is from New York, but opened a restaurant/brewery in San Francisco and is looking to eventually relocate to the Bay Area and wants to further build out his network here.
What are mistakes applicants make in their application to Wharton’s EMBA programs? [35:30]
Not engaging with us earlier in the process. We read all the apps together and oftentimes think, “If only we had known this person earlier we could have helped them remediate.” For example, maybe it’s a person who has a mixed undergrad and an ok GMAT. The competition is tough, and we could have given them advice to retake the GMAT if they’d contacted us, but now we don’t have the opportunity. We encourage people to have a 15 minute phone chat before applying so we can help them put together the best application and give advice on whether or not it is the right time to apply.
How do reapplicants do? [37:54]
We always give people a year and once they engage with us again we are happy to work with them. It is an open and interactive process. We want to make sure they understand what we are looking for in a candidate. I always ask what makes them a better candidate now. In some cases it should be a few years out – they need more managerial experience, for example. We do look at every reapplication as a new application, and just because they weren’t admitted the first time doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. We don’t look on reapplicants negatively at all, and in fact it can be considered positive, as they are showing they really want Wharton and are willing to try again.
What do you see in your crystal ball for Wharton’s EMBA programs? [40:36]
We see what is reflected in the economy. When you see Wharton, you see the reflection of the global economy and the business world. Professors are so engaged that they are a part of it. Wharton will always first and foremost be doing the top research and with incredible depth and breadth. Students bring to the program what is happening in the real world. What we are teaching them hits the mark.
What parting words of advice for applicants to Wharton’s Executive MBA program? [43:46]
I want to re-emphasize the engagement factor. Chat with us, interview, don’t miss these opportunities. Really read the instructions on the website. When we interview someone, you get to spend the day with us. We want to see you on campus. You get to spend time one-on-one with a member of the admissions committee, you can sit in on class, and it is a really good thing. Do take advantage of it if you can! We encourage people to do this for any school they are considering. It is a large investment in time and money, and there are lots of programs out there. Visit campus, sit in on a class, talk with faculty, the admissions team, and experience as much as you can for any school considering.
• Wharton EMBA’s Website
• Wharton EMBA Application Essay Tips and Deadlines
• Ace the EMBA, a free admissions guide
• Accepted’s EMBA and MBA Admissions Consulting Services
• MIT Sloan EMBA and Sloan Fellows Programs
• Meet Dr. Nadia Afridi, Plastic Surgeon, Recent Columbia EMBA, and Mom
• Meet Dr. Akshat Kumar, Wharton MBA ‘19
• Excellent Executive MBA Admissions Advice