Applying to Wharton

Wharton sums up its b-school positioning in two words: Wharton Innovates. Indeed, Wharton’s stellar reputation and consistent appearance at the top of the rankings can be attributed to the school’s ability to transform itself since its establishment in 1881 as the nation’s first collegiate business school. Part of your challenge as an applicant is to get the admissions committee to think of your position as Your Name Here Innovates.

In support of its Wharton Innovates positioning, Wharton is actively expanding its promotion of entrepreneurial activity. The Small Business Development Center features an opportunity through which students act as consultants to local aspiring entrepreneurs. As consultants, students assist with business model development, raising capital, and conducting feasibility studies. Wharton also hosts an annual business plan competition during which student teams compete for more than $70,000. After completing the business plan, students can utilize the Venture Initiation Program (VIP) to transform their idea into a business. VIP provides Wharton students with the support they need to complete the final part of the entrepreneurial process. If you have any entrepreneurial aspiration, discuss it in detail in your application and it will definitely catch the admission committee’s eyes.

There is perhaps no other business school in the United States that is as international minded as Wharton. Incoming classes represent over 65 countries, most students speak a second language, and the learning model encourages students to look at business issues from a global context. The school offers premier global joint programs through Penn’s Lauder Institute and Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. For students who are interested in a more traditional study abroad experience, Wharton offers exchange programs in 11 countries and the Global Immersion Program (GIP). GIP includes six weeks of studying a global region, followed by a four week study abroad to that region. If you have any international experience, make sure to work it into your application, because it will probably be valued by Wharton more so than by other schools. If you haven’t worked or studied abroad, demonstrate a global perspective in your professional interests or display an interest in developing one while at Wharton. Overall, Wharton is very serious about its international mission and seeks applicants who aid and or benefit from that mission.

Wharton is often credited for having a top-notch finance curriculum, and its students are widely sought after for their finance capabilities. This means that the admissions committee will be paying close attention to your analytical abilities, as conveyed through your GMAT score, GPA, and professional activities. This doesn’t mean that you have to come across as a quantitative guru, but it does mean that you have to show you can “hack it” in the classroom. Wharton has historically been friendly to applicants from non-traditional backgrounds, but that doesn’t preclude analytical ability.

While Wharton certainly is a “powerhouse” finance school, its strengths stretch far beyond finance. Wharton offers 19 majors and features approximately 200 electives, more than any other business school in the world. Students can specialize in everything from Real Estate to Health Care Management to Technological Innovation to Strategic Management. Students are also allowed to create their own majors that focus on cross-functional learning paths. The seemingly unending options are like a smorgasbord of delicious treats. It would serve your application well to discuss a Wharton learning path and provide details on how it will aid you in achieving your professional goals.

Over the last several years, Wharton has also placed more emphasis on its students’ teamwork capabilities. During their first year, students work on assignments in “learning teams,” which are central to the learning model. Members of the Wharton community are quick to emphasize the benefits of learning from students with different professional backgrounds. As such, the school will be extremely interested in your ability to interact in a team-oriented environment. You should expect questions on this to come up during the interview. Additionally, Wharton is genuinely interested in knowing what type of person you are outside of the professional environment. A short discussion of your hobbies or community service activities will show that you are more than a resume.

Insider Information

The Wharton admissions committee will look at your application closely to see how you express the maturity dimension. The school really values professional experience, as reflected in its relatively high average years of work experience. Rejected applicants are often told that they could use another year or two of pertinent work experience. That shouldn’t dissuade you from applying if your years of experience fall below the Wharton average, but you should be able to answer the “why now?” and “how will you add value to the classroom?” questions. You should especially expect this to come up during the interview if you have less than three years professional experience.

What Makes Wharton Different?

Student Involvement. Inside and outside of the classroom, students play a leading role in defining the Wharton experience for themselves, their classmates, and for future students. The expectation is that Wharton students will be active members of the community - a standard that manifests itself in all aspects of the Wharton experience as evidenced by more than 100 studentrun clubs that evolve each year depending on student leadership, the existence of the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee and the Wharton Graduate Association, and student participation in the admissions process.

Experiential Learning. Nearly every elite business school is advertising its “action-based” or “experiential” approach, but Wharton deserves credit for the way it puts a premium on student involvement in campus activities and organizations. Gaining knowledge and putting it into practice is seamlessly integrated into the student experience through initiatives such as the Global Consulting Practicum.

Leadership. Building leadership acumen is a core of the Wharton program. While we’d be hard pressed to say that leadership is more important at Wharton than it is at Harvard, opportunities to build this skill abound at this school. Wharton features a dedicated Center for Leadership and Change Management, which spearheads multiple leadership-driven initiatives including Leadership Ventures (outdoor experiential leadership experiences and global leadership treks) and the Leadership Fellows Program (a leadership development/mentor program). Leadership is also baked into the Wharton experience through its entirely student-led community and the many opportunities to be a leader outside of the classroom through programs such as the International Volunteer Project and Wharton Community Consultants.

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