Fortuna Admissions’ Judith Silverman Hodara, was a core member of the admissions committees at the University of Pennsylvania for almost two decades, most recently as Acting Director at the Wharton School’s MBA Program. Below she shares her top 10 insider tips for applying to the school.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #1 – I have heard that Wharton is an “eat or be eaten” kind of environment. Is there any truth behind this? Contrary to popular belief, uber-competitive Wharton, is actually home to an extremely collaborative and team-oriented learning environment. The utilization of learning clusters, cohorts, and teams (you may be work with 15+ over you time in the program) provide a platform for collaboration and learning to lead through teamwork. Accordingly, your application needs to reflect your ability to actively contribute and thrive in these settings. Individuals that present themselves as lacking a team-orientation or having a leadership style that is closed rather than facilitative will be at a disadvantage in terms of being invited to interview and ultimately being granted admission.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #2 – I have heard that Wharton lumps together all of the consultants, bankers and others into groups and then lets them fight it out for the admissions. So, how am I evaluated beyond what I do for a living?
Wharton does look at each of the files holistically understanding that what you do for a living is not WHO you are or WHAT you will bring to the community. You certainly would not want someone to consider you only by your profession, so its a good idea to use some balance within the framework of your application- your essay examples should reflect things that the committee may not know about you from outside the workplace in addition to showing your professional skills. If you can keep in mind that you are a sum of about 10,000 parts, and show that in the application, the admissions officers will see that passion and connection too.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #3 – I know that Wharton wants evidence that I am familiar with the school in their admissions process. What is the best way to show I do that without just throwing in random class names?
Choosing a particular field of interest may really be the key here. Of course applicants have a variety of interests that they intend to pursue during their MBA. However; in the application it may be a good idea NOT to be a generalist. To that end, you will want to speak specifically about a professor or a class or a club that interests you- and have them all be connected, so that there is a theme to your writing. While business school is sometimes compared to drinking from a firehose, it is a good idea to think of this essay as a small sip of very flavorful water instead.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #4 – If I’ve gone to Wharton as an undergrad, does it make sense to go back for my MBA?
The Wharton undergraduate experience is not surprisingly, and intense one.. but in a different way than the MBA program would be. Within the framework of the MBA, the exposure to individuals with real- world experience in addition to their academic abilities is extraordinary. Although the undergraduate program supports leadership development, this may be one of the hallmarks of the Wharton MBA program. The competition via grades for the perceived coveted jobs is almost non- existent, and the environment is very collaborative. About 5% of any entering class at Wharton has a degree from Penn.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #5- I am coming from a non-traditional background and have worked in non-profit for the past three years. How does this experience compare to applicants coming from Wall Street ?
Wharton actively encourages applicants coming from non-traditional backgrounds to apply to the school. In addition to bringing a wealth of diversity to the classroom discussion from an industry perspective, applicants from this sector have often also had non- business undergraduate academic interests. This combination helps to add to the energy of the classroom and club interactions. With the breadth of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate programs, where students can take up to 4 classes outside of the Wharton prorgram and receive credit, it is not surprising that many Wharton students take classes in other related fields that would further their career paths in non profit work, such as at the School of Education or School of Social Policy and Practice.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #6- Do I have to have studied at an Ivy League or top Liberal Arts College to be admitted? How does a state school in the US stack up?
While Wharton certainly has applicants from the top universities in the United States and abroad, what is probably more important than the name of the school or if it is public or private- is how the candidate fared while they were enrolled. In my tenure at Wharton, I saw a lot of applicants from lesser known private schools, or state schools- who had really made a name for themselves both academically and in the campus community with leadership and engagement. In fact, I think that students who are coming from those schools bring so much to the MBA community and are sometimes the most involved and participatory members of the class. At the end of the day- going to a “name brand” is only as good as what you bring to that brand, and if you can bring a great deal of academic ability as well as the ability to transform the community you’re a part of- then you’ve got a great case to make for yourself.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Admissions Tip #7 Does Wharton care what I do outside of work, or just my title and the number of hours I put in at the office?
The holistic review process at Wharton lends itself to the programs desire to bring in a class with top-notch candidates from many professional, educational, social and cultural backgrounds. They are also looking for individuals with personality (and a life outside of work!), which contributes to the diversity of the classroom and campus experience at Wharton. Believe it or not, who you are, matters. Maybe you’re passionate about a specific organization or cause and to this you devote much of your free time – or maybe it’s triathlons, caring for family, or running a business. The moral of the story is whatever it is you love to do in your free time, highlight how that makes you unique. If the activity itself isn’t so unique or glamorous, perhaps what differentiates your participation is why the activity is important to you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself here.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Admissions Tip #8- I’m an international student and I am worried that I have never had work experience outside of my home country. Will this affect my chances of admission?
Wharton certainly is one of the most international of the top US MBA programs; but internationalism comes in many forms. Generally speaking, while experience abroad can certainly be a great addition to your resume, perhaps there are other ways to exhibit this kind of interest in the world around you. Perhaps you mention that there are certain courses or clubs that appeal to you precisely because of the international exposure you will receive. Or, you can think of ways within your current career to gain more cross- cultural experience even if you never have the opportunity to leave your home country. Both possibilities exhibit that you are “open” to the possibility of international exposure, and this “ openness” is something which is something that Wharton does value highly.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Tip # 9- If I am not sure what path I really want to choose post Wharton, should I indicate that I am “open” to possibilities, or should I try to narrow down my choices within the application process? After all, isn’t Wharton all about exploration?
It’s important within the context of the application process to show that you have a career path in mind. Students who indicate that they have “so many ideas that they don’t know where to start” can come across as unsure and non- directed. The Wharton Vice Dean once famously said at Convocation “If we only granted diplomas to those of you who had followed your suggested career paths from your applications, no one would actually graduate!” The beauty of a transformational business school education is that it does give you tremendous exposure to possibilities on a professional and personal level. However, Wharton admissions officers want to ensure that you can create a viable path to follow; understanding that while the actual industry and functions are variable, you enter the program with a sense of purpose. Business school has been likened to drinking water from a firehose- and those who come in with no plan at all are frequently hosed down by the blast. Within the framework of the application it is certainly advisable to give as much detail as you can about next steps in your career, showcasing that you understand what the Wharton program will allow you to do along the way.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Tip # 10 – I’ve heard that it’s best to get a Wharton alum to write my letter of recommendation, if I can find one within my network .
While it’s always “nice” to have a Wharton MBA (or any MBA) on your recommendation list, it’s by no means a requirement of the admissions committee. Wharton does prefer a Direct Supervisor as one of your recommenders, who can speak to your contributions within the workplace, and compare you to your peers in the professional realm. If this person did go to Wharton, great. However, finding a Wharton graduate write in on your behalf within the formal recommendation process just for the sake that they have a Wharton degree- does not carry more weight in the perception of the admissions committee. And importantly, use your judgment in this decision making process, as you think about your recommendation writers. You want to make sure to choose those who will be able to write about your candidacy with clarity and depth; regardless of their degrees.