By Judith Silverman Hodara, Former Acting Director of MBA Admissions at Wharton
Wharton- Harvard- Stanford in a trifecta! While applicants to business schools frequently mention these three powerhouses in one breath, the US News and World Report ranking has never accorded the three top honors in the same year. Wharton, in particular is understandably excited by this recognition, especially on the heels of the Wall Street Journal discussion of a 12% decline in application numbers over the past 4 years, and the mid- admissions cycle change in leadership at the helm of the MBA Admissions Office. The WSJ article was fodder for MBA forum discussion, and some suggested, harbinger for an overall decline in popularity and ROI.
As Past Acting Director of Admissions, I remember well the excitement and discussion when the rankings came out each year; the inevitable concern about their worth from one year to the next, especially if the number was lower than expected. We frequently said in admissions that the perfect pool of applicants was a targeted one; and that those (who in addition to having viable academic and professional records) really knew the school, and knew what they wanted from it- were the kinds of candidates we were seeking- was better than gigantic numbers who might have applied on name brand or ranking alone. However- this not being a perfect admissions world, application numbers are highly scrutinized, and in fact do impact the desirability of an institution; the higher the application numbers, the lower the admit rate, the higher the yield- and thus goes at least one piece of the puzzle.
What has Wharton done to impact the numbers just since the rather dire reporting of September? I don’t think that much has really changed since the WSJ article which doubted Wharton’s impact and market value, but the hard data has helped Wharton regain its footing. Slowly and steadily, Wharton leadership has been recruiting and wooing an entering class of 42% women. The school has been quietly graduating more and more students interested in entrepreneurship (10% of last year’s graduating class) as well as a strong emphasis on “doing well by doing good” and the triple bottom line. While is it doubtful that Wharton will ever entirely relinquish its place as the funnel to Wall Street, certainly it has been doing a yeoman’s job (Wharton West campus in San Francisco) as prime example- of widening the possible career paths for its graduates. And not surprisingly, success begets success in this realm; the more Wharton alumni there are at a given company or in a given industry, the more ties that are formed to the institution, the greater the pull to recruit at Wharton, the greater the chances of alumni connection moving forward and so on. Certainly by sheer numbers (approximately 800 Wharton grads in each class, plus the undergraduate alumni network means a sizable global alumni base of over 80,000), this impacts both the variety in company placement, global reach, and numbers being placed.
Do low numbers really hurt? Do high numbers really help? Are satisfied students and happy (engaged alumni) the most critical part of the story, or is it public opinion?