Wharton MBA Application: Tips From a Former Admissions Director

February 06, 2019 | by Judith Silverman Hodara

Insider Advice on How To Get Into Wharton

Part of a top-tier trinity colloquially referred to as “HSW,” Wharton is rarely found outside the world’s top four schools among recent years’ MBA rankings. If any of the premier business schools have taken the time to adjust to a post-Lehman Brothers world, it’s Wharton. The entrepreneurial community has quintupled in the past six years, with a higher percentage of students starting a business at graduation than at Harvard Business School. The school can also claim the highest percentage of women in a top MBA program, with an unprecedented six years in a row when at least 40% of the class was female.

The school’s improving yield shows that more applicants who receive an offer to join are saying ‘yes,’ prizing a Wharton education over any other.

Before co-founding Fortuna Admissions, I served as a core member of admissions committees at the University of Pennsylvania for almost two decades, most recently as Acting Director at Wharton’s MBA Program and Associate Director in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Here are my top tips and insights for crafting and positioning your candidacy:


Tip #1 – Demonstrating your team orientation

One of the common stereotypes is that Wharton is an “eat or be eaten” environment. Contrary to popular belief, uber-competitive Wharton is actually home to an extremely collaborative, team-oriented learning environment. The utilization of learning clusters, cohorts and teams (you may work with 15+ over your 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 lacking a team-orientation or having a closed (vs. facilitative) leadership style will be at a disadvantage in terms of being invited to interview.

Tip #2 – Undergraduate degrees

While Wharton certainly has applicants from the top universities in the US and abroad, what is often more important than the name of the school or if it is public or private is how the candidate fared during their degree. 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. 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 “brand name” 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.

Tip #3 – Value of extracurricular activities

The holistic review process at Wharton lends itself to the program’s 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!), who contribute 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. Highlight whatever it is you love to do in your free time and how that makes you unique. If the activity itself doesn’t feel particularly unique or glamorous, perhaps what differentiates your participation is why the activity is important to you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself at Wharton.

Tip #4 – Presenting your career plans

From Wharton’s essay questions to the interview process, it is important 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” come across as unfocused 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 should enter the program with a sense of purpose. Business school has been likened to drinking water from a fire-hose, and those who come in with no plan at all are frequently forced down by the blast. It is advisable to give as much detail as you can about next steps in your career, showcasing that you understand what the Wharton program will enable you to do along the way.

For five additional insider tips from Judith on applying to Wharton, as well as admissions stats and post-MBA career placement for the school, download the complete, complementary version of Fortuna’s Wharton Insider Tips Report.


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