The Wharton Team-Based Discussion is a dynamic, relational experience that is about much more than delivering a strong pitch in a group setting.
Wharton’s admission committee wants to observe how you approach a challenge, present yourself, cohesively work towards solutions in a small group context and think on your feet. This year, candidates are tasked with creating a day-long program promoting the unveiling of the school’s Tangen Hall, a 70,000-square foot cross-collaborative space housing Wharton’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. Beyond consolidating the university’s entrepreneurship programs and activities, the 70,000-square foot space is also emblematic of Wharton’s changing culture, and symbolizes the exciting ways that Wharton continues to evolve beyond its roots in finance.
Having spent a decade at the helm of Wharton’s MBA admissions, as well as running my Fortuna Admissions clients through the paces to prepare each season, I’ve become practiced at guiding candidates to bring their best to the table. Based on the recent experiences of my clients and insights from my Fortuna colleagues, I’m sharing our team’s top tips for delivering your standout pitch, along with what success looks like.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE WHARTON TEAM BASED DISCUSSION
Wharton’s TBD has become an integral part of the MBA assessment since its roll out in 2012 and reflects the Learning Teams model at the heart of the Wharton experience, which lauds teamwork in the spirit “persuasive rather than positional leadership.” Approach this as an opportunity to showcase what you’d contribute as a future student at Wharton in terms of your professional presence and as part of an effective team.
The TBD typically includes four or five additional candidates. Your discussion will have a prompt and an end goal, and the group will work collectively to propose a tangible outcome. After brief introductions, the team has a little more than 30 minutes to generate a subject and presentation model that is ultimately shared with the admissions committee observer. After the TBD, there will be a one-on-one debrief with an admission representative, lasting about 10 minutes. Expect the time to move very quickly.
8 KEY TIPS FOR DELIVERING YOUR WHARTON TBD PITCH
You’ll want to present your own ideas with precision and care, as well as keen situational awareness. Expect to be assessed on how well you listen to others and facilitate the group’s dialogue. This experience is less about your own particular answer and presentation (although of course, you should thoughtfully prepare this in advance) and more about how well you collaborate with others toward a larger objective.
1. Know what innovation means to you and put your self-intro into relevant context. You do not need to be an entrepreneur or part of a startup – innovation is emblematic of Wharton’s evolved identity and touches everything we do in business, irrespective of industry or function.
When developing your one-minute pitch for the Wharton TBD, consider introducing yourself briefly and talking about why your idea is resonant with you. This way, you’re not only giving your team a sense of your background, but also what it is that compels you to that particular area of interest. Here are some examples that address that idea: both of them are innovation in their own way.
- “I spent my junior year in Argentina and I have always been interested in how innovation has encouraged the wine industry to grow at a fast pace when compared with Europe.”
- Or: “I have volunteered for a week every year in Ghana where I have become really interested in issues of access to capital for rural farmers. I would like to suggest a program where we look at… I think that this is going to help us get to work together as a team and know one another because…”
2. While “everyone” is not a target audience, consider inclusivity.
If all Wharton students benefit from thinking innovatively and entrepreneurially, how can you expand the definition to resonate with non-entrepreneurial types? Innovation is an integral part of many organizations today, and for good reason: it helps companies stay agile, relevant and evolving. You want to come up with something that’s logical and strategic while keeping inclusivity at the forefront. In terms of the invitation count, consider the ideal capacity and what success looks like.
Some ideas to jog your thinking:
- Consider planning an intro/orientation that encompasses all focus areas of the program, not just the tech and entrepreneur types in the spirit of being fully inclusive.
- Perhaps attendance is by learning team? Or by lottery?
- How can you make the sessions accessible for those not in attendance?
3. Who will be a draw in terms of the keynote? What factors should be considered in the keynote’s selection? Who might set the tone for the event?
- Your pitch might include someone related to your industry or area of interest so as it is easier to pitch from your personal experience.
- Or think broadly and about who might appeal to people across different areas of interest.
- Alternatively, consider who can you pull from the tremendous Wharton resources (please NOT Warby Parker or Adam Grant).
4. Have a deeper level of info at the ready. Have your programming ideas flushed out with sufficient detail so that, if it is selected by your teammates, you’re poised to be the “go-to” person with an additional layer of information.
- If your idea is chosen, you can anticipate your teammates looking to you for an additional layer of guidance, so be prepared to offer the “next level” of detail in the discussion.
5. Consider Wharton’s web of relationships. Wharton has a very strong alumni association and world-renowned faculty. You will want to think about whom you can draw upon to help strengthen your program (as mentioned for the keynote). To consider:
- Your program will be taking place on campus, so you have all of the Penn community at your disposal. You will want to think about whom you can draw upon to help strengthen your program.
- Connecting with faculty mentors and alumni groups on-the-ground might also be beneficial.
- Do not be afraid to avail yourself of the extensive network to help you flesh out the ideas before you embark on your program.
6. Define both outcome and experiential objectives. What do you want people to think, feel and do as a result of this one-day program? What kinds of experiences will reinforce their learning, from keynotes and plenaries to small group mingles or workshops? For example:
- For an interactive workshop, it can be related to something in your own area of experience or expertise as mentioned above.
- Again, consider inclusivity: what would be beneficial or compelling to your target audiences?
- Workshops are also better with smaller groups – so another reason why the size needs to be very well defined.
7. Know what success looks like. How will you know if this program is successful and what are your metrics?
- If you do a survey, for example, what kind of response are you looking for and how will you use the information?
- You may want to consider not only the information you are seeking to gather, but also the methodology that you would use to gather it.
8. Notice content and process. This means giving considered attention not just to what you’re saying but how you’re saying it – Wharton really cares how you present yourself and engage with the team.
- So, in addition to being “all in” during this discussion, you will want to watch your “ums,” “ahs” and incomplete ideas.
- You can take notes while you are in the room, and we generally suggest at least jotting down everyone’s name and perhaps the basics of their plan.
- If you end up being the “note-taker” for your group throughout the sessions, don’t forget to verbally contribute just as much, if not more, than you are taking the time to note-take.
- Thinking of ways to “toss the ball” back to your teammates is a great way to show your ability to engage them – always a beneficial trait to show to the admissions office.
Finally, remember that Wharton’s TBD, like all MBA interview experiences, is an opportunity to bring your unique candidacy to life from a place of authenticity. This means embracing your own style, whether you’re a quiet consensus-builder, extroverted idea person or on-the-spot synthesizer. Wharton isn’t looking to fills its cohort with one kind of personality type, so don’t try to be someone you’re not. Self and situational awareness can be expressed across the continuum of passionate thinkers and doers, so stay curious and enjoy yourself.
For more TBD interview prep support, check out Fortuna’s video strategy session on the Wharton TBD or sign up to schedule a prep session.
For more tips and advice on applying to Wharton, view:
- Wharton MBA Application: Tips from a Former Admissions Director (blog)
- What New Wharton Dean Erika James Means for the Wharton MBA (blog)
- What is Wharton Looking For? Key Criteria & Qualities of the Ideal Candidate (video)
- Personal MBA Experience: Insider Advice on the Wharton Business School (video)
Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder & Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former head of Admissions at Wharton. If you’re looking for more advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation.