Wharton MBA Application: Tips From a Former Admissions Director

June 01, 2021 | by Judith Silverman Hodara

Photo by Eric Sucar, UPenn

Wharton just released its MBA application deadlines for the Class of 2024 (round 1 due Sep. 8, 2021). And while the application won’t be open until July, it’s not too early to get started.

Part of the venerated trinity known as HSW (Harvard/Stanford GSB/Wharton), and a place in Wharton’s incoming class is more competitive than ever. Last year, the application volume soared by 21% to a new record of 7,158 candidates vying for a seat, prompting Wharton to enroll its largest-ever entering class (916 versus 856 the prior year). But that’s no surprise. The evolutions the school has advanced in recent years signal a new era for Wharton, from the debut of its Tangen Hall entrepreneurial center to the succession of Dean Erika James, the first woman and first person of color to be appointed dean in the institution’s 139-year history. From my vantage, it’s further evidence of the exciting ways the business school continues to evolve beyond its roots in finance to drive innovation.

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. You can also view our hour-long MBA Admissions Masterclass on Wharton (above), featuring insights and advice from Judith, along with Fortuna’s Matt Symonds, Brittany Maschal, and Michel Belden.


For more tips and advice on applying to Wharton, view our related blogs:

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

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