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 rose to a new record of 7,338 candidates vying for one of the 897 seats in the Class of 2023. 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.
Read on for everything you need to know to get into Wharton, from program basics and admissions requirements to our team’s insider tips for admission success. For more expert guidance and a candid assessment of your chances of admission, reach out to schedule a free consultation.
Wharton MBA Basics
Wharton is the world’s oldest collegiate business school and consistently ranked among the top three programs in global MBA rankings. Strengths and specializations include General Management, Finance, Health Care, Entrepreneurship, Real Estate, Nonprofit/Social Responsibility, International Management, Economics, and Big Data. The Wharton MBA program offers over 200 electives – more than any other top business school.
Number of Applicants (Class of 2023): 7,338
MBA Class Size: 897
Acceptance Rate: 18.2%
Average Work Experience: 5 years
Average GMAT: 733
Average GPA: 3.6
International Students: 36%
Students of Color: 44%
Wharton MBA Program Admissions Requirements
For many years, Wharton was known as “the finance school” where students who were eager to go (or return) to Wall Street received their bona fides and entered investment banking, hedge funds, and private equity shops. While there’s certainly no shortage of students with those aspirations (nearly 36 percent of grads entered finance last year), Wharton has been positioning itself as a hub of entrepreneurship determined to dedicate both academic and support services to student-driven ventures. Wharton’s success in incubating industry disruptors prompted Inc. magazine to dub the school “the spiritual center of the DTC [direct to consumer] startup movement.”
Wharton actively encourages applicants coming from non-traditional backgrounds to apply to the school. While 23% of students hailed from consulting in the Class of 2023 and 30% from financial industries, 10% came from nonprofit or government, 10% from technology, and 5% from healthcare. In addition to bringing a wealth of diversity to the classroom discussion from an industry perspective, applicants from nontraditional sectors 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 four classes outside of the Wharton program and receive credit – it is not surprising that many Wharton students take classes in other related fields that would further their career paths in nonprofit work, such as at the School of Education or School of Social Policy and Practice.
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.
Applying to Wharton
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.
In her recent video conversation with Poets&Quants Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne, my Fortuna colleague Michel Belden zeroed in on the three essential things every aspiring Wharton candidate should know before applying – starting with what Wharton is looking for.
Tips for your Wharton MBA Application
1. Demonstrate your team orientation
One of the common stereotypes is that Wharton is an “eat or be eaten” kind of environment. 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 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 who 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.
2. Connect the personal to the professional.
The school is looking to get to know you professionally and personally, and the pairing of Wharton’s MBA essays underscores this. The wording of essay 2 (new last year), asks you to connect the dots for the admissions committee from where you’re coming from to where you’re heading. The invitation to draw upon “your background” means they’re seeking the stuff of your identity, and the characteristics that convey how you stand to contribute in a meaningful way to the Wharton community.
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.
3. Convey a clarity of purpose.
The single most important thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to spend significant time on self-reflection. Wharton wants to know why an MBA and why Wharton, and your response should reflect a deep understanding of the program’s values and culture. Assure the admissions committee yours is a viable path – they want to know the why, not just the what. Taking the time to summon this clarity of purpose for yourself will allow you to shape a narrative that’s coherent, authentic, and compelling.
With 200 other electives and an incredibly rich student life there are any number of ways to immerse yourself in the MBA experience so think about how you can contribute and make a difference.
4. Present 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.
5. Prepare to shine in the Team-Based Discussion.
Wharton’s unique interview format, the Team Based Discussion, is emblematic of its collaborative values and the culture it’s looking to create. This dynamic, relational experience is about much more than delivering a strong pitch. As underscored in my related article on how to prepare for the Wharton TBD, 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. To do this, you need to understand your role as an individual on a team, and as a team member.
Finally, putting your best foot forward means doing your homework. This includes speaking with Wharton alumni and students to understand in a nuanced and informed way why you’re truly a fit for the program. Again, what is it about the school that really resonates with you, and conversely, how are you uniquely poised to contribute to the Wharton community? Making these connections will prepare you to tell your best story.
View Fortuna’s MBA Admissions Masterclass on Wharton for a deep dive on preparing your Wharton application – recommender strategy, interviews, MBA culture, essays, and more.
Let’s Get You In.
Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including Stanford GSB. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.
Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to the GSB and other top programs, request a free consultation.
Want More Advice?
Check out our team’s latest articles, videos, and analysis related to how to get into Wharton:
- Wharton MBA Essay Tips & Strategy
- What New Wharton Dean Erika James Means for the Wharton MBA
- Acing the Wharton TBD
- What is Wharton Looking For? Key Criteria & Qualities of the Ideal Candidate (video)
- Personal MBA Experience: Insider Advice on the Wharton Business School (video)
- Request a copy of Fortuna’s Insider Tips Report: Applying to the Wharton School
Updated June, 2022
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.