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Advice for the Wharton 2023-2024 TBD Prompt

Wharton interview invitations are out, and the prompt is a creative challenge. Now is time to start preparing for your Team Based Discussion.

The Wharton interview is distinctive among the M7 interview landscape for its Team Based Discussion.

This dynamic, relational experience is about much more than delivering a strong pitch – 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. While you won’t know how the discussion will play out until you get into the virtual interview room, you can do a lot to prepare for a successful TBD starting now.

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 our clients and insights from my Fortuna colleagues, I’m offering our team’s top tips for delivering your standout pitch, along with what success looks like.

How Does Wharton’s TBD Work?

The Wharton TBD simulates the Learning Teams model at the heart of the Wharton experience; it aims for a real-world approach that hinges on “persuasive rather than positional leadership.” Think of this as your opportunity to showcase your professional presence and what you would bring to your future study group at Wharton.

The virtual format includes five or six candidates (similar to  Wharton’s Learning Teams). Your discussion will have a prompt and an end goal (see below), and the group will work collectively to propose a tangible outcome. Each team member will share their ideas/ and reflections on the prompt in one minute or less before moving into the group discussion. After this round of brief introductions, your team has a little less than 30 minutes to generate a subject and presentation model that is ultimately shared with the admissions committee observer. Following the TBD, there will be a one-on-one interview with an admission representative, lasting 10 minutes. In the interview portion, be prepared to speak to why you are pursuing an MBA and why you want to attend Wharton. The time goes very quickly; in fact, that’s the comment we hear most from our clients!

Everyone receives the same question and will be participating from remote locations on video. No one is at an advantage; the prompt is designed to exhibit team building and is not about demonstrating specific knowledge of a subject area.

Tackling the TBD Prompt

This year’s question tasks you and fellow TBD participants to name and design a new course  on a cutting-edge business topic for Wharton’s Pre-baccalaureate Program. As part of the Wharton Global Youth Program, this opportunity for exceptional junior and senior high school students introduces them business education. The idea is to inspire talented young people to analyze the world’s complex challenges as they take their first steps toward becoming leaders who will transform the global economy.
Your team’s challenge is to develop a course on a cutting-edge topic for the generation of young business leaders coming behind you. You’ll name the course, outline the topic and themes, identify faculty to lead the course, and decide on learning outcomes and assessment methods.

In offering this prompt, Wharton was soliciting a strong and well thought out deliverable, as well as the self-awareness necessary to engage with others in a give-and-take around a virtual conference table to reach the final presentation.

4 Top Tips for the Wharton Virtual TBD

Present your own ideas with precision and care, as well as keen situational awareness. In your initial one-minute introduction, be prepared to present your ideas for the solution to the assignment. After that, pay close attention to others and adapt to the dynamics. Expect to be assessed on how well you listen to others and facilitate the group’s dialogue. Here are the Fortuna team’s top tips for contributing to the output of this TBD.

Tip 1: Draw on your experiences.

There are myriad topics where business knowledge could help solve problems facing the next generation. The trick is to settle on just one, very quickly. Wharton’s new Team Based Discussion asks you to focus on your target market and bring to life an idea that you think would appeal to high school students.
Think back to our own interests and passions; what do you think may be of interest to them?
When constructing your course, you should pull from experiences or interests you have had in your own life; we find that its helpful to build the foundation of discussion on something that matters to you on a personal or professional level and that is a great way to start your pitch to the other participants.

Tip 2: Design for desired outcomes.

What main themes will your course convey? What knowledge and skills should your young students acquire?  What is the best way for the students to indicate they are mastering these topics along the way?
While the learning outcomes are not mentioned until the end of the prompt, it is helpful to focus at the start of the session on what you hope the students will learn. That helps you set a clear outline of expectations from the start.

Tip 3: Bring the topic to life

In designing your course, you will want to pay attention to the kinds of interactions you would hope for the students to have. Think about the ways in which you can make this class interactive for the students in addition to their classroom lectures and discussions. For example, will your class be a combination of in class and field work? Will you include project-based learning or have students develop deliverables?

In designing your course, you will want to pay attention to the kinds of interactions you would hope for the students to have. Think about the ways in which you can make this class interactive for the students in addition to their classroom lectures and discussions. For example, will your class be a combination of in class and field work? Will you include project-based learning or have students develop deliverable?

Tip 4: Tap into a wealth of resources.

Unlike other TBD themes in the past, this course will be based in Philadelphia, so it’s important to be aware of all of the local opportunities offered on campus. Wharton has so many resources; do not be afraid to use them; as well as those available to you university-wide!

Equally as important is to think about the professor you might wish to pair with. Wharton has a tremendous depth and breadth of expertise; you will want to home in on the experts you would like to lead the course, and your rationale for doing so. Do not feel like you need to work with ” the most famous” professors listed; do a little digging!

Honing your Team-Based Discussion Style

We’ve covered some of the areas you’ll want to think about for the substance of the TBD assignment, but what about your participation? How do you handle a group discussion over video and make sure you present your best self and your winning ideas? We provide some winning strategies in this video.

Check out Fortuna’s video strategy session on the Wharton TBD with Michel Belden and Caroline Diarte Edwards, above.

Prepare to shine on video

Turn off your email, WhatsApp, or other notifications and DEFINITELY silence your cell phone — anything that might chirp or ding (note that tablets, cell phones, and use of internet browsers are not allowed during the Zoom). Flawless internet connectivity should go without saying, so be sure to test your connection in advance. Like preparations for any virtual MBA interview (see my related article), make sure the space behind your camera is clear and uncluttered, that your lighting is positioned on your face, and that your sound quality is excellent. As mentioned above, eye contact is very important – while it is tempting to look at yourself on your screen, be mindful to engage the interviewer by looking up at the camera instead. To that end, consider a lavalier mic instead of a headset so you don’t have wires extending from your head.

As Wharton suggests, enter the waiting room 10 minutes early – you may have the opportunity to chat and connect with other participants before go time. Zoom will also give you the benefit of seeing everyone’s names; you may wish to jot them down along with 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 annotate the proceedings.

Prepare thoughtful questions for your one-on-one

After the completion of your TBD, the facilitator will announce the order of one-on-one interviews and then move all group members to the waiting room. The facilitator will invite one person back into the meeting at a time, and each of you will have about 10 minutes. Be prepared to speak to ‘Why Wharton’ (this is almost always asked). This is also your opportunity to highlight specific aspects of your candidacy you want to convey, and to ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the program. Once you have completed the one-on-one interview, you can leave the Zoom meeting.

Wharton TBD: What Success Looks Like

I get this anxious question a lot: How much does it matter if my idea is chosen? While running with your idea can have its advantages, it’s far more important to showcase your collaborative leadership. Demonstrating ability to help facilitate a discussion among people who have never met, work toward a greater end goal and advance an idea in a compelling way within a limited timeframe will make a big impression.

Reflect on the following tactics as you prepare for the Wharton virtual TBD and move through your own “pitch” experience:

  • After each team member has introduced themselves and offered a quick pitch, how might you help facilitate discussion to arrive at a consensus?
  • How can you support your teammates and collaborate – even if you have to abandon your own idea – versus solely promoting your own ideas?
  • What leadership behaviors will draw out your other team members? How are you able to enhance the discussion by encouraging others to voice their opinions?
  • How might you reflect on the discussion taking place while helping advance the deliverables to support the group’s final presentation to the adcom in the room?

Finally, remember that Wharton’s VTBD 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. (Check out this illuminating related article by Fortuna’s Michael Malone and Brittany Maschal on the 7 Typical Types in a Wharton TBD and how to respond.) Wharton isn’t looking to fill 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.

Let’s Get You In.

Last year, 90% of our clients who participated in our Wharton Interview Prep sessions were admitted. Fortuna’s series of mock sessions with a former Wharton Admissions gatekeeper begin Oct. 28 and spaces are limited, so sign up today to secure your place. Your preparation can make all the difference.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to a top business school, request a free consultation.

Updated October 25, 2023

More tips and advice on applying to Wharton

Fortuna Admissions Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former acting director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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