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What Wharton’s #1 Forbes Win Means for the School

It’s been a long time coming: The Wharton School of Business, perennially vying with HBS, Stanford GSB, and Chicago Booth for the top spot among US business schools, has vaulted to number one in the Forbes MBA rankings published earlier this week. This is the first time Wharton has claimed the top spot in the 20-year history of the Forbes ranking, which factors ROI into its evaluation, and comes on the heels of Wharton’s #1 tie with HBS in this year’s US News & World Report rankings. As Wharton’s former head of Admissions, these nods feel significant for a number of reasons, not least for how the school has evolved its identity in a post-Lehman Brothers world.


Just a few years ago, The Wall Street Journal asked, “What’s Wrong with Wharton?” as a double-digit decline in applications incited speculation that the program was losing its luster, and must reconsider how to take its place in the M7 pantheon. Not surprisingly, several large shifts in philosophy and community makeup have enhanced the school’s standing.


For one, the entrepreneurial community has quintupled in the past six years; with Wharton West providing a hub for students interested in Silicon Valley, and close ties with Asia through the Penn Wharton China Center that opened in 2015. The school can also claim among the highest percentage of women in a top MBA program, with an unprecedented seven years in a row when women made up at least 40 percent of the class. The quality of admitted students is also on the rise, with the mean 730 GMAT score of the incoming class.


Interestingly, the industry with the largest pipeline to Wharton is no longer investment banking and financial services, but consulting; the community is changing to encompass a larger swath of non-finance backgrounds and, in turn, its alumni base. Non-profit and government students are about 9% of the incoming class- another shift in demographics and are no longer considered “token” members of their industry groups.


All of this adds up to great news for Wharton. It has built its expertise in relevant and responsive ways, and then deepened relationships with industries and applicant groups that have tremendous impact on global business leadership. (The blockbuster buzz surrounding Wharton prof Adam Grant’s co-authorship of the latest Sheryl Sandberg book didn’t hurt either.)


Admissions officers can see through the rankings glow that often incites a bump in interest. For the MBA candidate, it’s vitally important to remember that each ranking is only one data point to consider as you determine the school that’s best for you.


Fortuna Co-Founder and Director Judith Silverman Hodara served as Wharton’s head of MBA Admissions.

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