What We Learned Visiting Wharton: Report from Day 2 of the AIGAC Conference
Wharton generously hosted the second day of the AIGAC conference on campus. In addition to giving us a tour, we met admissions directors, program directors, professors and members of the career services staff, whose content-rich panels got us all up to speed on what’s new and notable in Wharton’s curriculum, community, programs and admissions.
By the end of the day, we were simply wowed by the depth and breadth of the school’s programs. Established in 1881 as the world's first collegiate business school, Wharton is famously known as a “quant and finance” school, but in addition to its strengths in those areas, it offers a dizzying variety of academic specialties, dual degree programs, global modular courses, leadership treks, and much more. As Accepted.com founder and president Linda Abraham observed, “Wharton is dedicated to providing a premier program in all areas and dimensions, and the breadth of Wharton’s offerings is breath-taking.”
Here are some highlights from the panel discussions:
More Curriculum Flexibility
Director of MBA Program Frank Devicchis emphasized the increasing flexibility of Wharton’s curriculum, including a new structure that includes a core curriculum in management fundamentals, analytics and leadership. Notably, more than half the core curriculum provides flexibility within the requirements so that students can design a custom path to one of 18 majors, among them: business economics and public policy, environmental and risk management, legal studies and business ethics, multinational management, and real estate. Students can also create an individualized major as well.
Wharton’s new West Coast campus in San Francisco is also drawing more and more students who want to be near the technology hub of Silicon Valley. It is now the home of a West Coast EMBA program for Wharton, and offers a semester there for qualifying full-time MBA students.
Emphasis on Social Value
Wharton’s motto of being a “force for social good” is taken seriously, and one primary vehicle for this is the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, which offers courses in cross-functional management in a variety of disciplines: business and public policy, education, finance, social policy and practice, management, and more. The research, experience and student-centered programs of the WSII are geared to further the school’s commitment to this goal.
Dual Degree Programs: The Lauder Institute – for Internationally Focused Students
AIGAC members enjoyed an in-depth presentation about this Wharton program, open to applicants who are already fluent in a second language and motivated to work in the international arena. The Lauder Institute offers a joint Wharton MBA or Penn JD with an MA in International Studies, and is an extremely rigorous program that is designed for an intellectually charged group who want to explore the intersection of business, language, and social science. With approximately 70 students per class, the program offers a certain degree of intimacy, in addition to the breadth and richness of Wharton.
Program Director Mauro Guillen explained that the program is meant to teach students “how to operate across borders.” Toward that goal, students have an intensive summer immersion program abroad, devoted to adding language and cultural proficiency as well as business study. Students research businesses and interview business leaders and/or government officials, and write a research report. Lauder students have traveled to every continent in the world for this program, utilizing their language skills in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, French, Hindi, German, and more.
While this program adds additional costs to the Wharton MBA, the Lauder Institute has a generous endowment that allows for financial aid for qualifying students. Dr. Guillen emphasized that lack of funds should never deter the highly motivated, intellectually curious student who wants the joint Wharton Lauder program.
The JD/MBA Program
In 2009, Wharton launched a 3-year JD/MBA program, and two classes have graduated so far. There is a joint admission process (one application, joint decision) and both GMAT/GRE and LSAT are required. Associate Director Colleen France emphasized that this is also a very demanding program, geared for students who want to work at intersection of law and business, not for those who just want to “pick up” an extra degree.
The prescribed curriculum begins with 1L at Penn Law, followed by a summer of additional classes. Students must complete both a pro bono requirement and an internship in law or business during the second summer. The third year is highlighted by a Capstone project, where students work with a law school advisor and an industry advisor. As with the Lauder program, students in the JD/MBA program must meet full requirements at both schools. Of the past two graduating classes, 75% graduated with honors, and enjoy a JD/MBA mentoring project during the program and dual alumni networks from both Wharton and Penn Law afterward.
Specialty Tracks of Note: Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship, Real Estate, Retailing
Wharton’s program directors were eager to showcase the numerous specialty tracks and majors that people don’t often associate with the school, along with the considerable resources affiliated with each one.
For example, the healthcare management department began back in 1971, according to program director June Kinney, and covers many niche areas, including medical devices, government-managed care, and venture capital. Unlike other majors at Wharton, the health care management major must be declared at the time of application. It also helps students find summer internships and permanent positions in the health care sector, including consulting firms, biotechnology, pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, insurers, and government agencies. There are also dual degree options, including the MD/MBA, MBA/MB, and MBA/MSN.
Wharton’s Entrepreneurship program is not just about starting a business, but about increasing support for students who want to pursues positions in a company’s earliest stages, according to Emily Cieri, Managing Director in Wharton’s Entrepreneurship program. Students in this program can consult with the Wharton Small Business Development Center, develop ideas through the Business Plan Competition, participate in the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, as well as apply for an Enprepreneurial Intern Fellowship, the Venture Initiation Program or Wharton Venture Award, a $10,000 summer grant.
The Jay H. Baker Retailing Center offers MBA students a curriculum that weaves retail theory and practice. Wharton is the only Ivy League School to offer a concentration in Retail, and the Center is led by Barbara Kahn, internationally recognized marketing scholar. Courses specific to retail include supply chain management, consumer behavior, store management, and merchandising. The Center works closely with Wharton’s MBA Retail Club, and some classes also focus on luxury retailing.
Peter Fader, Co-director of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative Research Center, says that no other MBA program is producing students who have bona fide marketing science, and that recruiters are taking notice. Customer analytics courses at Wharton are rigorous and meaty, and a “real point of differentiation” between Wharton and other MBA programs. “Marketing professors grossly underestimate what students are capable of doing in marketing, and may think that people escape to marketing to avoid quantitative work,” he said. These elective courses are drawing students with broad business interests, including finance, ecommerce, and those heading toward tech start-ups. “They’ll be sitting on tons of data and as a result of our classes that teach hard analytics, they’ll know what to do with it.” Fader also noted that when he shows colleagues what his students are doing, they laugh because they can’t believe what they’ve done, but “I get the last laugh.”
The Real Estate concentration focuses on real estate law, development, and finance, while electives explore related issues such as real estate economics, urban fiscal policy, the relationship between government policy and private development, international real estate markets, and the aesthetic and technical considerations of architecture. In conjunction with the Samuel Zell & Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, MBA students with this focus can attend sponsored conferences, seminars, and other specialty programs in the field. Wharton’s real estate program has repeatedly ranked among the top in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The Lurie Center also hosts a career fair, with more than 90 companies recruiting on campus.
Leadership: Get Ready for Teamwork
Jeffrey Klein, Director of The Wharton Leadership Program, recently wrote in The European Business Review, “At The Wharton School, our approach to leadership development begins with teams. MBA students can expect to join at least 15 teams throughout their 21 month tenure as graduate students.” These include Course teams, Wharton Leadership Program teams, fellowship teams, club teams, conference teams, and intramural sports teams. “Teams permeate the MBA experience in the same way that teams are a dominant social structure for businesses and organizations,” he added.
Additionally, Wharton’s Leadership offerings for MBAs include the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, conferences, leadership ventures, fellowships, and other experiential programs. Notable authors, such as Daniel Pink and Mario Moussa, as well as major business leaders, address students through the authors@wharton and leaders@wharton speaker series.
What’s New in Wharton Admissions
Last year, Accepted.com editors fielded many questions from Wharton applicants who were nervous about the school’s new group interview process. Admissions director Ankur Kumar addressed that and other issues during a Q&A about the Wharton admissions process. Kumar said that what the applicants actually proposed was not as vital as the group dynamics. In other words, Wharton is looking for people who know how and when to listen, and how and when to speak. “We expect interviewees to self-regulate” their comments, she observed.
Answering other questions from AIGAC members, Kumar said that Wharton does not have a preference for the GMAT over GRE. Regarding the “goals” essay question, she acknowledged that stated career goals may not become reality, and that she is looking more for “thoughtfulness and awareness” in crafting an answer, knowing that goals can be fluid.
A calculus test is required for all admitted students, and a business math class is required if the student does not pass or passes at a low level.
Shannon Connelly, senior associate director of Employer Services, said that Wharton helps students with their immediate post-MBA job searches from many angles. Primarily, she said their staff works to manage student expectations and keep them reasonable by assessing students’ goals, experience and risk-tolerance. Her office also teaches job search skills and actively promotes the Wharton MBA brand among prospective employers.
Notably, Wharton has “relationship managers” who work with companies across various industries, as well as student advisors. Overall, Wharton’s Employer Services office is in contact with up to 700 companies, and keeps up to speed with what they anticipate their hiring needs will be in the coming year, as well as what worked for them in previous years.
To read about the highlights of the first day of the conference, check out:
• Innovations in MBA Curriculum
• The Growth of Part-Time and Virtual MBA Programs
• Career Services – More Involved than Ever
• The Admissions Process: Still Evolving
• Letters of Recommendation – Surprisingly Controversial
By Judy Gruen, MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
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This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.