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2012 Wharton MBA Admissions Q&A with Ankur Kumar and Anthony Penna

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Linda Abraham: Hello. My name is Linda Abraham. I am the founder of Accepted.com and the moderator of today’s Q&A. First I want to welcome all applicants to the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you for taking the time to learn more about Wharton’s MBA program. It is critical to your decision making process and your admission chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you are applying to. Being here today allows you to ask experts about this top business school.

I also want to give a special welcome to Ankur Kumar, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, and Anthony Penna, Associate Director. Thanks to everyone for joining.

I am going to take advantage of my position as moderator and ask the first question. What’s new at Wharton?

Ankur Kumar: There is lots of new stuff going on at Wharton, but there are two that I would like to highlight. As many of you may know, at Wharton, amongst other things, we seek to have a very diverse class every year. And that diversity is really met in the broadest sense of the word. So that may include industry background, geographical exposure, way of thinking, interest professionally or personally. And really the reason for that diversity is because that is truly how learning happens best. So bringing together people with different perspectives, who are sharing and contributing to their classmates experience and to the dialogue inside and outside of the classroom, is really at the heart of innovation and innovative thinking.

There have been two things that I want to highlight around the way that we continue to build awareness with different populations and cultivate a diverse class. And the first is around our women’s efforts. This year we are thrilled that 45% of our incoming class is women. That is a huge landmark for us; we’ve been blazing a path in terms of our women applicant conversations the last couple of years. So we are thrilled to be a leader amongst our peers in having 45% women in the class.

And the second thing I wanted to briefly highlight is our focus on building awareness around a number of different industries that either have not existed historically, like clean tech for example, or industries around which there really hasn’t been as much dialogue about an MBA; it has not necessarily been a part of the conversation – industries like retail or entrepreneurship. We’ve been working actively to cultivate awareness and learning about the Wharton MBA program around industries like clean tech and retail and energy, and some of our hallmark industry fields as well, like healthcare and real estate, through a series of industry focused panels the last couple of months. So for some of our applicants, if you were perhaps with me in San Francisco a couple of months ago, I moderated an entrepreneurship panel. We just had a clean tech panel. We’ll be hosting a retail panel and another entrepreneurship panel as one. So I certainly want to highlight some of our efforts to have conversations with many different groups in the applicant population around Wharton and the value proposition for them.

Anthony Penna: The other thing would just be about the curriculum changes here at Wharton. Wharton will be rolling out a new MBA curriculum in the fall of 2012. This curriculum change is a result of a multi-year research and development process. The courses that are provided in the new curriculum provide a broad based skill set that students can apply to any stage in their career, whether it’s their first job out of business school or ten to fifteen years down the line. The new curriculum experience focuses on skills such as written and oral communications, which are more essential to successful business leadership than ever.

The biggest change with the curriculum rollout will be more flexibility in completing the core curriculum. To that end, students will be able to choose from at least two options to satisfy requirements in the core subject areas. They will also be able to move more elective courses into the first year and select which core requirements to postpone until later in the program, based on academic and short-term and long-term goals.

Linda Abraham: Is at least part of the idea behind the increased flexibility that students can get more of the courses they need to have the skills necessary to hit the ground running in an internship?

Anthony Penna: One of the unique aspects of Wharton is that we have both a core curriculum and a comprehensive set of electives to allow students to have that flexibility. So just taking feedback that we’ve heard in the past, and after a lot of research and studies done by the faculty, we’ve decided just to move a little bit more of that flexibility earlier into the program. Also students have the ability to start taking classes that they are truly interested in to help them build their own pathway through the program. But we do believe that we want to keep part of the core curriculum because we believe that it is important for our students to have that foundational business knowledge that will help them be successful throughout their careers.

Linda Abraham: The Wharton dean really wants to emphasize innovation. Innovation is not new to Wharton, but I believe there is a stronger emphasis on it now. Is that correct? And how is that reflected on the ground?

Ankur Kumar: Innovation is certainly one of our foundational pillars at Wharton. And certainly that has been a part of our legacy from the start. We were the first business program, so we are inherently innovative. I’ll give a couple of examples of innovation. Structurally speaking, Karl Urlich is the Vice Dean of Innovation, so we actually have a focal point and people who actually focus on innovation, which is a very broad term. And there are many ways that one can think about innovation. Being an academic center, we are constantly innovating, and that is seen in the curriculum enhancements that Anthony just mentioned. So that is one example of innovation.

There are innovations that are happening daily here, or every semester with new courses. There is growth and student activity around certain industries; I come back to clean tech as an example of that. When I was a student 6-7 years ago, clean tech wasn’t really even an industry that had that much around it, and now you see half a dozen years later that there are students coming from that industry, there is a student club that focuses on it, and employers come to recruit for clean tech. So again, I think innovation happens in all of those forms. I think one other great example is even in our admissions process, we are constantly being innovative of how we think about our application and the student evaluation.

And so there is one thing that we are actually going to be piloting this year; it won’t be a part of the formal evaluation process for a candidate, so they shouldn’t by any means feel any concern around it, but I think it is actually pretty exciting. We are going to be piloting sort of a team-based exercise as a part of our process. We are beta testing it with a portion of our applicants this year. For those who participate and those who don’t, it will have absolutely no bearing on their candidacy. But I think it is just another example of the ways we are constantly innovating here at Wharton, inside and outside the classroom as well.

Linda Abraham: I assume the group interview is going to be something like a team interview. In business, that has already been in use for years, and certainly in the high tech industry. Is it going to be kind of like that? Like solve a problem or -- what would you do as a team in a certain situation?

Ankur Kumar: It is essentially a team-based exercise. It is going to be discussion based. I think it will be incredibly reflective of how our candidates operate right now in their day to day lives at work or in their lives outside of work. So much of what we do is team and group based. So much of what we do here at Wharton is team and group based as well. So you’ll really get a chance to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, your intellectual curiosity, of course your interactions and communications as well. Those are just some of the things that we will be able to actually see now and not just have you tell us or talk about. It will really be a chance for applicants to demonstrate and to showcase. And I think it is incredibly exciting if you are an applicant, to get this opportunity to lift yourself off the page and really bring to life what we are reading about you and what you and your recommenders are telling us in the application.

Linda Abraham: Priyanka asks, “What is the single most important quality or characteristic that you look for in a candidate?”

Anthony Penna: I don’t know if there is one quality that we are looking for; we are really taking a holistic view of the application. So we are looking at different things. The first thing that any business school or any graduate school will look at is to make sure that you can handle the program academically. But that is just one small piece of the puzzle of the application process. What we are looking for is somebody who is real and their story is coming across, and they’re showing us what types of things they will bring to the Wharton campus and the work environment. So what types of leadership activities have you been involved in? What types of team activities have you participated in at work? How have you grown professionally in your years of work experience? What do you like to do outside of the work experience? Do you volunteer? Are you part of a sports club? What types of things do you enjoy on a regular basis? We are looking for people who will be able to participate in the Wharton environment. So we are not looking for one thing; we are just looking for people who are self-aware and understand why they are looking for an MBA at this point, and how their story fits into what we are looking for.

Linda Abraham: Alok asks, “Do you accept candidates who have done an MBA previously?”

Ankur Kumar: As Anthony mentioned, there is not just one piece of any applicant’s story that is a make or break point or that we are looking for. We do have a number of applicants who come to us having done master’s programs, whether they are PhDs or JDs or other master’s programs. If you’ve done an MBA previously, we are going to want to understand what is different about this opportunity at Wharton. What did you learn from that experience, and how does this second MBA fit into where you are headed? So it’s not as if there is a make or break point or there is a hard and fast rule. Just as with pieces of the application, we are always seeking to understand one’s thought process and what they’ve learned, and what they hope to accomplish next. And the same would be true of anybody who has done an MBA prior to joining us.

Linda Abraham: Grace asks, “Does the resume need to have a specific format, or as long as it is a one-page resume, can we choose the format we’d like by ourselves?” I guess she is referring to a reverse in chronological order, a functional format resume, that kind of thing.

Anthony Penna: There is no specific format that we require, so it’s up to you what you want to highlight for us. So I know it is different per candidate. If somebody is looking to highlight their academic experiences, they might include that first. If they are looking to highlight their work experience, that would maybe come first and academics second. So we are just looking for something clear that we can see how you’ve progressed throughout your career and your education.

Linda Abraham: Matthew asks, “What is the age range of students, and are there aims to target a higher or lower average age?”

Ankur Kumar: The way that we think about it at Wharton is it’s not really about a prescriptive age or number of years of work experience. What we are more interested in hearing about is what you’ve done and what you’ve learned from those experiences; how you’ve excelled professionally or in your extracurriculars. So we don’t have a target number of years of work experience or range.

We have people coming to us right now from the full spectrum of years of work experience, and our median number is four. That is an output, not an input. What that means is that we are not targeting four as an average; when looking at the class, that is where things come out. About 20% of our class is in the early careerist bucket. What that means is folks coming in with three years or less of work experience, but most of that is really around three years, some at two. Very few people come to us with 0 or 1 year of work experience. At Wharton, we really value experience. So again, there is no prescriptive number of years of work that we are expecting, but we really do value people who are mature, have reflected on their experiences, have learned some things from them, and are coming to us ready to contribute that to their classmates’ experiences as well.

Linda Abraham: I want to hear a little bit from the applicants. I am going to launch a poll about experience. Are you concerned that you have too much work experience? 77% have voted. 36% are concerned that they have too much work experience and 66% percent are not concerned.

Just to play the other end, how many of you are concerned that you have too little work experience? 74% have voted. 21% are concerned that they have too little and 79% are not concerned. So basically, most of you are pretty confident that you have the right amount of experience and that you are in that bucket with that appropriate level.

Ankur Kumar: There is a lot of focus on this, and I understand the why. I recognize that some of our peer schools have made statements or they have a different strategy or they may have a more prescriptive take on this. But I will say from Wharton’s perspective, the way that we think about work experience, and most parts of the application, is that there are very few, if any, “should”s. What I mean by that is that the right time to apply to business school is incredibly personal. I don’t have the answer for each of you; only you have that answer. While for certain industries, there may be more natural inflection points at a certain number of years, whether it is two years or three years or four years or five years, many of our candidates come to us from industries that don’t have natural inflection points. We have a number of people coming to us from the military for example, or students who have done a master’s or PhD program. Or we have students who have been working for a family business or who have been working in a corporate setting and working in a business unit, and people who have started their own companies. In many of those fields, there is no structured career path or a certain timeline.

So I think the way we think about our applicants is – no matter what industry you are working in or where you are in your life stage, you know best when the right time to apply to business school is. It’s not for us to tell you; it’s a very personal decision. So whether for you that is one year, two years, three, ten, or thirteen years, we don’t have hard and fast rules about it because it is such a personal choice. All we want to know is whenever you do feel like the right moment is for you to apply to business school, what we are looking to understand is in the time that you’ve been working, and whatever industry you may have been working in, what have you learned? Have you excelled? Have you developed? What do you want to do next? How does Wharton fit into that? How do you envision yourself spending the next two years and the time after? It’s much less about the what -- what you’ve been doing, what industry, how many years of work experience – but we are really trying to understand your thought process and the thinking that has gone behind it, including your decisions, more than any specific number of years or something like that. I know there is always a lot of discussion around this and a lot of anxiety around this. Again, I think it is an incredibly personal decision that we don’t have the answer on; only you have the answer to it.

Linda Abraham: I really appreciate your comments and the perspective that you are taking on this. But I was actually going to ask a different question on the whole issue of quantity of work experience. On some level, you and Anthony and the rest of your staff are evaluating the qualifications of the applicants. That is part of the job. And there is a tremendous focus on the numbers; there is a focus on the GPA, the GMAT, the number of years of experience, because those are very easy to look at and average and focus on, and plug into a spreadsheet. But there is a whole qualitative aspect to it. I think you were focusing in your comments on the qualitative aspects of when an applicant chooses to apply, but what I was wondering about is in terms of your evaluation of the candidates and in terms of creating the class that you are so proud of at Wharton. What role does the qualitative, the non-quantitative aspects of work experience play?

Ankur Kumar: Absolutely. Just to go back to Anthony’s comment at the beginning, this process is incredibly holistic. So for those of you who have looked at our application and are weeks away from submitting for round 1, you know this well. We are asking around all of the dimensions of your candidacy. We want to understand your academic capabilities and achievements. We want to understand your professional experiences and trajectory. We ask for recommenders to give their perspective on you. We ask you to tell us more about how you think and what you think in the essays. If we get to meet you in person in an interview, we are going to be talking about you and your thoughts and your perspectives as well. That is because we care about all of those dimensions. There is not a weighting structure. There is not a formula. It is far more art than it is science.

Linda Abraham: There is no point system?

Ankur Kumar: There isn’t a point system. We evaluate each of the components of someone’s candidacy, but we are not taking all that information and plugging it into a formula. That is not our approach. I think I understand from a candidate’s perspective, this feels like a black box. It’s hard to understand how these decisions get made, so it’s very natural to want to look at the parts that are quantifiable – things like the GMAT or the GRE or a GPA or the number of years you have worked or the title on your resume. That is not how we look at it. We look at all the context that comes with it.

With work experience specifically, we want to understand how you’ve been spending your time, how you’ve excelled beyond your peers, how you’ve taken on more responsibility, how you’ve expanded your learning and your perspective, how you’ve challenged yourself, and how you’ve failed. We all have failures from mistakes that we make. How have you learned from those? What have you learned from those? And similarly with the academic piece, we don’t have cutoffs for the GPA or the GMAT or the GRE. We take either test. And so a quick look at our online class profile should alleviate any concerns that there is a cutoff on a score. Even with that, we are looking at all the context. Your GPA from undergrad is not just a number at the end of your 3-5 years of study; we are looking at all the context that comes with that. What was the level of rigor of the institution that you attended? What did your grades look like over time? How did you challenge yourself in the classroom? What else were you involved with? Were you running clubs? Did you have a family that you were also taking care of? Were you really involved with your church or extracurriculars?

That entire context is incredibly important to us, so we really aren’t looking at the numbers and making a decision based on those. Yes, your scores and your academic capabilities are important to us, but again, it is all within the context of all the qualitative information that is far more revealing about our candidates. It really does help us understand the multiple dimensions that you bring. You are not just a GPA score, you are not just a GMAT score, you are not just the years of work that you’ve done; you are much more than that. And so that is the type of information that we are seeking to gain about you in our process as well.

Linda Abraham: Juan asks, “Should we cover “Why Wharton?” in the professional objectives essay or anywhere else in the application?”

Anthony Penna: You’ll have the opportunity to talk about why Wharton may be the right school for you through the essays. So through a couple of the questions you can sort of let us know what it is about Wharton that can help you achieve what you are looking to do post-MBA. There is also a whole section for additional information so you can let us know the reasoning around—Why Wharton? Why now? Why this all makes sense for you. So I think the essays are a good place for you to concentrate on why this is the best time for you to apply for business school, and why Wharton would be the best place for you to do that.

Linda Abraham: That still is something that you would like to see somewhere in the application.

Anthony Penna: Sure. I think it’s nice to see the reasoning and the thought process around why somebody may think Wharton is the right place for them.

Linda Abraham: Daniel asks, “Can you please elaborate on Wharton’s current and future involvement with the energy clean tech industry. Did I hear correctly that energy is a targeted growth area of the school?’

Ankur Kumar: Sure. I mentioned energy and clean tech in particular, but there is oil and gas as well. We have certainly seen a lot of growth in that sector. That is true about many sectors. I can say the same about entrepreneurship or retail or social impact -- industries that have not historically had an MBA as part of the career path or part of the discussion. What we are seeing now is that as there is growth in some of these emerging industries, we are having conversations with candidates coming from them, and we’re helping them understand how an MBA, and one at Wharton specifically, can potentially make sense for them. So with clean tech in particular, we actually hosted a panel out in the West Coast to talk specifically about the resources at Wharton, whether that was academic programming, the student club, the different sorts of speakers that we bring to campus, our alumni that are engaged in the field, or the employers and industry contacts who recruit into the area as well. So we do have a very robust offering around all the pieces of clean tech from the student experience inside and outside of the classroom, including hiring as well.

Linda Abraham: I have a couple of questions here about the Lauder program. Wei asks, “When we talk about applying to the MBA/MA Lauder joint-degree, does a rejection from Lauder mean that the MBA is also rejected? Or can we get admitted to the MBA program if that side of the application is okay?” And a different candidate asks, “Regarding the Lauder program, are you looking for candidates who are currently fluent in a foreign language, or is an intermediate level of fluency sufficient? Is the program primarily for candidates looking for a career in international development?”

Anthony Penna: For the first question, it is possible to be denied from the Lauder program and admitted to the Wharton MBA. It is not possible to be admitted just into Lauder without being admitted into the Wharton MBA. So you can do Wharton without Lauder, but you can’t do Lauder without Wharton.

I think what they are looking for is someone who is high intermediate to advanced in a foreign language, and then throughout the program would come out fluent and business appropriate in that language. We are looking for people who would maybe want to study in that region or work internationally in that area and use what they learned from the Lauder program to progress their career into that region. Maybe international business, something of that nature. So coming in, you do need to be high intermediate, close to advanced, and then by the end of the program, you need to be coming out fluent in business language for that region.

Ankur Kumar: If you check out the Lauder website, they actually have samples of the level of fluency around the language. That can help you hear that nuance between the levels of expertise for the language.

Linda Abraham: Vivek asks, “How do you evaluate someone who has been laid off because of the bad economy?’

Anthony Penna: That is the nature of life and we understand that things happen throughout a person’s career, so in no way is that a disadvantage for that candidate. What we just want to see is what things that person learned during their time of being unemployed. Why were they laid off? What types of things did they take away from that situation? Why has that made them more ready for an MBA at this point? Is the reason why they are doing an MBA because they were laid off and think that hopefully by the time they graduate things will be a little bit better? We see all different stories, so I think it depends on the candidate. I wouldn’t be afraid to share that information with us. I think it makes part of you the unique candidate -- the way you handled that situation. I think we’ve all been in tough situations like that, so it is important to recognize the things that you’ve learned and the things that you’ve taken away from that experience.

Linda Abraham: Ashley asks, “Are candidates any more or less likely to get admitted at different rounds of the application cycle?”

Ankur Kumar: I think we message fairly clearly to applicants that if you are serious about coming to business school in a given year, you should certainly apply in round 1or round 2. Between those rounds, it’s really when you feel you have the best application prepared; that is the time that you should apply. Regarding round 3, there is an additional uncertainty both for candidates as well as for us in terms of what may happen at that point in the cycle. So again, if you are certain that you would like to come to business school in a certain year, you should certainly not wait until round 3. There have been years when we have taken three digit students for the class in that round and years when there have been none. It just adds a bit of additional uncertainty to an already uncertain process.

Anthony Penna: Because there were some questions around Lauder, I just want to make a point that you need to apply in round 1 or round 2; they don’t take any applications in the third round for Lauder applicants.

Linda Abraham: Grace asks, “Are re-applicants encouraged to reapply? And how do you look at re-applicants? Do they have any advantages or disadvantages? Do the re-applicants have to rewrite the essays that are the same as last time if they feel that they are the best ones? If they keep them the same, will they be at a disadvantage? What important advice can you give to re-applicants?”

Ankur Kumar: In terms of re-applicants, every year we have many successful re-applicants. So from our perspective there certainly isn’t a negative mark or penalty for reapplying. And we really want to understand, since the time of application, what has evolved; how you have continued to develop. And there is actually a question that we ask a re-applicant on that as well. So there is nothing negative by any means from our end of having re-applicants and we welcome them.

Linda Abraham: Is there any advice that you would give them in terms of rewriting the application, the essays, maximizing their chances this time around?

Ankur Kumar: We’ve got great information on our website for re-applicants. They have to answer three essay questions, and then there is a fourth question around what evolved or developed in your application. So thinking about the pieces of your application, you may choose to use different examples or to ask a different recommender. Much of that is really your judgment as an applicant. You know when your candidacy is best, and having some time to reflect on what you think your strengths as well as some of your development areas may have been in the application. I always encourage our re-applicants, just as any applicants, to use their best judgment in making those decisions as well.

Linda Abraham: Yukiko asks, “If you would have to make a presentation on only one major and course at Wharton, what would it be?” I suspect what she is really asking is about a major or concentration.

Anthony Penna: I think one of the unique aspects of Wharton is our approach to developing our students as leaders. So if you don’t know, Wharton founded the first leadership program amongst top business schools. In fact, the first class you will take at Wharton in pre-term is a course on leadership. So we believe it is important for you to grow within the two years that you are here in the program. And leadership is an important aspect in anyone’s career, whether it’s the first job out of business school or five to ten years down the line. So our program really allows you to assess your leadership skills coming into the program, and it allows you to develop your own leadership plan or style. So when you leave here, we believe you are armed with the skills to be successful both in your professional and personal lives as far as leadership goes. So that is one thing that I would point out.

There are plenty of opportunities for our students to get involved in leadership activities. Another unique part of Wharton is something that we offer called “Leadership Ventures”. These are trips that are optional for students to sign up for. So these aren’t mandatory, but they are trips that you can sign up for, that take you out of your comfort zone and put you in situations where you are forced to lead students that you may not like working with. So in the past, people have climbed mountains all over the world, they’ve done Quantico training for the military, they’ve gone sailing in the Caribbean, etc. So it’s these types of activities that allow you to test the leadership that you’ve learned throughout the program.

Linda Abraham: Ritin asks, “When you say that academic orientation is a fundamental criterion that you look for, is this gauged only through the undergrad GPA, or can a candidate also demonstrate it by rising academic performance or a high GMAT score or any other parameters?” I guess this touches on the whole holistic aspect of your review.

Ankur Kumar: Absolutely. I think I did touch upon most of this in my previous answer, but I can quickly add that in terms of the academic piece of an application, we do triangulate and look at all of the different elements. So the undergraduate performance, of course the GPA but also the context that I mentioned before, your standardized test score -- whether that is the GMAT or the GRE -- that is also incorporated into the review, as is any master’s program or continuing education courses that you may have taken. We triangulate across all of that. Those are all ways that a candidate can demonstrate academic capability and achievement to us.

I think it is important as an applicant to look at your profile in this regard holistically. Fundamentally, we are a very analytical school and so we care about all the pieces of your academic background. And in particular, we care about the quantitative background as well. So what that means is that let’s say you haven’t touched calculus or math subjects since high school -- you were a philosophy major in undergrad -- and you are taking your GMAT and you feel like your quantitative piece hasn’t been as strong as you’d like, recognizing that there are things you can do to demonstrate and help us get comfort around your quantitative profile. And so that could include of course retaking your GMAT. It could also include doing things like taking a continuing education course in calculus or maybe in a business subject like accounting or statistics that helps us understand and helps you demonstrate that you are capable of handling this piece of the curriculum. Without doing so, it just leaves a question mark for us. And as an applicant, you just want to be answering more questions than you are opening in the process.

Linda Abraham: Alok asks, “Does Wharton limit intake based on citizenship? Say, not more than 10% from a specific country?’

Anthony Penna: We don’t. The application process and the admitting process are not that prescriptive. We don’t have any quotas; we don’t have any direct numbers. We are looking to shape the most diverse class possible, and we can only admit those that apply. So we are taking those applications and enrolling the best class possible. So in no way does it put you at a disadvantage if you come from a region from which we receive a lot of applications. We recommend that you concentrate on putting together the best application possible and shining yourself in the best light that you can, and you should be okay.

Linda Abraham: Akash asks about the impact of current financial conditions on Wharton’s placements. And I’d like to expand on his question and ask whether you are seeing a good level of companies recruiting on campus, requesting interviews, and that kind of thing for the class of 2012?

Ankur Kumar: Absolutely. Wharton has incredibly strong relationships with employers across all industries and companies of all sizes around the globe. We are an incredibly global program and about a third of our students go and work outside of the US. We have incredibly strong ties to a whole set of industries around the globe. The official figures don’t come out for us and our peers until later this month, but the placement rate is incredibly high and incredibly positive for the class of 2011, and I don’t imagine it will be any different for the class of 2012, from the way things are going.

Linda Abraham: So the class of 2011 did well?

Ankur Kumar: Absolutely. And what we are finding are interesting trends. There are a number of students that are actually starting their own companies as their full-time employment. Again, there are a lot of trends we are seeing on the incoming side. I think even on the outgoing side, there are lots of interesting trends that are emerging as different parts of the world are emerging, and as different industries like clean tech or entrepreneurship are emerging as well. So what we are seeing are those trends on the outbound side as well.

Linda Abraham: Juan asks, “I heard that learning teams may be going away. Is this true?”

Anthony Penna: I touched on curriculum changes earlier in the session. So what that means is that typically in the first year, all students took what was called the core curriculum. We are still working on some of the final details of this, so I don’t have all the answers at this point. But keep an eye out on the website; we will be updating it as we have more answers. But one of the important parts of the core curriculum that has worked so well for Wharton is the cohort system and the learning teams system. So this will change a little bit, but it won’t be going away completely, so don’t worry. I think that it’s a successful part of Wharton and what makes us unique and allows students to take this sort of big class and make it feel a little bit smaller. It will look a little different given that the core will be reduced to more of the first half of the first year. But the cohort and the learning teams systems will remain in place; they just may look a little different by the time fall approaches next year.

Linda Abraham: But I’m gathering that you can’t say what it is going to look like yet because it hasn’t been finalized.

Anthony Penna: Exactly. We are still working on that and still waiting to get the final answer.

Ankur Kumar: Learning teams won’t go away, nor will learning in groups. That has always been a part of the experience inside the classroom, not just in the core curriculum, but also in all of the electives. And it’s also a really critical part of the extracurricular experience. When students are leading clubs or leading conferences, they are always working together in teams and groups. While the core curriculum will be a bit reduced in the first year and therefore the learning teams structure may not be used throughout the year, teams and groups will certainly be a part of everyday life for Wharton students inside and outside of the classroom.

Linda Abraham: Jeff asks, “How strict are you with the definition of “innovative” in one of your essays? Is it more important to show how I think in planning a strategy or is it more important to stick to the definition of “innovative” if I have to choose?”

Ankur Kumar: This is another one of those wonderful judgment calls that come with the application process. What we are really looking to see is how you interpret that question – how you define innovation, how you define innovative thinking, and what it means to you. I think for each of our applicants out there looking at that application, what we are seeking is not our blanket definition of anything. What we are looking to understand is how you think about innovation and how you interpret it and what that means to you, and how you want to spend the limited real estate in the essay to talk about it. So I don’t have an answer for you, but I’m very curious to read yours.

Linda Abraham: Aaron asks, “I’m very interested in the global aspect of Wharton, i.e. Lauder, but do not have an advanced knowledge of a second language. What other ways outside of Lauder does Wharton provide for international exposure and learning?”

Anthony Penna: There are plenty of opportunities for global learning here at Wharton. One of the programs that we do offer is called the Global Immersion Program. This isn’t a mandatory program; it’s optional for students to choose to take part in. That is a program where you do four weeks of study on campus about a specific region, and then you spend four weeks in that region doing direct studying, so you’re meeting with different companies and meeting with legal officials in government, and just learning the business knowledge of that region. So that usually happens at the end of the first year, before maybe a summer internship would start, so usually late May, early June. In the past, students have gone to South America, India, Africa, and Southeast Asia. So that is an opportunity for students to learn about a region they may be interested in, but do not necessarily have to speak the language.

Ankur Kumar: I would just add a couple of things to that. Being the most global program, with 37% of our students coming from outside the US and nearly 60% of our students working outside their home country and over 70 countries represented in the class, your everyday experience is going to be a global one. You are going to be talking with your classmates who have these different perspectives, who have worked in different parts of the world, who have seen and experienced firsthand how business and industries are run in those parts of the world. So really every day you are going to have that exposure.

Anthony mentioned the wealth of other ways that you can get that exposure firsthand outside of the Lauder program, which is a specialized joint-degree program. Programs like the Global Immersion program is one way. There are a number of student treks that also happen that take you to different parts of the world. There are ways in the classroom to get that exposure and of course through course work, or through a different consulting engagement that you can do with your classmates or with business school classmates around the world, or with faculty members. So the opportunities are there in many different forms. The hard part, I would say, is determining which of those many opportunities you want to take advantage of in your limited time.

Linda Abraham: Gaurav asks, “The assumption always is to talk about issues such as a gap in education or employment, or a low GPA in the additional optional essays. Is it really a prudent move to market one’s knowledge of Wharton in the additional essay? The additional essay question states that if you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the admissions committee should be aware, please explain them here.”

Ankur Kumar: I would use that segment with great judgment. It is an optional statement; it’s not really an essay. What we mean by that is if you truly have extenuating circumstances like you took a legal absence from school because of an illness, or you withdrew from a class and want to explain what happened. That is a nature of the kind of dialogue and discussion that should happen in that section. Your commitment and interest in Wharton is certainly something that if you think is important for us to know and hear, we certainly want to hear that, but I would encourage you to use the official proper essays as your vehicle for that and not to include commentary around that in the optional statement.

Linda Abraham: So the optional essay is more about providing context.

Ankur Kumar: That’s right. It’s much more around giving explanations for things that don’t naturally fit into another part of the application, and then to reiterate or to talk about something that is better included in another part of the application process.

Linda Abraham: Sherry asks, “Is the school visit critical to international applicants during the process?” And Jonathan asks, “How important is contact with Wharton in the admissions process, whether it is attending a Wharton event or visiting campus or reaching out to current students or talking with professors?” So one is very specific to the visit and one is a broader question, but I think they are both asking the same.

Anthony Penna: In no way are any of those things mandatory for students to do to be admitted into the program. So if you don’t have the opportunity to visit campus or make it to one of our events or talk to students or alumni, in no way does it put you at a disadvantage. Personally, I think doing the campus visit, if it’s possible, just adds a different aspect to your decision making process and just allows you to understand if Philadelphia is the right place for you. If you’ve never been to Philadelphia before, it’s a great city. And I think just visiting the campus and getting a feel of the student culture allows you to know if Wharton is the right place for you, and if you can see yourself staying here for two years. I think that is the same for attending an event and having the chance to talk to alumni or current students. It just gives you the opportunity to hear directly from people who are currently going through the program; the types of opportunities they have had, and what they have done with their time here at Wharton, and what are the best things about the program that they want to share with you. Again, certainly in no way is that mandatory, but I do think it can be useful when you are making the decision of which schools to apply for, or if gets to the point where you want to decide whether you should attend or not.

Linda Abraham: Ritin asks, “How strong of a connection or linkage is a candidate required to demonstrate between his current profile and his long-term goals, or at least his post-MBA goals, at the time of writing his application?”

Ankur Kumar: What we are really trying to do is understand a candidate’s thought process and what they’ve been doing to move in the direction that they are headed. And what I mean by that is that coming to any business school, not just Wharton, is not the silver magic bullet to make all your dreams come true in two years and do all the hard work for you. It is a fantastic and incredibly transformative vehicle for you to get exposure to people and employers and industries and ways of thinking, and to test and refine it. I truly believe that the best candidates and the best business school students are those that have started this process of moving towards their goal well before they have come to business school, and for whom actually business school isn’t going to stop or start them from what they want to do.

In terms of linking what you are currently doing to your goals, we certainly want to understand how they link and what the thought process is – why you have an interest in pursuing a certain field. It may be the field that you are in currently. So what is it about your field or your experiences that excite you that make you want to stay in it? How do you want to develop in it? Or if you are looking to shift careers, where did that thought process come from? How did that come about? And of course, how have you been moving towards achieving those goals?

Let’s say you want to make a career transition; you are currently an engineer and you want to go into marketing. I think we all understand that making that shift internally within your company is less likely than more likely. But what we do want to understand is where this interest comes from. What have you been doing, if not in your workplace, then in your opportunities outside of work to develop your learning and your knowledge of marketing? How have you been learning to develop those skills? Maybe you’ve been getting involved in an extracurricular group and you are the marketing officer of that. Or maybe you’ve been taking a course or trying your hand at it in a different way. So I would think about it more from that context than any, in terms of helping us understand what you’ve been doing and how that may link to what you want to do in the future.

Linda Abraham: Another applicant asks, “What is the Wharton application review process? Are students involved in reviewing the application? Also what are the chances of obtaining an educational loan from Wharton? Is there a limit to the number of educational loans given out?” And another question that was asked is, “Are there any loans for international applicants?”

Ankur Kumar: Much as the application review process is incredibly holistic, it is also incredibly iterative. We value having multiple members of the admissions team evaluate each of our candidates before we make a decision whether to interview, and then of course whether or not to admit a student. And so there is this incredibly holistic and iterative process that happens for each application that comes in. Students are not a part of our reading process; they have been historically. And relooking at the way that we engage students, what we’ve learned from talking with applicants and from talking to students is that what both parties most enjoy about the chance to interact is just that – the chance to interact! For students, they want to hear from an applicant, and they want to share their stories and give guidance. And from an applicant’s perspective, you are seeking to hear about a student’s experience, their personal story, the application process, what their time has been like in the program. And so in thinking about how to utilize our students’ precious free time, we felt that having them engaged more in our on-campus visit program as well as in interviewing our candidates was the best use of time to accomplish that goal all around. So students are no longer reading, but they are still having input into the process in those formats as well.

Linda Abraham: The second question was about financial aid. What are the options for financial aid for international students? And then in terms of this particular applicant’s question, are there a limited number of educational loans given out? And I’m not sure if the questioner here is domestic or international.

Ankur Kumar: In terms of financing business school, it is an investment and it is really one that has a return over their lifetime. Having been an applicant and having gone through the program, that is the view that I took. It is very hard to do an ROI calculation without thinking about the long-term and lifetime return here on the two years that you are going to have in the program. There are many opportunities and many ways to fund one’s education. We certainly encourage all of our applicants as part of their process to start saving money and putting it aside to help fund part of their education. There are also opportunities to receive a fellowship from our office. All of our admitted students are considered for fellowships – they are merit based. But the primary way that most students fund their business school education is around obtaining educational loans, and oftentimes through external sources of funding as well.

In terms of loans specifically for international students, for our domestic students and international students who have a US co-signer, they can take advantage of our US loan products. For our international students who do not have a US co-signer, we actually have a product specifically for them. It is with an organization called the Digital Credit Union, so there is a way for them to borrow up to the full cost of the program for tuition and fees to fund their experience as well.

Linda Abraham: Grace asks, “Is a green card holder considered an international student or not?”

Ankur Kumar: I guess at the heart of that question there may be a concern around quotas and around citizens of certain countries, or how much that factors in. I would say that is just one dimension of an applicant’s holistic story. It is also only one way to capture the true international spirit of our applicants. So passport stamps are certainly one way. It is an easily quantifiable way; it is one that we and our peers use in the class profile because it is easy to summarize. But 60% of our incoming student body have worked outside of their home country. Three quarters of them speak a language outside of their native tongue fluently. So for us, a passport stamp is certainly one of many ways to understand what someone brings to the table from an international perspective, and it’s just one of the multi-dimensions that we are looking at in our applicants.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Thank you to the applicants for your great questions. Special thanks to Ankur Kumar and Anthony Penna for joining us today and for their wonderful responses. If you have additional questions for Ankur or Anthony, please visit the Wharton Student2Student discussion forum.

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