Wharton's Ankur Kumar fields questions on strategies for getting into one of the world's most elite MBA programs
The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), which ranked No.3 in 2010 on Bloomberg Businessweek's ranking of the top U.S.full-time MBA programs, received more than 6,000 applications last year.The school's popularity reflects its history, constant evolution, and encouragement of students to pursue their goals, said Ankur Kumar (screen name: AnkurKumar), deputy director of MBA admissions at Wharton, during a recent live chat event.Along with second-year student John Ross (screen name: JohnRoss), a Navy submarine officer who plans to return to the service after graduation, Kumar fielded questions from Bloomberg Businessweek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio (screen name: FrancescaBW) and the public. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation: FrancescaBW: What new and exciting things are happening at Wharton? AnkurKumar: We're constantly evolving our admissions process—from opportunities to help applicants understand more about our program to the application process itself. With respect to showcasing Wharton and its vast breadth and depth of offerings, we have a daily visiting program on campus that helps prospective students experience the worlds in and out of the classroom as well as meet with students. This year we also hosted several events on campus focused on women, students of color, and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] students. We also hosted industry-specific panels, including a retail one in New York. I would expect opportunities like this to continue to evolve and grow. From an application standpoint, we continue to evolve our essay and interview processes to best understand our candidates and help them not just "tell" but [also] "show" us who they are on paper and in person. FrancescaBW: John, what made you decide to enroll at Wharton? JohnRoss: Like many of my classmates coming from a nonbusiness background, the opportunity to develop core business fundamentals, combined with analytical rigor. was appealing. In addition, given my military background, Wharton's emphasis on peer leadership was also a differentiating factor. Most folks are familiar with managing up and down, but honing the ability to manage peers whom you are not directly responsible for or who are not accountable to you directly, is quite a challenge. In addition, I was really drawn to the people here and the chance to meet and learn from a diverse group of classmates who have really interesting professional and life experiences to share. FrancescaBW: That's great, John. Tell us, what surprised you about Wharton once you started classes? JohnRoss: The biggest thing that surprised me was how much I learned from my classmates as opposed to just from the professors. The diverse nature of my cohort really has contributed to my learning experience. FrancescaBW: An audience member wants to know if the class size is changing at all and whether having a graduate degree already decreases your chances of getting into the full-time MBA program. AnkurKumar: We expect that our class size will remain steady. We don't hold seats for any round, and with Round 1 enrollment still in process, as well as Round 2 still very much in the early stages, it's hard to have visibility just yet into what the class will shape up to be. We encourage applicants who are serious about coming to business school in a given year to apply in Rounds 1 or 2; however, anything is possible with Round 3. There are years [when] we have admitted no students, and others [when] we've admitted a considerable number of students.
Regarding your question on having a graduate degree, we have many successful candidates who have graduate degrees (other masters or PhD degrees) before coming to Wharton. For those with graduate degrees that touch on business or management, there's no disadvantage per se, but we do seek to understand how this experience would be additive and not redundant. MimiWest: I, a musician, likewise come from a nonbusiness background. How would you advise someone like me to market herself and prepare for the demands of a career in business? JohnRoss: If you mean in the application process, I would offer my best advice: Really focus on telling your story and what makes you unique. bankabanka: How does grade nondisclosure impact the psychology of the classroom? JohnRoss: Grade nondisclosure, learning teams, and a lot of other group work in and out of the classroom contribute to the collaborative nature of the classroom. med: I'm debating between the executive MBA program and the full-time program. How do I know which is a better fit for me? AnkurKumar: That truly comes down to looking at your professional and personal situation and what you want to accomplish. Most folks in the executive MBA program (we have two campuses located in Philadelphia and San Francisco) are company sponsored and looking to build additive skills to help them advance in their [companies] and careers. They have a similar experience to the full-time program in that they work with learning teams and have a cohort. In addition, your classmates have a diverse set of experiences in the workplace and career levels. From a logistics standpoint as well, you come to campus every other week vs. the 24/7 experience of the full-time program. Again, depending on your work and life situation and goals, the executive MBA or full-time program may be a better fit for you. You can apply to both programs if you are interested in both as well. Ashruti: Roughly what percentage of students go into consulting after Wharton? JohnRoss: For a more detailed description you can [visit the Wharton website], but about 30 percent of the Class of 2010 went into consulting. crkundav: Does Wharton cater to applicants going into consulting and financial services? From the employment report, it seems like a large percentage of applicants pursue opportunities in these fields. JohnRoss: Our goal is to bring together people from all sorts of industries and backgrounds. You can get a fuller sense of the class of 2012 from the class profile. I know in my experience, we have people from banking, consulting, military (like myself), family business, entrepreneurship, and all sorts of different fields. Lavinia: Has the candidate selection focus changed in light of the recent curriculum overhaul? If so, how? AnkurKumar: We're excited to be launching the new curriculum. And while it will enhance our program and the core of our offering to our students, who we are looking for in terms of candidates remains the same. Each year we bring into the class the best and the brightest from around the world, who want a rigorous business education, who want to learn from and contribute to each others' experiences in and after the program, and who want to have an impact on whatever field or area in which they are interested. Ashruti: I want to change my field from sales to consulting. Does Wharton encourage career changers? AnkurKumar: Many of our incoming students are looking to shift their careers; I myself came to Wharton to move away from finance into the organization/strategy field. There are a number of resources, from the student-run industry clubs to the career management advisory services, that can help you. JoaoSilva: How many applications have you received so far for the incoming class? AnkurKumar: Given that we still have Round 3 to go, I can't comment on application volume yet. We're thrilled to have such enthusiasm and interest in our program. Lavinia: John, how have you grown on a personal and professional level since your MBA program started? JohnRoss: The Wharton MBA has given me an amazing opportunity to develop personally and professionally. Specifically, I have learned to excel in more horizontal structures (as opposed to the hierarchical ones I am used to), and personally I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse group of people. AnjanaCA: Wharton has a reputation for being a finance-focused school. Is this a fair snapshot? I don't have plans to join the finance industry. Also, what is life like for students with partners and families? AnkurKumar: Our roots are in finance, and we're thrilled to be No. 1 in that discipline, but truly what we offer at Wharton is an analytical approach to business education, whether that be in finance or marketing or retail or health care, etc. We have a breadth and depth of business disciplines at Wharton that students are drawn to, and we're proud that we are the only business program to be ranked [among the] top five in each of them. AnjanaCA, I'll let John share a bit about his experience coming to Wharton with his wife. JohnRoss: Wharton has been an amazing experience for my wife. She has been really involved in the Partners Club (Cohort P!) as well as the myriad of social cohort opportunities. Wharton has been a truly transformational experience for her as well as for myself. MimiWest: Does Wharton have any clubs or support groups for MBA students with children? AnkurKumar: In addition to the Partners Club that John mentioned, there is a Kids Club, which is a great support network and friend circle for our families at Wharton. MSRmba2011: If an applicant has an interesting last-minute development in his or her job, one that might make the applicant stand out from others as having unusual or exceptional experience, is there a way to convey that to the admissions committee at this point? AnkurKumar: You can certainly share updates like that with us through our e-mail account. MSRmba2011: For students in the three-year JD/MBA program, is it possible to have a major or double-major at Wharton? AnkurKumar: In the three-year JD/MBA, you have the ability to take a variety of electives, with the ability to focus on an area of interest. bankabanka: What's the level of collaboration between Wharton undergrads and MBAs as well as among the Penn medicine, law, nursing, and other professional schools? JohnRoss: There can be as little or as much as you would like. In addition to specific Wharton electives, you can also supplement your course load with courses from other schools within Penn. From a less academic perspective, we host fight night every year, [when] Wharton takes on Penn Law in boxing to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia. Ashruti: If I want to continue working in public service or a nonprofit organization, will the school be able to help me in any way? AnkurKumar: Absolutely, we have a number of students who come to us from nonprofit backgrounds who want to continue in their field and also many who want to transition into a social impact-related field, whether working for a nonprofit, focusing on sustainability within a corporation, etc. There are a number of resources—including courses, large and active student groups, and folks dedicated to the field within the career management office—to aid you in pursuing your interest. Lavinia: What is the one thing you wish you had prepared for in anticipation of school starting? JohnRoss: One of the biggest challenges with a program like the Wharton MBA is that you can't do everything. The more you know about the different opportunities available to you and, therefore, the path you want to take once you get here, the better off you will be. Akis: If an international student is admitted but can only afford living expenses, does the school help him? AnkurKumar: As the most global of top business programs, we have hundreds of students who come to us each year from outside the U.S. We have a loan product specifically for non-U.S. citizens who do not have a co-signer that our students leverage to help with the costs. betaalpha: Has the applicant volume dropped in Round 2 this year? AnkurKumar: As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we don't comment on application volume per round. Lavinia: Our generation will most likely change careers several times over the span of our lives. Please share with us how the Wharton MBA helped you transition from finance to organization/strategy and now to the academic field. AnkurKumar: I'm in good company, as many Wharton alumni find themselves making career transitions throughout the course of their professional trajectory. The knowledge I gained inside and outside the classroom, the self-reflection I did before, during, and after business school, along with the relationships with my classmates, alumni, and employers during my time here and after, have all played a role in helping me navigate my transition. bankabanka: How are the Wharton Fellowships awarded, and what is the range of awards? JohnRoss: All admitted students are considered for fellowships. Some have specific criteria, while others are more general. More specific information can be found online.