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What the Changes in Wharton’s Application Process Mean for Round 2 Applicants

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Are you thinking of applying for a Wharton MBA? With Round 1 rejections and interview invitations rolling out this week, now is the time for candidates to start seriously preparing for their Round 2 applications.

While the essays questions that Wharton asks have not changed since last year, there are two important parts of the application process that applicants do need to be aware of: the requirements for Letters of Recommendation, and the prompt for the Team-Based Discussion.

Letters of Recommendation

In past years, Wharton has been on board with the growing trend for business schools to simplify and streamline their requests for Letters of Recommendation. They had even adopted the common recommendation form that is used by schools like Stanford, Yale, and MIT Sloan. That common form asks recommenders to rate students based on several competencies, and then asks questions about the applicant’s strengths, how they compare to their peers, and what constructive feedback they’ve received.

But for the 2017-2018 application season, Wharton surveyed recommendation writers and other stakeholders in the process, and devised a new set of questions for their Letters of Recommendation. The instructions for the LOR now advise applicants that there are two sections for this part of the application:

– “A selection of positive personality characteristics. Recommenders will be asked to choose three characteristics from a list of ten that best describe the candidate they are recommending.

Two free-form questions:

– Question 1: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom. (Word count: 300)

– Question 2: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career. (Word count: 300)”

As before, applicants are still asked to provide two letters of recommendation from people who can speak to their capabilities in the workplace, with a strong preference for a current or former supervisor.

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The move away from the common letter of recommendation does make the process somewhat more challenging for applicants, especially those who are applying to multiple schools. But these changes have been designed by Wharton specifically to get more substantive information about their applicants and to move away from more superficial recommendations.

If you’re planning to apply to Wharton, our advice about the importance of choosing the right recommenders hasn’t changed – in fact, it’s only gotten more vital that you choose people who really know your work, and not just people who have an impressive title.

While some people worry that more stringent requirements for admissions letters may scare off recommenders, we have always encouraged our clients to find and work with people who can speak enthusiastically about your work, and who support your application to business school.

Of course, you do still have to take human nature into account. Asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation is not a one-step process; you should absolutely follow up regularly with your recommenders to see if they need additional information from you and to make sure that they are able to get the letter completed on time.

MBA applicants should never ghostwrite a recommendation letter for themselves (believe me when I say that admissions committees can tell when applicants write their own letters). However, you can and should give your recommenders guidance when you ask them for a recommendation. Share your personal brand with them, let them know if there are specific characteristics or leadership examples you’d like them to discuss, and give them a sense of what the school is looking for in an ideal candidate. Your recommenders will appreciate the memory jog, and you’ll get a far more effective recommendation.

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Team-Based Discussions

The team-based discussion (TBD) is a central part of Wharton’s interview process. The school is serious about promoting their teamwork culture, and it comes through clearly on their application.

Candidates who are invited to interview with Wharton are given a prompt for the TBD, and asked to come up with a proposal. On interview day, the applicants are gathered into groups of 4-5 people. Each person gets one minute to pitch their proposal to the group, and then the remaining thirty or so minutes are spent choosing and fleshing out a single proposal within the group. For the 2017-2018 application season, the TBD prompt is reported to be:

“For many students, the global perspective fostered by Wharton’s international community is brought into focus through immersive learning opportunities like Global Modular Courses (GMCs). GMCs are full-credit courses in an intensive workshop format that take place in a location relevant to the topic.

For the purpose of this discussion, consider yourself part of a group of students invited to design a new GMC. As a team, agree upon a topic to explore then plan a four-day course in a location or locations relevant to that topic. Provide opportunities for academic and cultural immersion experiences while keeping in mind logistical constraints and clearly articulating your course’s desired outcomes.”

This prompt seems to be continuing a trend for Wharton with choosing more concrete, less abstract discussion topics. This topic is also unique because it concerns a class type that is ongoing at Wharton, making it absolutely imperative for applicants to do their research before coming up with a proposal.

If your suggested Global Modular Course is something that the school has already done recently, it will be quite obvious that you either did not look into the program at all, or that you were so unimaginative you couldn’t come up with your own concept. But you also have to be careful that you don’t go too far in the other direction – an applicant who proposes a GMC that’s wildly out of line with the types of courses Wharton typically runs will likely not be seen as an applicant who will fit in well with the school culture.

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Beyond the research element, though, it’s important not to get too caught up in the content of your proposal. Wharton’s team-based discussions are always less about the actual concepts than they are about how you function both in a team and as an individual contributor. Applicants who get too caught up in “fighting” for their particular proposal to be chosen are often seen as steamrolling the other applicants, and not as team players.

To do well on the TBD, focus on finding ways to contribute meaningfully regardless of which proposal is chosen by the group. Your personal brand is a great source of inspiration for this: if your brand is that you’re motivated by your experience with your family’s business, then you can look for ways to make supporting or learning from small, family-owned businesses a part of the GMC your group creates. Similarly, if your personal brand is all about your passion for numbers and finance, then you can contribute your logistical and financial acumen to the group discussion.

Your Turn

If you’re ready to apply to Wharton, EXPARTUS can help. Our experienced admissions consultants can help you refine your personal brand, brainstorm compelling essays, and ace your interviews. Get in touch with us today at or 844.259.4506 to see how we can help you become the clear choice for admissions.

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