Four Things Wharton Looks For in MBA Applicants

Every MBA program has a personality — and some candidates are a better fit for certain schools than for others. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is no exception.

After more than 15 years of helping our clients receive highly coveted admissions letters to Wharton, we’ve pulled together some key characteristics that, together, paint a unique picture of what Wharton is looking for in MBA students.

Before we launch into the list, one caveat: Knowing what a particular business school is looking for isn’t an opportunity to re-make yourself into what you think their “ideal” student would be. Rather, it’s a chance to find a learning community that values your strengths and where you can make a positive contribution with the unique skills, experiences, and perspectives you bring to the table.

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If you have your sights set on Wharton, here are a few qualities that successful MBA candidates often have in common. If your values and Wharton’s line up, Wharton might be a great fit for you — and you might be a great fit for their world-renowned MBA program.

Here are four characteristics that Wharton looks for in MBA candidates:

1. An innovative mindset

“Innovation” is such a buzzword today that it’s commonly used to describe almost everything.

But at Wharton, the willingness to take an innovative approach is something they not only look for in prospective MBA candidates — it’s also a standard they hold themselves to, starting with their MBA admissions process.

For example, Wharton was one of the first business schools in the US to pioneer a new team-based conversation as part of the interview process, to gauge how candidates express their ideas and relate to others in a conversation that mirrors those they’d have as MBA students on campus.

The key to being “innovative” in Wharton’s eyes is evidence that you think and act like a “change agent.” They’re looking for people are aren’t satisfied with the status quo and think businesses, agencies, communities, and even countries can be run more efficiently and effectively with the help of innovation. If you’re forward thinking, dynamic, and focused on positive change, you’re likely the type of innovator Wharton is interested in.

2. A collaborative attitude

Everybody likes to be a winner, and people focused on an MBA track are certainly driven and enjoy a little healthy competition.

Yet Wharton also places a high value on the ability to successfully work with others collaboratively. In fact, it is critical to students’ success at the institution: In year one, students are required to work with “learning teams” as part of the formal curriculum.

Being a strong collaborator means being able to take on feedback and shift fluidly between leadership and supporting roles as new challenges arise. In addition, Wharton wants students who can fully maximize the strengths and contributions of every team member — so much so that at the end of a project, it would be difficult to identify an MVP.

Collaboration is also increasingly important in the world of business, as traditional management hierarchies dissolve in favor of more agile organizational models. So if you know how to leverage others’ strengths and contribute to (while sometimes leading) diverse teams, you’ll fit right in to Wharton’s collaborative environment.

3. Global awareness

Some of the top-tier business schools are particularly known for their high percentage of international students; Wharton is certainly one of them, with approximately 40% of the student body attending from countries outside of the US.

Being globally aware goes beyond having an awareness that it’s a great big world out there, yet it doesn’t necessarily require experience living or working abroad. What Wharton is most interested in is candidates’ ability to understand, adapt to, and accept people from other cultures or with different points of view.

A healthy sense of positive curiosity about others and their perspectives goes a long way to show that you’re the type of person who will survive and thrive in Wharton’s diverse and globally focused environment. If you can show how you’ve found common ground and built relationships with coworkers, team members, or even friends around the world, you’ll have a leg up; if your career goals include working with a multinational company or working abroad, you might be just the kind of global citizen Wharton (and the business world of the future) is looking for.

4. High-impact leadership skills

MBA students are the business leaders of tomorrow — but Wharton is looking for a specific kind of leader-in-training.

Wharton highly equates leadership with passion, with the point of view that “leaders are people who leave their footprints in their areas of passion.” That means showing that you’ve made a significant, positive impact on communities of which you’ve been a part — whether that’s an educational community at your undergraduate college; a business community at your job; or a community group or nonprofit cause that you’ve supported as a volunteer or leader.

It’s often said that leaders can be divided into those who are “takers” and those who are “givers”. Wharton is most definitely looking for the latter. If you can show how you’ve worked to understand the needs and goals of a team, helped others grow, put the group’s needs ahead of your own, and achieved some lasting impacts — however small — then you’re the kind of high-impact leader Wharton wants to help develop.

If Wharton is on your short list, hopefully more than a few of these qualities have resonated with you. One of the most important determinants of your success in business school is not your test scores or your extracurricular achievements, but who you are as a whole person and an emerging leader.

If you’re innovative, collaborative, globally aware, and a giving, high-impact leader, you’ll not only benefit from the learning environment at Wharton — but you’ll also contribute to its richness.

You may also be interested in:

Wharton MBA Interview Tips

Image credit: Jack Duval (CC BY 2.0)
This article was originally published in the Business Insider

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