Are Those Pre-College Business Programs Worth It?

Students in Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World at the ballpark

Like many prospective high school students looking to study business, Emily Ben Nathan had her heart set on going to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, one of the top undergraduate business programs in the country.

Ben Nathan, than a senior at West Essex High School in N.J., applied early decision to Wharton, and believes her application stood out to the admission committee in large part because of the month she’d spent as a pre-college student in Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World program in the summer between her junior and senior year of high school.

“It definitely gave me an advantage because I was an applicant that knew so strongly that I wanted to go,” says Ben Nathan, now a sophomore at Wharton. “The summer program really changed my life. I wouldn’t have applied to Wharton if I hadn’t done the program and I don’t know if I’d be a business student if I hadn’t done it. “


Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World program is one of a handful of business programs at leading undergraduate business schools that give high school students a head start on figuring out whether business is the right fit for them. Other schools that offer summer business immersion programs of this kind include Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and NYU’s Stern School of Business, among others. The programs seek to expose high school students to the fundamentals of business, help them decide whether business is the right fit and gives them the opportunity to test out their leadership and team building skills through projects like simulations and case studies.

It’s not exactly cheap. The cost of the Wharton summer program is $7,500, a fee that covers tuition, housing, most meals, activities and weekend trips. For Cornell, the three -week summer program is priced at $6,120. NYU’s Summer program costs a whopping $11,604, but it’s the longest program at six weeks, running this year from July 2 to Aug. 11, and students leave with eight college credits to their name.

While summer programs like these can, in some instances, give students an edge in the college admissions process, there’s no guarantee that attending one means that they’ll get a seat in the next incoming freshman class.  It can be hard to land a seat in one of these summer programs, which are competitive and only accept a limited number of applicants, program directors say. While the directors of these pre-college programs say that they are not feeder experiences for their respective undergraduate business programs, many of the students who attend them do end up applying and, in some instances, land a coveted seat in the freshman class, like Wharton’s Ben Nathan.

Teran Tadal, Wharton’s director of the Leadership in the Business World program, founded in 1999, said the school gets more than 700 applications each year for the program’s 160 spots. “Applications seems to be growing slowly but steadily,” she says. “It’s pretty competitive and we get a large array of domestic and international students.” In last summer’s class, there were students represented from 15 different countries and 23 states.


Wharton’s Teran Tadal

Tadal says she did not have the most recent application statistics regarding what percentage of students from the Leadership in the Business World program get accepted into Wharton, but says about 40% of the summer students end up applying to Wharton, about half of whom apply early decision.

According to a March 4, 2015, article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Wharton’s student newspaper, about 30% of LBW participants get admitted to Penn. About 30 students out of the 140 admitted end up attending, according to the article. The acceptance rate for Wharton’s undergraduate program is just 9% (see Acceptance Rates For The Top 50 Undergraduate Business Schools).

Wharton’s summer program seeks to expose students to the basic tenets of business, including finance, accounting, marketing, operations management and general management. Faculty and PhDs test students’ knowledge of the subject areas through simulations and other projects. Guest speakers from the business world visit the program during students’ time on campus, including such local Philadelphia-based companies as Comcast and local startups, Tadal says. Students in the program get the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and visit the World Bank, as well as spend time in New York City visiting Bank of America, Nasdaq and other financial institutions. Another dimension to the program is that students get coaching on communication and team-building skills from current Wharton undergraduate students, who serve as the program’s resident team advisors. Students live in the Quad, a dormitory-style residence hall on the Penn campus.


“Most students apply because they don’t know a whole lot about business and want to know more, and this is a safe space for them to be able to explore the subject,” Tadal says “The other extreme is students know exactly what they want and a lot of times align us with finance. This is more of an entrepreneurship program versus learning all about Wall Street. It’s a chance for them to expand what their definition is of business. They come to us thinking they know everything and sometimes it is our job to expand their world view of what business can be.”

The program used to be offered in both Philadelphia and in Wharton’s San Francisco campus, but is now only offered in Philadelphia for logistical reasons, Tadal says.

The Wharton program’s distinguishing feature is its emphasis on leadership and teamwork skills. Students are assigned to a team of ten, who spend the month developing a business plan that is presented to a panel of venture capitalists and business professionals.


Examples of startup ideas that have emerged from the program include a trucking company for veterans, a firm that helps international students learn more about the American education system and application process, and an app that helps tourists or newcomers navigate their way through a new city and find good places to eat based on the advice of locals.  Perhaps the most successful startup to emerge from the program is a company called Ampush, a managed software platform that helps companies buy and manage mobile ads, Tadal says. The company was founded by three students who met as rising high school seniors in the Wharton summer program, and later all got accepted to Wharton’s undergraduate program, where they were able to refine their idea.

Cornell’s Dyson School runs a summer program for rising high school sophomores and juniors called “The Business World,” a three-week, three-credit course with a that introduces students to the basic tenets of business, including management, accounting, finance and human resources, said David Taylor, director of the business program at Cornell University Summer College. Every year, there are 180 students in the program, hailing from around 13 different countries and anywhere from 30 to 40 states, he says.

Students learn about business through an integrated Nike case study, where they break into smaller groups and get a chance to take a deep dive into examining Nike’s some of the company’s famous marketing and human resources decisions.

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