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Not many business schools can boast that one of their graduates is President of the United States. In fact, only two instiutions can make that claim: Harvard Business School, for George W. Bush, who got his MBA from HBS in 1975, and now the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, for Donald Trump, who earned his undergraduate degree in business at Wharton in 1968 after transferring from Fordham University in his junior year.
Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the fact that Trump is now the most famous and accomplished alumnus of Wharton seems appropriate. After all, more than any other business school, Wharton’s differentation stems from the fact that is is the undisputed champion of finance—a field that many consider an adjunct to real estate where Trump’s fortune mostly resides—and making the big bucks.
SCHOOL ACCEPTS JUST 9% OF APPLICANTS
The school can lay claim to having the most highly-paid graduates of any undergraduate program. This year’s class averaged starting pay and bonus of $86,065. You read that right. The first-year comp package for Wharton’s undergrads is composed of an average $77,566 starting salary and a sign-on bonus, landed by 81% of this year’s graduates, of $10,496. Only two other schools boasted averages above $80K this year: UC-Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon.
Getting into Wharton isn’t easy—though you may be surprised to learn that several other programs, including the business schools at Cornell University and Berkeley have lower acceptance rates and higher admission standards. Still, only 9% of Wharton’s applicant pool gets an invite to the school’s four-year undergraduate program in business. In 2016, 38,918 applicants applied to Wharton and only 3,674 were admitted. That is a level of selectivity that is even lower than its famed MBA program or, for that matter, the admit rate for MBA candidates at Harvard Business School. (By the way, those who apply early decision have a decided advantage: Wharton accepted 23.2% of early decision applicants vs. the overall 9% rate).
The University of Pennsylvania has a rich and vivid history, which includes an unlikely cast of characters from Benjamin Franklin to President-elect Trump. The university is among Franklin’s greatest inventions. While Penn traces its origins to 1740, Franklin altered its vision nine years later to teach students public service and academics rather than religion.
AMERICA’S FIRST BUSINESS SCHOOL
The business school, named after American entrepreneur and industrialist Joseph Wharton, became the world’s first collegiate school of business in 1881. Wharton’s vision for the school was to produce graduates who would become “pillars of the state, whether in private or in public life.” The Wharton School maintains a long tradition of educating visionary business leaders in academia, business, government, and not-for-profit organizations. Its alumni even includes Warren Buffet.
Wharton is one of the largest business schools in the world, with 225+ faculty members, 92,000 alumni, and 5,000 students in academic programs. The total number of Wharton undergraduates for the 2016-2017 academic year is 2,466. In this four-year business program, freshmen are put into Wharton cohorts for their first year and take a fall and spring business course with the same group of students. They also reunite with each other for both social and extracurricular events. Cohorts also work together in a sophomore business strategy simulation project.
The school’s Management 100 is one of its gateway courses in which students work in small team cohorts on projects. Each team goes out into the West Philadelphia community and does a service and social impact sort of project. Some recent projects include raising awareness for groups such as Givology, the Global Development Collaborative, and the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative.
ABLE TO BE BIG AND SMALL AT THE SAME TIME
But one of the most distinguishing features of the Wharton experience is choice. Wharton undergraduates can choose from one of 20 concentrations while they’re at the school, studying in-depth topics such as environmental policy and management and social impact and responsibility. They also have the opportunity to do dual-degree programs between the Wharton School and the other colleges on campus, an increasingly popular option for many students
“One of our strengths and challenges at the same time at Wharton is to be big and small at the same time,” says Lori Rosenkopf, vice dean and director of the undergraduate program. “We are big enough to have the scope for ten different academic departments and the interdisciplinary stuff I mentioned earlier, but at the same time we want it to feel small for students. There is a host of smaller group curricular experiences and social, travel and networking opportunities. Things like that can make it feel small.”
“For example,” she adds, “this is our third year running a senior capstone course. This is an interdisciplinary simulation where small teams of students compete looking at business problems that span different departments and areas we provide here. Seniors practice in the preterm before the spring semester starts, and we then send teams of students to do coursework in a variety of countries. This year, there are three groups from the undergraduate division alone. One group just came back from South Africa over spring break, and we are sending two other groups, one to Hong Kong and Macau, and another group to Greece and Turkey.”
HIGHEST PAID BUSINESS UNDERGRADS ANYWHERE
Those experiences–or rather the highly selective nature of the school–lead to the highest pay offers to undergraduate business majors anywhere in the world. In many cases, first-year pay out of Wharton’s undergraduate program rivals the kind of money MBAs from other business schools make.
In 2016, for example, Wharton undergrads accepted jobs that paid record average salary and sign-on bonus of $86,065. The average base salary was $77,566, while the average signing bonus, received by 81% of Wharton students, was $10,493. And those sums don’t even include what Wharton undergrads expect to make in their year-end bonus. Whether wishful thinking or not, the average anticipated extra bonus comes to $28,617 each. Add it all up and the first-year total pay is comfortably in six figures, at $109,817.
Even without the non-guaranteed year-end bonus, Wharton’s salary and signing bonus totals this year are nearly $5,000 more than runner-up UC-Berkeley’s Haas School undergrads, who earned first-year total pay of $81,251 in the best economy in the world in the Bay Area.
This past year, the typical senior averaged 7.6 round-one interviews and 1.8 job offers. Some 334 employers conducted 8,910 job interviews with Wharton undergrads this past year. The employment rate for those seeking a job was an impressive 94.6% three months after graduation.
TOP EMPLOYERS INCLUDE BCG, JPMORGAN, MORGAN STANLEY, MCKINSEY & GOLDMAN
More importantly, perhaps, is the who’s-who roster of employers waving the big dollars at Wharton’s undergrads. This year’s top 10 employers at Wharton include Boston Consulting Group (which hired 19 undergrads), J.P. Morgan (15), Morgan Stanley (12), McKinsey & Co. (12), Goldman Sachs (11), Barclays Capital (9), BlackRock (8), The Blackstone Group (8), Accenture (8), Bank of America (6), Bain & Co. (6), American Express (6), and Citigroup (6).
One reason why Wharton consistently outperforms when it comes to undergraduate pay, of course, is because of the high percentage of graduates who go into finance. In 2016, nearly half, or 48.8% of the graduating class, headed into Wall Street. Some 29.7% took jobs in investment banking, 4.6% each accepted offers from investment management, private equity of diversified financial service companies. Another 3% landed positions with hedge funds, while 2.5% joined venture capital firms.
No wonder Donald Trump transferred out of Fordham to go to Wharton in his junior year.