Reputation precedes everything the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania does, and historically, the school has always lived up to the hype. That can be dangerous, of course: laurels are a notoriously comfortable place to rest. But as Lori Rosenkopf says, anyone anticipating a drop-off in Wharton’s quality of services shouldn’t hold their breath.
Rosenkopf, vice dean and director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division, points to the new four-year curriculum the school launched this fall, a major overhaul that not only guides students in their journey to mastering the fundamentals — accounting, finance, management, and statistics, of course, but also “flex fundamentals” of technology and globalization — but also emphasizes a more well-rounded education, encouraging students to sprinkle in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, law — a really wide selection of non-business courses from across the Penn landscape. It’s a key part of the creation of a new generation of Wharton graduates, she says, who will not only be future captains of commerce but will have a more complete and balanced understanding of the world.
“In our new curriculum, technology and globalization we view as two fundamental skills,” Rosenkopf tells Poets&Quants. “We call them ‘flex fundamentals.’ We’re allowing our students to choose between a menu of courses offered in many departments: application of technology, innovation, analytics, application of global economy, business and society. Students have a wide set of options they can use to sample a little more advanced coursework in an area and decide if they want to concentrate in that subsequently — and they’re getting their tech and global skills built in.” The new approach, she adds, offers another benefit: increased flexibility for students to pursue dual degrees, minors, and other areas of interest.
STUDENTS TAKE WHARTON’S ‘LEADERSHIP JOURNEY’
One of the most important features of the flexible curriculum is the Wharton 101 Leadership Journey. The school has taken leadership content that was traditionally taught in multiple offerings designed for freshmen and doubled it, spread it out over four years, and made it a key component of the Wharton experience “so students can really take a journey in developing these skills,” Rosenkopf says.
The Leadership Journey is complementary to the technical education students receive. she says, beginning with the freshman-semester course Business and You, which “helps students with self-awareness, understanding their strengths, their particular personality profiles, and thinking about matching them to the wide variety of opportunities that they get to learn about in the Wharton curriculum.” This is followed in sophomore year by Wharton 201 Business Communications, in which students work on their speaking and writing skills.
Wharton 301, junior year, is focused on teamwork and interpersonal dynamics, giving students the opportunity to focus on their skills as collaborators “in the sort of workforce environment that all of our students eventually graduate into.” Finally, in their senior year students will take a capstone course, the outlines of which are not yet finalized (the first students will be eligible for it in the 2021-2022 school year).
“This is our biggest piece of work to get ready,” Rosenkopf says. “Every one of Wharton grads will participate on a team with solving an applied business problem, requiring them to integrate the knowledge they’ve accumulated over their time here at Wharton. Not just the technical skills but also to utilize all these leadership skills, because they’ll be solving a problem and we’ll not only be evaluating the content of the solution itself, but also the process that they’ve gone through.” Not everyone will have the same experience, she notes: “We’re going to have a wide variety of experiences that students can choose between, so they may work with actual clients, they may work on a business simulation, some of the projects will be targeted to key areas like entrepreneurship, customer analytics, etc. So students will again have many choices depending on their particular interest.”
A HIGHLY SELECTIVE SCHOOL, WHERE ONLY TOP STUDENTS GO
Even as Wharton’s MBA program was named best in the country by Poets&Quants this year, the school’s undergraduate program has earned top honors from P&Q, as well, unseating last year’s top school, Washington University’s Olin Business School. “Always a thrill to see our hard work rewarded in this way,” Rosenkopf says. “I think our Dean Geoff Garrett says it best: We do the right things for our students and the rankings will take care of themselves. We really focus on the fundamentals in educating our students and we’re really glad that this ranking is reflecting our success on that front.”
Wharton has some of the top students in the country to work with. Its undergraduate business program is one of the most selective in the United States, with just 672 admitted students in the fall of 2017 out of 9,457 applicants, for a 7.1% acceptance rate. Only Cornell’s Dyson School, with a rate of 2.93%, is more stingy with seats.
And Wharton only takes the cream of the crop: average SAT score for the incoming class is 1499, and average ACT score is 33. In the Wharton Class of 2015, 93.8% graduated from high school in the top 10% of their class.
WHERE THE DOLLARS ARE
That’s an attractive pool of employee talent — and they don’t get any less attractive after earning a bachelor’s degree from one of the premier business schools in the world. The Class of 2017 found work at an astounding rate, with 97.4% securing full-time employment within 90 days of graduation (an uptick from 2016’s mark of 88.4%), including at such prestigious employers as Boston Consulting Group (19), J.P. Morgan (15), Morgan Stanley (12), McKinsey & Co. (12), and Goldman Sachs (11). More than 60% find work in the Northeast, a region that includes the main destination for any ambitious young investment banker or analyst or senior associate: New York City.
In 2017, Wharton grads secured an average base salary of $80,566 and an average signing bonus of $12,703, both improvements over the bar set by the previous year’s grads. Which is nice, because a bachelor’s degree from Wharton costs nearly $200,000.
“We provide our students with amazing technical fundamentals,” Rosenkopf says. “Wharton for many years has been recognized as providing excellent technical fundamentals for students and our new curriculum continues provide those, and now we’re looking to ensure that our students also have complementary training in leadership skills. And we want to make sure that they have enough exposure to trends like globalization, and of course technological innovation.”
GOING OUT AND COMING IN
Wharton makes sure its students have the opportunity to study abroad, and 25% of the Class of 2017 took that opportunity, spending semesters everywhere from Australia to Hong Kong to Italy — 25 partner universities in all. More than 35 courses offer a significant global component. One student who filled out Poets&Quants’ alumni survey but wished to remain anonymous said they did a “signature experience” working with an NGO in Malawi in East Africa, including “rural business development in freshman summer, (and) worked for an impact investing firm in Singapore,” both via Wharton Social Impact Initiative, and “both of them helped me tremendously in eventually landing a job in my current capacity as an emerging market private equity professional.”
Going in the other direction, Wharton is a destination, too, welcoming a high number of international students: 22.87% of the fall 2017 class. One of them, Stephanie Bonduki Salem, hails from Brazil and was the first in her family to apply to a school abroad. Now she’s a graduate student at Columbia University.
“So much of my Wharton experience shaped me and helped me develop both at a professional and a personal level,” Salem tells Poets&Quants. “In one of my classes, we had to develop a strategy for JCPenney and at the end we presented to the company’s marketing directors. It was an incredible experience which definitely prepared me for life after college.”
‘IF THEY WANT TO STUDY BUSINESS, THEY WANT TO BE STUDYING IT AT WHARTON’
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Wharton courses are taught by tenured or tenure-track professors, a faculty that is “world-class,” Rosenkopf says, and “highly recognized in terms of both their research as well as their teaching. They were very involved in the development of our new curriculum, and many jumped in on this new Wharton 101 leadership course to make sure that we are offering a great experience. I think that speaks more generally to the spirit of interaction that our faculty seeks with our students.
“Many professors participate in a variety of research programs that we have available, as well, so students are able to get a view of what academic research looks like and in many cases we have students who are spending summers here.”
Wharton, Rosenkopf says, offers not one thing but “a combination of things. We have amazing students because we are selective, we are well-known, and students, if they want to study business, they want to be studying it at Wharton. We have great faculty — we have faculty who are involved and who care and who are enriching the student experience. We have great alumni — 46,000 living alumni, and their arms are outstretched wanting us to come and get to know them and wanting to share with the students.
“‘Business and More’ is our tagline
— it’s the fact that not only do you get a great business education here, but you’re studying at an Ivy, you’re studying at Penn, and you have the opportunity to get a great liberal arts education along the way. All those things together, it’s an awesome place. Why wouldn’t a student want to come here?”