The Wall Street Journal published a provocative piece on Friday about the recent decline in Wharton application volume at the school’s full-time MBA program (down ~12% over the past four years). Titled ‘What’s Wrong At Wharton‘ the piece pondered how the prestigious program had lost ground in recent years while competitors like Stanford GSB, Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth (to name a few) were growing their applicant pools. The theories put forth in the article ranged from the school’s perceived focus on finance (an industry that has struggled in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis) to the school’s fall from the top spot in the Bloomberg Businessweek rankings, to turnover in the admissions office. The article also speculated that Wharton has perhaps fallen out of the ‘trinity’ of top schools traditionally occupied by Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB and Wharton – though it did not suggest that another school had come forward to grab Wharton’s spot, instead focusing more on the possibility that the ‘trinity’ was now merely the ‘duo’ of HBS and Stanford.
I was contacted by the WSJ for this piece due to my past experience working in admissions at Wharton, graduating from the MBA program there and working with thousands of b-school candidates and dozens of MBA admissions offices over the course of my career at Clear Admit and now Southwark Consulting. You can read the article in the WSJ for my take on things. In essence, while I don’t see Wharton as having dropped out of the coveted b-school trinity, I have witnessed a change in the way the program is viewed by today’s applicants. I think that this can be contributed to a range of factors (branding, industry trends post-crisis, applicant service, use of technology in prospect marketing, a perceived shift away from admissions transparency, etc.), but the good news for Wharton is that these issues are addressable and that the school’s longstanding reputation should allow it to ride out a short-term decline in application volume.
For another view on the matter, check out John Byrne’s piece over at Poets&Quants, entitled: Is Wharton an Undervalued Stock?