Wharton MBA: The Ultimate MBA Admissions Guide

The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania is the nation’s top business school, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Wharton is especially noted for its Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.

  • Despite the program’s prestige, it has a reasonable acceptance rate—around 19%.

If you’re interested in Wharton’s MBA program, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to submit a competitive application.

About Wharton MBA Program

Wharton’s MBA program takes 20 months to complete, including a recommended 3.5-month summer internship.

In total, the program consists of 19 Credit Units (CU):

  • Core Curriculum-5 CU
  • Major-0 CU, including a maximum of 1.0 from the Core
  • Electives-0 CU

The program is flexible and customizable, with students choosing a path based on their education, career experience, and personal goals.

In addition to choosing electives and majors, students make choices within the core curriculum.

Wharton MBA students choose from 19 majors. 40% of students graduate with two majors. Major options are:

  • Accounting
  • Actuarial Science
  • Business Analytics
  • Business Economics and Public Policy
  • Business, Energy, Environment and Sustainability
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Finance
  • Health Care Management
  • Information: Strategy and Economics
  • Insurance and Risk Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Marketing and Operations (Wharton’s only official joint major, 7 CU)
  • Multinational Management
  • Operations, Information, and Decisions
  • Organizational Effectiveness
  • Real Estate
  • Statistics
  • Strategic Management

Wharton MBA professors are leaders in their fields.

  • Half of them have active consulting practices with businesses around the world.
  • Students also have access to a team of advisors offering guidance in academics, student life engagement, and career management.

Additional career services are available, including MBA Career Management, which includes on-campus recruiting services for permanent positions and summer internships.

Students are highly involved in extracurricular activities, student-led initiatives and events, clubs, and conferences.

Global experiences are popular, including study abroad, Global Modular Courses, and Global Immersion Programs.

How to Apply to the Wharton MBA Program

Read on for information about when to apply, how to apply, application requirements, average GPA and GMAT scores, tips, and more.

Is work experience required to apply to the Wharton MBA program?

The average Wharton MBA student has worked for 5-6 years between graduating from college and enrolling in the MBA program.

However, Wharton does accept early career candidates with no work experience or limited work experience.

Early career candidates must demonstrate strong professional and managerial potential.

  • Time spent in internships or volunteer experiences can also count as “work experience.”
  • Wharton is most interested in the skills acquired on the job and the level of progression.

The school seeks diversity in the work experience of admitted students, so applicants from all industries are accepted.

Experience in a small business or public institution is not judged differently than experience with a Fortune 500 company.

If you apply without work experience, Wharton suggests strengthening your application by:

  • Taking foundational quantitative courses like calculus and statistics (and performing well in these courses)
  • Earning strong quantitative GMAT scores
  • Participating in relevant extracurricular activities, community service, and hobbies
  • Exhibiting motivation and strong leadership potential

Gaining work experience before applying to the Wharton MBA program can strengthen your application, but a lack of work experience won’t disqualify you.

The school considers both the skills you have demonstrated to date and your future potential.

When should you apply?

The Wharton MBA program has three application rounds each year. Each application round consists of three key dates: Application Deadline, Interviews, and Decision Dates.

Generally, the application deadlines are as follows:

  • Round 1: Mid-September
  • Round 2: Early January
  • Round 3: Early April

Interview invitations are typically received as follows:

  • Round 1: Late October
  • Round 2: Early February
  • Round 3: Mid-April

And finally, decisions are delivered in the following months:

  • Round 1: Mid-December
  • Round 2: Mid to late March
  • Round 3: Early to mid-May

To be considered for any of the three rounds, you must submit your application by 5:00 PM ET on the day of the deadline.

If you’re late for Round 1 or Round 2, your application will be rolled over to the next round. If you’re late applying to Round 3, your application will not be accepted.

If you submit your application in an earlier round, you can confirm receipt via the online application system. This allows you more time to schedule an interview.

Wharton recommends that you apply for the program as early as possible.

First-time applicants are strongly encouraged to apply in Round 1 or Round 2. By Round 3, space becomes limited, making the final round much more competitive.

Wharton MBA Application Requirements

The Wharton MBA application consists of:

You’ll be asked to provide background information such as:

  • Contact information
  • Date of birth
  • Degrees earned
  • Professional experience
  • Family information
  • Prior Conviction Information

You will also need to pay an application fee of $265 by credit card. In the sections below, we’ll explore the essays, letters of recommendation, and resume in more detail.

What are the Wharton MBA essays?

Wharton MBA applicants are required to answer two essay questions:

  • Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
  • Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)

First-time applicants are also permitted to use this section to address any extenuating circumstances (250 words).

Tips for the Wharton MBA Essays

Wharton’s website states, “The admissions committee wants to get to know you on both a professional and a personal level.

We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.”

Writing your Wharton MBA essays should be much the same as writing your personal statements and essays for undergraduate admissions. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Provide specific details.

The goal is to write an essay that only you could write, and the best way to do that is to be as specific as possible.

Avoid generalities and clichés. When applicable, share brief personal anecdotes that illustrate your points and showcase your positive qualities.

  • Write in your authentic voice.

Another way to stand out is to write in your authentic voice, the voice that only you have. Don’t go out of your way to use vocabulary words that you think will impress the admissions team or say what you think they’ll want to hear.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Before submitting your essay, be sure that it is completely free of grammar or spelling errors. Eliminate unnecessary words or confusing sentences.

Ask others to read over it.

Does it make sense? Do they see any errors? Are your ideas logical and easy to follow?

If not, go back and rewrite the essay until it is representative of your very best work.

Wharton MBA Letters of Recommendation

Wharton requires two letters of recommendation from people who are familiar with your performance in a work setting, preferably a current or former supervisor.

However, the program’s website explains that the title is not as important as the recommender’s ability to provide knowledgeable and specific comments about you.

The ideal recommender will be able to speak in detail about your capabilities and aptitudes.

The Letter of Recommendation portion of the application is divided into two sections:

  • Recommenders are asked to choose three characteristics from a list of ten that best describe you.
  • Recommenders will answer two questions:
  • Question 1- Please provide examples that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom (300 words).
  • Question 2- Please provide examples that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career (300 words).

Tips for the Wharton MBA Letters of Recommendation

The key to an excellent letter of recommendation is selecting the right recommender.

Choose someone who knows you well and is likely to write a glowing and detailed recommendation.

Don’t hesitate to ask potential recommenders whether they are comfortable writing a positive recommendation for you.

If they seem hesitant or unsure, choose someone who is more enthusiastic about recommending you for the program.

Additional tips include:

  • Give the recommender plenty of time to complete the recommendation (at least 2-3 weeks).

More time can lead to a more high-quality recommendation.

Plus, the recommender will be in a much better mood when working on the recommendation if you are courteous and considerate with your request.

  • Provide your recommender with a resume or a list of helpful points.

You can’t tell your recommender what to write, but you may provide them with a list of relevant accomplishments and experiences.

List accomplishments/experiences your recommender has personally witnessed but may forget to mention.

  • Alternatively, have a discussion with your recommender reviewing some of your relevant achievements beforehand.

Because the Wharton MBA recommendation form emphasizes examples, you may want to review specific anecdotes that your recommender can attest to.

Wharton MBA Resume

Another component of the application is a one-page resume. The admissions team is particularly interested in:

  • Your functional job skills
  • Breadth and depth of experience
  • Demonstrated leadership/management skills
  • Potential for growth

The program website emphasizes that what you have learned in your positions is more important than the length of time you’ve been in the workplace.

As you upload your resume, make sure to save the scanned document as a .pdf file that does not exceed 10 MB.

Double check that your scanned document is legible. Submitting an illegible document will delay the evaluation of your application.

Wharton MBA Interviews

Wharton MBA interviews are by invitation only.

The school will contact you to arrange an interview during the application process. No applicant is admitted without an interview.

The interview process for the Wharton MBA program is unique.

  • The largest component of the interview is the Team Based Discussion (TBD).
  • You will receive a prompt and a purpose for the discussion in advance of your scheduled interview time.

Once at the interview, you will work with a group of 4-5 MBA applicants who received the same prompt.

  • With your team, you will have 35 minutes to discuss the prompt and achieve a tangible outcome. You will be observed by members of the admissions team.
  • The TBD models the “highly collaborative” nature of the Wharton MBA program.
  • It gives the admissions team a chance to observe and evaluate your leadership skills, level of engagement, decision-making process, and communication style.

After the TBD, you will have a brief one-on-one conversation with a member of the admissions team.

Applicants report that these conversations are largely focused on the team-based discussion, so you should be prepared to analyze your participation in the TBD and your team’s results.

Tips for the Wharton MBA Interviews

The unusual interview format can be intimidating for many applicants.

Remember that being invited to the interview is a good sign: The admissions team sees you as a potential fit for the program.

Be proud of yourself for getting to this point and try to enjoy the process.

Wharton’s website states:

“There is no specific role that is expected of you. Keep in mind the person that you are and the strengths that you bring to the table. Think back on past experiences where you’ve had to successfully acclimate in various group dynamics…Consider various methods in the past that you have used to help move your team(s) forward. These ideas may help your team reach the best possible outcome.”

Once you receive your prompt for the TBD, Wharton recommends spending at least an hour to prepare.

Of course, take as much time as you need to feel confident and ready for the team-based discussion. We recommend preparing by:

  • Conduct any research needed for an informed discussion of the prompt.
  • Brainstorm ideas to contribute to the discussion. Start with a brain dump—listing any idea that comes to mind—then narrow it down to your best ideas.
  • Add on to your best ideas. Depending on the prompt, you can consider implementation strategies and short and long-term impacts of your idea. Be prepared to provide support for your ideas.
  • Don’t write out a script, but do list some of your main discussion points and rehearse them in advance. Rehearse just enough to feel confident. Too much rehearsal will make you sound stiff and unnatural, when you should be conversational and collaborative.

During the team-based discussion, avoid thinking of your teammates as your competition.

The admissions team is evaluating your ability to collaborate with others, so viewing your teammates as enemies will be detrimental.

The day of your interview, follow these tips:

  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early and try to strike up a conversation with your teammates. This will help you feel comfortable once the team-based discussion begins.
  • Listen, be flexible, and remember to be a team player. Don’t fight too hard for your own idea, stick only to scripted points if the conversation veers in a different direction, or try to steal the spotlight from your teammates.
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to be assertive or take a leadership role if you feel the conversation is getting off track or your group is struggling to find a solution.
  • As the TBD draws to a close, synthesize your group’s main points to develop a final idea and an engaging presentation.

During your one-on-one conversation with a member of the admissions team, remember not to say anything negative about your teammates.

  • If one of your teammates did not perform well during the interview, the admissions team noticed.
  • It only makes you look bad to bring it up during your one-on-one time.

Focus on analyzing what your team did well and what could have gone differently.

Reflect on previous positive experiences with teamwork and leadership, as well as your process for working with teams and solving problems.

What is Wharton looking for?

Before applying to Wharton MBA, you may also be interested in the average GPA and test scores for admitted applicants.

First, note that Wharton accepts either the GRE or the GMAT. However, we suggest taking the GMAT because:

  • The GRE is a more general graduate entrance exam, so some schools feel that the GMAT is a more accurate assessment of business-specific skills.
  • Some admissions officers may view the GRE as a sign that you’re keeping your graduate school options open, while the GMAT demonstrates your commitment to a career in business.
  • Most business schools accept either the GRE or the GMAT. However, depending on where you want to apply, the GRE could limit your options when it comes to business schools.

For in-depth information on both exams and tips on choosing the right test for you, read our guide GMAT vs. GRE.

  • When it comes to GMAT scores, the average for students admitted to Wharton MBA is a 730.
  • GMAT scores range from 200 to 800, with the overall average around 556.

A 730 is a very high score that will necessitate plenty of test preparation. The full score range of admitted students is 570-780, with 80% falling between 700-770.

The average GPA for students admitted to Wharton MBA is a 3.5.

Of course, Wharton also considers other factors, including:

  • Problem-solving abilities
  • An innovative, forward-thinking mindset
  • Strong collaboration skills
  • Global awareness
  • Leadership and management abilities
  • Ability to make a significant, positive impact

If you embody these qualities, be sure to make them shine through in your Wharton MBA application.

A great place to emphasize these characteristics is in your essays and through your interview!

Final Thoughts: Wharton MBA Admissions Guide

Wharton’s MBA program is an excellent option for highly motivated, business savvy students with a knack for leadership, innovative ideas, and collaboration.

If that sounds like you, seek experiences that will continue to hone and develop these skills.

Work on earning a high undergraduate GPA and scoring well on the GMAT.

Develop relationships with supervisors who can write letters of recommendation in the future. When it’s time to apply, craft excellent essays and prepare effectively for your interview.

By understanding the requirements and expectations, you’ll increase your chances of earning a seat in Wharton’s prestigious MBA program.