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Do you need an MBA from Wharton?

By Preetee Brahmbhatt
October 06, 2005 12:25 IST
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Why would you give up two years without a salary and get into significant debt for an MBA?" The question came from Thomas Caleel, director, MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

It was an extremely valid query -- one every student who decides to do an MBA ought to ask himself or herself even before looking for the right place where he or she could do it. Why do you want an MBA? Is it because you think it's the thing to have on your CV? Or is it because you know it will enhance your chances of success? Questions like these popped up repeatedly during a recent Indian reception for potential candidates at the Wharton School.

"Do your homework," was Caleel's advice. "Wharton is not the right place for everyone. Find out what a school's culture is." Again, a valid point. For those who have decided on an MBA, the choice of school is crucial, considering it is where you will spend a minimum two years of your life. As any student studying abroad will tell you, every university comes with its own character, its own culture, its own set of values. The kind of individual you are should determine the kind of school you pick.

"I would never say an MBA is the right thing for everyone," adds Caleel, "nor would I say an MBA at Wharton is right for everyone. I think it is very important for candidates to have a good understanding of themselves and why they are getting an MBA. Wharton offers tremendous things for the right person. It offers an unparalleled breath and depth of offerings in terms of curriculum. We have over 250 professors with over 200 electives being taught. It also offers a global network of nearly 80,000 alumni!"

So, assuming you would like to do your MBA at Wharton, here's what you should do.

One: Check the Web site. There is nothing that isn't available online, in terms of what you should and shouldn't do while applying. The Wharton site lets you interact with staff and students. It also has an MBA admissions blog, student-to-student pages and diaries put up by current students -- all resources that can be extremely helpful before you get down to the admission process.

The next thing to do is evaluate the school's requirements against your own. You need to have completed an undergraduate or baccalaureate program at an accredited US college or its equivalent in another country. Your Graduate Management Admissions Test results are also taken into consideration, although Wharton insists there is no minimum GMAT score.

For non-English countries, a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is mandatory, although you can may be able to get it waived if you come from a University where English is the primary medium of communication.

Finally, you have to complete the application form (which is online), obtain two recommendations, send in academic transcripts, and complete three essay questions. And yes, like most universities abroad, there is a non-refundable application fee for the MBA and MBA/ MA-Lauder programmes.

If you are a first-time applicant, the best thing to do is apply in Round 1 or 2. Is it better to apply in Round 1 than 2? No. They are the same. Round 3 is more selective, giving international students a lesser amount of time to process visas.

Once you submit your application, you can track it online by logging in with your username and following the 'Application Status' link. Wharton offers interviews by invitation, based on a full review of each application. The qualifications for admission are the same for international students as for US citizens.

What you need to realise is that each admissions decision is individual, based on a combination of requirements. The thing to do is try and maximise every aspect of your application form. Concentrating on your test scores while ignoring your essays is a very bad idea. Considering Wharton gets around 6,000 applications a year, what you should to is create a presentation -- an idea of who you are and why you fit into their MBA programme.

Here's something you probably didn't know -- work experience is not a pre-requisite for admission. The school actively pursues diversity in terms of academic, geographic and personal backgrounds. It has also accepted many students who have not studied business before.

As for that all-important issue of funding, international students are guaranteed loans for up to the student budget (tuition and living expenses) through Citibank. All students are also eligible to apply and be considered for a fellowship. Any other queries you may have are answered, more than adequately, at the school's FAQ page.

In the end, what it boils down to is your judgement. "Do you need an MBA to be successful?" asks Caleel. "No. What an MBA does is give you a toolkit to accelerate and enhance your success. Just walking in saying I have a Wharton MBA or a Harvard MBA doesn't mean you're going to be successful. It is, in the end, performance and hard work that counts."

Tips from the director

~ Ask questions. Get in touch with students at Wharton for answers.

~ Your test scores are important. But they are not the only thing Wharton looks for.

~ Try and convey why you want to study at Wharton and why you think it's the right school for you.

~ Spend some time over your recommendations. Glowing tributes don't necessarily mean they come from people who know you well or have the ability to evaluate you.

~ Forget about big names. Wharton examines evaluations from people who have worked with you. Even a recommendation from a prime minister or president could be useless.

~ Stick to the prescribed word length on your essays.

~ Ask yourself why you want to study at Wharton before you apply.

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Preetee Brahmbhatt