The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School – Ethan Baron photo

Applications to the Wharton School‘s MBA program soared by 21% in 2019-2020 to a new annual record, leading to the largest entering class of MBAs ever at the school. The University of Pennsylvania’s business school today (Sept. 4) reported that 7,158 candidates applied to its full-time, two-year MBA program, an increase of more than 1,200 applicants from the year-earlier total of 5,905.

Despite widespread concerns over the difficulty of international applicants getting student visas and the abrupt shift to online learning in Wharton’s MBA program, the increase in application volume led to an entering class size of 916 students, up 7% from the 856 who enrolled in the class that entered the school last fall. That outcome is a direct contrast to what happened at Harvard Business School this year. Harvard enrolled its smallest class in decades, just 732 students, some 200 students short of its more typical 730-to-740 class size. As a result, for the first time ever the incoming class of MBAs at Wharton is larger than Harvard’s class.

At least some of the increase was driven by Wharton’s decision to adopt a more flexible admissions policy during the pandemic. “When COVID hit, Wharton extended its final deadline from April 1 to April 15 and also relaxed its testing requirements,” notes Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, a leading admissions consulting firm. “Wharton didn’t publish this data, but I assume most of the application volume growth occurred in round 3, which Wharton extended by two weeks. However, that extension was much less than that of other schools, which extended into May and June. Unless the GMAT suddenly became a less significant element in Wharton’s application evaluation, it appears that the deadline extension did increase application volume, but did not allow Wharton to maintain its GMAT average.”

The school did not disclose either its acceptance rate, which last year hit 23.1% on lower application volume, nor did it report yield–the percentage of admitted students who enrolled in the class which was 63% in 2019.

AVERAGE CLASS GMAT SCORES FELL 10 POINTS TO 722, LOWEST IN EIGHT YEARS SINCE 2012

Average class test scores slipped for the GRE and dove for the GMAT. The average GMAT score declined 10 points from last year’s 732 to this year’s 722. That is the lowest class average at the school since 2012 when the class average was 718. Wharton did not disclose the quant/verbal splits in its newly published class profile. The total average GRE score is down two points to 322, with an equal score of 161 for both the quant and verbal portions of the exam. Students enrolled with a GRE scored an average 4.7 on the writing section of the test. Wharton reported that the average undergraduate GPA for the new class of MBAs stayed steady at 3.6.

Wharton is the latest prominent business school to report a significant increase in applications, a likely harbinger of what is to come in this next admissions season as the pandemic-caused recession bites deeper into the world economy. Historically, MBA applications boom during economic downturns as more young professionals lose their jobs and career opportunities and decide to upgrade their skills and acquire a network of business contacts. Thus far, the University of Virginia’s Darden School has reported a 25% jump in applications, while Columbia Business School has announced a more than 18% rise to a new record of over 7,000. At New York University’s Stern School of Business, applications rose a more modest 3.8%, though it reversed a two-year slide.

Wharton published its class profile without commentary, yet there were some eye-opening changes to the makeup of this year’s entering class. The percentage of women in Wharton’s Class of 2022 sank by five full percentage points to 41%, from a level that approached gender parity last year at 46%. That is the smallest percentage of women in an entering MBA class at Wharton since 2014 when 40% of the incoming cohort was female. Less surprising, given the difficulty many international students have had in obtaining student visas to study in the U.S., the percentage of international students also shrank noticeably from 30% to 19% or almost a third. “It’s not clear to me if this is due to COVID and visa difficulties, or if it’s due to a change in reporting standards, or both,” says Abraham. The international students hail from 70 different countries.

BIG CHANGES IN THE MAKEUP OF THE CLASS BEYOND FEWER INTERNATIONALS AND WOMEN

The mix of students changed in other ways as well. The percentage of new MBA students coming from the humanities shrank by five percentage points to 38% from 43% and from STEM to 28% from 30%. Taking up the slack were students who had majored in business. That group ballooned to 34% of the incoming class from 27% a year ago.

And in a year when Wharton broke barriers by becoming the most highly ranked business school in the world to have an African-American woman, Erika James, as its dean, U.S. students of color also declined noticeably, falling to 17% from 36% for Black Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and Native Americans, Indigenous, and Native Alaskans. “Again. it’s not clear if that reflects a real drop or a change in reporting,” adds Abraham.

Just as Harvard Business School did earlier this week in its class profile, Wharton provided more detailed breakdowns of the ethnicity and racial makeup of this entering class. The school said that 39% are white, 24% are Asian Americans, 10% are Black Americans, 6% are Hispanic/Latinx and less than 1% are Native Americans, Indigenous or Native Alaskan. Some 2% of the students did not report their ethnicity to Wharton.

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Outside the Wharton School on the University of Pennsylvania campus – Ethan Baron photo

FINANCE STILL TOP BACKGROUND FOR INCOMING MBA STUDENTS

Not surprisingly, the largest single group of students had worked in finance, with that industry representing 32% of the class, exactly the same percentage as last year; followed by consulting (24%), technology and Internet services (10%), nonprofit and government (15%), healthcare (5%), consumer packaged goods and retail (4%), energy (2%), and media/entertainment (1%). All are in line with recent-year totals, often with just one-percentage-point changes here and there (see table below).

In the finance group, students from private equity and venture capital topped every sector as usual, with 12% of the class. Some 7% were in investment banking, down two percentage points from last year, 5% in investment management, and 8% in other financial services jobs.

Wharton said its newest incoming MBA students averaged five years of work experience, with a range of zero to 14 years.

Of the 916 students in the new class, 17 are JD/MBA students, up a couple from last year; 80 are in the dual-degree Lauder program, a big increase from last year’s 67 total. That jump surprised Abraham because, she says, “that is the opposite of what I would have expected since travel is so limited now.” Some 76 students are in Wharton’s health management option, down just two students from a year earlier.  Another pair came into this class from the school’s Moelis deferred admissions program.

DON’T MISS: The New HBS Class Profile: Harvard Enrolls Smallest MBA Class In Decades or Columbia Sets New MBA Application Record: Nearly 7,000

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