With a 12% drop in application volume over the past four years (a 5.8% drop in the past year alone), is the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School losing its luster? A Wall Street Journal article published last week quotes mbaMission’s founder and president, Jeremy Shinewald, speaking on the apparent decline in Wharton applicants: “We’re hearing [applicants say] Stanford, Harvard or nothing. It used to be Stanford or Wharton.”
Following the financial crisis, some experts claim that Wharton—often pigeonholed as a finance school—“didn’t react aggressively enough when the spigot of finance jobs was turned off.” Others have cited the frequent turnover of admissions directors at the school and questioned whether adding a group discussion component to the application process has intimidated would-be applicants. In defense, Ankur Kumar, Wharton’s director of MBA admissions and financial aid, says, “Our focus is on the quality of our applicant population, and that remains as high as ever.” Wharton has responded to the downslide by scaling up its efforts to appeal to applicants interested in industries beyond finance, such as entrepreneurship, retail and real estate. Despite receiving fewer applications, Wharton saw its average GMAT score actually rise to a record 725 this year—perhaps suggesting that even if the school has lost some of its luster, its selectivity remains intact.