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Acing the Wharton TBD: Advice from Former Wharton Admissions Staffers

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There’s been a steady stream of bright yellow interview invites to Wharton lighting up Clear Admit’s LiveWire for two weeks running, suggesting that many of you are in the throes of preparing for the school’s unique team-based discussion (TBD).

The prompt Wharton used for the TBD with Round 1 applicants in the fall was as follows:

“For many students, the global perspective fostered by Wharton’s international community is brought into focus through immersive learning opportunities like Global Modular Courses (GMCs). GMCs are full-credit courses in an intensive workshop format that take place in a location relevant to the topic.

For the purpose of this discussion, consider yourself part of a group of students invited to design a new GMC. As a team, agree upon a topic to explore then plan a four-day course in a location or locations relevant to that topic. Provide opportunities for academic and cultural immersion experiences while keeping in mind logistical constraints and clearly articulating your course’s desired outcomes.”

rend we’ve seen in recent years, namely that Wharton is choosing to present scenarios as part of the TBD that MBA students could very well encounter while at the school. In its initial iterations, the TBD prompts were frequently a little more abstract.

This year’s assignment seems pretty cool, in fact. You and your teammates get to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to another part of the world where you’ll have some hands-on learning opportunities as well as a chance to get to know the local culture. Not so hard, right? Ah, but here’s the twist: Each of the five applicants in the TBD brings his or her own idea for a GMC and has one minute to pitch it to the others. Then, the group together selects just one of those ideas to develop further as the real heart of the exercise.

TBD Designed to Allow Wharton to Evaluate Candidates in Multiple Ways
“Certainly this prompt gets closer to really understanding how someone will contribute during their time at the school, so it has value beyond seeing how someone interacts in a group discussion,” says Alex Brown, a Clear Admit consultant who worked for several years in admissions at Wharton. But as for the part where the group determines which of the ideas to run with, “That could get ‘tricky’,” he says.

Tricky indeed, agrees Clear Admit Co-Founder Graham Richmond, another former Wharton admissions officer who also happens to hold an MBA from the school. “All the work you do in advance might be for naught, since you have only a 1-in-5 chance that your ‘great idea’ for a GMC will be chosen by the group,” he says.

“Talk about a tough dynamic,” he continues, “since many will assume that if their idea is chosen they will have a slight advantage out of the gate…and they therefore may be reluctant to let it go/to not battle a bit for their idea to be chosen.”

How to Prepare for the Pitch
Putting aside for a moment that particular wrinkle, let’s think about how to approach preparing your individual GMC idea to pitch to the group. Richmond sees this as a two-part exercise, beginning with developing a very clear understanding of the GMCs currently on offer at Wharton.

For starters, visit the GMC page on Wharton’s website to get a feel for what they involve—and what’s already been done. Because you should most certainly think of the TBD as an opportunity to show your knowledge of what happens at the school, Brown points out. While you could certainly propose a GMC to a region where these kinds of trips have already been taken, if you went that route, you’d want to be sure to propose a topic that hasn’t already been covered, Richmond cautions. Or you could argue in favor of a destination outside of the seven currently on offer.

Become intimately familiar with some of the ideas that have worked as GMCs in the past so that you can take the creative leap from what has been done before to what could be new and novel. “Once you’ve done some homework on what has been offered in the past, you might even reach out to current students who have led or participated in GMCs to get their insights of what worked well,” Richmond says.

International Applicants: Embrace Your Home Country Advantage
If you are among the large percentage of international applicants to Wharton—by all means let your knowledge of another part of the world be your guide. You very likely know your home country better than anyone else in your TBD group and can make a compelling argument for what relevant topic might best be explored. You also have an insider’s understanding of the possibilities for cultural immersions that could be integrated into the trip—and are probably well aware of any logistical challenges that might arise as well. This home country advantage can help you make a strong case for why your proposed GMC could be the best one for the team to pursue.

If you’re not an international candidate—or even if you are—remember that the GMC you propose should also be consistent with your goals and your candidacy. “View this as an opportunity to highlight important aspects of your application,” Richmond suggests. “In other words, this is your chance to show that you are the corporate social responsibility gal or the energy sector guy, etc.”

Next, once you have a great sense of the preferred destination for your GMC and you’ve honed in on a topic that could be truly important to study in the region, you then need to figure out how to pitch it…in one minute or less. “You need to present your idea in a way that is concise, compelling, and convincing—without sounding cocky, condescending, or close-minded,” says Richmond.

And that’s just the two-part process for preparing your pitch. Next up: You need to really consider the team-based part of the TBD. Richmond advises thinking about this along two tracks, one in the event that your idea is chosen and the other if it’s not.

How to Prepare for the Discussion
“If your pitch is picked, then you need to think about how you will work with the team to flesh out your idea and incorporate what the group might add,” he says. “Your goal here is to be seen as an inclusive leader who works well in teams.”

If yours is not the idea the group decides to run with, then it’s time to pivot quickly to finding a way to jump on board with someone else’s concept, says Richmond. “You want to look for ways to marshal support for the idea and have a really productive, friendly brainstorming session with the group.”

Some applicants might worry that demonstrating leadership skill and vision as part of the TBD will be hard until it’s their idea that’s chosen. Not necessarily the case, Richmond says. “I would argue that the person who helps identify another TBD team member’s idea as the one to pursue—and rallies support for it while striving to include all TBD members in the process—might actually be just as well served (if not better) than the person who’s idea is chosen…”

So give that some thought as you consider how hard to fight for your idea over another’s.

For more advice on preparing for the Wharton interview, including the TBD, don’t miss Clear Admit’s Wharton Interview Guide. And, of course, the Interview Archive is a great place to learn from the experiences of applicants in earlier rounds and earlier years. If you use this great resource, just be sure to pay it forward by leaving an interview report of your own once you’ve gone through the process. Best of luck!