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Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview, Part III

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In this, our third installment of our interview series, which we first launched three years ago and are reproducing for this season, we’ll take a closer look at one of the more recent interview permutations—the group interview or team-based discussion. You can view the first two parts of this interview series here: open interviews versus interview invites and blind interviews versus non-blind interviews.

What Is the Team-Based Discussion?

A few years ago, the admissions office at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School partnered with the Wharton Innovation group to launch a new evaluation method, the team-based discussion (TBD). As its name suggests, as part of the TBD, applicants are placed into a group with five to six other applicants for an interactive discussion about real-life business scenarios, designed to reveal to the Admissions Committee how each applicant approaches and analyzes specific situations.

“Our hope is that this will give applicants a glimpse into Wharton’s group learning dynamic, which is central to our program,” Karl T. Ulrich, vice dean of innovation at Wharton, said about the TBD when it launched as part of the 2012-13 application season. “We believe that this type of assessment also serves as a tool to take prospective students ‘off the page’ and allows us to see firsthand the ways in which they can contribute to our community of diverse learners and leaders,” he continued.

Deputy Vice Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid and Career Management Maryellen Reilly echoed Ulrich’s sentiments in a post on the school’s MBA Admissions blog. “Our goal was to give our potential students an opportunity to show us who they are—how they think, lead, communicate and interact,” she said. “At the same time, we wanted our applicants to experience who we are—a highly collaborative culture that cultivates persuasive rather than positional leadership.”

The way teams of applicants are assembled is simply a function of who signs up when, the school reports. “There is no ‘crafting’ done on our end,” Reilly says. Each participant will receive a prompt for the TBD in advance, and Wharton recommends spending about an hour in advance preparing for the discussion.

The majority of TBD interviews will be held on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus and conducted by Admissions Fellows, a select group of second-year MBA students. But TBDs will also be held in various cities around the world as part of each round. These sessions will be conducted by admissions officers. “On- and off-campus Team-Based Discussions will be conducted in the same way and considered equally,” Wharton’s website states. “There is no ‘advantage’ in choosing either option.”

Here’s the prompt applicants received in the 2015-16 application season:

“The diversity of interests and backgrounds of the Wharton MBA community is reflected in the variety of programs that we support. The African American MBA Association, Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, Wharton Women in Business, Entrepreneurship Club, and the Veteran’s Club are five of the more than one hundred student-run clubs here at Wharton. Each year, many of these clubs run conferences, providing unique and exclusive opportunities for students to engage with business and thought leaders around the world.

For the purpose of this discussion, picture yourself as a core member of a student-run club’s Conference Committee. Feel free to consider yourself part of an existing club or one that has not yet been created. In this role, you and your team must create and deliver a one-day, high-impact conference on the topic of your choice keeping in mind that the event’s aim is to provide a forum for students, faculty, alumni, thought leaders, and executives to explore and challenge ideas related to the topic at hand. Please take a moment to learn more about the current Wharton MBA student-led clubs and conferences.

Please come prepared to share your thoughts with the group in one minute or less before moving into the team discussion. You should plan to spend no more than one hour in preparation for this part of the process.”

So, what’s the best way to approach the TBD, you ask? We consulted our resident expert, Alex Brown, who worked in admissions at Wharton for several years. Here’s his take:

Lena Maratea
Lena Maratea is the Digital Marketing Manager at Clear Admit. She's a South Philadelphia native who graduated from Temple University’s Fox School of Business with a BBA in Marketing. She creates and curates essential digital content for the Clear Admit community.