In this, our third installment of our interview series, 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 at Wharton?
Several 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 2017-18 application season:
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.
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: