Ankur Kumar, deputy director of admissions in the office of MBA admissions and financial aid at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania chats to TopMBA.com about the institutions new MBA curriculum, and how it has been designed from start to finish with both employers and students in mind.
With deep connections to Penn and Wharton, having received her BS in Finance from Wharton and her BA in Economics from the College of Arts and Sciences, Kumar then returned for her MBA in Strategic Management, HR and Organizational Management. She then worked in investment banking and strategy consulting before joining the MBA admissions office two years ago.
How do you explain Wharton featuring so well in the full-time MBA rankings and ratings, such as the Financial Times’ and TopMBA.com’s, for over a decade?
Wharton has a history of drawing the highest caliber of students, alumni, faculty and staff. This marriage of excellence on all dimensions has been recognized and reflected in the MBA rankings.
What makes Wharton MBAs and alumni so attractive to employers around the world?
Employers know when they hire a Wharton MBA they will get someone who is data-driven, fact-based, understands the technical- and soft-skills required to manage and lead from day one, and is intellectually curious with a global perspective.
Our students are incredibly well-rounded walking in the door, which continues to be enhanced by the multitude of curricular and extracurricular activities they take advantage of during their two years in the program. The curriculum has an analytical grounding, with required courses on leadership and teamwork, ethics, and communications. It’s a highly integrative approach to teaching business that prepares our students for the cross-functional, multi-disciplinary aspects of the real business world and transcends all career paths whether in areas like healthcare, clean tech, non-profits, or other core business areas.
Given the success of the Wharton MBA, why has the school just launched a completely new curriculum?
It is the responsibility of every school to evolve it’s curriculum in response to student needs and the rapidly changing environment around us. Wharton’s innovative design is a product of a multiyear study into the evolving role of business education, which allows greater customization and offers MBA students flexibility based on their backgrounds and experience.
Over 4,000 stakeholders, including students, alumni, faculty and employers were interviewed. Our research found that the current generation of business leaders wants greater control over educational choices, continued exposure to peers with deep, global experience and more opportunity in their academic experience to self-analyze and self-reflect.
What are the big changes in the Wharton MBA curriculum?
The changes we're launching include more flexibility, analytical and communication grounding, global and lifelong learning opportunities.
Innovative design elements include:
Choices of pathways for fulfillment of required courses in six distinct content areas:
• Finance and the global economy,
• Ethical and legal responsibility,
• Managing the global enterprise,
• Understanding and serving customers,
• Corporate reporting and control,
• Management of operations, innovation, information, and decisions under uncertainty.
Students will be able to customize learning by selecting a course pathway through these content areas based on their educational and career experience.
Strengthened teaching of the analytics for which Wharton is known:
Course content in microeconomics and statistics will be increased significantly. This will assure that students have the tools needed to understand risk, markets, and the role of government when markets fail.
An integrated focus on ethical and legal responsibility in business:
This will allow Wharton to provide deeper and more challenging frameworks that will guide students’ managerial decisions upon returning to the work force.
An increased focus on oral and written communication:
By providing additional required professional training in communications, Wharton is responding to stakeholder feedback that these skills are essential components to successful business leadership.
New methods of leadership development emphasizing self-analysis:
Wharton will provide multiple new leadership development opportunities through learning simulation courses, a two-year coaching experience, and tools to offer self-analysis and self-reflection. This focus will encourage development of the personal skills that are crucial to exemplary leadership.
How will these changes make Wharton MBAs even better adapted to the global job market?
Employers were heavily interviewed for their inputs into the curricular changes. They told us they wanted even more focus on many of the items where Wharton has already played a leadership role: global perspective, teamwork, cross-functional. They value people with a set of diverse experiences and skill sets, with greater understanding of change and innovation and how to manage in these times of fast-paced, dynamic uncertainty. The lifelong learning commitment is also very attractive to employers as it allows for continued growth and development as well.
Why has Wharton chosen to provide free executive courses to alumni every seven years after graduation?
Learning is truly a lifelong endeavour, not just something that ‘happens’ during your two years in the program. Our alumni told us how the amassed knowledge throughout their careers to keep them on the top of their game. With our world class executive education programs, we are in the unique position to be able to be a part of this knowledge growth for our alumni. And now in addition to our current offerings such as Knowledge@Wharton, every one of our new graduates the opportunity to connect with Wharton at different points in their careers to advance and remain on the forefront of business knowledge and best practice.
Does the new curriculum affect the profile of candidates Wharton is looking to recruit?
Who we are looking for in terms of candidates remains the same. We continue to see students who value a rigorous business education that covers the full set of necessary business skills - from analytical problem solving to communication to leadership and management tools. And students who take a long term view on learning and their ability to contribute to the Wharton program and community as well as the broader communities in which they engage.
What advice would you offer prospective MBAs considering Wharton?
I always tell candidates that the first step in this process is self-reflection. Having clarity in your mind about what you want to accomplish – not just in your two years at Wharton – is of paramount importance. That clarity will service you well in our process, as your thinking will translate to the application. But it is also something that is paramount in the bigger picture context of helping you get to wherever it is you want to go. Business school is truly a means, not an end, and thinking of this experience in that way will help you put it into the context of your broader personal and professional goals.