The Wharton Way

Admissions head Rosemaria Martinelli and second-year student Ruilin Zhao talk about getting into and life at this top-ranked B-school

Rosemaria Martinelli is the director of MBA admissions and financial aid at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, No. 5 in BusinessWeek's latest B-school rankings. Her office reviewed more than 5,600 applications in the 2004 admissions season.

Martinelli, and second-year MBA, Ruilin Zhao, a 32-year-old Chinese student who also holds a PhD and master's degree, fielded questions about admissions, financial aid, and Wharton's MBA program from a live audience during a recent BusinessWeek Online chat. Reporter Mica Schneider and BW Online consulting editor Jack Dierdorff co-hosted the event. Here's an edited transcript of the chat:

Q: Rose, most of BusinessWeek's top-ranked, full-time MBA programs reported sharp decreases in applicants during the past admissions season. Your own office noted a 20% decline. How do you expect admissions to pan out this coming season?


It's difficult to predict. But I'm hopeful it will be a great year.

Q: With fewer applicants, will a greater percentage make the cut?


Statistically, if there are fewer applications and the same number of places in schools, folks will have a better chance of getting admitted. Yes, [this] would be a great year to be an applicant, if applications are still on the lower side. But, of course, they have to be quality applications.

Q: Is Wharton facing any challenges?


All schools face challenges, and Wharton is no different. One of our great opportunities and strengths can also be one of our biggest challenges: our size. Wharton comprises an undergraduate program, an MBA program, an executive MBA program, a PhD program, and extensive executive-education offerings.

In addition, we have research centers, conferences, speaker series, and more. It can be, for some, chaotic and too much to take in as an MBA. So we look for students who have the focus and direction to take advantage of these opportunities. It's not a school for everyone.

Q: Is the atmosphere in class always competitive?


It is, but in a very healthy way. People want to learn from faculty and from other students. People want to do well, but that doesn't mean we cannot collaborate.

Martinelli: Wharton's first-year core courses focus on fundamentals and can be quite quantitative in nature and academically rigorous.

Q: B-schools often talk about an applicant's fit. How does fit come across on paper?


It's...students who know themselves, know what they need to be successful in their life and their career, and can tell us about it. It's interesting when students apply to huge programs that are major-focused and smaller programs that are general-management-focused -- more of a shotgun approach to finding the right school. To thrive...find [an MBA program] that fits your individual learning...and networking needs.

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