A New Hybrid at Wharton

This fall, the school is introducing a program which combines business and science classes, says the director of undergrad admissions

Undergraduates at the Wharton School and the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania who are interested in managerial positions in the science or biotechnology fields can sign on for a new major in the fall of 2006. Students in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences & Management will either pursue a BS in economics or a BA with a science major.

Regardless of which degree they choose, students with this major will all face a common core curriculum, internships in both science and business, and an upper-level science research project. "Students will understand the future of business in the health-care industry," says Lee Stetson, dean of undergraduate admissions. "The LSM program gives students a good background in both the management and life-sciences areas." So far, 174 high school seniors have applied for 25 slots.

Stetson has been the dean of undergraduate admissions at Penn for almost 28 years. Before that, he was director of admissions at the University of Delaware, where he had graduated with degrees in business with a concentration in marketing and economics. During his 11 years at Delaware, he received his Master's in counseling and administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Stetson recently spoke with BusinessWeek intern Helena Oh. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

What's the acceptance rate of freshmen to the undergraduate business program?

Eight or 9%. And at the Wharton school, the total number of applications was 4,038 in 2005, which is an 18% increase over the year before.

Can university students easily transfer to Wharton if they had applied to a different school for their first year?

Yes, but they need to establish themselves academically and do well to be considered. We have a stable number of internal transfers because 17-year-olds don't always know what to do with the rest of their lives.

What type of student is a good fit for the program?

Students who do well at Wharton are highly motivated academically, intellectually inquisitive, and interested in many facets of the business community. Many are doing research in an economic area and are already thinking about how they can get involved in world enterprise. Students are also really spending more time giving back to the community and reaching out.

What are the common mistakes students make when applying, and how can they be avoided?

Sometimes students tend to have too narrow a focus. At the undergraduate level, we like to see students with many interests, unless they have developed a particular talent in the performing arts or something similar. Sometimes students also make the mistake of writing to us about going to Penn without much enthusiasm. It shows they haven't done their homework.

How is Wharton's undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science in Economics, different from a Bachelor in Business Administration (BBA) at another university?

Students need to determine their own priorities as to whether they want a liberal arts education or a business curriculum. We offer both, and we have a strong core in the arts and sciences, so it's a broader-based degree than a BBA would be.

How important are the math scores on standardized tests?

Wharton students need to have facility in mathematics. There has been an increasing emphasis on the quantitative side over the years, especially on calculus. We don't find many students from schools that don't offer calculus. If that's the case, we recommend students take a course at a local college.

Should students also take the SAT II subject tests?

We require students to take two SAT II exams. They don't have to be in math. But most students are aware that they need a good math background, so they often take a math-based SAT II test.

Do you have test-score cutoffs?


Each year, we look back and find we're forced to turn away students whose academic performances were outstanding simply because we don't have the space. Based on old measures [of SAT scoring], we're forced to turn away 75% of students with SAT scores of 1,400 and above because we're looking at other variables. We're also considering recommendations and the student's ability to write to us with passion for his or her subjects of interest.

Do you offer interviews?

We encourage students to interview with our alumni in their hometowns. We don't require them, but we do meet with groups of students on campus, not individually.

What are the essay questions like?

One question asks applicants to describe a course of study and unique area of Penn that interests them. They also need to show us why Penn is a good match for them. Students can then choose to answer one of three questions, and many answer the one that asks for page 217 of their 300-page autobiography. This year, the other two were about a defining first experience and a risk taken because it was the right thing to do.

What advice do you have for answering the questions?

Students need to be relaxed and be themselves. They need to give us more information about themselves and become more alive through the application. We're reading these day and night, so they need to make sure they're writing with some interest and enthusiasm.

More importantly, they need to reflect on the growth experiences in their lives instead of reporting what they were involved in outside the classroom. How have they grown and what did they learn from the process? It gives them a chance to be down to earth and indicate their priorities. Also, they should be clear and crisp without being overly succinct.

How do you advise students who are afraid MBA programs prefer to accept those who study disciplines other than business as undergraduates?

I think the advantage students can find in Wharton is that it gives you a nice balance between business and the liberal arts and sciences. The other route is studying in the arts and sciences school while taking a number of courses in Wharton before applying to an MBA program at a later time. We encourage Wharton students to also immerse themselves in disciplines or activities outside of Wharton itself.

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