For Wharton School MBA hopefuls, a written application may no longer be enough.

Starting this winter, some applicants will have the option to participate in a discussion with fellow applicants.

Students will be randomly selected to take part in a supplement that will have no effect on their application, Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid Ankur Kumar said.

Talking points will not revolve around applicants’ business knowledge but will focus on their general knowledge to showcase their interpersonal skills and critical thinking ability, Kumar said, adding that this year’s test will help determine whether discussions will become a permanent fixture in the MBA admissions process.

Kumar — who graduated from Wharton and the College in 2000 and earned an MBA from Wharton in 2007 — hopes that team-based exercises will “actually bring to life off the page who [the candidates] are and showcase that to us,” she added.

“We’re always asking our candidate in the various pieces of the application … to show us … who they are: we seek to understand our candidate across all of their dimensions,” Kumar said.

The new program is designed to highlight interpersonal skills, intellectual curiosity, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking, she added.

According to Vice Dean of Innovation Karl Ulrich, the current applications may not allow reliable assessment of applicants based on all qualities.

“Wharton receives enough applicants with excellent grades, work experience, and GMAT scores to fill its class many times over … The team discussion format lets us observe and evaluate applicants in an unstructured format, which we believe will allow us to more reliably assess applicants,” Ulrich wrote in an e-mail.

2011 Wharton MBA graduate Ayo Omojola participated in a mock discussion in 2009 after he was admitted into the program.

Omojola’s group featured six to seven students. They discussed a general-knowledge topic and sought to reach a consensus, he said. Observers from the admissions team watched how they interacted and noted their problem-solving skills and ability to persuade.

Incorporating discussions into the admissions process will allow the Wharton admissions team to really get to know candidates, he said.

2011 Wharton MBA graduate Rodney Cocks, who took part in a discussion group last spring agreed, adding that “being able to discuss relevant issues in a team setting … is really the cornerstone of the Wharton experience,” he said.

Cocks hopes Wharton MBA admissions will require all students to participate in a discussion in the future, since it enables them to view students with “greater depth.”

While Omojola and Cocks were aware that they were being observed during the discussion, both preferred this method to a formal interview. They saw it as an opportunity to discuss current issues with their peers.

“This new component, which we are testing, should not contribute to any anxiety,” Kumar said, since it is still in its initial stages.

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