Wharton’s MBA writing component, implemented for the first time this fall, is encouraging students to improve their writing skills before they enter the business world.
The new writing requirement aims to help students develop their persuasive writing skills while learning how to write concisely. Although this non-credit, online-only course is only offered pass/fail, all first-year MBA students must take it concurrently with the course “Management Communication” in their first or second quarter in order to graduate.
In an article last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that “while MBA students’ quantitative skills are prized by employers, their writing and presentation skills have been a perennial complaint. Employers and writing coaches say business-school graduates tend to ramble, use pretentious vocabulary or pen too-casual emails.”
Wharton is doing its part to combat this trend. Through the writing requirement, each student is paired with a personal writing coach who provides regular feedback on a variety of assignments.
“The writing coaches get back to the students in a few days so they can incorporate the feedback into their next writing,” Director of the Wharton Communication Program Lisa Warshaw said, adding that 25 of the 45 writing coaches are journalists from around the world.
Assignment prompts cover a wide range of topics such as writing an email to coworkers and describing a favorite author.
“The topics are not business topics because they don’t want anyone to have an unfair advantage,” first-year MBA student Jesse Lee said.
Warshaw explained the reason why the writing requirement was launched this year.
“In December 2010, the Wharton faculty voted to revise the MBA curriculum, and in that revision our program was doubled in size to include writing,” she said. “In looking at the revised MBA curriculum, the faculty committee found that all MBA students, not just at Wharton, should be stronger writers.”
Another component of the writing requirement, Wharton’s Writing Challenge, was also made mandatory for all first-year students this year. The challenge evaluates students anonymously based on their writing and peer review skills. In the final round, a panel of judges selects the best writer and reviewer out of 12 finalists, with the two winners receiving $500 each.
First-year MBA student Michael Radonich believes that while the overall communication requirement is useful for students, “Management Communication” is more helpful than the writing requirement.
“The verbal section was very valuable because they could critique your body language, posture and other aspects when you gave presentations,” he said. “In the writing portion, when students learned we would be evaluating each other, I don’t think people took it very seriously.”
Others, like first-year MBA student Rachel Waszkewitz, believe that the requirement has been beneficial.
“I think the group feedback is a really great idea,” she said. “You actually get direct feedback and ratings from eight other students who have reviewed your paper. It’s good to get your peers’ perspectives, and you get to see other writing styles.”