The Wharton MBA Class of 2014 will be the first to graduate after communication curriculum requirements were added in 2012. The requirements include one writing course and two speaking courses.
“In a recent survey, alumni indicated that the ability to write well is crucial to their career success,” said Brennan Maier, instructor and director of the writing course. “Wharton faculty responded to that fact by voting to have a writing requirement for MBAs.”
The Wharton MBA program is the only Ivy League MBA program that includes writing and speaking requirements.
The writing class is a pass/fail online course, which includes two assignments - a writing challenge and a persuasive memo.
A competition for all first-year MBA students, the Writing Challenge includes nine writing assignments of 300-500 words each. Writing coaches give feedback to MBAs throughout the process. Past coaches have been professional journalists and senior editors for the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Economist. Students also give and receive feedback from peers anonymously.
Nikhil Seshan, a second year MBA student, got inspiration from the Writing Challenge model at Wharton and launched an online writing business.
“Writing well is not easy - you need to write often, receive lots of feedback and re-write,” Seshan said. “The Writing Challenge model encourages participants to write, and give and receive feedback - all of which are very important.”
One thing he wishes to improve about the writing class is to give students an opportunity to “reject nonsense suggestions, which is great feedback for the reviewers.”
The persuasive memo required students to argue for a course of action in a memo format, such as writing an investment recommendation. They choose a business prompt from topics in 11 industries.
“TAs will be matched to students based on career choice,” said Lisa Warshaw, director of the Wharton Communication Program. “[Our TAs] are going to say, ‘Look, that just isn’t the right tone for private equity.’” TAs will also give career-specific advice on networking emails.
Speaking to succeed
Wharton MBA students are also required to take two speaking classes - one foundational class and one advanced class. Two choices are available at the advanced level - WHCP 612: Advanced Persuasive Speaking or WHCP 615: Communication Challenges for Entrepreneurs.
In the WHCP 612, MBA students learn to speak publicly under pressure. “Students get to use a presidential teleprompter. Or they could go to a TV studio on campus,” lecturer Margaret Lambires said. “They get grilled with very difficult questions from their audience.”
The other advanced speaking class targets students who wish to start a business.
“By the time they leave the class, they have a five-minute pitch that they can give,” lecturer Antionnette McDermott said. “But they are also prepared to talk to an investor that they run into in an elevator, or prepared when they are at a cocktail party and they have one or two minutes.”
Seshan said the speaking classes have been very helpful when he pitched his business plan to investors. “I’d been in finance for too long, and only knew how to design text-heavy handout decks,” he said. ”[The speaking courses] allowed me to explore ballroom and boardroom decks, which add power to my investor pitches.”
Second-year MBA student Liz Stiverson agreed that the speaking class should be required. “I think there’s enough competing for MBA students’ time. If it was not a requirement, many people wouldn’t do it,” she said. “Public speaking is one of those things that if you don’t think you are particularly good at it, you tend to avoid it.”
The required communication component is part of the curriculum changes that were designed in 2010, the first curriculum changes to the MBA program in the past decade.
Other changes included increasing focus on ethics and analytic skill, as well as a more flexible schedule that allows students to take advanced courses in the first year.