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Photo: Guyrandy Jean-GIlles

GROUP THINK is The Daily Pennsylvanian’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.

This week’s question: It is common knowledge at Penn that many students in the College of Arts and Sciences or in the School of Engineering and Applied Science apply to transfer into the Wharton School at the end of their freshman or sophomore years. Why do you think Wharton specifically receives the bulk of transfer requests and dual degree requests compared to the other schools? Is this a good or bad trend?

Carlos Arias Vivas | Convos With Carlos

At the end of your freshman year, your interests may have changed. This allows for some deep self-reflection, and some people want to head into a new direction. I think having a business background allows you to fall back on something practical after graduation because the field is very extensive. Wharton has a reputation for being the best business school in America, so this fuels peoples’ passion to transfer. Sometimes it is for the name, but if students truly want to do business, they can transfer from their current school.

Some students apply to the Engineering School or the College first. Then, they try to “backdoor” their way into Wharton because they didn’t believe they could get in during the Regular Decision round. This is a very big hassle to go through, and requires you to take prerequisites in math and economics to be able to initiate the transfer application. I think this is a bad trend because you are focusing more of your time on trying to get into Wharton than on your true passions. Applying for a dual degree is different because students like to combine their interests. I think with the concentrations that Wharton offers, it is very compatible to match with your first degree rather than some of the majors offered in Engineering.

Alex Silberzweig | Brutally Honest

Simply put, Wharton’s brand name attracts so many College and Engineering students. Many people, including myself, have been asked if they go to Wharton when they mention that they go to Penn. To many in the outside world, Penn is synonymous with Wharton. Wharton, meanwhile, is often regarded as being at the same caliber as the "HYPSM schools" — Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, Penn is just a little below those schools. It’s worth mentioning that Wharton is the No. 1 business school in the United States. 

Wharton’s focus on finance — a lucrative career path that many College and Engineering students may want to ultimately pursue — makes the appeal of the school that much greater. In addition, many people think that the Wharton alumni network is a more tight-knit and well-established one than those composed of College or Engineering alumni. Many a successful businessperson has graduated from Wharton, so why not try to find an in and have a chance of being one of them? At least, that’s what people trying to transfer into Wharton may think. It’s a pre-professional view intrinsic to Penn: Think about the distant future, where college was just another four years of your life, while your career is lifelong.

There are definitely advantages to the trend of students applying to transfer into Wharton. On the one hand, the prerequisites for Wharton transfer include high grades. Such a prerequisite encourages students to work hard and perform well during their freshman year. It encourages students to take economics courses that they would otherwise not consider. On the other hand, such a narrow-minded, finance-oriented mindset may prevent students from pursing more varied areas of study in the sciences or humanities. As I said before, it’s the perennially pre-professional mindset that drives so many of us. 

The trend also leaves a sort of bad taste in the mouths of non-Wharton students. “Are they better than us? Is Penn anything without Wharton?” we sometimes think in moments of insecurity. It makes us think that a lot of our peers just applied to the College or Engineering to find an “easier” way into Wharton: a selective group of businesspeople who roam Locust Walk in suits and wax poetic about on-campus recruiting. There is a major benefit, at the end of the day, despite the reputation that Wharton sometimes has within Penn: It shows that pre-professionalism in a college context is not a bad thing if we are ambitious enough to think beyond the four years we spend here. 

Regardless of whether this is a good or bad trend, it is an inevitable one.

Jessica Li | Road Jess Travelled

The fact that Wharton receives more transfer requests and dual degree requests than other schools truly speaks to its dominating influence on Penn's campus — people who are interested in business gravitate towards it, and people who are not feel the pressure to do so. This pre-professional, "I need to find a well-paying job after graduation" mindset is not just exclusive to Penn, however — at every peer institution, jobs in finance and consulting still reign over other careers. The presence of Wharton only magnifies this culture and gives us an entity on which to pin our complaints of pre-professionalism, and then, ultimately, succumb to it. 

Though I've spoken about the large number of transfers to Wharton, I will reiterate that I find it a rather alarming trend. Not because I think going into business is something like "selling out," but rather, I see students who are unsure about pursuing what they're truly interested in learning and, instead, transfer to Wharton to somehow secure their future. In my opinion, going into the broad field of business does not require a rigorous undergraduate business education — students can study anything, especially in a liberal arts education, and be able to succeed in any marketplace. The fact that many students deem Wharton necessary to find a job, or give them an extra edge at the expense of their physical and mental health (for dual degree students), is not true to me, and is something we must continue to re-evaluate now, and in the future.

Jacquelyn Sussman | The Objectivist

There’s no disputing that a reason why Wharton receives many transfer requests is because people try to use other undergraduate schools as a backdoor way to increase their chances at getting into Wharton as a Penn student. It’s pretty "snake-y," and it stinks that it happens. But that Wharton receives the bulk of transfer and dual degree requests speaks to a reason far deeper than people trying to cheat the system: It’s because the majority of Penn students have pre-professional inclinations and wish to take advantage of Wharton’s resources to a fuller extent.

As I said in my last Group Think response, Penn is unique because it has such incredible resources in many different areas. If I wanted to pursue a philosophy major in the College and then complement that with a degree in actuarial mathematics from Wharton because I’m passionate about the intersection between philosophy, mathematics and risk, I could. And the fact of the matter is that most students who choose to pursue a liberal arts degree at Penn — and not some other exclusively liberal arts institution like Williams College — do so because of their pre-professional interests. So it’s not really surprising that people who later discover they are more or equally passionate about a particular business interest try to transfer or do a dual degree with Wharton.

Not to mention that of Penn’s undergraduate schools, Wharton is the most adaptable to any interest. Students would probably find it much more difficult to adapt to the rigors of an engineering or nursing curriculum (I’m not implying that Wharton or College curricula are easier) simply because those curricula are much more narrow in the interests to which they pertain.

This is more of a positive than a negative. Penn was founded as a practically minded school: a place where students not only learn about different fields, but also how to apply them so they can contribute to the world’s marketplace of products and ideas. For the select few who wish to dedicate their lives to academia, perhaps any undergraduate business education isn’t for them. But as technology advances and the world changes — from both a business and academic perspective — not at least being literate in how businesses and economies function will become even more of a liability. 

Say what you will about the Wharton snakes; I’m really glad I go to school with and get to learn from them. And full disclosure: If I weren’t on track to become a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, I would apply for a dual degree with Wharton in some area too. 

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