Like most, I take rankings with a grain — actually, more like a cup — of salt. That’s why I wasn’t too bothered when I saw that Wharton had dropped to fourth place in BusinessWeek's annual ranking of undergraduate business programs.
What really puzzled me, though, was the main reason behind the school’s fall from first place over the last two years: Wharton’s ranking dropped mainly because of decreasing student satisfaction. And that raises some troubling questions about what exactly freshmen expect when they come to Wharton.
As part of their ranking system, BusinessWeek measures student satisfaction by sending out surveys to each school’s seniors. In 2006, when BusinessWeek started the ranking, Wharton placed sixth overall in student satisfaction. Since then, satisfaction has fallen fairly steeply — to 15th in the most recent ranking.
Because of the recession and the tough job market, satisfaction fell at other top business programs like at the University of Notre Dame and University of Virginia — but not nearly as much. That’s because many of these schools aren’t as finance-oriented as Wharton is, says BusinessWeek staff editor Geoff Gloeckler, who helped put together the magazine’s ranking.
And since the recession has especially hurt the financial services industry, student satisfaction at Wharton has taken a harder hit. “One of the reasons students seem to go to Wharton is that they feel it gives them a pretty sure path to a good job on Wall Street or in finance,” Gloeckler says.
That’s unfortunate — not only for the school, but also for students themselves. When incoming students equate Wharton with a well-paid job, they risk ignoring the other incredible opportunities that Wharton, Penn and their own undergraduate education can offer them.
I know this because I was one of those students. Don’t get me wrong — I was very interested in finance and still am. I’ve even found a full-time position in finance that really matches my interests. But when I was looking at colleges in 2006, it seemed like most Wharton seniors were getting lucrative I-Banking offers. The prospect of a well-paying job after graduation definitely had an impact on my college choice. And after talking with others, I know I’m not the only one.
Unlike some, I refuse to condemn this behavior. It’s only natural to think of employment prospects when deciding whether to borrow thousands of dollars for a Penn education. The trouble begins when this pre-professionalism leads students to prematurely limit their options after graduation.
“I understand how the mindset works,” said Wharton Vice Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips. “You get here and you don’t even know what investment banking is, and all of a sudden, people around you start saying this is what they want to do. And they’re getting these great jobs and making a lot of money.”
Phillips said the school has tried hard to fight the impression that Wharton equals Wall Street. “You get four precious years to grow as scholars and as people,” she says. “We want you to see everything, sample what you like, and do what you want to do.”
When I started working on this column, I thought I would focus on what Wharton should do to better meet student expectations. While Wharton isn’t entirely innocent (it brags about its graduates’ high salaries on its website for applicants), I’m now starting to realize that maybe the problem lies with student expectations themselves.
To prospective students out there: Honestly examine why you’re coming to Wharton. If you want an academically challenging environment, you’ll get it here. But if what you’re only looking for is a secret code that will get you an I-banking gig on Wall Street, think again. There’s more to a Wharton education than that.
Ashwin Shandilya is a Wharton senior from New Market, Md. He is the former Marketing Manager and Editorial Page Editor of the DP. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Penn vs Sword appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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