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Credit: Caroline Gibson

For the first time, high school students on summer break this year had the chance to start studying finance at Wharton — beginning at age 15.

For the first time, Knowledge@Wharton High School offered a two-week Global Young Leaders Academy that focused specifically on finance and investment. Knowledge@Wharton High School is a Wharton initiative that offers business-centered programs and resources to high school students and teachers.

While Wharton has run the summer program for the past several years, previous sessions have focused more broadly on  entrepreneurship and business principles like accounting and marketing. The new finance track, offered this summer in addition to the entrepreneurship track, focused on investment strategies, corporate finance, and business ethics.

Students in both the finance and investment programs experienced firsthand what it is like to study in Wharton — they attended faculty lectures and recitations in Huntsman Hall, stayed in dorms, and had lunch at Houston Market and Pret a Manger. They also completed a capstone project: Lesser said entrepreneurship students prepared a pitch or business idea, while finance students developed a portfolio strategy. For the finance capstone, students received $100,000 of fictional money and used the Online Trading & Investment Simulator training platform, a Wharton-owned stock simulation program, to trade stocks and figure out an investment strategy.

Tejas Kaushik, a high school senior from New Jersey, said he chose the finance program over entrepreneurship because he thought it would be more challenging. 

"[The finance program] was more in-depth and detailed," he said. “[It] had a more concentrated and straightforward curriculum than entrepreneurship, which taught you multiple things from multiple different angles."

He applied to the program to determine whether he wants to study finance in college and to learn more about Penn, which he said is his dream school.

High school students who attended the finance program said they also plan to use what they learned in the future.

Zander Feinstein, a high school junior from Texas, said the Global Young Leaders Academy gave him the knowledge and skills he needs to start a finance club in his high school. 

“Before, I would have had no idea how to run an investment club," Feinstein said. "Now [the program has] given me the leadership ability to lead these other students." 

Feinstein and the club plan to attend the next Knowledge@Wharton High School Investment Competition, an online investment simulation where teams of high schoolers manage a $100,000 portfolio of virtual cash.

Eli Lesser, Wharton's executive director of high school and summer programs, said the new program is a valuable opportunity for students interested in finance and investment. 

“Not every high school student has the opportunity to dig deep on questions of business ethics and social responsibility, or passive and active investment strategies, or accounting," Lesser said. "These are not classes that are offered at most high schools. It’s a chance for students who are interested in these topics to dip their toe into them at an almost-college level.”

This summer, Knowledge@Wharton High School ran five sessions of the entrepreneurship program and three sessions of the finance program, each with 60 students

Participants were selected after turning in an application including essay questions, a letter of recommendation, and academic transcripts. To apply, interested students had to be enrolled in high school, have some knowledge of business and economics, and be at least 15 years old at the start of the program. The finance program cost $6,000, while the entrepreneurship program cost $5,115.

Kaushik said the program increased his knowledge and interest in finance and investing. 

'I have people around me who are similar-minded, and I think this is a great place for me to grow my love for learning as well as my academic understanding of things," Kaushik said. "When I started the program, I guess that love just grew even more.”