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Admissions Director Q&A: Ankur Kumar of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
Sep 14, 2010 | 0 comments
~A CLEAR ADMIT EXCLUSIVE~
As part of our continuing series of interviews with admissions directors at each of the top MBA programs, we recently caught up with Ankur Kumar, the new deputy director of MBA admissions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Kumar, a Wharton alumna, joined the school’s admissions team about a year and a half ago, shortly after fellow Wharton alumnus J.J. Cutler signed on as admissions director. Cutler has since become deputy vice dean of the school, with oversight of both the admissions and career services offices, and Kumar has been promoted to run admissions day to day for the MBA program.
“I actually have quite a tie to this school,” Kumar says, noting that she was an undergraduate there as well, completing a dual degree program with the College of Arts and Sciences. She worked in investment banking and finance before returning to pursue her MBA, after which point she went into management consulting.
The decision to leave management consulting to join the Wharton admissions team was an exciting one because it gives her the opportunity to shape the program and have an impact, she says. “For me, this transition was really a chance to leverage the skills I enjoyed about finance and consulting and bring them to a program I feel very strongly about and that is personal to me,” she adds.
Prospective applicants might take comfort in knowing that Kumar was on the other side of the admissions process herself just four short years ago. She graduated with her MBA three years ago. “So, things are not too distant,” she says.
In particular, her time as a Wharton student helped her appreciate the importance of having a diverse class of students who come from all over the world and bring with them a range of ways of thinking about business, she says. This is something she pledges to keep top of mind as she brings together Wharton’s future classes.
Read on to learn more about what Kumar is most excited about at Wharton in the year ahead, as well as her take on the admissions process in general and essays in particular.
Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at Wharton this coming year?
Ankur Kumar: From a program standpoint it’s oftentimes hard to pinpoint just one thing. The program really is constantly evolving. And much of that is due to the students that come in each year. Our students come in very motivated and energized to have an impact. So that’s the student perspective. But it’s also the academic perspective. Our professors are of the same mindset.
So I guess the one thing that comes to mind is the constant evolution of our program. Specifically, we are able to bring things that are happening in the world into the classroom. For example, after the events in Haiti students and professors came together to create a course on that looking at the aftermath and the situation there from several vantage points. I also remember from my time being here as a student five years ago that certain areas – such as social impact and clean tech – were in a nascent form, and I can see now the ways in which those areas have evolved and are still constantly evolving.
CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?
AK: I think that one area that is a strength of ours that people may not necessarily realize – until they start to scratch the surface – is analytical thinking. Our history is, of course, finance. I am talking 125 plus years ago. But over time that has really evolved into a strength in analytical thinking – a strength that goes across the board to different disciplines, from entrepreneurship to real estate to healthcare. Our students are not just receiving a functional skill set but an approach that allows them to be very analytically grounded no matter what field they choose.
The changes that have been going on in the economy have led to there needing to be more data and basis for business decisions. Wharton students get that from the courses they take and also from being surrounded by people from many different backgrounds. Forty percent of the class has a social sciences background and a third has a background in hard sciences or engineering. This mix allows students to think about things analytically and then apply that approach whether it is in finance or consulting or any other field.
CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks ‘submit’ and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).
AK: First of all, our process of evaluation is very holistic. We ask a lot of information about applicants – we want to know about their academic achievements, their professional development, the way they think about the world, how they present themselves.
In terms of the tactical life cycle of an application, it is a very iterative process. Our goal is to get multiple points of view on every candidate. The first people who read any application are students – students in the second-year MBA program who we select and train. After doing an initial read of the application, these students will make recommendations.
From the student reader, an application then comes to the admissions committee, at which point we read and review it and decide whether or not to grant an interview. We don’t interview everyone but you have to be interviewed to be admitted.
And then, after the interview process, there is another iterative process in which multiple people give insight into whether to admit, waitlist or deny a candidate based on all of the components of his or her application as well as the interview.
CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?
AK: So, again, the process is a holistic one. We look at academic records, professional experience and recommendations to get points of view on applicants that are external to their own. And then there are the essays, which are an applicant’s vehicle to tell us more about him or herself. They are all things that we value and care about equally, but the essays are really a primary vehicle for applicants to tell us more about who they are and how they think.
There are a lot of “whats” that we learn through the application process – what they studied, what they like to do in their free time, what their professional experience is. In fact, many applicants may look at themselves and define themselves by the “whats.” But more important from my perspective is the “why” and the “how.” Why have they chosen to pursue a particular path, how they chose the opportunities that they have, how they learned from them, why they made the choices that they’ve made, how they think. The essays really offer a window into how they approach business and the world in general.
I do not think that there are “shoulds” in terms of the essays. We are looking for how they think and how they interpret the questions. Our essay questions are broad for a reason. My advice is always to be very genuine and direct with whatever information they want to share with us and not to think about we are looking for but rather what they want to tell us.
People will notice that our essay questions have changed this year, as they do every year. We like to constantly think about the kinds of questions we are asking our candidates. In terms of other things applicants can expect, we still will have a one-on-one interview. Candidates who are invited to interview can either interview on campus with students, or they can stay where they are located and interview with alumni – or with myself and my team as we travel to hub cities.
In all cases, the interviews are blind, which is to say that the person interviewing the candidate will not have read his or her application. The interview will be behavioral in nature – we want to see how people think about situations they have been in and how they face challenges, not just to have them walk us through their resume. We are always trying to evolve our process and really be able to continue to capture information in the best way possible.
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