A Participant's Report on the Wharton TBD (Team-Based Discussion)
Before the discussion room becomes available, applicants wait outside the room. To get to know your teammates (other 3-4 applicants) before you start the discussion, it is best to arrive 20-30 minutes before the TBD start time.
Once the TBD room becomes available, you will be asked to sit at your designated seat with your nameplate. Then you will briefly introduce yourself to the evaluator (Wharton Admissions) and other applicants. In my TBD, we were asked to include 4 items: your name, job, what you like to do for fun, and intended major at Wharton.
After the self-introduction, the evaluator reads the discussion prompt and explains that the TBD will be 35-minutes long, including a one-minute pitch by each applicant, followed by a group discussion and the final presentation to the evaluator. This final presentation needs to be at least 5 minutes long.
After the TBD discussion, each applicant will have a 10-min 1-on-1 interview with the evaluator. There are some common questions (How was the discussion? Did you represent yourself well during the discussion? How do you usually work in this kind of situation? Tell me about yourself, etc.) but in my case, the evaluator only had two questions: “Why Wharton?” and “Any questions?”
TIPS TO SUCCEED IN TBD
1. Do not agree with everything
Many TBD participants misguidedly try to make a good impression on the evaluator by always making positive comments about other applicants’ ideas. However, that does not stimulate the discussion. Don’t be afraid to disagree with others – but respectfully and with good reasons (“That sounds like a good idea, but may not be feasible considering cost, logistics, etc.) I disagreed with some opinions, which narrowed down our focus towards reaching our final presentation idea.
2. Speak up
The Admissions office wants to know you can add value to the discussion with Wharton classmates. If you are quiet or just paraphrasing other people’s opinions, it’s not enough. Speak up and share your thoughts, including your prepared pitch ideas as well as reactions to other applicants’ opinions. My observation is that shy/quiet applicants did not pass TBD.
3. Be flexible
Some participants meet before their TBD sessions and prepare a whole script. They know who will say what, who will disagree with what idea, and what conclusion they will reach. But I don’t think it’s a good approach as it could sound unnatural and make you inflexible towards unexpected events. I did a few mock TBD preps, but the people I know who prepared too much did not pass.
Don’t stick to your original idea/plan during TBD. You should incorporate others’ opinions and steer the discussion on the fly. That’s what you are expected to do. I met with my TBD group at a reception held the day before our TBD. We exchanged our rough one-minute pitch ideas. We thought we were the only applicants in our TBD session, but then another person showed up the next day. However, that did not throw me off as I did not take the “script” approach.
4. Be mindful of time, but not overly rigid
TBD is 35 minutes long, including the one-minute pitches and final presentation. That leaves only 25 minutes for the discussion. The time passes very quickly, so it’s critical to keep track of time. After the one-minute pitches and before the discussion starts, proposing a timeframe would be a good contribution. (e.g. “How about we spend xx minutes on xx, yy mins on yy, and secure zz mins for wrap-up”.) However, don’t be overly rigid about the time. One of the applicants in my session tried to cut our productive conversation in the middle to move to the next topic and did not contribute many ideas. He did not pass TBD.
5. Leave a positive impression during the 1-on-1 interview
At the beginning of my 1-on-1, the evaluator said she had only two questions for me: “Why Wharton?” and “Any questions?”. This was quite unexpected as I heard from current Wharton students and alumni that they received 7-8 questions on average.
I explained Why Wharton and asked 2-3 questions, but I still had 4-5 mins left. I could have tried to come up with more questions to use up the time, but I was confident I made a good impression through my answers to her two questions already. So, I said “I do not have anything else to ask. I’ve already talked to many Wharton students and know about the school quite well. Thank you for your time and I hope to see you at Wharton again,” and finished the interview early. Giving clear answers and making a good impression is obviously more important than spending the full 10 minutes.