We dug into Wharton’s claim to 91,000 members in their alumni network. Even though we believe this to be inflated, we know that Wharton has a lot of alumni. The size of the network seems to be touted by the schools as a competitive advantage. OK, that could be a strength – though in our opinion, it isn’t size that matters, it’s how it’s, er, deployed.
Let’s look at that. What are all those alumni doing?
For comparison purposes, Tuck is a much smaller school – only about 280 students in each graduating class – though Tuck as a school has been around nearly as long as Wharton (Tuck was founded in 1900 and is the oldest graduate school of management while Wharton is the “[w]orld’s first collegiate business school” – remember, Wharton has undergrads too, Tuck does not).
With that history lesson out of the way… which is better? Is the “91,000” alumni that Wharton claims (note the quotes) better? How can a mere 9,000 alum ever stack up?
First off, Tuck is clear that these are 9,000 living alumni. So yeah, we’ll take 9,000 alive people any day. Certainly Wharton’s got at least 9,000 living… they’d accrue that many MBA graduates in just a decade. Fine, no real comparison there.
Next we will commend Tuck for giving an even greater breakdown than HBS does on its alumni count – from Tuck’s website:
- 10% graduated before 1960
- 22% between 1960 and 1979
- 35% between 1980 and 1999
- 33% between 2000 and 2012
Now THAT is useful information.
Knowing how many alumni are out there (alive) is especially helpful when you get a sense of how many are likely still in the workforce. They also have a bit of geographic data (though Wharton actually gives more data on that aspect).
Still, none of this gives us any true insights into the strength of this alumni network. We know that Tuck is a small school, and many people feel that it’s easier to form stronger relationships in such a program.
It’s certainly easier to do so when you’re
trapped living in the mountains with a small group of people for two years.
There is in fact one bit of data we can use as a proxy for alumni connectedness – at least, to the school, if not to each other: The rate at which they give back to the alma mater. Tuck has long been known to be the school with the most generous alum. This article from the school website in 2011 talks about how they were breaking records that year, inching up to 70% of donors donating. That may not sound all that impressive – until you see that the average for top schools is only around 20%. Darden was recently touting its 42% rate, just by way of comparison (their 100% participation in the class gift is also commendable).
Obviously Tuck has made this giving rate a priority in its community – they are well organized in how they solicit donations, and the school as a whole takes pride in the fact that everyone is so generous. It has turned into a well-oiled machine: alumni expect to be asked for money, and they generally comply. (Keep this in mind before you apply there!) The alums recognize that it adds value to the market’s perception of their school, and they want to benefit from the high regard that comes from Tuck’s edge over their peers. It’s not exactly an apples-to-applies situation; other schools have a different cycle of asking, sometimes geared only around reunion years, where they hope to get a bigger chunk from each person – they don’t go to their alums with their hand out every single year. It could get old to be asked for money all the time — particularly after you forked over hundreds of thousands in tuition to go there in the first place.
Back to the strength of the network.
Some schools take the alumni thing far more seriously in other — more important — ways. As that article says, Tuckies are known to return calls and emails from candidates quickly. They care about that aspect of the experience and what it says about them and their school. Other schools do this, too – Duke comes to mind as one that has a similar culture and value system. You can expect to get a reply when you contact a Duke student or grad. This stuff is important – way more important than straight numbers.
Who cares if you have 91,000 alumni is you’re not getting them to respond to you?
OK, that’s not fair. The comparison sounds like we’re saying that the Wharton alumni are cold and uncaring, that they don’t come through when asked. Not true, and not our intended message.
Instead, we’re trying to move the focus away from sheer quantity of people in a network, and get to you to think about why a network matters, and what you’d expect from it. Maybe that will help you think of good questions to ask a school. About engagement. And involvement. And participation.* That might be more telling, as you kick the tires on these different schools and programs and options.
This conversation is continued here:
* Please be conscious of how you phrase things. We sometimes see people in an online chat or info session blurt out questions that make them sound rude and ridiculous. Stuff like, “Why should I want to go to your school?” or “Why do you think you’re better than ________?” Make sure the questions you ask don’t sound like a challenge to your adcom rep person. Be kind and thoughtful in how you phrase it. You don’t want to come off like a dolt.