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Review: Business Foundations Specialization by Wharton

Reviewed By Product Expert and Coach
Elizabeth Hogue
July 17, 2024

Program Overview

Welcome to the category page for Wharton's Business Foundations Specialization, offered by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This six-course specialization is designed to provide learners with a foundational understanding of key business concepts and skills, including financial accounting, marketing, operations, business strategy, and financial management.

This course is tried and true, and one of Coursera's older courses dating back to 2015. Wharton has a big online presence, and with good reason. Their classes are helpful, succinct, and timeless. They also are one of the most prestigious MBA/masters programs in the world, so it's wonderful they put material online to share with the rest of us. The self-proclaimed beginner specialization consists of 6 courses with around 4-5 weeks of work each at two hours per week. This nets a total of 28 weeks, or 7ish months to complete the specialization.

The six courses to complete the specialization are:

The material is taught by legit Wharton professors and covers the basics of how to thrive in a corporate space, whether it's your own business or a company you're joining. Think of it like a mini MBA-- a great taste for all things business without the Wharton price tag.

Best for: Beginners

This program has some fantastic material, but is somewhat high-level compared to some other certifications we recommend. It's not particularly tied to any one technical role or career path, which has pros and cons. We are tagging it as a beginner-level course, similar to the other "sampler pack" that is Wharton Analytics Specialization.

This specialization would be especially relevant to a couple groups of people because it covers so many aspects. We recommend this certification for people thinking about getting an MBA, since this is somewhat of a business sampler-pack. Another group that would find these topics interesting are aspiring product managers, who need to be well versed in lots of areas, including team management and dynamics, to be successful in their roles.

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Weekly Breakdowns

We’ve recapped the learning objectives from each week to set your expectations for course material. The great part about this program is that you can jump to any course, and any section if it’s interesting to you. For example, if you’re an HR professional wondering how AI could help improve your workflow, hop over to course 3, and pay special attention to week 2 (direct applications on AI in HR).

To audit an individual week-- find the exact course (we've linked them individually here) and click "audit" to save it to your profile. Then open the desired week on the side panel that aligns with our recaps.

Course 1: Introduction to Marketing

Learning Objectives from Week 1: Branding

  • Get an overview of the course with the syllabus and objectives.
  • Learn basics of marketing strategy and brand positioning.

Learning Objectives from Week 2: Customer Centricity

  • Learn the limits of product-centric thinking and when to bring in customer behavior studies.
  • Introduce the concept of building a customer-centric outlook for marketing purposes.

Learning Objectives from Week 3: Go-to-Market Strategy

  • Examine effective market strategies with real world examples.
  • Study online and offline marketing principles and how they can work together in synergy. (Bridged note: this section is a little dated! Maybe breeze past it.) 

Learning Objectives from Week 4: More Branding

  • Study effective brand communication strategies and learn how to speak directly to a target audience.
  • Learn various consumer perceptions and behavior reactions to strategy.

Course 2: Introduction to Financial Accounting

Learning Objectives from Week 1: Introduction to the Balance Sheet

  • Explore Financial Reporting: Learn about report types, rule-making bodies, and enforcement in the financial reporting landscape.
  • Balance Sheet Equation & Bookkeeping: Understand Assets, Liabilities, Stockholders' Equity, and practice translating transactions into debits and credits.
  • Start-up Case Study Application: Apply concepts by following a start-up from its initial transactions to its first financial statements.

Learning Objectives from Week 2: Accrual Accounting and the Income Statement

  • Accrual Accounting: Understand its impact on Income Statement accounts, specifically Revenues and Expenses.
  • Adjusting & Closing Entries: Learn to prepare internal books for financial statements, including Balance Sheet and Income Statement.
  • Start-up Case Study Continuation: Apply concepts through hands-on practice with journal entries in the context of a start-up company.

Learning Objectives from Week 3: Cash Flows

  • Cash Flow Classification: Understand the categorization of cash flows into operating, investing, and financing activities.
  • Statement of Cash Flows: Learn to prepare and analyze the Statement of Cash Flows using a start-up case study.
  • Key Financial Metrics: Discuss the differences between Earnings, Cash from Operations, EBITDA, and Free Cash Flow.

Learning Objectives from Week 4: Ratio Analysis

  • Ratio Analysis Introduction: Learn about various financial ratios, which involve dividing one accounting number by another, to deepen your understanding of Balance Sheet and Income Statement accounts.
  • Comprehensive Material Review: Leverage Ratio Analysis to review course content and prepare for the final exam.
  • Apply Knowledge in Real Life: Impress family, friends, and co-workers with your newfound expertise in Financial Accounting after the exam.

Course 3: Managing Human and Social Capital

Learning Objectives from Week 1: Motivation and Reward

  • Motivation & Performance: Harness motivation to boost individual performance effectively.
  • Incentive Systems & Psychology: Discover incentive system design and the influence of psychological factors.
  • Hiring & Evaluating Employees: Master technology-driven hiring and effective feedback for improved employee performance.

Learning Objectives from Week 2: Tasks, Jobs and Systems of Work

  • Tasks vs. Jobs: Understand the differences and historical job design approaches.
  • Job Design Influences: Learn how engineering and psychology have shaped job design.
  • Real-World Examples: Compare GM and Toyota's approaches and analyze how work systems evolved to boost performance and productivity.

Learning Objectives from Week 3: Making Good and Timely Management Decisions

  • Decision-Making Mindset: Learn to make good and timely management decisions using real-world examples.
  • Recognize Costly Decisions: Understand how leaders' choices can negatively impact teams and organizations.
  • Apply Key Concepts: Utilize learned concepts to make effective decisions and build high-performing teams.

Learning Objectives from Week 4: Designing and Changing the Organization's Architecture

  • Organizational Architecture: Understand its impact on management and team performance.
  • Inequity & Disparity: Explore how inequity affects employee dynamics and company success.
  • Leading Change: Analyze real-world examples and learn to identify key steps for driving change in your organization.

Course 4: Introduction to Corporate Finance

Learning Objectives from Week 1: Time Value of Money

  • Time Value of Money: Understand the foundational concept in Finance and its importance.
  • Course Motivation & Context: Gain insight into the big picture and relevance of the course material.
  • Problem Sets Preparation: Familiarize yourself with the quiz problem answer input process to enhance learning outcomes.

Learning Objectives from Week 2: Interest Rates

  • Inflation & Time Value of Money: Discuss the impact of inflation on the time value of money.
  • Interest Rates: Understand their role and significance in financial decision-making.
  • Discounted Cash Flow Analysis: Gain proficiency in discounting and compounding cash flows to value claims and make informed financial decisions.

Learning Objectives from Week 3: Cash Flow Analysis

  • Capital Budgeting Case: Deepen your understanding of discounted cash flow analysis in practical scenarios.
  • Valuing Claims & Financing Decisions: Gain proficiency in valuing claims with arbitrary cash flow timings and compounding interest.
  • Real-World Financial Decision Making: Improve your ability to make informed decisions related to retirement savings, home financing, auto leases, and more.

Learning Objectives from Week 4: Return on Investment

  • Discounted Cash Flow Analysis Wrap-up: Conclude the discussion and connect it to return on investment.
  • Free Cash Flow: Understand its concept and application in projecting future cash flows using forecast drivers.
  • Basic Financial Modeling: Develop skills to make informed decisions about projects and analyze underlying assumptions in valuations.

Course 5: Introduction to Operations Management

Learning Objectives from Week 1: Introduction

  • Basically a free week!
  • Learn course logistics and dimensions of operational performance.

Learning Objectives from Week 2: Process Analysis

  • Process Analysis Elements: Identify flow rates, flow times, bottlenecks, labor and inventory optimization.
  • Multiple Flow Units: Understand complexities in handling various flow units within operations.
  • Maximize Profits & Efficiency: Develop skills to analyze and improve processes for optimal business outcomes.

Learning Objectives from Week 3: Productivity

  • Productivity Components: Understand definitions, blockers, measurements, effectiveness indicators, and improvement techniques.
  • Input-Output Relationship: Identify, describe, and measure the relationship between inputs and outputs in a process.
  • Boosting Productivity: Develop strategies to reduce inputs and increase outputs, enhancing productivity across various scenarios.

Learning Objectives from Week 4: Quality

  • Quality in Operations: Understand its importance for an organization's long-term success and viability.
  • Defects & Implementation Techniques: Examine common reasons for defects and explore widely used techniques to address quality issues.
  • Ensuring Reliability & Standards: Develop the ability to anticipate defects and recommend strategies for maintaining quality and stability in operations.

Course 6: Capstone Project

  • This is 5ish weeks of choosing a project, creating a marketing/accounting/management/operations plan, and presenting the work.

Cost and Auditing

The program is only $79/month, and comes with a Linkedin Certificate on behalf of the Wharton Business School from the University of Pennsylvania. If you complete the curriculum on the proposed timeline, it should take about 7 months, though you could blitz through it on a break in far less. We noticed each week only had about 2 combined hours of video and reading materials and one assignment. If you're giving it your all, this means each "week" is about 3-4 hours of work. While $79/month may seem steep, compared to a degree or bootcamp this prestigious college-credited micro-certification is a steal!

If you have a learning budget at your current company, or are dedicated to upskilling your career into something analytics related– we recommend completing the program and getting the shareable certificate (GET RECEIPTS!). This will help make your Linkedin and resume more searchable to recruiters who may be looking for specific keywords and programs. To audit the program and simply learn the material, this program is completely free.

We recommend auditing the one of the courses-- they're semi-independent--to decide if this program and the professors match your learning style. To audit, simply click "Enroll for Free" and click "Audit" on the bottom of the second step. Voila, you're in!

Student Reviews

We'll be straight with you: some aspects of this micro-certification can be a little dated, with some of the materials created from all the way back to 2013. If you're looking for a more relevant course, we recommend checking out UVA's business strategy or product management courses. OR, just take the marketing advice with a grain of salt, because social media has changed lots of strategies around here. The finance and people management stills definitely are timeless.

That being said, we love when MOOCs have course reviews that use the names of professors. It's a small thing, we know-- but it makes a world of difference. When students use professor names, we can assume two things: one, the professor is engaging enough to remember, and two, it's often in praise of their teaching style. Just our thoughts! 

Each of the six course specializations was ranked about 4.6 stars, which also was commendable. Wharton does know how to put on a great program.

Some of our favorite positive review points:

  • "Great course! I took this course and finished it in 4 days (and spent around 3-4 hours every night after work on it) to put weight for my personal statements/interviews for my masters applications for university. Cons: It is from 2013, and there were a few glitches in the middle of class where I was unable to answer some of the mid-class questions. Some of the questions were asked before I learned some of the material, so that was a bit strange. Pros: Overall, these professors know what they're talking about and they are professors from one of the best marketing programs/universities in the world. I would recommend this class to anyone who wants an introduction to marketing." - Ava M.
  • "There are thousands of exceptions and tricky parts involved in accounting but Professor Brian Bushee made sure to cover each and every doubt a student can have with the use of virtual students. Being my first time even touch the accounting subjects, I feel my basics a strong and crystal clear. Thank you so much Prof. Brian Bushee." - Meet S.

Aggregations of negative review points:

  • The accounting classes actually were more difficult than normal online programs (we actually think this is a good thing, but whatevs).
  • Certain parts of the classes could have been longer with more details.

... and our favorite overall review:

"First - what I liked: Prof.  Bushee was a great professor.  I appreciated all the pdf slides that accompanied the course, those made it much easier to study.

What I didn't like: It was a tremendous amount of material to cover in a short time.  As I was going through each week, I felt I was understanding, but when I got to the final (part 1), I had so much difficulty.  This tells me that while I understood each component, when they were combined, I was slightly lost.  (and I say this as someone with a masters in engineering, so numbers are not an issue for me).  I think a better overview of how all the financial statements fit together would have been helpful.  It also occurs to me that for someone like myself who really just needs an overview (will never work as an accountant, but want to be able to read/analyze financial statements, this may have been too much information." -Lori K.

We like this review because it feels all encompassing of the students we surveyed. AKA: great course material, enthusiastic and smart professors, but sometimes difficult concepts that were more in the weeds than everyone was expecting. Truthfully, this is on par with other Wharton classes we've reviewed. Take at your own risk! 

Supplemental Materials

This course from Wharton and UPenn is great as a showable certification, but may not teach you everything you need to know to get a role in a tech-adjacent field. Here are some other fabulous programs in the space, with a focus on hard skills to compliment the general knowledge provided in this cert:

For the analytically-inclined product leader: Google's Data Analytics

Google sponsors a data analytics certificate program through Coursera. This is one of the more coveted certificates in the industry for Google Analytics. It's free to audit, but if you want the certificate to show off (recommended), it's $49 a month to complete at your own pace.

If you're looking to know AI: Duke University's AI Product Management

Both Duke and UVA are incredibly prestigious organizations working to increase public knowledge of product management. This is a mid-level course-- so have some basic knowledge under your belt first-- focused on product management in the realm of artificial intelligence. Read our full writeup here. It's also free to audit, but if you want the certificate (recommended), it's $79 a month to complete at your own pace.

More In-Depth Content: Udacity's NanoDegree for AI Product Management

This NanoDegree is hosted on Udacity and takes around 2 months with 5-10 hours of learning per week.This program is comprised of 4 courses and 3 projects. The courses are AI in Business, Dataset Manipulation, Model Creation, and Measuring Impact and Updating Models.

Alternative Specialization Recommendations

Business with a Focus on Strategy: UVA's Business Strategy Specialization

Darden is a comparable school to Wharton, and UVA Sponsors an incredibly prestigious specialization program through Coursera. This program focuses on test and learn strategies, identifying and acting on customer insights, and running an effective product program. Read our full writeup here. It's free to audit, but if you want the certificate (recommended), it's $79 a month to complete at your own pace.

Another prestigious cert from Virginia: UVA's Product Management Fundamentals

This is a more tech-focused certification, but if you're in the camp of "I am not sure what I want to do, but know I like Business", this program could be for you. This certifcation focuses on test and learn strategies, identifying and acting on customer insights, and running an effective product program. Read our full writeup here. It's free to audit, but if you want the certificate (recommended), it's $79 a month to complete at your own pace.


University of Pennsylvania Business Foundations Specialization from Wharton is a great way for beginners to learn the basic components of the corporate world. We think this is especially relevant if one, you want to be a product manager and don't know where to start, or two, you're thinking of getting an MBA and want to get your feet wet without the financial commitment. As always, we recommend stacking micro-certifications over using higher education or bootcamps to achieve the same results on a budget!

Here at Bridged we are huge fans of stacking micro-certifications to achieve desired career results, which is why we created the skill tracker. We're still in beta and building a product to make your career planning fun and affordable. We'd love to talk to YOU! Was this article helpful? Did you enroll in the course?

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