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Journey to my MBA

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Wharton Info Session

I went to the Wharton info session tonight. I really liked it. I was able to get my wife to join me so we both talked about it afterwards. We both agree that Wharton seems like a school that fits me the best because the culture of student involvement and teaching methods are more like who I am. Below is my best attempt at describing what I learned and gained insight about.

First off, the reception was held at Cisco in San Jose. The room I was in could have fit about 225. I’d say that there were about 180 people there. I took notice of the attendees and noticed that 35% of the group were Indian, there were 20 women (18 Asian) and 10 Caucasians (surprising). There was a good spread of cookies, cheese & crackers, fruits, vegetables, coffee and drinks. This was great for people coming after work.

Our host was Mae Jennifer Shores, an associate director of Wharton’s Admission Committee. She was well spoken, confident and represented herself and Wharton well.

The format of the session was a PowerPoint presentation that lasted about 60-70 minutes followed by a panel of alumni that came up and stood in front of the group. I’ll write more about them later.

The first key word that Mae uttered about Wharton was “Innovation”. I think this describes how the school adjusts to changing times and how it has become what it is today. It’s a fitting adjective for the school.

After the typical “why an MBA” slide, the “What would describe Wharton’s MBA was interesting to me.
1) Flexible MBA
2) Leadership Edge
3) Culture of Learning
4) Collaborative community
5) Global environment

Each of the 6 areas was gone into more thoroughly and created the template for the next 45 minutes where each category was defined.

Flexible MBA:
This is best summarized with the concept of “ business and beyond” The premise here is that Wharton emphasizes a more broad scope of education. This helps prepare students for being able to handle all major aspects of business processes and functions. As far as career paths, this means that changing business sectors is much easier to do in ones post-MBA journey. Thus the holistic/well-rounded education helps to even prepare students for these kinds of events.

Leadership Edge:
I didn’t get it all off of the PowerPoint slide What I did get was,” the hallmark of Wharton leadership are passion and commitment and more than this, it is about honesty and integrity….” This made sense to me when I saw the dozen or so “specific” things Wharton does to instill this in their students. First of all, applicants are selected for some level of leadership quality, secondly there are various core curriculum classes, thirdly, there are real projects and numerous planned events that one can get involved with to exercise ones leadership. Lastly, there are the student clubs.

But the one thing that I think makes Wharton truly unique is the extent to which students are involved with how the school runs, what changes the school makes and the ways in which students can start new education related initiatives in the school. For example, the pre-term was a student concept. There was a new Biotech slant started by a student a couple of years ago. 6 students went through it this year. This was something that was entirely developed in cooperation with Wharton Staff. This kind of reasonable flexibility just blows me away.

Culture of learning:
Wharton has four methods of learning:
1) Lecture – Considered foundational for some material
2) Case Method – Real world application
3) Simulation- Learning lab where a hypothetical world is created with hypothetical business scenarios. You make choices in the scenario based on the facts. Ongoing results of your choices come up through the simulation and you continue to make ongoing decisions as time progresses. Some issues are black and white and some are gray. Your results are judged on how well you make a profit or grow the business based on the interactive choices you make. The results are then compared with other student’s results. – Totally out there in terms of being on the edge of learning as far as I’m concerned and totally intriguing.
4) Experimental – Consists of a) Leadership ventures b) Global consulting practice c) Field app projects.

Some points to take into consideration. Wharton is not apologetic about NOT going 80% case study like Harvard. In fact they believe that certain topics have no business being solely taught in a case method format whereas some topics are taught more effectively with the case method format. The argument here is that it is extremely difficult for example to learn much of the accounting basics in a case method study. I completely agree with this.

The 1st yr has most students taking the same core classes. The 2nd yr has students taking a choice of up 200+ elective courses and choosing to pursue 18 specialty MBA areas.

One alumnus commented later on that before attending a school like Wharton, one already needs to know what general direction one wants to head in. This is because there are just too many stinking choices and unless you have some vision of where you want to be, you’ll end up frustrated and directionless.

Students are placed into 60 people cohorts who you’ll be working and studying with for the 1st year. I believe Harvard would call these groups “sections”)

Collaborative Learning:
The two biggest points I heard here were
1) The school is somewhat naturally competitive, so creating a community based environment highly encourages students to help one another.
2) Applicants are naturally weeded if they do not appear to be collaborative in nature.

Global Environment
Some core curriculum addresses the Global aspect of business. But a HUGE opportunity for global involvement and education with Wharton are:
1) Global Immersion Programs (GIP)
2) Global Consulting Practice (GCP)
3) Global Student Exchange with 1 of 13 leading International Business Schools) ie. LBS, INSEAD, etc..
100’s of students go on GCP or GIP every year. This year, Mae said they will be doing some stuff in Africa.

There are 80,000 Wharton Alumni

There are 100+ student run clubs. If you don’t find one that you would like to see, you can start it.

There are numerous opportunities for local community service work. In fact the man-hours last year totaled in the tens of thousands of hours by the students. Many students choose to help small businesses with training and provide consulting services as well.

The Wharton follies are supposed to be a blast. Profs get involved with students to put on a musical and show where students make fun of one Prof’s and vice versa. I imagine this would be something not to miss.

Mae provided an extensive amount of advise on applying.

So what does Wharton look at?
1) Academic Aptitude
2) Professional development
3) Personal qualities
4) Presentation of yourself & Timing.

Things to pay attention to in the application process that will help.
Self assessment
- Reflect on career path to date
- Set personal and prof goals
- Research MBA programs
o Attend events
o Talk with Alumni
o Visit schools
o Visit or S2 boards (Mae also verbally mentioned B-week forums, but not the adcom blog interestingly enough)
- Allow sufficient app prep time
- Plan ahead
o Prepare your budget
o Adjust life-style expectations
Measures of Professional Growth
-Salary and or bonus
-Skill set
-Breadth and depth of experience

Personal Qualities
1) Personal characteristics
2) Self-awareness
3) Ethics/Values/Integrity
4) Initiative
5) Perseverance
6) Creativity
7) Contribution to School/community
8) Interpersonal skills as related to communication, emotional intelligence, teamwork, leadership.

Mean of assessment
1) Past achievements/experiences – How do we spend our free time? How did those experiences impact me?
2) Personal essay
3) Extracurricular activities
4) Community Service
5) Letters of recommendation
6) Interviews – are done invitation only and Wharton shoots for 1/3 of the pool, but often hit 50%. A good interview is not indicative of getting accepted because the applicant portfolio may just not have been sufficient. I thought this was pretty weird as far as I was concerned. Why the heck would you invite someone for an interview (Assume the interview goes extremely well) and then reject them. What was the point in wasting everyone’s time in interviewing them from the beginning? If you take the initiative to have them interviewed, then accept them or put them on the wait list PERIOD! But when I put myself in the shoes of the admit committee, it’s really not possible because you never know just how many interviews may go really bad. So it’s just a gamble for everyone and a matter of numbers because Wharton can only accept X number and that X number is competitive.

Present a Broad picture of yourself
1) Be reflective, sharing insights and perspective
2) Personal and professional interests
3) Contribution to community and society

Clearly articulate your plans (Generally used as interview questions as well)
1) Why an MBA
2) Why an MBA now
3) Why Wharton
4) Short and long term career goals
5) Selectively choose your recommenders (No professors unless you worked with them on a job)
6) Be yourself and mind your grammar.

Average GPA 3.5 and the range of 80% of the class received 3.1-3.9 someone with a 2.4 was accepted this past year.

GMAT 716 and the range of 80% of the class had 670-760

Work average was 6 years, but the range was 0 yrs – 19 yrs.

Be sure to pay attention to the range of scores when looking at other schools. This shows a lot about the schools openness to review students’ story or just cut off students at particular stat levels. Wharton DOES make extra effort to ready your story and not judge solely based on stats.

The Alumni Panel:
As I said earlier, there were 12. 2 were current students in the west coast executive MBA program. Most were graduates who had graduated from 2-4 years ago. The oldest MBA alumnus graduated in 1992. It was awesome to have him there. He started his own marketing firm in the bay area. ½ of them were from tech backgrounds.

My impression of the alumni was that they were just too many of them to get a good idea about them thoroughly. Moreover, I didn’t get the impression that they were as a whole good communicators, articulate and outwardly unapproachably intelligent like what I had been hearing of other info sessions. In fact, what I found refreshing about the panel was that they were the kind of people who reflected the applicants in the room.

The thing that caught my attention the most was the sheer number of the panel reps in front of the room. If a school states that they are highly student influenced where many of the students have significant ownership of the school, you SHOULD expect a lot of students in the panel. And that is exactly what I saw. So the integrity of the presentation where student involvement was emphasized was evidenced by the good heart and number of alumni in the panel.

The advice:
Mae emphasized the essay as the way to distinguish ones self. So naturally, many of the questions were essay questions. Some interesting bullet points that I heard were:
1) Be genuine – the essay readers of whom many are students will catch if you sound like it’s not really you or that the essays are contrived.
2) Don’t try to write a themed essay if that’s not really how you are. It’s risky. Several poor examples were given. A Beavis and Butthead example was given of how not to write.
3) One alumnus mentioned how he wrote the essay as though he were writing a letter to a friend. He felt it was risky because he confessed that he’s not particularly a creative kind of guy, but obviously it worked for him. He said to be careful of this as he knew he was taking a big risk in doing this because it wasn’t normal for him in particular to write an essay this way.
4) Over ½ the alumnus said that they didn’t need a car while at school. But that they made friends with people who did have cars.
5) Profs are highly involved. One graduate mentioned how when he was in school, he went to one Prof and asked for help on a topic he was new at, but was interested in. The Prof was actually starting a business in the area of interest and invited him to several of the brain storm meetings and executive meetings to see what it was like and to provide input.
6) As much as we pick schools to apply to, we have to remember that despite our best efforts, the schools may not select us because we may not really and honestly be a good fit for the school. So perhaps when we apply to a school, we should be thoughtful in our approach to the school to make sure whether the culture really fits who we are as opposed to who we are not.
7) Interviews: Many of the alumni in the panel actually do many of the local interviews in the area. The thing that I didn’t know was that many of the interviews are conducted blind where the interviewer has not seen your essays or record. Mae mentioned that she pushes for this, but I don’t think all interviews are necessarily blind. So it might be a good idea to ask the interviewer if you’re curious whether they’ve seen your background.
8) The number one mistake students make in their applications is that they don’t follow directions. One applicant submitted a 36 page essay with 10 letter’s of recommendation. Obviously he didn’t get in. The directions clearly state the length of each essay and the recommended number of letters of recommendation.

Summary: After talking, my wife and I came up with the following summary.
The thing that makes Wharton unique as far as I can tell is the following:
1) Emphasis on well rounded education
2) Methods of teaching, student involvement to change with the times and how the school approaches improvements to it’s program can easily be described as “innovative”. I would add to this that a driving force of all this appears to be an attempt to create the most holistic strategy for education. The term “well-rounded” is a bit vague for me. Holistic is an easier adjective for me to grasp.
3) Students who were accepted based on a more holistic approach of looking at the individual and not just their stats.


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