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Journey to my MBA

Friday, December 10, 2004

My visit to Wharton

Below is a description of my Wharton visit. For more detailed info about the MBA program, I've documented most of it in my Wharton Info Session Entry.

From UVA, I had taken the Greyhound bus. There was a very long layover in Wash D.C.. Although I had left Virginia at 8pm, I arrived in Pennsylvania at 9am the next morning and had slept very little in fear of getting ripped off or mugged at the bus station. I was getting approached all night long to buy DVD’s, jewelry and Laptops. There were probably 10-15 people who repeatedly approached me for money. That 6 hour layover was stressful.

I walked the 8 blocks from the Greyhound station to the Hotel with bags in hand. The hotel didn't have a shuttle to come pick me up. Ah well. As tired as I was, I was excited and sort of scared to realize that I was heading over to Wharton shortly. I stayed at the Club Quarters Philadelphia Hotel. The room was pretty small. The bathroom in fact was barely larger than an airplane bathroom. I only wish I were exaggerating. But for the price, it wasn’t bad.

I headed over to Wharton in a Taxi and was pleasantly directed by the front security guard to the admissions office. The building really didn’t blow me away because I had seen the pictures on the Wharton web site. I just didn’t realize that one side of the building was up along the sidewalk of a major Philadelphia street. However, the facilities are the most modern of any school I've seen.

I signed up for the Class Visit, Tour and student lunch. I was told to sign up at a computer terminal near the coat closet. After that, I went over and asked about classes I could attend and the timing of the tour, student luncheon and etc. I was provided a list of classes and was told that I could pick among them. There were 10-15 classes to choose from. Quite nice. The woman at the front desk told me to wait on the couches as a student would come by shortly to pick me up. I asked about what time the tour, luncheon and info session were and she told me to not worry about it and that I would be informed as the day went along. I didn’t like that answer, but accepted it as standard practice for the Wharton admissions office. I asked if Alex Brown were in, thinking that I might want to say hi in person, but I was told that he was in South Asia somewhere. I sat on the couches because I had to wait about an hour.

There were 5 prospective students dressed in interview clothes waiting for their appointments. There were also two Wharton 1st years sitting with us. Apparently, Wharton has their 1st years signed up all throughout the day to sit with visiting prospective students to answer questions and help them to feel more comfortable. Wharton is the only school that I’ve seen that does this. This went a long way to make me feel comfortable. I learned a lot about the ongoing issues within Wharton from one student who a member of the MBA program student advisory committee. It was an interesting time as well because I met all the students who were about to interview. One student shared that the Wharton leadership foundation is being heavily re-worked. It didn’t seem to work that well this year. This is a good and bad thing in that change was immediate and openly debated. I initially questioned the maturity of the student who was sharing less than positive things about the school. I came to realize later that I appreciated what he said because it helped me to see just how quickly Wharton acts when certain aspects of the program aren’t truly “great”.

With the number of students, staff and prof’s that Wharton has, the ability to change as quickly as it does based on real feedback/communication is truly amazing. I went to one class that was supposed to be very popular, but after standing in the class all alone, the student escort and I soon realized we may be in the wrong room. We found out that the class had been cancelled. I then decided to go to Financial Analysis. One student nearby suggested it. It seemed interesting, although I knew, it may not be as dynamic as say a marketing class. I had a hard time understanding many of the concepts in the class because of my lack of finance background. However, I did learn about 10-15 new financial terms. I had a hard time staying awake. Two hours seemed like 4 hours to me because of my jet lag and lack of sleep. There were 3 other students who just plain went to sleep in class which didn’t surprise me as I was hearing that this week and next week are causing many students to lose A LOT of sleep. Testing, reports and résumé’s from 1st years are all due.

After coming back from class, I decided to walk the halls a bit to see more of the school. Walking the halls of Wharton is somewhat like walking the halls of an undergraduate college building where you don't know anyone and hardly anyone looks at each other. Occasionally some people do know each other so there is always some level of social interaction. What made it seem more like this were the undergraduate students taking a few undergraduate business classes on the first floor. So there were just tons of people all over the building. One student at the pub, (read ahead) said that he thought I was a student when he saw me earlier that morning. After some-self touring, I headed back to the admissions office to await the student luncheon. I was pretty confused and frustrated because I didn’t know what time it was and where I should go to meet the students. I asked the receptionist and she again told me not to worry and said that students would be there shortly.

To make a long story short, I was again told not to worry when I asked about the tour and info session. By the end of the day, I wanted to ask why in the hell couldn't she give me a straight answer. I had asked her point blank a couple of times if she could just tell me the time of the events. She would just tell me not to worry and to have a seat. If I was in a business and I had that kind of treatment, I certainly would have said something. I thought it was just me, but there were so many prospective students asking me what was going and what time certain things were. They weren't too happy about here responses either.

Apparently, I had learned quite a lot about Wharton without realizing it over the last 6 months and many of the prospective students asked me a lot of questions and for directions around the school. I was happy to oblige, but wished I were getting at least ½ that amount of courtesy from the receptionist. The funny thing is, all the Wharton students kept telling me that she had all the answers and that she was the central point of the entire office. When I asked students about the timing of things for the day like the receptionist told me to do, they didn’t have a clue. I know I’m venting, but I’m still dumbfounded why a woman who is supposed to be so helpful was so reluctant to even tell me what time the frickin’ events were all throughout the day to most of us visitors! So that was my biggest gripe.

Alex, if you’re reading this, I hope this is not a regular occurrence. It would have been easier I think to post the times on a flyer/postcard or to have a neatly written schedule on some whiteboard on a tripod near the entrance of the admissions office or something like that. In addition, I think a flyer or handout would have been good to explain the possibilities and procedures for visitors. For lunch, we were taken to the main U Penn food court. Walking from the Wharton building to the food court, I got a chance to see the the rest of the U Penn school buildings. They were mainly grey and made from rough hewn stones. They definitely gave an older IVY League sense to the school. There were 30 prospective students going to lunch and the largest table we found could only fit 6. So we all sat in groups of 4-6 such that many of the tables of visitors didn’t get a chance to talk with a student.

After getting my lunch I hurried and tried to find a reasonable table with a student. I got lucky and was able to have lunch with a couple of students. After lunch, we had a choice between going on a tour of the school (again, nobody really knew what time… urgh!) or go visit another class. One prospective student and I chose to attend a class since he and I both felt like we knew the school well enough by now. So, we went to a “Competitive Strategy” class. It was great. Basically, the prof didn’t draw any one conclusion on the case, but showed how several methods could be used to address the situation. During the discussion, the prof clarified some the points from a financial perspective. In fact, some of the terms I had learned that morning in the Financial Analysis class were used to explain some points.

I think it's important to remember that although Wharton was indeed the first graduate business school in U.S., it was not an MBA school initially. In fact, Wharton started as the Wharton school of Finance and Economics in 1884. It wasn't until 1921 that Wharton began it's MBA program. This may be the reason why Wharton has a reputation of graduating MBA's who are strong in Finance. I headed back to the admissions office after the class and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the pub night was going on later that evening. They gave us coupons that allowed us to attend the event for free.

The info session started at 3pm. I had elected not to attend because of the previous info session I had been to. I had requested the receptionist to see if I could get a few minutes alone with one of the admission directors. Thankfully she helped me out and worked with the woman leading the info session to provide me that time. That made up a lot for the lack of communication I had received from her earlier that morning. I would have gladly been treated twice as bad for what she helped me out with to get me that time with one of the admissions associate directors. When she became available, she approached me and I then asked her if I could speak with her privately about my background and see if she could provide some insight as to how I could strengthen my application. We went into one of the interview rooms and talked. That was cool.

So now I know what the interview rooms are like. I shared with her my story and background and told her my stats. She provided me some broad feedback. She was professional and wise. She basically told me that I needed to get my GMAT score up and perhaps take some Quant type classes like Math or Stats. We openly discussed what it would look like applying this year or next year. She explained that my age is not really an issue based on what she had heard of my story and to not worry about it. She said that that biggest area to address would be my Quant abilities and that I would need to do some things to strengthen my candidacy. I was very pleased to hear that my background, goals and career direction fit well with Wharton. She went on to say that if I could take what I verbally said and put that into essay form, that my application would definitely be among the strongest of those being submitted. Well, what I requested as 10-15 minutes turned into 30-40 minutes. But I was so thankful to her. She gave me her card and told me to contact her about my progress.

The pub night was in one of the buildings on campus and although we headed on over there by 4:30pm, students didn’t start showing up until 6pm or so. The beer was bottomless. Apparently each pub night is themed such that something unique is going on each week. This week was Asian week. The Asian clubs across the school had tables in one room and were dressed in their native country clothes. Asian snacks and paraphernalia were plentiful on each table. There was even a group of Chinese students who sang some songs. I met quite a few students who helped me out a lot in terms of feedback and giving me ideas of what certain professions were like. Interestingly, I was recognized by two people from my Blog. Having slept barely an hour and 3 hours the night before, I succumbed to my exhaustion and went home by 7:30pm.


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