So last weekend I flew to Philadelphia to rendezvous with over 300 of my fellow R1 admits at Wharton’s Winter Welcome Weekend. To say that I had a blast and was impressed would be an understatement. The Whartonites definitely know how to sell their brand and showcase their culture to a horde of admits.
The weekend started out with a few welcome presentations in an auditorium within Huntsman Hall, the main b-school building where all the magic happens. After an introductory video that was reminiscent of an Ambercrombie ad (a fact that was spoofed later during the follies show), the welcome committee of 1st years lined the auditorium walls in height order (small detail; made for a fantastic 1st impression) and looked on as Vice Dean Kaufold, MBA Admissions Director Ankur Kumar and others gave one rousing, congratulatory presentation after the other.
Before the end of the weekend, we would take part in ice breakers, network, see a live show, attend affinity club functions, witness a performance by a Cirque du Soleil alum, see follies, guzzle free booze and hors d’oeuvres while stumbling up and down Walnut St. and stomp the grand halls of The Ritz Carlton to LiL’ Wayne, Dreezy and Two Chains. Yet, beyond the flawless weekend production, uber polished facilitators and the pastel v-necks and gleaming white smiles of the welcome committee I came to find a shockingly down to earth Wharton community and a set of potential classmates that I was (and am) completely in awe of.
Meeting and Greeting
Mike, a guy who ended up being the first person I was assigned to sit next to during an ice breaker turned out to be a green beret; and he is apparently in good company with at least one more of his kind plus a few navy seals among the class of R1 admits to Wharton. That was the first of many clues that there was something special going on at Wharton. The events that followed did not disappoint.
The weekend turned into an endless procession of meeting admit after admit who impressed me with where they had been and what they had done in some way; and not a single person (that I met anyway; I have BS repellent) was pretentious about it.
After months and months of kissing major b-school butt trying to “get in”, my compadres and I had the surreal experience of seeing the school put on black face and dance a jig to not only welcome us, but to “close the deal”, protect its yield and have us attend. I must say though, that one consistent theme throughout the weekend from the staff and welcome committee alike was “If Wharton is a fit for you, you’re in for the best two years of your life. If not, then please choose another school that you can feel that way about”.
I like it when someone or a group of people is down to earth enough to express how much you are wanted, yet confident enough to freely allow you to go somewhere else if the fit isn’t right. There was a really good management article about that very thing on LinkedIn a few days ago that talked about why you should be happy when an employee leaves. Its bad for the organization if someone feels cajoled into staying somewhere they don’t really want to be.
Panels and Follies
I attended student panels for both entrepreneurship and technology and really liked what I experienced in each. Though I started my career as a programmer, I wasn’t at it for too long and never really got good at it; thus, I fully intend to pick up a coding class or two while at b-school (and one or two over the summer as well). I was quite relieved to observe how the members of the tech club seemed to stick together. Eight of them are actually learning to code Python via a class in the engineering school this term. Nice.
Naturally, the entrepreneurs were my favorite. They were blunt, truthful and on fire about building companies. They were also quite vocal in communicating that people who were serious about building a company should burn all bridges and not even bother with recruiting. I love being around crazy, intense entrepreneurs who are “all in” like that; and I was impressed that the school did not attempt to muzzle their stance. In fact, they seemed to support it as long as you knew for sure that was what you wanted to do.
On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed MBA Follies since I first discovered them on YouTube while applying. I’m pretty firm, however, in my belief that Columbia has by far the best and most consistently hilarious follies. Wharton Live, however, gave some of CBS’ skits a serious run for their money, starting with somewhat of a twisted Miss MBA pageant spoof that garnered howls of laughter from the crowd.
Some Fun Facts
Sometimes, I’m floored by what I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Here are a few tidbits of info that caught me off guard in the most pleasant and positive way as they were revealed at various points during the weekend.
- Wharton has the most published business school faculty in the world. This is very important to me because I not only want good experiential learning in a business school but the opportunity to be mentored by thought leaders; speaking of which, Daniel Pink (one of my favorite thinkers) had just left the campus days prior.
- Last summer, Google brought in the largest class of interns from one school in the history of the company. There was 20 of them, and they were all from Wharton. Who woulda thunk it? In fact, tech (my chosen industry) was #3 in terms of intern placement with 110 placements in that industry (closely following IB with 125 and consulting with 114). I did NOT expect that from an east coast school (other than MIT). Pleasant surprise indeed. I guess that west coast campus is beginning to pay strong dividends.
- The largest collegiate hackathon in the world, PennApps, takes place at UPenn (I know, hence the name duh). Previously, I wondered as to whether I would be able to meet talented coders in Philly if I chose to attend Wharton; question answered.
- The school is tenaciously supportive of its entrepreneurs in ways that transcend curricular and co-curricular programs such as the Venture Initiation Program (seed money + office space) or the Venture Award (summer internship alternative where you can work on your business idea instead). For instance, the name plates that the school uses are made by a Wharton start up. Looking for student loan alternatives? The school suggests that you look no further than Common Bond, which was started by current MBA students who were allowed to defer their 2nd year to build their burgeoning enterprise. Need somewhere to stay? Wharton recommends The Rent Scene, another start up founded by class of ’14 member Marvis Burns.
- As an entrepreneur, you can negotiate with the school to give your classmates elective credit for working (pro bono) in your startup. Free-99 slave labor? Yes! You have my attention.
- The entrepreneurial community in Philly is apparently dominated by Wharton. Similar to what I’ve heard of Tuck, any “action” that takes place on the entrepreneurial front tends to be concentrated in and around Penn. This appears to be the upside to having a lot of activity occuring within one institution in a city where there is much less going on in that arena. This factoid definitley caught my attention. I hate being lost in a crowd.
- In addition to the entrepreneurship club, there is apparently a Founders Club just for people who are actively building companies (or have in the past). The group is very close knit and super intense. My kind of people indeed.
Motivational Beverages, Motown and Real Estate
During our first evening, my cohort of admits got to experience Pub, a long-standing social tradition at Wharton that generally takes place on Thursdays. I also picked up a new vocabulary term: “motivational beverages”. I got a hoot out of that.
While doing my research about a year ago I stumbled across this blog. I got to meet the main blogger, Motown, at the African American MBA Assoc (AAMBAA) happy hour. She somewhat retired after her hectic fall term got under way, but I got a lot out of her writings when she was active as an applicant.
During the entrepreneurship happy hour, I was able to meet a current student who is running a start up with a similar business model (SaaS-based data solutions) to that which I am interested in. That commonality made for a great conversation. I’ll be staying in contact with that dude regardless of where I end up attending.
Recently Wharton purchased a floor in a high rise not too far from campus. It provides additional meeting space for MBA students to meet for projects (I’ve heard the undergrads have been known to storm the meeting rooms at Huntsman). It also is a lot closer to Center City, where 99.9% of the MBA students live.
Finally, there’s this issue of the cold. Since all 3 of my potential schools are in famously cold cities (Philly, Boston, Chicago) I told myself some time ago that I’d need to get over my love of mild California weather. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind the freezing Philly weather at all as long as I had on the proper gear. I don’t know whether my tolerance has changed or I’m just really good at deluding myself, but yeah, I’ll take it either way.
*Oh and a big Shout Out to my boy B. Hoffman (Mr. Q50, 750GMAT), a fellow LA area admit who I ended up splitting hotel expenses with. Had a blast and I still contend that one of the welcome committee members was the most beautiful woman I’d seen in weeks.
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