Piyali Taparia (name changed) got into Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) with only 2 years of experience while applying. The strategy & operations consultant explains what it’s like to be an international student at Wharton. And the little known fact about how Wharton MBA students can get the benefits of STEM programs.
Life at Wharton MBA as an international student
Classroom experiences, placements, life after MBA
I am an ambitious person who is crazy determined and never willing to give up. Prior to my MBA, I worked in the product department of a retail company and felt that my growth was stagnated in absence of MBA.
My main concern when applying to business school was my low work experience and an unconventional background. I only had two years of experience when I was applying, and retail is not a conventional feeder to top business schools.
I also felt that I needed to prove to schools that I would be a success on the academic front if I were to be admitted since my education and work didn’t have quantitative elements. That is why I was determined to do well on my GMAT.
My MBA Applications
My score was 770 in the first attempt. I prepared for my GMAT for about 4 months alongside a very stressful and busy job. I think one of things that really helped was keeping GMAT at the back of my mind at every moment of the day. I was expecting at least a 750 and I was ecstatic with my actual score.
I applied to 5 schools – 4 in US and 1 in India. I applied to ISB since I was sure that I wanted to go to US only if I got an admit to a top school. In US, I applied to Harvard Business School (HBS), Wharton, Kellogg and Booth. My main criterion was applying to top schools which have resources in retail.
The most important thing that I found from interacting with current students and alumni was the culture of the school.
For example, I knew that I would not fit in well at a particular school even though it was highly ranked and had a great retail program because I didn’t enjoy the vibe of the people. I also realized that I want to be in a big city but as huge a city as New York or San Francisco.
I received an admit from Wharton, Booth (with $$$) and ISB. I was over the moon on getting through as I had an unconventional background and less than average work experience.
I chose Wharton because of its MBA ranking, proximity to retail hub (NYC) and strong retail courses.
Experience in the Wharton MBA class
Classroom experience internationally is very different from the classroom experience in India.
Class participation is a huge chunk of your grade and it is important to be vocal about your opinions in the class. So instead of just passively absorbing the lesson, I had to change my classroom behavior to be more active.
The classroom at Wharton is as diverse as it gets. Wharton makes substantial efforts to make sure that students are able to gel with each other – multiple parties, mixers, team building events and the formation of a curated diverse learning team are different ways in which the school helps you get over the initial awkwardness and gel with your classmates.
Day in the life of a Wharton Student
The day varies a lot – that’s the best thing about the program. You can be as busy or as free as you want.
Usually, you start your day with early morning classes, there is usually a club meeting or a lunch & learn during the lunch hours. Then you attend the afternoon classes and walk back home.
Evenings are for study groups, assignments, club meeting.
After wrapping up work, you can either relax at home, hang out with friends or head to an event or a party.
Internships / Placements at Wharton
Internship hunting start depends on the industry you are targeting. For conventional post MBA roles such as consulting and IB, networking sessions start about a couple of months after school starts (September/October).
For more niche roles, recruiting happens closer to the actual internship period. Wharton has a focused recruiting period (FRP) during which most of the traditional post-MBA companies hold interview.
Wharton is one of the only top schools to have a STEM major which translates into a 3-year work permit vs the 1 year work permit which all graduate students get (barring few exceptions).
To qualify for the STEM major, you need to major in either Business Analytics or Statistics. The specific STEM majors are declared every year.
There are a bunch of resources when it comes to recruiting. There are career management staff who handle specific industries and are a great source of information about the interviews.
There are also focused groups for interview practice and most professional clubs take advantage of 2nd year students to mentor the 1st year MBAs.
Since I was recruiting for retail which is an unconventional industry, my interviews were spread throughout the semester.
There are many retail companies ranging from luxury houses like Dior and Armani to mass retailers like Walmart that recruit at Wharton for roles ranging from operations to strategy to marketing.
The entire MBA experience at Wharton was quite enjoyable and a great learning experience.
Over the two years, I realized that the MBA experience is defined by networking and the two years are best spent in forging both life-long deep friendships and building a network of acquaintances.
Life after Wharton MBA
As a strategy and operations consultant, I work in the supply chain department of a retail startup.
MBA lessons are definitely helpful in streamlining operations and establishing KPIs. But what you need to learn on the job are the intricacies involved with each company.
Outside of work, I love traveling and reading. In the past couple of years, I have traveled to 5 different continents.
I love reading both fiction and non-fiction books and I am currently enjoying an amazing biography of Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Issacson.
The good thing about Wharton MBA is that it a global brand so it helps in geographic flexibility.
I truly believe that the Wharton MBA experience was completely worth it.
It is important to have a clear vision for why you want to get an MBA. Different people have different priorities and it is important to take those into account before taking this decision.
Advice for Wharton aspirants – figure out what makes Wharton special for you and communicate that emotion effectively in the essays. Be likeable and pass the airport test.
About the author: The writer is an admissions consultant with MBA Crystal Ball. She has helped many applicants get into the elite programs. If you’d like her to be your mentor during your MBA application journey, drop us an email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
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