A Five Star Experience: Wharton’s Winter Welcome Weekend

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.

Tables Turned

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.

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