Win at all cost.
Winner takes all.
Look out for #1.
That’s how some people picture business school. Here, it is the Law of the Jungle and Survival of the Fittest. Dog-eat-dog and kill-or-be-killed. Your classmates are your competitors, so always be on guard.
Every large, urban MBA program gets tagged as “cutthroat.” That includes the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Based in Philadelphia, the Wharton School is the largest full-time MBA program in the United States with 916 students in the Class of 2022 alone. The business school can trace its roots back to 1881, an Ivy that emerged as a finance and management powerhouse. With that come the usual stereotypes: stuffy, entitled, judgmental. Funny thing is, you won’t find those types roaming Huntsman Hall. That’s because the Wharton School weeds those candidates out early in the application process. Instead, they favor applicants who possess a rather unique skill set: respect, flexibility, persuasiveness, and humility.
In a word, Wharton seeks team players.
MEASURING WHO YOU ARE OVER WHAT YOU CAN DO
That’s one reason for Wharton’s increasingly-legendary Team-Based Discussion (TBD). Now held virtually, the TBD is simple enough on the surface: four-member teams are given a scenario with a half hour to come together to formulate a pitch to Wharton staff and students. Alas, the exercise is less about the pitch and more about the process. The TBD assesses candidates on how they harness the talents of their peers, adopt roles, piece together ideas, and make decisions. It rewards the prospective students who find that balance between standing out as an individual and fitting in with equally-talented peers. And it punishes the showboats who lord the stage and elbow peers to the side.
This sense of support and sharing – being it time or expertise (or even yielding the spotlight) – is something that set Wharton students apart for Anisha Mocherla, a 2020 MBA grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA.
“Before I came to Wharton, I heard that it could be a competitive environment,” she admits. “I have never experienced that at Wharton. My classmates are some of the most collaborative and friendly people I’ve met. We are all driven and invested in each other’s success. Whether it is a friend dropping off food when I was sick or an acquaintance staying up late in the evening to help me understand a course concept, the Wharton family has been there for me through the thick and thin.”
EXCELLENCE ACROSS THE BOARD
That spirit has quickly been taken up by the Class of 2022 too says Sabrina Jean-Baptiste, a Yale and Goldman Sachs alum. “My classmates are exceptionally talented, driven, and successful, but what struck me the most about them is how kind, supportive, and authentic they are. People are constantly going above and beyond to help and support one another as we begin the next two years of our journey of personal and professional growth. Building a strong sense of community in a predominately virtual environment is no easy feat, but I’m inspired by how intentional and driven my peers have been in doing just that.”
Of course, being part of the Wharton School can be intimidating. Just think of the scale. The school houses over 5,000 students – including the top-ranked undergraduate business school. Think 450 faculty members and nearly 100,000 alumni in over 150 countries. Prestige-wise, Wharton is a household name – ranking as the top MBA program in the United States according to U.S. News. The faculty is packed with thought leaders who expose students to the most cutting edge research. A generation ago, the Wharton School pioneered healthcare and entrepreneurship education. Today, it is a leader in FinTech and analytics. According to business school deans and MBA directors, the program ranks among the elite in nearly every possible concentration: Finance, Marketing, Real Estate, Analytics, Entrepreneurship, General Management, International Business, And Operations.
And the school even runs its own business radio station on XM!
IF IT SCARES YOU, IT HAS TO BE RIGHT
On top of that, Wharton MBAs are studying alongside some of the most accomplished young professionals in the world – classmates who are “incredibly smart, passionate, and purposeful in everything that they do,” writes first-year Clark Brown Jr. That’s one reason why Wharton students often describe the program as “scary.” It offers the best of everything – bringing out the best in themselves and everyone around them.
Overcoming this fear – and pursuing their potential and purpose – is exactly why MBAs have joined the ranks of Wharton MBAs for generations. “I chose Wharton because it scared me,” writes Anisha Mocherla. “The sheer size of the class, the distance from California, and the breadth opportunities were all outside my comfort zone. I wanted an MBA experience that would push me and I knew I would find it at Wharton. The school embraces a student-driven culture; it does not prescribe you an experience. As a student, you are responsible for creating your own path. I knew it would be one of the most rewarding, but challenging experiences. I could not pass on this opportunity.”
This leap of faith also requires something you would expect to see from ambitious future CEOs, financiers, and opinion shapers: vulnerability. “At Wharton, we regularly talk about the power of leaning into the things that scare you most: the “stretch” experiences,” explains Kayo Shonibare, a human capital consultant from Deloitte who joined the Class of 2022. “As a result, the activities that excite me are the ones that force me out of my comfort zone. For example, next week I’m participating in Storytellers, a club where students share a personal story with hundreds of their classmates.”
RAISING $100 MILLION TO FIGHT COVID
Indeed, the Class of 2022 is not what you’d expect. Take Sabrina Jean-Baptiste, an investment banker who describes herself as a “queer, first-generation daughter of Haitian immigrants.” Her classmates include Angad Guglani, who started his first business selling watch parts as a teenager – sometimes making a $1,000 profit or more per watch. Since then, the self-made Guglani has moved into real estate, starting his own development company to revitalize an impoverished Camden, New Jersey. In the end, he was able to grow his business, Cooper Square Acquisitions, to 100 properties before entering business school.
“I started CSA with 1 single-family house in 2016 with no outside investors, just personal savings from my prior businesses and a lot of passion. At the time, the goal of reaching 100 properties seemed wildly ambitious, and frankly impossible. However, through some innovative buying techniques, a healthy dose of leverage, and a strong real estate market, we were able to exceed this goal.”
Indeed, you won’t just find bankers and brokers at the Wharton School. Iris Liu was a founding member of Amazon Webservices’ Web Application Firewall security team. In the U.S. Marines, William Rene’ Roberts headed up research and assessment with the Marine Expeditionary Force. André Mota is earning a joint MBA-JD. Before returning to school, he launched a non-profit that fostered on leadership development – one that recently earned a million dollar commitment from the Gates Foundation. However, Mota isn’t the only member of the 2022 Class with fundraising prowess. Just look at Lakshmi Davey, who headed up GiveDirectly’s Project 100, which supplied emergency grants to low income Americans during COVID-19.
“We raised over $100 million in two months from philanthropists like Jack Dorsey, MacKenzie Scott, and Rihanna,” Davey explains. “We were able to scale our operations quickly and were distributing over $10 million each week to recipients around the country. Knowing that I could do something to make people’s lives better during this crazy time made lockdown much more meaningful and bearable.”
JUST A FEW MORE STEPS…
Shawn Dye comes to Wharton looking to become a brand manager. It was a process that began in 2nd grade, when a second grade teacher dismissed him as someone who’d never amount to anything after failing a series of spelling tests. The first generation student took it as a challenge, earning a degree at Stanford. Despite his academic accolades, Dye struggled to find an opening into his dream company: Google. One reason: he used his legal name, Rashawn, on his resume. A year later, he changed it to Shawn, a decision that resulted in an offer…and a purpose for his career.
“With this experience in tow, I knew that I was uniquely positioned to be a leader within staffing by challenging hiring biases and getting hiring managers to think holistically about candidates –while ensuring that others wouldn’t experience what I went through as an applicant,” he explains. “I’m proud that I’ve had the opportunity to make Google a more diverse and inclusive workplace through my work as a recruiter and as a diversity specialist. I helped change hiring attitudes for one of my client organizations by getting hiring managers to think outside of playing musical chairs with internal candidates (an already homogenous applicant pool) and not only hire externally, but actively participate in diversity-focused events to build pipeline for underrepresented talent.”
That’s not the only defining event for the Class of 2022. Celiwe Kawa, who launched a foundation to fight sexual assault in her native South Africa, considers her hike to Mount Everest Base Camp to be her moment of truth.
“Simply deciding to do the trek and planning for it was a stretch experience for me. Once I was trekking, it is one of the hardest things I have ever done as I suffered from mild altitude sickness symptoms almost the whole way. At some points, I would challenge myself to simply take ten more steps then ten more steps after that. It taught me that I should push myself out of my comfort zone more and the value of breaking up a big task into smaller steps.”
* To read 13 in-depth profiles of Wharton first-years, go to page 3.
* To read our new interview with Wharton Admissions Director Blair Mannix, go to page 2.
* To see profile data on the Class of 2021, go to page 2.