Second Year, Second Life: Overhauling My Wharton MBA Experience (Plus Tips For Your Application)

The disappointment was unexpected. This time last year, I was wrapping up the first semester of my MBA. The enthusiasm I’d once expressed to my colleagues, friends, and family was seemingly running dry. Instead, I found myself overwhelmed most days, unmotivated at times, and downright scared in-between. 

Why does this matter? I’m a first-generation Cabo Verdean American with a non-traditional career in advertising who grew up in a low income family. My background doesn’t come with a template for navigating the intense transition into a graduate degree. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. I came across a diverse community of fellow Wharton MBAs who were also striving to adjust (even when it felt I was the only one). My initial disappointment in business school – and these supportive conversations – offered me an opportunity to reflect and realign my motivation for being at Wharton in the first place.

One second-year friend suggested that re-reading my admission essays could help fine-tune my focus. When I did, I saw where my first semester may have taken a wrong turn. I sacrificed my passions to do what I thought would mold me into a true MBA. I was stretching myself too much in my first semester and not doing enough to build on my natural strengths.

It has been gratifying to see how the tides have turned in my second year. In just a couple semesters, I have a renewed motivation through my experiences traveling the world with my classmates, connecting with marketing professors Cait Lamberton and Barbar Kahn as an undergraduate marketing TA, and executing engaging programming as an officer in affinity and professional clubs. Each change was inspired by a goal I set in my Wharton application. Two years ago, I had a GRE test date to prepare for, an essay strategy to nail, and two handfuls of MBA programs submissions to complete. I’d like to think that version of me would be incredible thrilled at my progress. 

Some P&Q readers may find themselves in a similar boat, preparing Round 2 submissions due in less than 30 days. You’re likely asking yourself many of the questions I was – namely, why am I doing this and where will it take me? Perhaps you are feeling stress, though I hope you are also feeling electric. There is no telling how the applications you prepare today will fuel you in the future. Allow me to share a few tactical tips that get you through some last mile logistics, and make room for your imagination. 

University of Pennsylvania students on Locust Walk on the Wharton campus. Courtesy photo


By the time I had to put pen to paper for my essay, the substantive conversations I enjoyed with Wharton students and alumni had grown fuzzy. Caught up in each conversation, I’d forgotten to write things down. I could recall the ‘essence’ but not the specifics – a little unhelpful given I had to answer the expected “Why Wharton” prompt. Knowing December can be a hard time to get on any person’s calendar, I supplemented my memory with the wealth of Wharton’s online resources. 

Particularly, I found it helpful to browse the websites for Black At Wharton (AAMBAA), Wharton African Student Association, and Wharton Women In Business club organizations. All of these are relevant to my identity and gave me a sense of the kind of conversations my potential peers were having on campus. In my Wharton essay, I credited the respective student leaders I’d connected with, while adding in specific details about programming I could organize using my existing network that would benefitmy classmates. 

You might find it similarly useful to supplement any conversation by digging into a club social page, reviewing a conference agenda, or giving a student podcast a listen (Black At Wharton/AAMBAA and Wharton Women In Business both launched podcasts in the last year). 


My list of target schools was quite long. Around the Thanksgiving holiday, I realized time was not as generous as my ambition. Certain top priorities became clear upon reflection and I changed my application strategy. These two steps can help you manage your time against your own ambition as well:

A) Remove programs. I had a list of twelve schools, including an international program and some in the Midwest. Staying state-side, preferably on the East Coast, was a better option given my long-term goals. Prioritizing my list accordingly gave me a sharper focus and preserved my energy for the marathon ahead. 

B) Delay submission. Falling short of my target GRE score put a strain on my admission timeline. I had to choose between completing all of my newly-prioritized applications or giving the GRE one more chance. Opting to take the test on Dec 21, 2020, I further refined my school list to identify programs that were better fits for round three. The choice to delay a couple submissions reinforced my strategy of preserving energy and sustaining momentum. It also helped me stay laser focused on programs like Wharton, which met more of my immediate and long-term goals. A candidate in a comparable circumstance might find splitting applications across rounds to be equally beneficial. 

The Wharton School’s Huntsman Hall. Courtesy photo


If you have more than four programs, there are ways to streamline your work. Here is how I chose to do so in my own process:

A) Create an essay matrix. In an Excel sheet, I wrote out every essay prompt for all of my target schools and then grouped them by theme. Visualizing the prompts in one place allowed me to see I was not writing 22 separate entries, but rather addressing six essay categories I could then tweak per individual submission. Once I knew my six subcategories, I wrote them on large notecards and taped them to my bedroom wall. I would take 10-15 minutes throughout the day to jot an idea or reflection on a sticky note which I then placed onto the taped notecard. The process matched my learning and working style perfectly, making essay-writing more enjoyable than laborious. 

B) Submit using the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management common application. If you have a demonstrated commitment to underrepresented African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in business management, you may qualify to submit a joint application for Consortium-aligned MBA programs. The Consortium allows you to rank up to six programs for the opportunity to be named a Consortium Fellow (gaining access to their network and yearly conference), as well as being a potential tuition scholarship recipient. You’d have to take time to further review the specific qualifications, relevant MBA programs, and application details to know if this could be a fit for you. In my case, it was perfectly aligned with my background in a creative industry DEI organization (ADCOLOR) and allowed me to further streamline several of my program submissions. 

Michelle Almeida (WG’23)


The best application is the one you’re ready to complete. As you move toward the submission deadline, continuously reflect and consider whether this round or even this cycle is the right time for YOU. It is possible to pause your process. The pause could open a door to helpful preparation programs like MLT MBA Prep, Admit.Me Access, and Forté MBALaunch, whose resources may strengthen your admission strategy. 

It took me three years to brace myself for the MBA process. I questioned my readiness again when I took the GRE with Round 2 closing two weeks later. As an older candidate, I wasn’t sure delaying another year was optimal. A better move for me was to trust in the work I had put in under the guidance of my MLT Coach (James Frick) and forge ahead. Friends, meanwhile, chose to wait for Round 1 the next cycle. Others chose to step away completely for an exciting career move they’d been planning. Anything goes, so long as you’re tending to your specific needs and are inspired by your specific goals.  

Time will fly as you race toward submission deadlines but, fingers-crossed, so can your imagination. Your preparation, motivation, and excitement will carry you in these next several weeks—hopefully, my process tips ready you for any snags along the way. 

Michelle Almeida [WG’23] transitioned to the Wharton School from a career supporting retail, beauty, and wellness brands execute culturally-informed communication plans. At Wharton, Michelle is involved as a Leadership Fellow, a Conversations That Matter facilitator, AAMBAA’s Chief of Staff, Wharton Women in Business’s VP of Thought Leadership (Podcast), Wharton Graduate Retail Club’s VP of Community, and a Marketing Undergraduate TA. Michelle is a middle daughter, a first-gen Cabo Verdean American, and a Libra.

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