Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Interview with 1st Year Student in the Wharton MBA Program

I am pleased to offer the following interview with a current 1st year student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

1. Looking back on the way you prepared for the MBA, is there anything you would change? Anything you would have done more of or less of?

I should have put less effort on TOEFL and more on GMAT from the beginning. I spent 04/2012-06/2012 for TOEFL prep, and didn’t touch on GMAT and essays until I got 110. As a result, I had to take GMAT and write essays simultaneously, which made the application process even more stressful.

Also, your resume should be unique enough to catch admission officers’ attention, especially if you’re from a traditional background (e.g. i-banking or consulting) or have a shorter career. This is also true when you recruit for a summer internship. Thus, even if you’re going to quit the firm at the point of MBA admission, I strongly recommend you to put 100% of your energy and effort into your current job.

2. Can you write a bit about a course that you have really enjoyed or benefitted from?

If I have to pick one, it is Negotiation by Prof. Stuart Diamond (his bio is available here.)

I don’t want to talk a lot about this course as it might give some things away and so you wouldn’t have as much fun, but this course will change the way you communicate with people not only in business situations but also in your day-to-day lives. The course is composed of 100% role-play, and you’re required to negotiate in real life as assignments. It’s an intense ‘learning by doing’ opportunity. I learned a lot about my communication style as well as others.

(You can get a sense of what you learn in the lectures from a book called Getting More, published by the professor himself. However, the book and the course are completely different learning opportunities, though the contents are very similar.)

3. Have you had the time to get involved in any extra-curricular activities? If so, what are they and what role have you assumed in these groups?

I got involved in organizing the Japan Trek, one of the biggest student-led treks at Wharton in which we invited about 150 students/partners to Japan during spring break. My role was the VP of Finance and Marketing/Communication. I learned a lot about my management style.

Another significant extra-curricular activity was the Battle of the Band, a rock band competition among students. I formed a band with 5 Americans and played the drums. It was quite a stretch experience to perform in front of 700 people.

4. What have your experiences been like in learning/project teams? 

At Wharton, you get assigned to a learning team during pre-term period, and keep working in the same team for the most of core classes in the first fall semester. My learning team has been in exceptionally good shape, in terms of performance (e.g. we won the business plan competition during pre-term) and relationship (we still have learning team dinners periodically). To be honest, not every learning team ends up with a lasting friendship, but due to our mutual respect and frequent communication, we’ve built trust, and it has been a great pleasure to be a part of it.

In flex core/elective courses, you need to find team members by yourselves. You’d better consider who to team up rather than just work with friends. Different people have different areas of interest, and your friends may be less motivated than you are. This deprives you of quality learning, particularly when the course is project-oriented. For example, when I took a course called Entrepreneurship, in which students were required to build and pitch a business idea as a team, I regretted that I formed a team with friends who didn’t know a thing about my personal area of interest, from which we built the idea.

5. What's it like living in Philadelphia?

Philly is a self-contained city. Although it’s the 5th biggest city in the US, it’s totally different from New York, Tokyo or other metropolises. People don’t have to get a car as everything is within walking distance, and public transportation is available. Every time you take a little walk, you bump into your classmates. It feels like you’re in a bubble. 

I worried about the safety issues before I moved to Philly, but I and my wife have never experienced anything dangerous so far, even late at night. I don’t think it’s very different from other cities. 

Speaking about my wife, she gave birth to our daughter at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 03/2014. It is one of the best OB/GY and childcare hospitals in this country, so if you’re considering having a baby or raising a child during the MBA, Philly could be the ideal place.

6. Can you share your plans for the summer?

I’m going to spend 6 weeks doing buyout at a bank in New York, and then for the rest of the summer I’ll be in Tokyo to take part in a tech start-up.

7. Can you offer any words of advice for those applying to the MBA program you are enrolled in?

Set your goals, do research, visit B schools, meet a lot of alumni, and apply to schools you feel fit with. It’s very important to do so for keeping your motivation during the application process as well as for focusing on what you want to get out of the 2 years.

Thanks very much for your time! 

John Couke