You know it costs to be the boss
One day you'll run the town
For now make your life what you decide
Baby, party 'til the fire marshals shut this sucker down
1Y (the beloved Wharton abbreviation for first year students) was a whirlwind. This is part one of two of my recap of my first year as a full-time student since 2015.
Where do I start?
Affectionately known in layman's terms as "orientation." Three weeks of getting to know your Cluster, your Cohort, and your Learning Team. I won't bore you with the details of the program itself (you can find those on the website if you're curious), but, I will mention the difference between the three groups I just mentioned. Wharton has a huge MBA program (~850 people per class), so they break the mass down into three subgroups.
Your cluster is a group of ~200 - shout out to my fellow Cluster 2 Dragons, dracarys gang make noise. Cluster Olympics, Cluster mid-year and year-end celebrations, and a number of other academic, social, and professional initiatives are driven and held by each cluster's executive board.
Your cohort is a group of ~60 students you take all of your mandatory core classes with, unless you're a genius and you test out of them. The vast majority, myself included, took every core class. Not going to say Cohort E was the best to ever do it, but, I'm not going to say we weren't either...some of my favorite, and honestly, silliest, memories from my first semester surround the Word of the Day game I played with my cluster every MGEC (managerial economics, pronounced "magic") class. The game: one person, any person, would drop a word of the day in the Slack channel before class (example: giraffe). Credit to any student who successfully used the word in a sentence or a question while participating during class. Bonus for anyone who could get the professor to say the word either in response or generally speaking. Difficult subjects call for significant morale boosts, and we got more than a few boosts out of that game this past fall. Pictured below: the best, most hilarious MGEC professor, hands down, no contest, who indulged us in our shenanigans 9 times out of 10.
Your learning team is a group of ~6 who ideally serve as your home base for core class study sessions, leadership development class team activities, and more depending on the relationship the group develops. I'm grateful for the initial bond I shared with The Goof Troop (my learning team's name) and for every time we had to do the banana dance during MGMT610, the first class you take during orientation, because I was late to class. My bad.
I moved to Philly in June, well before almost all of my classmates. Although I was still technically a paid employee through the end of that month, I knew the well would eventually run dry. So, I picked up an old side gig and a new one: babysitting and pet sitting, in that order. I've been a babysitter on and off since high school. Most of those jobs were long-term opportunities, some were one-off, and almost all were sourced through Care.com.
I found once I got to Philly, however, that pet sitting was an avenue I hadn't previously considered that killed two birds with one stone: spare change and puppy cuddles. All of the dogs and cats I did drop-ins for, took on walks, or dog sat in my own apartment, I found on rover.com. I did eventually adopt a dog of my own, but, I'd strongly encourage any pet lovers moving to a new city (especially those that will be living alone) to either consider fostering pets if you're in a more financially fluid position or pet sitting if you're looking for a paid opportunity.
The Meat & Potatoes
Now, for the actual "school" part of business school. There are a lot of similarities between undergrad and full-time graduate school programs. Most of these are steeped in the physical aspects of the experience:
Libraries are always full (even if you and/or the other students in your program don't always use them)
Study rooms are very much so a thing for group projects, which are also very much so still a thing
Extracurricular activities are big and you can always find at least one club or organization holding an event or conference at any given time
Campus is still a bubble; in this case, since MBA students don't live on-campus, that bubble consists of the main Wharton building (Huntsman Hall), 2401 (an off-campus space accessible to Wharton students), and Rittenhouse Square, a neighborhood in central Philly where most Wharton students live
You still have to declare a major within the broader program, even if you don't define it until right before graduation
Core requirements are still steeped in math; economics, statistics, finance, accounting - all key tenets of business that many who don't work in these fields don't realize are mathematically-driven
You wear a backpack and playground clothes on a daily basis again
Take the above with a grain of salt, there's a high probability that my calculations aren't even right, but, I needed an example. I tried with that class, y'all.
Some of the differences I experienced are also physical, but there are plenty that are specific to the course load itself and the class composition:
Students are, for the most part, years into their careers. The class discussion is lively and always active because everyone actively chose to be there and has professional experience that directly relates to the topic at hand. The program is not a basic requirement to attain a certain level of professional opportunity, it's an environment that primes students to launch themselves to the next phase of their career
Professors are generally very funny and/or sarcastic in addition to being near geniuses in their fields; makes for fun classes on average
You get a fancy name plate that you use for every class
I'm sure there are some items I'm forgetting, but, the key takeaway is: graduate school is different. Graduate school differs even more drastically by school, by program (MBA vs. MA vs. MS, etc.), and, of course, by person. You make your own experience, especially at a school as large as, and with as many opportunities as, the University of Pennsylvania.
Been Around the World And I, I, I...
"All business school students do is travel." Well, that can't be true in my case since I can count on one hand the number of times I left the city of Philadelphia during my first semester. When I did travel, I must say the experiences were always unforgettable. From visiting Montreal for the first time for a Fall Break girls' trip to living our absolute best lives in Colombia (gon' 'head and click the link if you missed the photo diary) for Thanksgiving break, I had a lot of fun and created a lot of memories - the good, the bad, the embarrassing, and everything in between.
Most of my non-partying extracurricular activities occurred during Q2: second quarter, the latter half of the fall semester. I spent a lot of Q1 getting my bearings and skipping gatherings and parties here and there to protect my peace and calm the overwhelm of being back in school. I didn't attend Cluster Olympics, or the notorious Out4Biz annual White Party, major recruiting events, or a number of other activities I'm probably forgetting simply because I wasn't there. I did try to crawl out of that shell more after Thanksgiving. I guess the turkey was rejuvenating.
A few of my favorite experiences that were outside of my standard zone of comfort included two small group dinners (one on mental health and one on feminism), a Tour of East Asia event co-hosted by multiple cultural affinity groups, and a PropTech conference in New York. In case that all sounds like insider speak:
What's a small group dinner? Essentially, it is what the title claims it is verbatim. Sometimes clubs and organizations will host them so members can get to know each other on a more intimate scale. These usually have themes or topics of discussion to break the inevitably awkward ice that forms when you put a bunch of people who don't know each other into a room or restaurant together. The term can also be used for groups that get together over dinner at times that aren't planned by an overarching formal body.
What did the tour of East Asia consist of? We learned how to make kimbap, zongzi, and bubble tea. We tasted sake. And we otherwise just had a good time.
What is PropTech even? I had no idea PropTech was an industry before I got to Wharton and now, it's adjacent to what I *think* I want to do after school: something amazing at the intersection of affordable housing, future of mobility, and architectural design. Technological advancements plus real estate management and development equals PropTech (property technology). It's a budding industry offshoot of the real estate industry, and I wanted to learn more about what opportunities in the space might look like. Examples include: remote rental property management systems, smart home technology, and the "hotelification" of rental properties. After seeing an announcement in the Wharton Real Estate Club newsletter, I went to a PropTech conference in NYC by myself to do just that. The conference was held concurrently with NYC Real Estate Tech Week at the Williamsburg Hotel. Made a few connections and learned about wellness tech, yet another branch of real estate and workplace technology that piqued my interest.
Don't Forget Where You Came From
A lot of advice I received before coming to Wharton, from both current students and faculty (especially those within the black community) included the same nugget of wisdom: "don't forget the people who stood by you as you worked your butt off to get to this place and who will likely stand by you long after you leave."
I could've called more, could've texted more, could've asked how people were really doing more often. But I also gave a lot of physical time and presence to being there for some truly special moments that I wouldn't have missed for the world and I'm glad I did.
I'm also grateful for those who took the time to come make my new city and experience feel a little bit more familiar.
To avoid this post turning into a novel, I'll leave you with a few photos of #hectichuntsmanhall, some of my Wharton family cleaning up nice, and a promise to share my second semester updates soon.
Thank you, as always, for reading!