MBA Journal: B-School Update

MBA Journal: The Three Pillars


For any fans of science fiction who have spent their lives wishing that time travel did indeed exist, I offer business school as a close approximation. I cannot believe I’m already one-quarter of the way through my time at Wharton. I say that in both a “Boy, does time fly!” kind of way and a “There’s no way that any one human being could’ve done so much in so little time” kind of way, with emphasis on the latter. I’ll attempt to distill a concentrated semester into a too-brief journal entry, touching on the three pillars of any B-school student’s life: social, academic, and (cue the dramatic timpani roll) recruiting.

My time at Wharton has thus far been an exercise in volume. My calendar is absurd: There’s very little white space, and any given hour represents three or four things jockeying for my time and attention. It’s equal parts maddening and exhilarating. I’ve never in my life been this busy, but I’ve also never been this productive. I came to Wharton with goals, both personal and professional, and one goal that bridged these two was the desire to make decisions more quickly and confidently, even (and especially) when I don’t have all the information I’d like. Something as simple as managing my schedule or e-mail inbox has been a great tool to this end, as I’ve had to decide really quickly whether something is in line with my ultimate plans here and how to fit it in among everything else going on.

On the social side, one thing I’m very glad I made time for was a trip to Arches National Park in Utah. Seventeen lunatics (under the fearless guidance of our Head Lunatic, Tommy, who formed the trip via Facebook) spent the weekend hiking, camping, and introducing the Brazilian students to s’mores. Highlights: finding wild animal tracks by our tents in the morning, originally attributed to a lion and a two-legged pig (actually a cougar and a deer—zoologists we are not). Lowlights: briefly losing (O.K., leaving) dear Dri at our campsite after the passengers of both cars assumed she was in the other. Takeaway: Most of us didn’t know each other before arriving at the airport, and now we each have 16 new friends.

This is the kind of trip that, between my busy school schedule and the rising pressure of recruiting, I could have easily turned down. But I’m so happy I didn’t. An interesting duality of being in business school is that I’ve been encouraged to take advantage of more opportunities like this, to stretch my horizons and say yes to more, even as it becomes more challenging to do so.

HEAD-SCRATCHING OVER EBITDA

As for the academics, I’m taking the full core (meaning I didn’t waive any of the required classes, though I pushed one class to the spring for a little breathing room), so my update is less about choices made and more about progress made. A brief tour through my first semester: statistics, accounting, marketing, microeconomics, communications, ethics, strategy, operations, and the hilariously named Manpaw [Management of People at Work]. A good balance of individual and group work provides opportunities to see which skills come easily and to beef up areas that need development once you’ve identified them.

I’m delighted to report that it turns out this ol’ gal has more quant in her than she thought. I had this nightmare that Wharton would be all acronyms and things I didn’t understand, and while I’ve certainly been left scratching my head over Ebitda or available-for-sale marketable securities, it’s important to remember that nobody comes to business school because they already know everything. They come here to learn.

Another opportunity I’m glad I seized was joining Wharton’s Welcome Committee. Along with 23 other first-year students, I’ll be leading two weekends of events for hundreds of newly admitted students, which is particularly exciting for me because attending Winter Welcome Weekend last year helped me decide to come here. I can’t wait to pay it forward, and I already got a brief preview when I called five unsuspecting applicants and let them know they had been accepted (these were very fun phone calls to make).

To complete the hat trick, I will briefly touch on recruiting. As I type out the word, a dull throb builds in my head. My vision blurs. I feel an itching sensation in that part of my back I just can’t reach. I exaggerate only slightly. As someone with a lifelong cover letter/formal job interview tally of exactly zero, I’ve found the process more than mildly anxiety-provoking. I’m coming up against the plusses and minuses of my nontraditional background, just as when I applied to business school: Being different helps me stand out, but it also means I have to work a little harder to show I can get the job done.

The job, incidentally, will be one in marketing, which contains shades of what I was doing before Wharton, to be sure, but topped off with big, thick, quantitatively rigorous layers I’ll need to prove I can handle. At this point, it’s not the actual job I’m worried about; it’s the application process. My instinct is to be selective about where I apply, but the reality is that it’s a hugely competitive environment, so a decent argument can be made for casting a wider net. Applications are due soon, so I’m calling my enhanced decision-making skills up for duty, big time.

Overall, I’ve loved my first semester at Wharton. I can’t believe how seamless the transition back to school in a new city with new people has been. Time to get back to my cover letters—here’s hoping I have some good news to share next time.

Between journal entries, you can keep track of Lindsay’s business school adventures at the Business Schools Facebook page. Follow the Bloomberg Businessweek B-Schools team on Twitter.

Lindsay_miller
Lindsay Miller is a second-year MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Before business school, Miller was an editor at Lifetime Television. In addition, an ad she created for Dove Body Wash won a national competition and aired in front of about 40 million people watching the Oscars.

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