Wharton Wisdom: Expectations vs. Reality At Wharton

Wharton students. Courtesy photo

In high school, I was always intrigued by the idea of studying business, particularly because of its large-scale, real-world applications. After my exposure to Economics and Statistics classes, I was certain that going to business school was the right path for me.

After touring the University of Pennsylvania, I fell in love with the campus and everything it had to offer—from access to the city of Philadelphia to a world-class education—and decided to apply Early Decision.  After all of the research I had done, I assumed I had some semblance of an understanding of what the next four years would have in store for me. However, my experience at Wharton has defied my expectations about what my business education would entail in more ways than one. Here are four areas where the Wharton reality differs sharply from what I initially believed.

1) I will spend all of my free time doing schoolwork. Using my high school experience as a reference point— long school days, sports practices, and hours of homework every day— I assumed that I would inevitably drown in my work at a school like Wharton. I imagined spending hours in class and late nights at the library, with little time for much else. Much to my surprise, I found myself in class just a few hours a day, four days a week, with an extremely manageable workload despite taking the maximum amount of course units allowed.

What I didn’t understand before starting school at Wharton was how much emphasis would be placed on learning opportunities outside of the classroom, such as becoming involved in student organizations, going to guest speakers, exploring Philly, and getting to know my peers and professors. I truly believe that I have extracted just as much value from the extracurricular opportunities and activities offered at Penn as I have from my coursework, and I am grateful to have ample time to focus on both.

Ana Singhal

2) Wharton will be cutthroat and competitive. I imagined that the Wharton environment would be unforgiving, with my peers being highly competitive with one another. However, my desire to learn among a bright, driven, and diverse student body ultimately trumped this fear. While I had my doubts coming in, I found the culture to be incredibly collaborative, supportive, and constructive from my first day on campus. Group work has been a key component of every class I have taken so far and forming study groups with my classmates has been key in our pursuits of academic success.

Of all of the aspects of Wharton I have come to experience, my favorite is the very strong “pay it forward” mentality that exists here. For example, at the beginning of my freshman year, I was paired with upperclassmen mentors through some of my clubs. These upperclassmen were always there to answer my questions and help me while I was getting acclimated to Penn and Wharton, whether that was by simply offering to grab lunch with me or helping me pick my classes. Despite my initial fears about Wharton’s environment, I can now happily say I have never felt anything other than supported, motivated, and encouraged by my peers.

3) Everyone will come in with in-depth business knowledge. Before coming to Wharton, the only prior taste of business I had was my high school Economics class. As a result, I wondered if my admission to Wharton was a fluke; everyone else would have had their own start-up or already understand the ins-and-outs of investing. I was relieved to find out that I was not alone. I quickly learned that no one had taken the same path or had the same reasons for coming to Wharton.

Some of my classmates came from halfway across the world because they were excited by Wharton’s Social Impact and Responsibility concentration. Others grew up in the Philly suburbs and hoped to work in marketing after graduation. Business knowledge was not a requirement to get into Wharton, considering the vast diversity in the backgrounds, experiences, and interests of my classmates. However, it became clear to me that being a self-motivated and passionate individual was an absolute necessity here.

4) Everyone will know what they want to do with their lives. My biggest fear going into Wharton was that I would be the only person who had not already decided what I wanted to do after graduation. After taking Wharton 101 during my freshman fall, I became aware of how many opportunities Wharton had to offer and how much time and flexibility I had to explore all of them. Wharton’s Business Fundamentals classes allows students to leave no area of business unexplored, including courses from almost every Wharton department, including Finance, Business Economics and Public Policy, and Legal Studies. Upon learning that a concentration was comprised of just four upper-level courses, I realized that there was no reason to be scared of the number of choices I had. I should be excited by them instead.

While there was a clear dissonance between my expectations of what my time at Wharton would entail and reality, each difference was for the better. Wharton has provided me with more amazing opportunities and experiences than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot imagine being happier anywhere else.

My name is Ana Singhal and I am a sophomore at the Wharton School from Columbus, Indiana. I have yet to decide on a concentration, but have particularly enjoyed studying Statistics, Marketing, and Health Care Management so far. On campus, I am involved in Wharton Ambassadors, Wharton Women, and am a research assistant. In my free time, I enjoy running and exploring Philly.


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