This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Ashley Wells, a first-year student at Wharton.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What was your most recent pre-MBA job?
Ashley: I have spent the last eight years living in Washington, DC, first to pursue my undergraduate degree in Political Science at The George Washington University and staying after undergrad to work in Deloitte Consulting’s Federal Practice. Although I grew up in Tampa, Florida and live for sunshine and the beach, I had an inherent love of government and politics which brought me to DC. Ultimately, this passion has transitioned into a broader realization that I love making an impact on people and communities around me, and I find that business can present profound solutions to social problems in addition to government.
In my career, I had some really interesting experiences learning about and trying to solve some of our country’s challenges alongside my clients. Working on issues such as reducing military suicides, tracking and protecting Department of Homeland Security personnel in the Middle East, and providing nutritious food to the one in five children who suffer from hunger in the United States were just a few of the challenges that brought me to work every day. I also had the opportunity to work in Deloitte’s Hong Kong practice, which is a very new joint venture between Deloitte US and Hong Kong. This “start-up” environment within the framework of a massive company enabled me to see the excitements and challenges that are innate to forming a company’s market presence from the ground-up.
Accepted: Can you tell us about Forte’s MBALaunch program? How did you decide to join the program and what did you gain for the experience?
Ashley: I was lucky to be an inaugural member of Forte’s MBALaunch program in Washington, DC in 2013! Forte has an incredible reputation within the business and MBA communities as a solid support network for women. Until this point, Forte focused on women currently pursuing MBAs and post-MBA women. I was really thrilled to see them offer a program for pre-MBA women to bring their programming full loop.
Like anything, the Forte MBALaunch program is what you make of it. I had an excellent relationship with my assigned Forte advisor who reviewed my essays, met with me monthly, and offered me encouragement throughout the process. I met with my assigned Forte small group over brunches and essay review sessions to offer one another feedback and support. At the end of our journey, many of us had gotten into top schools and we were beside one another (over mimosas!) to celebrate what we’d been through together. I took advantage of the Forte sessions on topics such as resume and interview preparation, which I believe gave me valuable insights that are not available from open-source information. Finally, I got a great network of friends from this and my investment in the program has already paid for itself in leaps and bounds. Two friends from the program actually connected the nonprofit I was on the board of to their companies, who then sponsored multiple major events for the nonprofit. All of the above benefits from the program far surpassed what I anticipated, and I look forward to my network continuing to grow from it moving forward.
Accepted: What are some of your most rewarding extracurricular activities (both before entering Wharton and current activities)? How have those activities helped shape your career?
Ashley: Two activities were core to my development and truly my identity prior to coming to Wharton. First was joining the board as a Vice President of United Women in Business (UWIB), a start-up nonprofit that provides professional development, networking, and community service opportunities to young female professionals. As a nonprofit entrepreneur, I teamed with fellow 20-something women to build UWIB, drive its overall programming strategy in three cities, and planned and executed all professional development events for DC women. This experience was aligned to my passion of impacting my community and taught me how much I enjoy building an organization, giving me an interest in start-ups that I am exploring in Business School. Furthermore, this experience positioned me well for my Wharton extracurricular activity leadership roles in Wharton Women in Business, and in Ashoka’s Catapult program where I advise six high school entrepreneurs starting a business.
Second, I actively challenged myself to broaden my horizons through travel. I traveled to 37 countries over six years, including studying in Madrid, Spain, backpacking Latin America for two months, working in Hong Kong this past summer, and religiously taking off work for 2-3 weeks each May to travel to a new region. These experiences reinforced my desire to live and work abroad throughout my career, and gave me a deeper sense of empathy, wonder, cultural differences, and appreciation for kindness that I believe will forever shape my career and my life.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Wharton so far? Is there anything you’d change about the program?
Ashley: My favorite thing about Wharton thus far is the energy. Walking into Huntsman Hall each day is just a beautiful commotion of ideas, priorities, learning, and conversations. People are eager to connect and support one another, hungry to learn and push their expectations of themselves, and excited to carve their niche in the world. The people here inspire me each day to be better and think bigger, and the environment is molding me to see the world more analytically and creatively. You just can’t get this experience taking business classes on Coursera.
One thing I would change is just making some of the “summer prep” content available earlier. Many schools have “math camp” style tutorials, accounting prep sessions, etc. during the summer, but it’s honestly never too early to start learning some of that content! Had I had a bit more time to prepare in advance, I think I might have felt a bit better about the extremely quant heavy curriculum. So, for those of you out there without calculus experience like me, I highly recommend learning from my mistakes and prepping for that now!
Accepted: How is Wharton helping you to secure your future internship?
Ashley: Wharton is extremely hands-on with the recruiting process. I usually don’t like having my hand held as a highly independent person, but with Career Services, you are paying for these services and you should absolutely take advantage of them. Career Services preps you for everything from going from “good to great” on behavioral interviews, to how to nail a case, to industry-specific career overviews, to in-depth resume reviews, to individual sessions one-on-one to help you plot your path to getting your dream job.
What I really like about Wharton Career Services and Wharton overall is that there is an enhanced focus on evaluating your interests holistically. Important parts of your personality and life are analyzed in addition to your career goals. There is an emphasis on thinking critically about careers where you can thrive in multiple dimensions of your life. They are also just an awesome reassuring presence to ascertain that every first year’s worst nightmare – not getting an internship or job! – is unrealistic because, as they always say, “Everyone gets a job. Everyone!”
Accepted: Can you share your top 3 MBA admissions tips with our readers?
• Submit your applications when you’re ready. I submitted my applications saying to myself “They may not like me, but I gave 100%. There isn’t a single word I would change.” You should feel like you did absolutely everything you could on your application, and then you can mentally move on from it to more important things like interview prep and evaluating school choices.
• But if possible, apply round one. Everyone has a different strategy for this, but from my perspective, it was so much easier to find out in December, make a decision by January, and then start planning an exciting and fulfilling summer pre-MBA. I don’t think I could have handled the prolonged anxiety of applying from August-March, but if you do go through multiple rounds of applications, just give yourself iterative breaks and rewards to sustain your energy.
• Only apply to schools you really want to go to. I look back on one school specifically that I applied to, and it was truly a waste of my time. Had I been honest with myself, I would have realized that I would have been miserable there. No matter what school ratings say or how good the school’s reputation is, if you don’t get an inspiring vibe when you’re visiting and engaging with students there, it’s just not worth it. Instead, focus more attention on the schools you can envision being elated by when you hear the news that you got in.
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Thank you Ashley for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!