From Rwandan Advertising to Wharton Entrepreneurship: The Unconventional MBA Path

Read more MBA student interviewsThis 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 Mary Patton S. Davis, 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? Where are you in business school and what year?

Mary Patton: I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, which some may argue is not the South, but I beg to differ. Tampa is culturally Southern in many ways, and most of my family is from Alabama – hence the double name. I moved “up north” to Washington, DC to study French and International Relations at Georgetown University and graduated in 2010. I was always convinced I would work in government and security/intelligence, but life had other plans! That’s how I wound up at Wharton, by way of East Africa, to enter the class of 2016 with a focus on Entrepreneurial Management.

Accepted: Looks like you’ve been doing some really interesting work in Rwanda. Can you tell us about some of your recent jobs and projects there?

Mary Patton: My path to business school has been a very unconventional one. After Georgetown I joined political communications firm GMMB, working on media buying for the 2010 midterm elections and account management for political action committees. In the summer of 2011 I traveled to Rwanda to visit my older sister Elizabeth and the organization she founded in 2009: the Akilah Institute for Women, a three-year college specializing in hospitality, information technology, and entrepreneurship for young women from low-income rural communities. I fell in love with the country and the organization, and Elizabeth asked if I would move there to build their communications and marketing strategy. So I did what any responsible, rational person would do: I quit my job, sold my belongings, and moved to Rwanda in January 2012 for an indefinite period of time. It can take a giant leap of faith outside your comfort zone to discover your true passions, but I believe it’s one worth taking!

I built out Akilah’s marketing and communications throughout that spring and summer. At the same time I had begun teaching horseback riding lessons on the weekends and met the owner of the barn, a well-known expat businessman. One weekend he mentioned he was looking for someone to build a digital marketing department and drive new business development at his advertising agency. My response was, “Interesting, but I can’t think of anyone who fits that description.” He laughed and replied, “No, I want YOU to come in and interview!” You never know where your next job offer will come from…

I began working for the ad agency that summer, and stayed with them for over a year and a half. I became Director of Operations, tackling projects from refining internal processes, to landing new clients, to expanding our digital marketing services. Through this job I realized my passion (and aptitude!) for management, business development, and “intrapreneurship”, which led me to apply for an MBA. Managing a team of twenty-five people at the age of twenty-four impacted me greatly both personally and professionally, and was an opportunity for which I’ll always be grateful.

Accepted: What is your post-MBA career plan? Is it related to your work in Rwanda?

Mary Patton: I came into Wharton with several areas of interest, knowing that my post-MBA career plans would involve some, if not all, of them: Africa, technology, entrepreneurship, and fitness. My passion for fitness and entrepreneurship grew out of a company I co-founded while working at the ad agency: Yego Yoga Rwanda, a chain of yoga studios operating in six locations across Kigali with eleven instructors. I’ve furthered this interest here in the US by continuing to teach yoga and developing several business ideas in that area. For now I’m focused in that direction but who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to pursue all four of these interests!

Accepted: Do you have an internship lined up yet for next summer? If so, what will you be doing and what was the internship application process like at Wharton? If not, what steps are you taking now to plan ahead for the summer? How early does internship recruiting start at Wharton?

Mary Patton: There are many recruiting timelines – it all depends on what industry you’re pursuing. Mature recruiting (mostly for finance and consulting) begins as early as mid-October, while start-up recruiting doesn’t intensify until the spring. I’m personally interested in tech and start-ups so my recruiting hasn’t begun yet, although I’ve had informal offers from tech companies in Africa and start-ups on the West Coast. Right now I’m focused on working on my own business idea, so entrepreneurship is my number one summer internship choice!

Accepted: Can you tell us about your involvement in the Wharton Business Plan Competition?

Mary Patton: I believe it’s important to surround yourself with the type of people and situations that support your long-term goals, so I knew I wanted to immerse myself in the entrepreneurial environment of the WBPC. Given my background, my biggest value-add to the planning committee is in a marketing role. As Director of Marketing my mission is to grow awareness of and engagement with the WBPC both within the Penn community and without. I’m excited to see what this year’s competitors have in store for us, and how the WBPC contributes to future Penn-born businesses! To learn more about the competition, visit us at http://bpc.wharton.upenn.edu/.

Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Wharton so far? Is there anything you’d change about the program?

Mary Patton: My favorite thing about Wharton is how holistic the growth experience has been. Wharton is fully committed to developing students not only academically, but also professionally, personally, emotionally, and socially. All at once, Wharton is exciting and terrifying; rewarding and challenging; social and lonely; invigorating and exhausting; intellectual and obnoxious. Without all of those emotions, you wouldn’t be getting the full experience.

The only thing I would change: I wish there was more interaction between the Penn grad schools. I would love to have more opportunities to meet fellow students from the law, med, engineering, and education schools. I think this would enrich the experience for all of us, and keep us from talking about our econ problem sets and statistics projects all day long!

Accepted: What are your top 3 admissions tips for applicants aiming to go to Wharton?

Mary Patton:

1)  Be unique.

Admissions officers sift through thousands of applications looking for the diamonds in the rough. Imagine them sitting around at the end of the day recalling and discussing hundreds of essays – how will yours be remembered? When I met Wharton’s Director of Admissions at Winter Welcome Weekend, she exclaimed, “Oh, I remember you! You’re the yoga girl from Rwanda who worked in advertising.” How will your application stand out? What interests/projects/talents/experiences make you unique?

2)  Paint a compelling story.

Regardless of whether your career path is streamlined or as unusual as mine, your application should show progress and a desire to grow professionally and personally. Draw a clear thread throughout your jobs and experiences to demonstrate how you’ve arrived at this point where you feel compelled to apply for an MBA. Did you change jobs to follow your newfound passion for that industry? What extracurricular activities support your interests and show your proactive nature to learn more? How have you challenged yourself and stepped outside your comfort zone?

3)  Be clear about your ambitions.

Now that you’ve explained the narrative behind your career path, be clear about what you plan to do post-MBA. Schools want to see direction not only in your actions up to this point, but also in your goals beyond the MBA. Even if you don’t know the exact job you want three years from now, offering examples of what most interests you in a long-term career helps give schools an idea of how you’ll fit into their MBA class. Make sure to also explain WHY – what problem are you most passionate about solving? Which industry are you most intrigued by? What types of jobs most excite you?

Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? Who is your target audience? What role does social media play in your life?

Mary Patton: I started blogging while backpacking through SE Asia and India, but since starting school I’ve pivoted from travel to business-related topics. I naturally identify and write about topics I find interesting; luckily other people find them interesting too! I like to highlight topics that are relevant to my peers – global and industry-agnostic, but with a focus on entrepreneurship and technology.

For me personally, my blog keeps the creative side of my brain alive during the quantitative and analytical MBA experience – my biggest problem is finding time to blog as much as I’d like! Our generation is increasingly social and transparent, so I think it’s important to confront that issue head-on by taking control of your personal brand. My blog is a “stretch experience” for me and connects me to interesting people and opportunities – such as this interview with Accepted.com!

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages. For specific advice on how to create the best application for Wharton see:

You can read more about Mary Patton’s journey by checking out her blog, MP is for Mary Patton. Thank you MP for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

 

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Related Resources:

Meet Ashley: A Wharton MBA Student Making an Impact
Global Business Leadership at Wharton’s Lauder Institute
Wharton 2016 Class Profile

MBA/MMM Interview with Kellogg Student: Using Empathy to Succeed

Click here for more MBA student interviews!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 Michael Nguyễn, a student at Northwestern Kellogg’s joint MBA/Masters in Design Innovation program.

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Where are you currently studying?

Michael: I was born and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was unfortunately a mediocre student at Cal (UC Berkeley) because I spent a lot of my time playing video games. Thus, even though I started in Computer Science and really enjoyed it, I eventually changed to Comparative Literature (which is actually really difficult – I did not know this when I switched) after a couple of years. However, the time spent in both majors has helped me immensely throughout my career.

I am currently at Kellogg (Northwestern) in its newly revamped MMM program, which is a dual-degree MBA and Masters of Science in Design Innovation program run in conjunction with the McCormick School of Engineering and Segal Design Institute.

Accepted: Can you tell us more about your joint degree? What does “Design Innovation” mean? What do you plan on doing with your degrees?

Michael: The MMM program ends at the same time as the normal Kellogg two year MBA program but now starts one quarter early, in the summer. Though this does come with additional cost, this also means you get to enjoy the summer in Chicago! Another great benefit is that you will become very close with your MMM program mates, the other 59 students (the program is limited to 60 per year).

I personally define Design Innovation as an end-user empathy lens for looking at the world, but one that is not just relevant to developing products. If you manage a team, you need to be able to put yourself in team members’ shoes before you can create a rally point. If you are trying to sell a product, you need to know what your target customer is thinking – who they are, why they do what they do. It’s not that someone is just “stupid” or one of “those people” you can generalize. Everyone is unique and design thinking helps you use those lessons in your career.

From my time working in Southeast Asia, I used empathy in order to succeed at creating compelling products for different types of people as well as to win trust and motivate teams despite cultural and language barriers.

After the program, I am looking to return to smaller tech startups or perhaps start my own. However, the range of careers that others in the MMM program are seeking is very broad. Many are looking to enter into consulting, with more top firms now embracing design innovation, but there are also students looking to go into finance, consumer packaged goods (CPG), and technology.

Like the MBA, I think the Design Innovation degree is a toolset you can adapt for any career trajectory. Simply, the Innovation is the change you make in an existing product, process, or organization; the Design is the user-driven approach.

Accepted: It looks like you’ve got an interesting work history! Can you talk about a few of your most recent projects?

Michael: Previous to Kellogg, my professional background for the last decade has been in Business Operations at multiple startups. My first work experience was helping RedOctane become acquired for the Guitar Hero game franchise by Activision. I ran its e-commerce operations, including shipping logistics and customer service.

I then spent 7 years in Vietnam, becoming COO of the first social networking service there, Cyworld Vietnam, a 70 person startup funded by SK Telecom and IDG Ventures Vietnam. During my time in Vietnam, I worked closely with partners such as Nokia, LG, and Yamaha as well as local mobile carrier giants such as Viettel within the restrictions of one of the rare capitalist-socialist governments in the world.

During this time, I co-founded the most popular Vietnamese microblogging service, Mimo.vn, in 2010, helping it grow to 2 million users. Before I left Vietnam, I also worked on another side project which became a dating app called FriendsPlus. It was sold pre-launch to the largest dating service in Vietnam, Noi.vn, and the technology and service concept was integrated into Noi.vn as a whole.

In general, I have a deep interest in how different types of people connect with and add meaning to each other’s lives.

Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Kellogg so far? 

Michael: When you are in a good class (happens more often than not thankfully), you can compare it to seeing a brilliant performer, whether that be musical, athletic, or theatrical. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is – a professor with a tremendous academic and real work pedigree who is educating you about different aspects of business. Because of this, I actually like to sit in the front to get the best view. After all, I am paying over $60,000 a year for this show!

What most surprised is me how every class links to each other. In a business setting, that wouldn’t be surprising because well, that’s business. If you run a company, you cannot just be a product guy with no understanding of finance and vice versa. But in this class format, you will see each class bring in aspects of the entire MBA education. Thus, if you are taking Finance, you are not asked to just do math. You are asked to think about what firm and market strategies change the math in the real world and how you sell that story to someone else (your boss, management, investors, etc.).

I feel that in every class, you are not challenged to solve the problem but to create and then sell the story so it can be implemented in a company.

Accepted: If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be? 

Michael: In the busy lives of the MBA students here (classes, groupwork, recruiting, competitions), it’s not easy to make deep connections with others in the student body. I think this problem likely exists at many schools, so despite Kellogg’s reputation as a great school to make friends and be around team-focused individuals, no school can create the perfect social setting for everyone.

Thus, if you are an international student or more of an introvert, Kellogg’s emphasis on big social group events may be uncomfortable at times. CIM week can feel like a rehash of your undergrad years where the majority of students solidify their social groups within the first few weeks and do not go outside their comfort zones to befriend people that may be unlike them.

It is something that Kellogg is aware of and looking for initiatives to help address the issue. In fact, a friend and I are working on a mobile product that we hope will help with this and we are looking to get the Kellogg administration’s support for it as well.

Accepted: Looking back at the MBA application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How would you advise others who may also be facing that challenge?

Michael: I actually decided to apply to MBA programs two months before Round 1’s began, and I also wanted to make sure I applied for Round 1. This meant I needed to prepare for the GMAT and every other part of the application in a very short amount of time – an MBA was something I had not seriously considered for the previous five years. Fortunately, things worked out, and I got into a great school.

However, others should not follow this route. An MBA program is a very serious time and financial commitment, one that is essentially your last chance to use an academic setting to create a long term impact on how people view you professionally. Do spend the time (at least 1 year in advance) to prepare your applications properly to maximize your chance into getting the program that’s best for you. Beyond that, also use that time to get a proper understanding of which schools you can actually get into.

I am not a big believer in backup schools. If you there is a school you absolutely want to go to, and your background is a good fit for that school, spend the most time on that school. Even if that means working an extra year to improve your professional accomplishments, I say do it!

Accepted: Do you have any other admissions tips for our readers?

Michael: Although we are asked to pretend we know what we want to do after our MBA, few people really do. Because of this, don’t be worried if you really will follow-up on everything you talk about in the application. What’s most important is to think about what you would want to do right now and think through how going to a particular school is well suited to help with those specific goals. I think schools like Kellogg are not judging your ambitions but your ability to construct plans and build towards them.

For Kellogg MMM specifically, it’s a great program that is not getting a lot of publicity right now, likely due to the recent curriculum change. However, I recommend (to everyone) to look at it more closely and talk to people in the program (like myself). Many people I’ve met at Kellogg regret not applying for it because they had misconceptions about the program or thought it wouldn’t be relevant to their career. Once they better understood how the program works, however, they realized its applications were much more broad than the words “Design Innovation” may initially suggest.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages. For specific advice on how to create the best application for Kellogg please see:

Kellogg 2015 MBA Questions, Deadlines, & Tips
2015 Kellogg Executive MBA Admissions Tips

You can read more about Michael’s journey by checking out his LinkedIn profile and his blog, I Spit Hot Fire. Thank you Michael for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

Learn How to Choose the Best MBA Program for You!

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MBA Interview with Stanford MSx Student Erik Moon

Get the scoop on the Stanford MSx Program! 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 Erik Moon, a recent graduate from Stanford MSx.

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Where did you go to business school?

Erik: First of all, I’m a bit older than the typical MBA student. I’m in my early 40s and have nearly 20 years of experience in product management, project management and operations in telecom, data centers and corporate IT. I’ve spent about half my career in Silicon Valley and the other half in Northern Virginia – so the two primary schools I was interested in were UVA / Darden and Stanford GSB.

I did my undergrad (BS Economics) as well as a masters degree (MS Information Systems) at George Washington University in Washington DC. I just graduated (2014) from the Stanford MSx program (previously known as the Sloan Fellows program). It is a full-time one-year program for experienced professionals. The summer / fall quarters are spent taking mostly core classes (like an MBA 1st year) and the winter / spring quarters are mostly electives (like an MBA 2nd year).

Accepted: What’s the difference between Stanford Sloan and Stanford’s MSx degree? 

Erik: Same thing… The Sloan program has almost 60 years of history as a degree program for experienced professionals. The program has changed significantly in the last few years to make the curriculum more flexible and incorporate the opportunity for many more electives than in years past. It is a 4-quarter full-time degree program, so Stanford doesn’t like to call it an EMBA – so students are not able to continue work while taking classes, but many students (approx 30%) are sponsored by their employers.

Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Stanford? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?

Erik: That is a huge question! My favorite thing about Stanford has to be the optimism – the students all expect to be doing great things some day. People don’t come to Stanford just to slowly climb into middle management. The GSB motto – Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world. – is not an exaggeration…

If I could change one thing, I would want to increase awareness of the MSx program. It is a hidden gem that many people have simply never heard of in their b-school search. I think the branding (not wanting to call the program an EMBA) makes it very confusing. When mid-career applicants ask if Stanford GSB has an EMBA, the first answer is “NO” – then these applicants simply look elsewhere. But if they ask the right question – “Does Stanford GSB have a mid-career graduate business degree program?” – they would find the best “executive-level” business degree at the best b-school in the world.

Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What do you wish you would’ve known when you started the program?

Erik: Since it is only a 1-year program, it is important to understand exactly what you want to get out of your short time on campus and quickly figure out how to get it. It requires a lot of initiative and focus when there are lots of life changes and distractions all around. You can’t sit back and expect all the good things to come to you – students need to actively seek opportunities and grab it.

That said, Stanford GSB has an acronym – FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out – there are so many events, clubs, guest speakers, presentations, brown-bag-lunches and other things happening that it is really easy to get frustrated or swamped. You have to come to the realization that you will never be able to attend everything. Again, important to quickly determined what you will get the best value for your time and prioritize!

Accepted: Can you tell us about Stanford’s unusual six-point grading system?

Erik: I blogged about this here: http://sloanlife.com/2014/08/02/gsb-grades-the-elusive-h/

Bottom line: Get your highest possible marks as early as possible and anchor your GPA nice and high while you’re taking relatively straightforward core classes. This affords you the freedom to later take classes you WANT to take and not worry at all about the grades.

Accepted: Were you involved in any clubs on campus? How central to student life is club involvement?

Erik: Not at all central, but the clubs are great ways to find other students with similar interests (and usually get a lot of free food / beer). I mostly spent my time with Entrepreneurship Club and High Tech Club. Participation is completely optional and you could certainly get by with never attending a club event…

Accepted: Now that you’ve graduated, what are you up to?

Erik: I’m currently working on a startup – Hinted.com – we’re building a platform for personal and professional feedback.

Accepetd: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the b-school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Erik: I should have gotten off my ass and applied sooner… I could easily have done this 3-4 years ago… The GMATs were a perfect excuse for me to procrastinate. In retrospect, should have just bitten the bullet a long time ago when the quant material was a lot more fresh in my mind.

Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our business school applicant readers?

Erik: Apply to the best school you know you will get into first (and that you would be willing to go to) – and apply early! This will take off all the pressure. Once you have this acceptance, you can go pursue the dream schools top down, instead of inching upwards. This is the approach I took – I first applied to UVA Darden GEMBA and was accepted. I was completely willing to take that program – but then I started realizing that maybe I should try getting into more exclusive programs. I applied to Stanford MSx and intended to apply to Wharton San Francisco. I was accepted into Stanford and didn’t even have to fill out another application.

Also, if you want to go to a top school, don’t even bother applying until you can post a 700 GMAT or better. The application process is simply too competitive.

You also need to distinguish yourself in some way. You can have a 750 GMAT, a 3.9 GPA and great work experience and not look like an interesting candidate. Find something interesting about yourself where you can truly say that you have world-class talent / skills / experience to differentiate yourself.

Don’t hold back – you are your own best advocate – your b-school application is not the time for modesty (but don’t lie either). Demonstrate how you will take what Stanford (or other school) will give you and leverage that to give back to the community.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages

You can read more about Erik’s b-school journey by checking out his blog, Sloan Life. Thank you Erik for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

Get Accepted to Stanford Graduate School of Business! Click here to learn more!

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Related Resources:

• The Stanford MSx Program for Experienced Leaders
• What Stanford is Looking for: Personal Qualities and Contributions
• Stanford GSB 2015 MBA Questions, Deadlines, Tips

Prioritizing at an All You Can Eat Buffet: UNC Kenan-Flagler Student Interview

Click here for more MBA student interviews!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 Alex Dea, second-year student at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What was your most recent pre-MBA job? 

Alex: I was born and raised in Rochester, New York, and went to Boston College in Chestnut Hill, to study business and theology. Upon graduation from BC, I joined Deloitte Consulting and spent three years in the Boston office. At Deloitte, I advised clients on how to use digital technology to transform their business strategy and operations. After three years at Deloitte, I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in August 2013 to attend the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler).

Accepted: Why did you choose UNC Kenan-Flagler? How would you say it was the best fit program for you? Which other schools had you considered? 

Alex: First and foremost, it was the people and the culture. I visited UNC and spoke to a handful of students, faculty and administrators and walked away feeling like these were the people I would want to work with and support. Furthermore, they seemed like people who wanted and were willing to support me. People at UNC Kenan-Flagler understand that a “rising tide lifts all boats,” and when someone achieves success it can be good for everyone.

Secondly, it was the leadership opportunities. I came to business school because I wanted to accelerate my development in becoming the leader I thought I was capable of becoming and was very impressed on the leadership development opportunities at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Lastly, it was the curriculum. UNC has a robust core curriculum that I knew would allow me to hone some development areas in my business toolkit while allowing me to get depth in some of my areas of interest, such as Entrepreneurship and Marketing.

One of the things that was most important to me was finding a school where students both own and invest in the community. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always taken pride in the communities and organizations I’ve associated myself with and have invested time and energy into those communities and I wanted to go somewhere that empowered people to do just that.

As such, I really looked at schools that seemed to have strong student-driven and community-like feel. This attracted me to UNC Kenan-Flagler, UC Berkeley (Haas) and Duke University (Fuqua). All of the programs I applied to are top-notch programs with great people. While I’m very happy at UNC, I have nothing but respect and admiration with all of these schools to the point where I still stay in touch with many of the individuals I met at those respective schools. This has come in handy, especially for some of my recruiting efforts and business school activities and pursuits. You never know when a connection you make can come in handy!

Accepted: If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?

Alex: I think very highly of my fellow classmates, administrators, faculty and staff at UNC Kenan-Flagler. I think we can do a better job of sharing the talents, skills and gifts that we collectively possess with the outside world.

One of the nice things about being at Kenan-Flagler is it’s a very feedback-driven environment. I’ve shared some of these insights with some administrators within the program and they’ve been very receptive to my ideas and even shared some of the things they were doing to improve upon this. Sure enough, there were initiatives underway to work on this and even found opportunities for me assist in the process.

Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What do you wish you would’ve known early on in your first year?

Alex: I think two critical concepts to business school are developing priorities and understanding opportunity cost. Business school can feel like an endless “all you can eat buffet.” There are so many great opportunities and experiences at top MBA programs – it really is overwhelming!

Developing your priorities will help you figure out which opportunities to pursue and which to ignore. You can’t do everything, but you can do a lot. Secondly, understanding opportunity cost will help you make those tough decisions. Inevitably, you’ll be given the choice to do either X or Y, both being really great options. Understanding what you give up in return for what you get is critical to evaluating opportunities that come your way, and can help you make those tough decisions. (Note: this is an ongoing process throughout your two years!)

Accepted: Where did you intern this past summer? What role did UNC play in helping you secure that position? 

Alex: This past summer I interned at Salesforce.com out in San Francisco, CA. I worked on a Product Marketing team for the Salesforce1 Platform and enjoyed learning the ins and outs of life as a Product Marketer and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to work at the world’s most innovative company (as deemed by Forbes).

While I went off-campus to recruit for this position, I got some help from a UNC Kenan-Flagler Alum who worked at Salesforce and was able to give me great insight into the people, culture and business of Salesforce. Furthermore, I relied on the Alumni network at UNC Kenan-Flagler for almost every company I applied to during the recruiting process. Whether it was getting insight into the company culture, understanding what interviewers were looking for or getting honest insights about career decisions the Kenan-Flagler Alumni network played a huge role in the process.

Furthermore, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Career Management Center (CMC) was instrumental in my recruiting process. Since I did not go through the traditional on-campus recruiting channels the CMC was very helpful in connecting me to Alums but also providing me coaching and feedback as to how to handle particular situations that occurred in the recruiting process. For instance, I had the fortunate problem of getting multiple offers with quickly expiring deadlines while I was still interviewing for a role that I wanted. The CMC staff was provided great guidance in how I needed to handle that situation while maintaining professional and positive relationships with all the companies and recruiters that were involved.

Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the MBA admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it? 

Alex: My biggest challenge was that I was initially waitlisted at every school that I applied to. This was a tough pill to swallow, but after recognizing that I didn’t have time to sit idle I needed to take action and I needed help doing so. I was very fortunate in that I have a great network of current and former MBA students who were very familiar with the admissions process.

I’m someone who is comfortable networking and building relationships with others so I reached out to a handful of people who I thought could provide thoughtful guidance. These people were really helpful in being supportive about my situation while providing me with actionable insight on what I could do to move from the waitlist pile to the accept pile. In certain cases, they were able to directly connect me to admissions officers who gave me honest and direct guidance on what I could do to improve my odds of admission.

In the end things ended up working out, and while it was stressful it was a reminder that it’s not always but what happens, but rather, how you respond to what happens. Despite facing an uphill and daunting battle, I managed to get off the waitlist and attend a Top MBA Program of my choice.

Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn? 

Alex: Over the years, people have given me feedback that I give great guidance and advice and communicate effectively. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write but thought I wasn’t a real “writer” so I shied away from doing anything.

Business school is about taking risks and stretching yourself, as such, I decided to take this feedback and run with it by creating a blog to share my thoughts and experiences on my MBA experience. I’ve met some incredible people and built great relationships through this experience. These people, have not only helped me learn, but have made a difference in my career. I wanted to combine all of this and share all of the knowledge, stories, experiences and thoughts so that others could learn and benefit from what I’ve gained.

So far, it’s been a very positive experience and something that I’ve enjoyed. Not only have I met great people, but I’ve also been able to reconnect with old colleagues/friends who have seen some of my work. Overall, it’s been a great learning experience and something I’ve truly enjoyed.

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You can read more about Alex’s journey by checking out his blog, A Digital Mentor. Thank you Alex for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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Meet Ashley: A Wharton MBA Student Making an Impact

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Wharton student Ashley Wells

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?

Ashley:

•  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.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages

Thank you Ashley for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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