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

Wharton 2016 Class Profile

Get insights into the Wharton applicationLet’s take a look at the 2016 class at Wharton. Last year’s stats are in parentheses.

•Total applicants: 6,111 (6,036)

•Enrolled class: 859 (837)

•Women: 40% (42%)

•International students: 31% (35%)

•U.S. minorities: (30%) 30%

•Range of years of work experience: 0-16 (0-13)

•Mean years of work experience: 5 (5)

•GMAT range: 620-780

•Mean overall GMAT: 728 (725)

•Middle 80% GMAT range: 710-750 (690-760)

•Undergraduate majors:

- STEM: 23% (25%)

- Business: 27% (28%)

- Humanities/social sciences/economics: 45% (44%)

- Other: 5% (3%)

Industry experience:

Consulting 20% (20%)
Private Equity/Venture Capital 12% (12%)
Investment Banking 9% (12%)
Government/Military/Non-Profit 13% (11%)
Consumer Products/Retail/Health Care/Energy 12% (10%)
Other Financial Services 7% (8%)
Technology/Internet/E-Commerce 6% (6%)
Investment Management 6% (4%)
Real Estate 2% (3%)
Other Industries 9% (14%)

 Are you looking to join the next Wharton class? Check out the recording of our recent webinar, Get Accepted to the Wharton School, to learn key strategies to help you get accepted to Wharton and other top business schools!

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The class profile information is from Wharton’s website.

Accepted.com: Helping You Write Your Best

Related Resources:

QS Global TopMBA Rankings 2014

TopMBA’s new 2014/2015 global report ranks business programs according to geographic location based on surveys completed by 5,669 actively-hiring MBA employers and 7,187 academics in the field of business and management. (See more about the methodology here.)

Top 20 B-Schools in North America

Learn how to make the business school rankings work for you, not against you!

Some highlights:

•  The top 10 remained virtually the same this year as last, with two rather large exceptions: Ross and Stern entered the top 10 scene from 12th place to 8th place for Ross and 12th place to 10th place for Stern. Losing top 10 stature this year were Duke Fuqua which fell from 10th to 13th place and Toronto Rotman which fell from 8th to 14th.

•  There were three newcomers to the top 10 this year – NYU Stern (see above), Texas McCombs (29th last year to 19th this year), and BU School of Management (24th to 20th). HEC Montreal fell from the top 20 (16th place last year to 22nd this year), as did York Schulich (13th to 28th) and Queen’s School of Business (18th to 31st).

•  Big jumpers further down in the rankings include USC Marshall (42nd to 23rd), UC Irvine Merage (51st to 33rd), UC Davis (54th to 36th), Michigan State Broad (71st to 38th), UC San Diego Rady (61st to 40th), Ohio State Fisher (60th to 42nd), UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management (83rd to 45th), Washington Olin (83rd to 47th), and Minnesota Carlson (87th to 49th).

•  Big droppers include UVA Darden (28th to 37th), University of Miami School of Business Administration (32nd to 77th), Rutgers Business School (67th to 82nd), and Vanderbilt Owen (37th to 86th).

Top 20 B-Schools in Europe

Learn how to make the rankings work for you and not against you!Some highlights:

•  HEC Paris jumped from 10th place last year to 4th place this year and Cambridge Judge jumped from 13th to 10th place; otherwise, the top 10 in Europe remain pretty much the same. Copenhagen fell from the top 10, from 9th place last year to 12th place this year.

•  New to the top 20 this year are ESSEC (29th place to 16th place), Manchester Bossiness School (27th to 14th place), and European Business School (21st to 19th). Trinity MBA in Dublin fell from the top 20, from 12th place to 21st

•  UK programs dominate the 65 schools on the European list with 26 programs represented. This is followed by France (9), Spain (5), Switzerland (4), Germany (4), the Netherlands (4), Italy (3), Denmark (2), Ireland (2), Greece (2), Finland (1), Portugal (1), Turkey (1), and Belgium (1).

You can download the full report here.

Are You Misusing the B-School Rankings?

Accepted.com: Helping You Write Your Best

Related Resources:

• Businessweek Rankings 2014
• 2014 Economist MBA Rankings
• MBA Rankings: Why Should I Care?

Meet Ashley: A Wharton MBA Student Making an Impact

Click here to read more MBA student interviews!

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!

Get Accepted to Wharton: Watch our free webinar to learn how!

Accepted.com: Helping You Write Your Best

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• Wharton Executive MBA 2014 Essay Tips
• Get into the Wharton School, a free webinar
• Four Tips for the Wharton Interview

Team-Based Discussion Interviews

Check out our Wharton Zone for info, tips, stats and more.

Make your goal the team’s success, not its adoption of your idea.

Wharton and Ross initiated a new MBA interview format, the team-based discussion (TBD). This type of interview brings a group of applicants together in person to work through a problem together as an organizational team does. This team activity is followed by a short one-to-one talk with an adcom representative (either a second-year student or an adcom member). It is now part of Wharton’s regular mode for interviews. At Ross, it’s not required, and they use traditional methods for their evaluative interviews.

Why adcoms use this method:

• Some adcoms have found traditional interview modes increasingly ineffective as they feel that candidates over-prepare and over-strategize for interviews, thus undercutting authenticity.

• The adcoms want to see the candidates in team action, since students’ success in the program (and in their future career) will rest in part on their teamwork and interpersonal skills.

• This approach gives the adcom insight into the applicants that no other application component provides – how they actually respond to people and situations in real time.

• The post-activity discussion shows your ability to self-reflect and analyze your own role and performance – qualities the adcom values.

Process:

Wharton – When you receive an invitation to interview, you’ll go online and select a time and date to attend a 5- or 6-member, approximately 45-minute TBD. Wharton will send you a prompt, which is the topic for the team activity; Wharton advises spending about an hour preparing with this prompt. In the TBD, each person will have a minute to articulate his own idea on the topic, and then the team will work together toward a group decision. After the TBD, you will meet individually with one of the two evaluators for 10-15 minutes to discuss your thoughts on how it went. You and the evaluator may discuss other topics as well.

Ross – Ross sends no prompt. Rather, it’s more like a team-building activity. You’ll receive the invitation to participate when you receive your regular interview invite, and can accept or decline. If you accept, you’ll meet in a group of 4-6. The team is given 2 words, and they first prepare individual presentations connecting these words (10 minutes for this portion). Then the group receives additional random words, and they have 20 minutes to prepare a team presentation that uses the words to address a problem and articulate a solution. The individuals in the team, not the team as a whole, are evaluated either by second-year students or adcom members, who also interview them separately afterward.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: You can showcase your interpersonal, team, and leadership skills more vividly than any essay or individual interview could portray.

• Benefit: You can get a real flavor of the programs’ teamwork dynamic.

• Benefit: You can enjoy meeting peers and potential classmates.

• Drawback: You have less control, as you have to assess and respond to the group dynamics instantly; there is no margin for error.

• Drawback: Logistically it’s complex – always harder to get a group together.

• Drawback: While the adcoms think it gives them a lens on you as a team player, in “real life” you usually have some time to adapt to a new team, and your true teamwork abilities will come out over time as you respond, whereas here there’s no time to grow and adapt with the team, so it’s a somewhat artificial setup.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review Accepted.com’s tips for this interview format.

• For Wharton, prepare and practice your one-minute presentation.

• For Ross, do the word activity with yourself or a friend, to get used to it.

• Think about your inclinations, behaviors, feelings, and approaches when working in a team or group setting, and also ask a colleague or two for some objective feedback. You shouldn’t change your natural approach, but you can certainly play to your strengths and minimize negative tendencies.

• Read online about other applicants’ experiences with the group interview.

•Make your goal the team’s success and ability to complete the assigned task, not its adoption of your idea.

[NOTE: This post is part of a series about MBA interview formats, click here to check out the rest of the posts]

Have a TBD Coming Up? Practice with the pros before your big day! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR A MOCK WHARTON TBD!

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.

Related Resources:

MBA Interview Formats Series
• Seven Tips for MBA Interview Prep
• How to Prep for Your MBA Interviews