Learn how real students navigate their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? Series.
Meet Sergio, a student at the Wharton-Lauder joint degree program in international management. Thank you Sergio for sharing your story with us!
What made you decide to go to business school? Was this a second career for you?
Sergio: Easy answer! I was working as an auditor at Deloitte, but I never saw myself as an accountant. I, like most MBAs, was a high performer; however, I could not help but imagine that I could be even more successful in a career that was more aligned with my strengths and interests. I have always been interested in real estate. Growing up in Houston, TX, I witnessed firsthand how economic development can be driven by well thought-out real estate developments. Fortunately, I now find myself pursuing an MBA from an institution that is not only known for finance, but also has a strong reputation in real estate.
How did you decide which programs to apply to? Were you willing to relocate to attend school?
Sergio: I was fortunate enough to be a part of MLT, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, MBA Prep Program, which helped me navigate the application process including deciding which programs I would ultimately apply to. As a part of this process, we had to carefully prioritize what we were looking for in a program.
For me, I wanted a program with a strong reputation, extensive alumni network, and geographically located outside the great state of Texas. I lived in Texas all my life and really wanted to take advantage of the MBA experience to live somewhere else. Wharton met these criteria, and through the Lauder Institute I was able to even further diversify by geographic experience.
What is the MLT MBA Prep Program? Who is eligible to participate and what resources are provided to fellows?
Sergio: The MLT or Management Leadership for Tomorrow is an organization dedicated to empowering underrepresented minorities by transforming their career trajectories. MLT’s MBA Prep Program provides African American, Latino, and Native American professionals with personalized guidance and tools to successfully navigate the business school application process. The tools and resources provided include one-on-one coaching, GMAT assistance, access to top MBA program admissions offices, and an extensive network of peers within the MLT community.
Why Wharton Lauder? How will the program’s international focus enhance your career?
Sergio: The Lauder/Wharton program preaches the importance of preparing its leaders to be globally fluent, which is in part one of the reasons why I wanted to apply. For me, Lauder hit my heart strings. As a Venezuelan-American, I have always struggled with the idea of retaining my Latin American culture. I believed that in order to do so I would not only need to learn more about the region, but also prepare myself for a career focused in Latin America. Lauder provided all the tools necessary for me to accomplish my personal and professional goals.
That being said, what drew me to Lauder was the program’s focus on family and building incredibly strong bonds with like-minded global individuals. The concept of “Lauder Love” really drives the culture on campus and makes you feel like you have a family to rely on while you navigate through the greater Wharton community.
What is unique about Wharton Lauder? What degree are you working towards in addition to the MBA?
Sergio: The Lauder Institute in conjunction with the Wharton School of Business prepares its students for the increasingly specialized and global workforce by providing an academic environment where they can achieve linguistic, cultural, and political fluency. Students enrolled in the program will receive a master’s in international studies with a concentration in a specific region of the world. The list of regions of concentration is extensive, including Europe, Latin America, Global, Asia, Africa, and South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa (SAMENA). Within these regions, students will also focus on developing language fluency and intercultural competencies relevant to their program concentration.
Did you participate in a team-based discussion as part of your interview process? What was that like?
Sergio: The team-based discussion is the interview method that Wharton’s admissions office uses to assess prospective student’s ability to work in a group and come up with a solution. Once an interview invitation is extended, an applicant is provided a prompt challenging the applicant to come up with an idea to pitch. During the TBD, the applicants (typically six) will have 30 minutes to pitch their ideas, decide on one, and then present to the observers.
I loved my experience during the TBD. Although everyone will attempt to be their best selves, it’s amazing how real people get when the stakes are high. I was lucky to have a great team during my team-based discussion, but I have definitely heard horror stories. These stories should not scare prospective students. Part of working in a team is dealing with difficult people. Be yourself, be self-aware, and manage any conflict that may arise calmly and respectfully.
What are intercultural venture trips? Have you participated in one? What was your experience?
Sergio: The Lauder Intercultural Ventures (LIV) are mini-immersive trips during spring-break or winter-break that take students to different countries to study a specific theme relevant to that country. For example, this year I participated in the Mongolia LIV focused on social impact of a changing environment. I had the opportunity to meet with political leaders, cultural experts, and representatives from state-owned and privately-owned mining companies to better understand how Mongolia has transitioned politically, culturally, and economically after 70 years of communism. Furthermore, we focused on the impact that environment changes related to the country’s mining practices has had on the country’s pastoral nomads. This was one of my favorite experiences this year and I am struggling to decide which LIV I want to participate in next year. I am stuck between “country in transition” – Cuba and “learning from Easter Island’s collapse” – Rapa Nui.
Do Lauder students take the same MBA courses as other Wharton students?
Sergio: Yes. The program is a joint degree, so while there are courses that are available only to Lauder students, such as the language and international politics course, the majority of a student’s credit requirements are fulfilled through Wharton. In other words, Lauder Students are MBA students at Wharton who take additional courses related to international politics, culture, and language to prepare themselves for global careers.
Sounds like a lot of juggling! How do you make time to pursue two degrees at once?
Sergio: It is a lot of juggling indeed! To be honest – there are two messages I try to convey to prospective students who ask me this question:
(1) Lauder will undoubtedly limit your ability to participate in everything that Wharton has to offer, and it is really important when organizing one’s academic plan to take the additional course work seriously.
However, (2) understanding that trade-offs are not unique to Lauder students is very important; it is impossible for any Wharton student to take advantage of everything on campus, so the extra demand related to the Lauder experience is a blessing in disguise. Students are forced to be way more intentional in planning their academic and student life involvement in order to manage the extra academic workload.
Once business school began, what surprised you most about the experience?
Sergio: Pace, pace, pace!!! This experience is non-stop. I think most students get really excited about being a student again, so once school begins they sign up for literally anything that hits their inbox. The resulting outcome of this type of life planning is a Google calendar that is multi-colored, over-committed, and daunting. However, this is a good problem to have.
Although I find myself busier than I have ever been, I am having a blast juggling the academic, social, and career demands. It is hard to explain, but what I think surprised me the most about the MBA experience is that you really learn the value of your time. My goal for next year is to really hone in on certain areas of involvement that are important to me; I do not think I would have been able to identify these opportunities if I did not overextend myself in my first year.
What do you think your classmates would be surprised to know about you?
Sergio: I guess I have a reputation on campus as being extremely extroverted, which I am. I have involved myself in many public facing roles: Cluster Council, Student Life Fellow, and the Chief Financial Officer of the Wharton Graduate Association (I had to do the quick plug). What is funny is that I really do enjoy the occasional moment to myself. If any of my classmates are up around 9am on a Sunday (highly unlikely), they would likely run into me strolling around Rittenhouse by myself listening to music before the 10am mass at St. Patrick’s. Sunday mornings for me are precious and it is about the only time throughout the week where I can unplug.
What does recruitment look like on campus? Does the recruitment experience match your expectations?
Sergio: Recruitment on campus is split into two categories: mature and enterprise recruiting. Mature recruiting refers to a recruiting process that is very structured: recruiters come on campus, schedule coffee chat slots, and set dates for interview invitations and offer deadlines.
The enterprise recruiting route is considerably more ambiguous. Students have to be entrepreneurial in order to seek out a summer internship; think cold calls, emails, random flights to meet people for coffee. For enterprise recruiting, Wharton gives you the value of the brand name, but it is the student’s responsibility to leverage it.
I think Wharton’s career management professionals are second to none and they have been incredibly useful in helping students navigate both the mature and enterprise recruiting processes.
What advice do you have for students beginning their MBA journey?
Be intentional. The main indicator of a strong applicant is whether they know why they need an MBA and why they want to go to a particular program. The MBA process is very long, but if you can practice being intentional throughout the application process you will be better prepared to face the trade-off situations that you will encounter once on campus.
Your most valuable resource at business school is time and knowing where to allocate your time, and why. This is the best way to maximize your business school experience…It is hard for me not to smirk a bit while saying this because not only is this advice super valuable, it is also given every year and ultimately ignored ☹.
My last piece of advice is to be selfless. You are going to be surrounded by students who are maximizers and want to dedicate these two years to themselves; however, I challenge this way of thinking for two reasons: (1) there are a lot of people, specifically faculty and administration, that invest a considerable amount of time to ensuring that your student experience is incredible. It is a really hard job and listening to constant complaints by students makes it harder. Be conscious of the problems, then be part of the solution. (2) Community is the most important theme that you will hear on campus, and for good reason. Schools like Wharton are dedicated to preparing leaders to build communities, both professionally and personally, that are diverse and inclusive. It is literally impossible to learn these vital leadership skills without being involved in your school’s community and being self-aware of your own biases.
Do you have questions for Sergio? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Business School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Sergio by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
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• Leadership in Admissions, a free guide
• Wharton Lauder: An MBA/MA that Prepares You for Global Business, a podcast episode
• Wharton MBA Essay Tips and Deadlines