Accepted.com is continuing a blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your MBA application.
Here’s a talk with Andrew DeBerry, a Wharton-Lauder student whose childhood and military experience make him an obvious pick for the Wharton-Lauder internationally-focused MBA/MA program. Thank you Andrew for sharing your thoughts with us!
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from? What and where did you study as an undergraduate and when did you graduate?
Andrew: I was born at an Air Force base in Ohio and grew up with my incredible older brother, sister, and father, and my mother from Taiwan added to the support as a Vegas blackjack dealer in the Mirage Casino. We bounced around schools in Japan, Biloxi, and Shreveport. Teachers and friends’ families inspired me with the faith and a passion to make a difference. I grew up wanting to be a Catholic priest but loved science and went to Notre Dame’s outstanding Det 225 AFROTC program to have a practical impact as an engineer. I was very much inspired by friends during the Center for Social Concerns’ service-learning seminars and took a fifth year to go beyond engineering and write columns, work in student government, and take minors in Catholic Social Teaching, Arabic, and Public Policy. ND’s prolific international programs gave special opportunities to teach physics and computer literacy in Uganda, research with a British MP in Parliament, and study Arabic in Cairo on an NSEP Boren fellowship. I graduated in 2004 and was slotted into a special intelligence program and served for 6 years in Tunisia, S. Korea, Germany, and with undercover international operations in Afghanistan.
Accepted: Why did you decide to attend the Wharton-Lauder program? What attracted you to the program and has it lived up to your expectations?
Andrew: After an operation in Afghanistan failed to find Osama bin Laden in 2007, I ordered Paul Bodine’s Great Application Essays for Business School and other MBA admissions books to my tent and read 8 pages a night with a red headlamp. I had taken a couple of business classes and have a Masters in National Security Studies, but wanted more. Wharton-Lauder stood out immediately: two degrees and language fluency in two years with a good-natured, close-knit international community. I had seen the military’s approach in Afghanistan; I wanted to have a strategic but more personal impact based on relationships. Wharton hosted the national Net Impact conference; I visited from my main base in Germany, and was excited to see Lauder students organizing the event. This was the only program I applied to. Finding Lauder was an inspiring discovery.
I had worked in strategy but wanted to ground it in quantitative, business leadership. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been able to learn across the university with classes on global education technology in the Graduate School of Education, human rights in China in the Penn Law School, and transformational leadership with the School of Social Policy. I may drop a couple to do a summer exchange with INSEAD Singapore. There are many amazing dilemmas at Wharton.
Wharton is a large community of impressive individuals, especially our international students, and the flexible program also lets us organize a wide range of incredible experiences in and outside the classroom. In the first year alone, I was blessed with opportunities to study Arabic in Egypt and Dubai, survive the earthquake during the student-led Spring Break Japan Trek, learn about infrastructure for the World Cup and Olympics for a Wharton class in Rio, trek across Central America for a Lauder class, do corporate strategy work in India, and research emerging market Smartphone strategies for Lauder in Beijing, Shanghai, Zanzibar, Tanzania, and South Africa. Our Vice Dean of Student Life, a.k.a. our infamous “Dean of Happiness” Kembrel Jones, has also made the Wharton community a transformational experience, building sincere friendships that will last long after graduation.
Accepted: What are some of your favorite things about living in Philadelphia? Least favorite? Can you recommend a cozy place to study on or near campus?
Andrew: Philadelphia is perfect for business school. Center City, where most of us live, is large enough to find things to do but small enough to be a community. After enough travel abroad, it was inspiring to return to a birthplace for democracy and find ways to explore freedoms in communities globally still seeking a way. The UPenn Art library, Caffeination coffee shop, and my 25th floor bedroom in 2400 Chestnut apartments overlooking the Schuykill River are refreshing getaways for studying. My favorite place is our Lauder lounge, complete with Keurig. Chatting about travel plans, leaving from here for lunches with staff, making jokes, and generally looking after each other builds irreplaceable friendships. As Pulitzer Prize writer Robert Coles says, “We hand each other along.”
I was surprised when Occupy protested at Wharton. But I do think it’s an important formative experience for rising global leaders. If we can’t hear the complaints from people struggling in our own neighborhood, what kind of leaders would we become? Should business be about not just company rights and profits but also relationships? I’m grateful to find a crowd of students and professors here haunted by the question and discerning what’s right and effective.
Accepted: Congratulations on your job offer from Microsoft! What will you be doing for them, and did Wharton play a role in helping you secure that position? Can you talk about how some of your past experiences (professional and otherwise) inspired you to pursue something in this field?
Andrew: Alumni advice, classmates’ amazing support and connections, and Career Management were instrumental during the job search. Career Management’s skill at humanizing the job search has been very helpful. I was excited to receive an offer for Apple iPhone product management in Cupertino with 25% travel to China. Finally, recruiting done!
But over winter break I was surprised during interviews for a Strategy Lead role working globally from Seattle with Microsoft’s Public Sector group, which addresses needs in education, government, and healthcare globally. I had hoped to engage these types of problems as a wide-eyed kid, explorer at Notre Dame, and intelligence officer. There is a calling about the work beyond working in a business. The team at Microsoft views their work similarly. I had to accept this role.
Accepted: How have you found the transition from army life back to civilian/student life? Would you say Wharton is “military friendly”?
Andrew: Our Veteran’s Club has led incredible initiatives this year: sponsorships and spokespersons from top companies for recruiting events, a day with Wharton’s senior administrators, articles in top business magazines and newspapers about Wharton veterans, etc. Classmates still thank us for our service. Last year, Brian Lanier, a helo pilot sponsored by the Army, was promoted to Major. Seeing Wharton packed the floor for his promotion was an honor. We have many stories like this.
Wharton is a great environment for learning from the community while sharing our strengths. Veterans and non-traditional students shouldn’t expect the classroom to be a level playing field in any MBA program with our knowledgeable bankers and consultants, but we also have remarkable stories and skills to share. Being honest about the journey and exchanging support adds to the community. “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” In other words, in any weakness is tremendous strength.
Accepted: Do you have advice for some of our applicants who will be applying to the Wharton-Lauder program?
Andrew: Understand up front there is arbitrariness in any school or job application process, unfortunately. But in general, fit in then stand out. (Accepted.com has advice for both.)
To fit in, qualify. Top-rated GMAT prep books on Amazon and strong undergraduate and professional experiences can be very helpful. Find ways in advance to mitigate any weaknesses. A low GMAT quant without any technical qualifications seems to be a common culprit. Mediocre grades without any quantitative or business classes is another. A strong professional record without a compelling personal story is a third that strains out many an intelligent, hard-working person.
To stand out, be diligent and creative. Spend a lot of time on your stories. Research programs, your background, and goals, and link together specific and personally relevant elements from each for a unique and consistent story. Identify a compelling, relevant way you can create a comprehensive path for yourself at Wharton. Wharton is revamping the “core” curriculum starting Fall 2012 to give more flexibility to the first-year. Identify special ways you can contribute to the development.
Lauder is a niche program. Go through the Lauder website and understand what happens and when; this is obvious and too often overlooked. We love Lauder. Can you describe why you would too?
For any school, make contacts with a couple students through clubs of interest who have similar backgrounds and goals to pick up on inside terms and developments and who might be willing to review your essays. Show a good balance – laugh if you tend to be serious, be concise if you tend to make off comments. Have fun during the process and good luck to you!
Please visit our Wharton B-School Zone for more Wharton-specific advice. Still haven’t decided which b-school are best for you? Download our FREE special report, Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Choosing the Right One for You, to help you narrow down your choices and begin your application efforts out on the right foot.