Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wharton visit

I had to get up at 4:30a to catch the train from NY to Philly. When I arrived I made the mistake of wandering around outside in pouring rain to try to catch a bus rather than beeline it for a taxi. I arrived at Wharton completely soaked and freezing. Nice. I forget what East Coast rain is like, definitely umbrella worthy unlike the delightful drizzle we get out here. So I show up at the locked Wharton admissions office door at 8:30a. The admissions staff member who deigned to crack open the glass door (in a wall of glass) and poke her head out at me says "Can I help you?" hand firmly on door. Umm, yes, you can let me in for starters. I assumed that when youngish looking showered people show up at their admission office at 8:30 in the morning with a suitcase in hand they are usually ... Prospectives! Maybe they get a lot of runaways ... or only late sleeping Prospectives. So I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by the reception, although it could have been worse, I know. I've been reading about how nice the Wharton folks are so I was expecting a little more welcome.

Wharton is very strict about the need to be ferried to class by a current student and introduced so I waited dutifully. They gets points for letting Prospectives choose from many classes all day. My first class was Fundamentals of Managerial Accounting, one of the more accelerated core accounting options for first years. The teacher was tall and very striking and seemed especially cold. Class moved at a nice clip and the classroom was lovely. Large, open and lots of windows. Students seemed serious and prepared. My second class Decision Models & Uncertainty which seems to be a general management course taught by Katalan who is also a tall and striking man but the complete energetic opposite of the first instructor. He bounded all over the room, seemed to have no need for his mic, and ended the class drenched in sweat. It was a lot of fun actually. If only all teachers could be so lively. He had the two prospectives, myself and a young gentlemen, introduce ourselves at the beginning of class and occasionally spoke directly to us during class, asking me at one point if I wanted to answer a question which I happily declined. Similar class room to the first.

I then attended a student lunch which could have done with a little more organization. We ended up in one of the very large classrooms scattered about and where non-participating students were also studying. A room with a conference table or just a smaller classroom might have been nice. A unified conversation was impossible so we ended up in little splinter groups. I ended up speaking with a very nice but very intense first-year woman.

After lunch, the tour didn't seem to be really happening so I decided to attend a third class and chose Finance of Buyouts and Acquisitions. This professor was more diminutive in comparison to the other two (I was beginning to think only tall men were allowed to teach there) though striking in his slow and deliberate manner of speaking and careful enunciation, not a good combination for an underslept, digesting prospective such as myself. He also made us (5 prospectives) sit in the very front row. After about an hour it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Nonetheless, it still seemed like an interesting and well taught course ... with very few women, of course.

Lastly was the info session led by a somewhat uninspiring woman. The slide show kept reverting to the first slide which was made even more annoying by her annoyance over this. Oh well. After about 30 minutes she was replaced by four current students to answer our questions. I liked this method of doing the session but I wasn't especially encouraged by the students. One student (another tall, striking man) did not seem to be making much progress in his quest to become a better listener and avoid dominating the conversation. (He mentioned initially that that was one of the early lessons of his learning team.) It was painful to watch him take every question first without deferring to his fellow students. They were pretty frank about the fact that learning teams don't always work out. Only one of the group, from Thailand, seemed like a good listener and more mild-mannered but he had to leave early for a committment. The other gentleman was a former military man and then there was the token woman. I think they meant well and I'm always appreciative of students' time since I know they're very busy but the session ended up feeling a little combative if you can even imagine how that could be possible. The military man seemed prone to disparaging our questions which was unusual. Answers could be brusque too. I had to leave before the session was over to make an appointment with my cousin, but I think I had had enough.

Bottom line - I was disappointed that I didn't enjoy Wharton more given that it's my second choice. The facilities were great and the professors and courses seemed good but I didn't meet any students (or prospectives) that I felt like I could imagine enjoying having a beer with. And the classroom dynamic seemed a little tense. And many students seemed very dressed and polished. It feels like a big school too. Between classes it was hard to move around, the place was packed. But I think a larger program has advantages so I'm willing to live with that and Philly is far more affordable than New York. It's still a great program, decent degree of flexibility, and given that it is such a large program, I'm sure I could find students that I liked. Nonetheless, my visit to Wharton left me a little less excited about it than when I went in, unfortunately.

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