“To my great surprise, being ‘nontraditional’ at Wharton is completely normal, and you will survive. You got in because you belong here, and because Wharton knows you’ll thrive.”

The morning of Round 1 decisions for Wharton’s Class of 2016, around 8:30 am, I had given up all hopes of getting in. My two roommates, who also had applied, had received their acceptance calls around 6 am PST, so, by 8:30 am, I felt like it was over.

Not that I was surprised, far from it. Coming from the film industry, I knew I was a nontraditional applicant, and Wharton had seemed like a long shot to begin with. And then, around 8:35 am, the 215 number popped up…

I’m fairly certain whoever called me thought I was in a zoo. My roommates were cheering, I was (I think?) doing a weird mix of cheering/sobbing/thanking and after about 8 seconds the person on the other line just hung up. But that didn’t matter: I had gotten in.

The joy was quickly overcome by fear: how on earth did I get in? It dawned on me that my roommates (both management consultants) and everyone else I knew at business schools (former bankers, analysts, and PE guys with great hair) probably knew much more about business than I did.

Sure, I knew how to make a movie trailer or write a great story line for a TV commercial, but watching Shark Tank made my head spin most of the time. How on earth was I going to fit in, and under/over two months before I would fail out?

Being “Nontraditional” at Wharton

If you at all recognize yourself in my story, do not run away just yet. To my great surprise, being “nontraditional” at Wharton is completely normal, and you will survive. You got in because you belong here, and because Wharton knows you’ll thrive. You bring something to the table that consultants and bankers don’t, and they bring something you don’t.

And that is the beauty of Wharton: all 800 or so of us are complements to each other, and add on each other’s background and knowledge areas to make the two years here a deeper and broader learning experience than you could ever imagine.

My consultant friends taught me how to make beautiful PowerPoint pages, a former teacher taught me how to get the attention of a room of people, bankers showed me magic in Excel, a doctor is on my speed dial for all my quirky questions, and a former pro-baseball player showed me how to swing a bat.

With help from many friends and classmates who were always happy to help, I survived accounting and finance classes, and graduated on time (so whoever bet on under two months, you owe me).

Most importantly, I learned about everything I was afraid of and then some, I met the most diverse and interesting group of people I’ve ever met, I stretched myself from playing ice hockey and slipping on ice to walks to school in Philadelphia’s 95 degree summer heat. And in the process I probably taught a classmate or two something about my time before Wharton.

So, don’t be afraid of what you did before Wharton. You will add something to your classmates’ experiences, and they will add something to yours.

Posted: June 23, 2016

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