After graduating from Wharton a decade ago, Bob Alig says he had no inkling that he would someday return as a faculty member — in fact, the faculty member in charge of seeking out and weeding out the best of the best for his alma mater. But today Alig is doing just that as director of MBA admissions and financial aid.
“I have lived and breathed Wharton personally as well as professionally,” he says. “In my view, the real value of the education at Wharton is the opportunity to learn from your fellow classmates with the support and guidance of an extraordinarily committed faculty and administration.”
Volunteer Your Experience
Probably 80 percent of our nearly 8,500 applications in 1999 could handle the workload here at Wharton and be successful in the classroom. But we only admitted about 12 percent of our applicants, so there’s obviously a huge disparity between the admissible students and those students we actually admit. Oftentimes, those students we admit are the ones who demonstrated that they’re really committed to giving something back, that they want to contribute here, and share their experiences and background with their fellow classmates.
I can tell from a student’s background and attitude whether they’ve always been committed to doing that. I see leadership in their undergraduate experiences. I see a history of getting involved and making an impact. When I see clear enthusiasm for the same type of contribution here at Wharton, I want that person here.
Log In, Sign Up, Speak Out
From very early on Wharton provides students with a lot of support and resources to help them find their way. Students actually received their admissions decision electronically this year for the first time. A student could log in from anywhere and check the steps of their application and actually get their decision online. A week after that, they also got a handwritten note from one of the admissions officers on my staff basically welcoming them to Wharton and providing a private phone number for them to use at any time.
Immediately after students get their admittance package, they can log on to e-talk, which is an electronic chat room where admitted students meet one another, find roommates, and talk about course choices that they’re making. Our second-year and our first-year students log on and provide advice and mentoring for classmates as they post questions or notes.
Wharton’s Welcome Weekend has now become a reunion event because all of these admitted students have gotten to know each other electronically first. The come to Welcome Weekend to meet each other face-to-face and become even closer.
[On Tuesday, September 7, the Wharton Admissions Office introduced an online system that allows MBA candidates to schedule on- and off-campus interviews from anywhere in the world. During its first eight days, the “Interview Schedule Module” served 13,000 potential students in 38 countries and 22 domestic cities. Bob Alig says 1,800 candidates have registered for interviews in locations ranging from Bangkok to Barcelona to Boston. In fact, 155 interview slots in Seoul, South Korea, were snatched up via the Web in record time, and Alig says he couldn’t be happier.]
One thing that’s extraordinarily important and really sets Wharton apart is the Intranet that we’ve designed called SPIKE. It’s become the lifeblood for our students. They use it to stay in touch with each other, to interact with faculty, as a scheduling mechanism, and as a way to constantly be aware of what’s going on on campus.
It’s really changed the culture of this place. You don’t have to go to four or five different sources to find out that we have nine student-run conferences every year, a constant stream of speakers, and all kinds of extracurricular activities. Students literally log on and check SPIKE 10 or 12 times a day.
Many Wharton students arrive in early August for what we call pre-term, which is basically the great leveler. We bring in students from all kinds of different academic and professional backgrounds, and pre-term allows them to get up to speed before the start of the regular academic term just after Labor Day.
If a student has never had accounting or statistics, they might take the introductory level accounting or statistics class to get better prepared. In addition to the academic component, this has become a really significant part of our culture — the socialization is almost as important as the academic preparation during pre-term. Classes don’t officially start until the Wednesday after Labor Day, but the vast majority of our students were here by the second week of August.
The single most important thing a student can do upon arrival is meet fellow students from every possible background, perspective, and culture. Students at Wharton are not just simply learning about accounting or statistics or micro-economics, they’re learning about the backgrounds and perspectives of all their classmates. That’s where the real education takes place.
Tailor Your Education
The first year at Wharton is what we call the core curriculum. Every course during the entire first year is waivable, except for the leadership course — Foundations of Leadership and Teamwork. So if you have background in marketing, or if you took statistics as an undergrad, you can waive that course in the core curriculum and then take another upper-level elective in its place. The hallmark here is that you tailor this program and this experience to meet your own needs, and you don’t duplicate something that you’ve all ready had. We have a menu of over 200 electives, and the typical student chooses about 10 of them.
Get Outside the Box
The teaching method here is variable. Faculty members are given the latitude to teach in the method or manor they deem most appropriate. In general, about 55 percent of the instruction is classroom discussion and lecture-based, and maybe another 25 percent is case-based. The remaining 20 percent is what we call experiential learning, where students are living and breathing a real-world situation. They’re out consulting as a group to a small company or a company is coming to campus and presenting a situation for the students to evaluate. Wharton’s a little bit more practical and hands-on than perhaps some of our peer institutions and our students love the opportunity to get out and actually participate in a real world situation.
We also have what’s called the Field Application Project, which is the capstone course to the first year and the core curriculum. The idea is for students to apply what they’ve learned throughout the core curriculum in a setting of their choice. Students decide on a project with their learning team members, and it might be helping Procter & Gamble with the roll-out of a new product in Tokyo. Students sometimes travel and do a lot of field work. Other projects are less field-intensive. But it’s completely up to the students.
Relish the Community
Students sometimes think this is just going to be a two-year opportunity, but actually you’re getting a lifetime of resources from this community. What I valued about being here were the people I went school with, and that’s what drives me in my current job. This fall I’m traveling with the rest of the staff to 38 countries to host receptions, conduct interviews, and communicate what this place is all about.
I get to learn about these applicants’ backgrounds and experiences and gauge how they could make Wharton stronger by being here. And I don’t mean just by being students here, but I think more importantly by being teachers here. That’s what keeps me going.
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