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Christian Tate

The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania

Once a week, Christian Tate kisses his wife goodnight, dresses in three layers of long underwear, and slips into the darkness for a midnight game of ice hockey. A member of the illustrious Wharton Hockey Club, Tate says extracurricular activities help relieve stress and form bonds between colleagues.

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This summer, Tate interned at Sun Microsystems in Northern California, where he worked on product marketing for network storage products. He says that experience has enhanced his Wharton studies concerning strategic management and new product development.

Be a Sponge, Not a Cowboy
You need to have the right mindset before starting business school, and, as crazy as this may sound, you want to emulate a sponge. The ideal state of mind is one that is completely open to learning and ready to absorb all the information that you’ll soon be exposed to. Try to get rid of any preconceived notions of the people you might meet or of the program — because those ideas are probably wrong.

Some first-year students also make the big mistake of coming in with a cowboy mentality. They arrive with their guns shooting, trying to take of control of the situation before they even realize what the situation is. Cowboys don’t want to be team players; they don’t want to share information. That’s an attitude that doesn’t fly in our community. At Wharton, we’re all in it together. If anyone’s having trouble, the whole class is there to help.

Share the Load
There are about 1,500 to 1,600 people attending Wharton, and it’s easy to get stuck in a clique where you talk to the same five or 10 people every day. When first-year students arrive, they are split into what we call “learning teams.” Each learning team has five people in it, with at least one woman and one international student. These are the people whom you’re expected to do all your work with, whether it’s a specific group project or not. There’s really no way a person can go out on their own and expect to get everything done that’s expected of them; you have to determine who in your learning team is best at what aspect of an assignment, and then divide up the work load accordingly. It’s a real sort of company mentality, where each person has a specialty.

Build a Strong Infrastructure
Meet your peers. That’s the most important piece of advice I can give. And by that I don’t just mean talking with your classmates, but also getting to know people who aren’t in your classes. These might be people who are very different from you, who have different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different goals. Constructing this infrastructure may be time-consuming and tedious at first, especially when there are so many other things vying for your time and attention, but having this group of friends to rely on over the next two years will be crucial to your success and your sanity.

Revel in Being the Cream of the Crop
One aspect of Wharton that really influenced my decision to enroll was the fact that there are no grades. Classes are only pass/fail. Even when I visited, I could tell that the students here had excelled in their professional lives and on their standardized tests, that they were doing well in class and aggressively pursuing their interviews, and that ultimately they would accomplish many successes in their careers. When students have the added pressure of grades and rankings, our competitive natures sometimes surface, and that’s a negative factor of some business programs.

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The only grades that are published here are those of people who are in the highest five or ten percent of the class. There are some really, really bright people at Wharton, and it was surprising to me at first that everyone I ran into could easily have been a friend. There’s a shared sense of values that runs through the class. I think that’s because the school gets around 15,000 applications, and Wharton then can choose the best people. I’m surrounded by some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and we don’t worry about who did better than whom on the latest exam.

Take the Takeaways
Three things that I learned over the course of my first year are as follows: First, mastering time management. It’s an understatement to say you’ll have a lot of information thrown at you, and more opportunities to pursue than you could ever find time for. The biggest non-academic monopolizers of time are the hundreds of companies that come to campus looking to recruit graduates. If you end up accepting the invitation of every consulting and banking and tech firm that offers you dinner and drinks, you’ll never find time to learn. The best thing to do is to pick and choose the companies that fit your interests; that way, you’ll still get plenty of time to schmooze, but it won’t be a waste of time.

The second takeaway is to recognize the power of networking. Get to know the second-year students, your professors, and your peers. These are connections that will be useful, not only in the future, but also at the present.

The third, and maybe most important, would be to absorb the problem-solving framework that Wharton teaches. Once you understand this framework, you can address any problem. It’s not like a magic elixir or a black box that you dump a few variables into and out comes the solution; the framework is a way of thinking that helps you tackle any issue – it’s a very efficient and effective tool.

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