Top of the Class

#11 College Tips - Would I Go to Wharton Again? With Wharton Alum, Rohan Tibrawalla

April 14, 2021 Crimson Education Season 2 Episode 11
Top of the Class
#11 College Tips - Would I Go to Wharton Again? With Wharton Alum, Rohan Tibrawalla
Top of the Class
#11 College Tips - Would I Go to Wharton Again? With Wharton Alum, Rohan Tibrawalla
Apr 14, 2021 Season 2 Episode 11
Crimson Education

It's been 15 years since Rohan graduated from UPenn's Wharton School and in this episode, he reflects on his experiences and his continued involvement in the Ivy League school.

For close to a decade, Rohan has been keenly engaged with Penn’s various admission, alumni and strategic efforts in India as co-chair of the Penn Club of Delhi, member of the Penn Alumni Interview Council and a member of the executive committee of Wharton Club of Delhi. 

Listen in as Rohan shares how one of the world's leading business programs has evolved in the past 15 years and the kind of students it now attracts. 

Show Notes Transcript

It's been 15 years since Rohan graduated from UPenn's Wharton School and in this episode, he reflects on his experiences and his continued involvement in the Ivy League school.

For close to a decade, Rohan has been keenly engaged with Penn’s various admission, alumni and strategic efforts in India as co-chair of the Penn Club of Delhi, member of the Penn Alumni Interview Council and a member of the executive committee of Wharton Club of Delhi. 

Listen in as Rohan shares how one of the world's leading business programs has evolved in the past 15 years and the kind of students it now attracts. 

Podcast Host  00:07

Hi, Rohan, welcome to the College Tips podcast. It's fantastic to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Rohan  00:27

Hey, Alex, good to be on overall as well with you as well. Yeah, absolutely. You know, I am from India, I had the fortunate, you know, the good chance of going to the US to study for my undergrad, I went to Penn, where I specifically studied at the Wharton School, which is the business school that many years ago. So I graduated in 2006. worked in New York for a couple of years. In at JP Morgan, I think two of probably sound the best years of my life, you know, work hard, played hard, made a lot of good friends learned lots Well, unfortunately, you know, given the visa situation in the US had to come back to to India, since coming back, I've done a few things in terms of work, work with the family or my own as well. But one thing that's sort of been consistent is when my association with Penn, so you know, I helped start the Alumni Associations from both Penn and Wharton in Delhi, in North India, as co chair of theAalumni Interview Committee, which is responsible for interviewing all undergrad students from a certain region. And yeah, it's been a good experience so far, and just now trying to sort of do my good deeds, and you know, help students who are interested in going abroad, with my experience and my expertise

Podcast Host  01:47

Penn has a fantastic reputation for alumni, particularly in the business side of things. But what exactly are we chatting about today, there's a topic near and dear to your heart that you would like to share with students.

Rohan  01:59

You know, when we started discussing this podcast, I was thinking, what might be interesting, what might be slightly new, slightly innovative, what if I bought the students, you know, myself in the students who was applying now? And, you know, would I sort of apply to Wharton again, because so much has changed? You know, it's been close to 15 years now since I graduated. And so much has changed since then. And a lot has also not changed.

Podcast Host  02:23

Well, I'm going to guess there's a short and long answer to what I go to what and again, and I think we should go with the long version and explain it out a little bit more, in your view, what has changed in 15 years in the world of business and entrepreneurship, because obviously, the internet has come along in leaps and bounds in that time. And I think there's a lot of people out there selling short courses of variety in different ways and all these kinds of things. So for you, what do you think has changed your opinion? Something like one over the 15 year period?

Rohan  02:53

Yeah, absolutely. So I think a few things have definitely changed. If I need to sort of bucket them, I sort of bucket them into three different categories and say, you know, the student population that they're attracting, what are they looking for in students? Just to be clear, you know, I did my undergrad at at Wharton hadn't done an MBA, but there is a certain amount of overlap between what you do at Wharton bits in terms of classes and extracurricular wise with the MBA students. So I think in terms of what's changed, like I said, one is just the demographic of the students has changed. What you know, that's one category, I think the second category is the curriculum itself. And the third category, I think, is just, you know, opportunities post graduation, and, you know, jobs that people want. 

Podcast Host  03:38

Yeah, well talk to me about the undergrad experience in terms of like sharing some of the classes with MBAs or sharing some of the opportunities with MBA students. Obviously, like Wharton, has this kind of storied reputation among students interested in business? And is it an advantage to then have those opportunities to mix with people who are a couple years older, and perhaps a few more years experienced in the business world?

Rohan  04:00

Yeah, I think, you know, it's the amount of overlap there is, is limited that there is both so specifically in terms of classes that you want to take with some senior professors or some of the high level classes, there might be a mix of your MBAs and undergrads. Second is, you know, they have a lot of events in terms of inviting global leaders to come and speak on campus, having job fairs, and all of that, and you know, and those are kind of events and situations where the undergrads and MBA students sort of combine their efforts. It's also good because to get to speak to these MBA students, because like you said, you know, they were probably in your shoes A few years ago, they have graduated from good schools, they've worked in the field for a little while they've come back to do an MBA. So it's always good to get a mentor speak to them, you know, and then sort of understand from their experiences as well. So it's, it definitely gives you that opportunity. It's one of the few schools that does that. A lot of top MBA schools you know, let's say a Harvard or Stanford you ESB, those are only focused on MBAs, and they don't have undergraduate students. Whereas Wharton does have a mix of both undergraduate and graduate students. So I think, you know, both from getting to know the MBA students, and also some of the faculty and curriculum is definitely very helpful.

Podcast Host  05:17

Wharton, I think, it's one of those places as well that most people would say, is an MBA place. Like when you talk to a student here in Australia, or wherever else around the world, they're like, yeah, I mean, that's where I want to do my MBA. But why did you choose it for your undergrad? As you know, your opportunity to go overseas?

Rohan  05:33

Good question. So you know, I was very keen on studying business at the undergraduate level, and is very keen on going to the US. So I was keen on undergraduate business level, because I come from a business family, I was keen on going to the US, because I had heard a lot about the US my cousin had studied there. So keeping those two things in mind, I tried researching colleges. And funnily enough, there aren't a lot of athletes at that point of time. And even now, actually, to a certain extent, there aren't a lot of options for top business programs at the undergraduate level. So if you, like I said, most of you know, Harvard or Stanford, at the NBA level, you will have, you know, Penn NYU, you have a couple of public universities like Michigan, Texas, UNC Chapel Hill, and those not. So I was just very keen on sort of seeing what is the best option available for me. And, you know, I applied, I was lucky to sort of graduate from there, or in honestly, speaking now, I know, the topic of discussion is would I go to Wharton? I think for me, the bigger question is, would I even get into Wharton, you know, at the undergraduate level, it's just so competitive. Now, it's got such a strong brand name. And there's more and more people who, who want to do that, I think I was very keen that I wanted to do it, I think I'd fit very well, for me also, because Ben as a whole is a very good school, you know, in terms of curriculum, faculty, classmates access opportunities. Philly, as a City, Philadelphia, the city is, is just great. And that's one thing that's actually improved. More than been the one thing that's improved more than been the last 15 years is Philadelphia, the city is become much, much more vibrant, it's become a great college city to be in. And one thing that Penn actually helps students and you know, a lot of the Australian students might be interested in is they have this call this concept called the one university concept, where even though you apply to a certain school, so let's say you apply to work may apply to the School of Engineering, you can still take classes in the other school, so you can take classes in a nursing school, and, you know, the College of Arts and Sciences and communication school or any of the many schools that they have. And I think that definitely helps you, I had friends of mine who were in the nursing program, so they take classes in nursing, I was very interested in American history. So I took classes in American history. So I think overall, you know, that's a benefit that you get of attending Penn is even though you're studying, you know, you're focusing concentrating on business at the undergraduate level, you can also take classes around it. The other thing, the big difference, also between undergraduate studies and an MBA is at an MBA, you're sort of focused on just MBA, you can't take these classes outside of your curriculum, while at the undergraduate level, I'm still doing, you know, business, finance, marketing, and accounting, but I can still take classes in your nursing classes, art history classes, or whatever I want.

Podcast Host  08:26

I've heard that Penn does have that really fantastic diversity of scores that you say, and you can go and do a bit of everything. I think a lot of students look at these, you know, the Ivy League universities, and they kind of equate them all to be roughly the same. But each university does have some pretty much outstanding feature, which is very different to everyone else. And I think that's probably the one that you penned that seems to stand out. But in terms of the competitiveness, I think that's Of particular interest to our listeners, and you mentioned, as well, as someone who is still, you know, interviewing students in the area, it's obviously something that you're still a part of, in terms of not necessarily how competitive it's become. But what has made it to become so competitive, like what are the qualities of the students that is making it competitive? What are you starting to see in terms of the trends of people who are applying to a university like UPenn?

Rohan  09:13

Absolutely. So just off the bat, you know, obviously, in terms of competition or exclusivity, or however hard to get into, you know, this year and last year have just been very different because of the pandemic. But in general, obviously, like other good schools, is a very competitive school. So there are a few things that have changed that I've noticed that have changed, right. One is I think, in terms of the kind of students who are attending or applying to Wharton specifically, they're more focused on your entrepreneurship initiative and getting things done starting things, not fearing failure, but sort of embracing it, and less so much on being like, hey, I want to learn the traditional finance grade sets. I want to learn how to, you know, make Excel spreadsheets I want to learn how to make financial models. I want to learn You know, the traditional skill sets that you need, I also think there's been less emphasis on leadership, it still is an important part of your application, it's still an important part of the demographics of students who attend Penn. But I think the main change has been, you know, that students are more keen on, you know, entrepreneurship, taking initiative, trying things out, starting things up being a part of a team, as opposed to just being like, hey, I want to be a leader, and I want to have followers, then compared to people who, you know, earlier on Well, I guess, and I won't go into traditional investment banking, or I want to go into traditional private equity. And those require skill sets at a slightly more different and they're still available, but not as much in demand. I think the second thing is that, you know, critical thinking, you know, just being able to think through a problem or think through a situation has become very important. And the focus initially was obviously, on your analytical skills on your quantitative skills, when you were at Penn in your classes sort of reflected that as well. But what's changed now is, you know, being put in a situation being given a problem being given a circumstance and being able to sort of think yourself through it, you know, as part of a team. So I think critical thinking also, you know, it's, it's not something that's called very easily measured quantitatively. But again, it's an important part that comes out, especially in applications, you know, through teacher recommendations through essays, and what they encourage a lot more now in classes, you know, just literally, let's discuss, you know, let's, let's see what your thinking capabilities are. And yeah, I think you know, those two in terms of the students, I think, on the non student side, obviously, the opportunities that you mentioned earlier, the jobs in the opportunities post graduation have also changed.

Podcast Host  11:43

Yeah, yeah. Well, we'll get into that in a second. But one thing that came to mind was, you are chatting there is, who do you think shapes the university culture or shapes the university's reputation more thought you might have a good view as someone who has both been a student at the University, and has been, you know, a part of the community and the alumni network for the last 15 years? Like, where is the trend toward that entrepreneur side of things coming from? Is that, as I said, like the university pushing that way? Or is it the students pushing that way?

Rohan  12:15

Yeah, that's a good question. I actually think it's a bit of both. And one is, I think, even students themselves are becoming more and more aware of the kind of opportunities that are available, you know, the becoming more and more excited about starting things. And, you know, being part of small companies, and I think that sort of reflects in the application that you're submitting to Wharton and to other similar universities, I think on the administration side, because they have so much knowledge until lunch awareness of what's going on, you know, especially when at work, and because of the MBA level, they seen, the change in jobs, the trending, changing jobs, they're also getting all these applications from all over. And the like, Listen, you know, these students are not wanting to come to study traditional finance, or want to know how to value companies, they want to come here to become entrepreneurs, they want to come here to start companies, they want to come here because they want to meet other people like themselves. So I think it's a bit of both, I think Wharton themselves has been very conscious of that, and has been very slightly ahead of the curve as well, because they've, while they've kept the traditional subjects in place, so let's say, you know, let's take an example of marketing. You know, they've, they've kept marketing, it's still a very important and very popular concentration at Wharton. They've actually changed the curriculum to more reflect, you know, digital marketing to reflect influencer marketing to reflect what is the sort of the trends today. So I think someone who ended up going to the site can get a good combination of your foundation level knowledge. Plus, you know, what is trending today? What's important today? And what it is that you're going to learn? So yeah, just to answer your question, I think it's a bit of both push and pull. It's some sound coming from the student side, and then a lot also, the administration being aware of what's changing.

Podcast Host  14:03

It's interesting to look at how students are going toward and for that community and finding like minded people, rather than necessarily for like the hard skills of starting a business. They're looking for possibly co founders at Wharton, rather than necessarily you know, how to learn a financial model, whatever it might be. Do you think that's like a good enough reason to go to a Ivy League University and to invest that time and effort and money into an Ivy League degree to primarily Well, not necessarily primarily, but certainly with the intent of being a part of a community of like minded people? 

Rohan  14:39

Yeah, I think what's important to for students to understand when applying to universities, you know, in the US and otherwise, to other countries as well is a lot of it is about fit, you know, you want you need to find the place where you fit the best fits the best fit for you as well. And whether that's an Ivy League school, or whether that's a small liberal arts college, or whether they Public, large public university, they're all very different, and but they all could be, you know, a good fit for different students. So I think it's very important, you know, and for people to sort of understand that that ranking is not the only thing, you know, what is a very good school, it's a good place for it might not be the right fit for many students, you know, and that's where the whole admission process comes in, in terms of just understanding what the fit is. I think in general, it's, people are becoming aware that, you know, I sort of want to not know, I'm also learning in the classroom, I'm learning a lot of these concepts, you know, financial modeling is still important, because you want to be able to understand how these things work. But like you said, You know, I want to meet like minded people, I want to see if these are people that I enjoy just spending four years of my life with, I can sort of have friendships with for the rest of my life, and also see if I can find a co founder or a business partner in that. But yeah, I think a lot of it is about fit both from you know, do you fit to the university? And is the university a good fit for you? 

Podcast Host  15:59

That whole fit thing is a huge part of the conversation around the admissions time and making sure students are applying to the right universities. But in terms of your personal experiences, and whether you would go to Penn again, now not 15 years ago, Penn, but today Penn, would you go to pen for the same reasons that you originally went there?

Rohan  16:20

So good question, you know, I and I think I would go to pen again, if I got it, let's put the disclaimer because I don't think I would get it now. It's just so so competitive, obviously. But not for all the same reasons that I did when I, when I went initially, you know, I think when I went initially I was looking for skill sets that were more traditional, like I said, you know, something like an accounting, you know, is not going to go away. But you don't need to go to Penn to learn accounting, you shouldn't go to Penn to your learn entrepreneurship, if you think that can be taught you want to be called upon to learn critical thinking you want to be developing, you know, building these networks. So I think, you know, having hindsight of having been to Penn went to Wharton, and then you know, the last 15 years of my life, I think, in general, I would go there, but not for the all the same reasons. I think, if I did go back, there are a few things that I do differently, you know, I'd be more active in terms of extracurricular wise, I wouldn't, obviously, you know, doing well in the classroom is important. But I would also spend more time just trying to explore other areas of the business world, I'd make more of an effort reaching out to both younger and older alumni, even when I was in college. That's something that I hadn't done. I've done more now since I've graduated, but not while while I was in college. But yeah, and I definitely would. And I think you know, it's important to also realize that one of the things all students are looking forward to post graduation is okay, where am I working? What am I doing? And sort of changed a lot, right? Traditionally, when I was at Penn, most of my friends and most students in general at Wharton, were looking at, you know, one or three opportunities, either investment bank by JP Morgan, or a consultancy, like, like McKinsey, or maybe something in the private equity world like Carlyle, Blackstone, that sort of formed a lot of most of our bulk of the opportunities that were available and that were being taken. I think now most of the poor people who want to go and apply are blank places like Amazon, Google, the larger tech companies in this much smaller tech companies that may have been founded by alumni 5678 years ago, but a become a certain skill now where they can come in actually hire from, from Penn Wharton. So those opportunities have also changed. And people don't want to be traditionally, you know, I don't know of anyone right now, who is who I know, at Wharton, who wants to do what I did 15 years ago who wants to go to JPMorgan and do investment banking, they want to start something they want to work in a small startup they want to they may not even want to be in the US. They want to be in Europe, in Asia, in other parts of the world. So I think that's changing as well. And I think that's something that Ben has been very, very conscious, often very, very good at is making sure that the students are getting enough opportunity and enough options in terms of exploring these different jobs and skill sets post graduation.

Podcast Host  19:08

Yeah, actually, it reminds me of another question that I asked. I think it was when I had a chat with Evelyn about university research. And I asked her about how valuable the opinion of an alumni is for a student who's doing research on which University is best. And it's just amazing to hear like your example there that 15 years ago, people would have very different goals to what they have generally. Now, if you're to ask people graduating from Wharton, at what point would you say an alumni experience becomes less of an important factor in a student's choice?

Rohan  19:44

Yeah, I think it just atrophies with age. So the longer the longer you're around less important. It could be but I think, you know, having said that, alumni also have perspective that is lifelong, you know, so I can still you know, if I know of anyone who's applying this year, I can still recommend I'm speaking to an alum who graduated 2025 years ago, because certain things are don't change, and you will all you learn a lot from age. So in from my experience, you know, if someone comes and asks for my advice, you know, I laid down to them in terms of you know what I did and give them my background. And I tell you tell them, Listen, you know, what's happening now is something that I'm not a part of. But I can tell you that these things haven't changed. So just think like the alumni network, it's that's only become bigger and better, that hasn't changed in the sense of, you know, things like that. Even if you're an alumni 15 years out, you probably have a better perspective than alumni who's five years out, because someone who's older is probably used the alumni network and part of the alumni network longer than someone who's younger, enrolled. I think if you know, things are changing so fast, it does atrophy with it.

Podcast Host  20:44

Yeah, absolutely. Well, any final tips for students who are looking to go to some of the leading business schools in the world, including Wharton?

Rohan  20:52

Yeah, I would just say a couple of things, right. One is, don't underestimate yourself. I think a lot of people are like, okay, these are the best schools? And do I really have the skill sets, just be honest, during the application process, present yourself, overall, as a student who's keen on going there? And I think second is specific from business perspective, just be very sure that this is what you want to do, because you will be spending four years for life at the undergraduate level, studying business concept. So be sure that that is something that's very important. Indeed, I think this put your best foot forward. And if you you know, if you have leadership qualities, if you have entrepreneurship skills, just make sure that those are the highlight in your application.

Podcast Host  21:36

Absolutely. What we're hunting, it's been fantastic to chat. And I think we answered the question of would I attend Wharton, again, the answer is from your side. If I got admitted, I would, yes. If you got admitted, well, it is a tough gig. I know some students that we've had, go through the application process this year have certainly gained admission depend. And we'll be doing a new series starting soon featuring some recently admitted students from the world's top universities. But it's been awesome chatting today. And I think it's such a good thing to have that long term perspective, right, that it's not just about getting admission and getting a degree. It's about joining a lifetime or a lifelong network of high achievers from all around the world. And it's fantastic. You're leading the charge there in Delhi. I'm sure they're very delighted to have someone of your esteemed reputation there. So that's fantastic. But yeah, I look forward to publishing the episode and sharing it with everyone who's interested in business and getting into top universities in the US or the UK.

Rohan  22:33

Thanks. It's been pleasure.

Podcast Host  22:34

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