All that You Should Leave Behind

The law and business schools at Penn are obviously very different in many ways; however, now that I’ve spent some time at both, a couple of common lessons and themes have become apparent.

The first lesson I feel that I’ve learned concerns what you should—and should not—bring with you on day one.

Successful applicants to either school have demonstrated a high level of academic or professional achievement, or both, prior to their enrollment. While it is tempting to assume that what worked before Penn will continue to work while at Penn, this can be a misleading assumption.

Take, for example, the law school curriculum. Habits of hard work and effective time management continue to be as important during your first-year (or 1L) as in undergraduate classes, as the volume of material covered in each course is immense. Yet other habits that may have driven past success, such as “brain dumping” on an exam, must be abandoned. Law professors expect a certain type of analysis that many of us had little or no exposure to as undergraduates. Those students that have the greatest success during 1L are able to come to terms with this and prepare for each class and exam with an open mind.

Similarly, at Wharton, there is a risk of bringing too much baggage on board. First-years can be extremely eager to identify with and proudly wear the “badge” of their respective prior profession, be it banking, consulting, nonprofit work, the military or some other field. While it is true that certain past habits and ethics will continue to be important to each student’s success while at Wharton, the goal should be to change and evolve, rather than simply proceed through the curriculum as a continuation of one’s past self.

The most successful first-years so far have been those who have maintained an open mind about the methods of problem-solving, communication and leadership that do and don’t work in any given setting, especially when one is on a team comprised of individuals with extremely varied personality types.

Penn is an amazing place, and to take advantage of the full range of opportunities available one must be comfortable with the idea that just as certain traits and habits should be carried forward, others might be better left behind when you make the move to Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the Wharton MBA Program’s Student Diarist blog on Sept. 6, 2012.

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