How I Got Into Wharton

How one applicant who attended a non-target school ended up at one of the best business schools in the world, including an overview of his application process and advice for future MBA candidates.

Darrell H.

By Darrell H.

Posted February 3, 2023

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Background

Hi, I’m Darrell H., a former Leland client and now an MBA, VC/PE, and Investment Banking coach. This fall I will be attending the University of Pennsylvania for my MBA. I grew up in Utah, attended a non-target university, and still ended up at one of the best business schools in the country. Here’s how I did it. If you’d like to work with me on any part of the MBA application process or career-related services, book a free intro call on my profile!

For my undergraduate degree, I chose to go to Brigham Young University (BYU), a private, religious university in Provo, Utah. From early on, I knew I wanted to pursue finance, but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with it. During my time in school, I did lots of internships in an attempt to figure that out, one of which was in venture capital. I loved the idea of investing as a career, especially in tech companies.

After graduation, I decided to pursue investment banking. For two years, I worked in New York for JP Morgan in investment banking, raising capital, and executing transactions for large companies. During that time, I learned a lot about debt financing, mergers and acquisitions, and more. Eventually, I decided to return to Utah for a new position at Sorenson Capital, a multi-stage private equity firm that specializes in B2B SaaS.

From my experience in banking and private equity, and through conversations with friends and colleagues, I knew that most of the senior people in PE had MBAs, specifically MBAs from top programs. I had known early that I would probably pursue an MBA and so I had taken the GMAT right after finishing college to get it over with.

Applying to Wharton

I started the application process very early, while I was still in banking. To learn more about each school, I went to lots of info sessions and school-sponsored events. At that point, I knew that my long-term goal was private equity so I applied to the top three programs that I believed would best prepare me for that career.

To get ready for the application, I talked to lots of alumni from each school for an inside perspective on the cultures and strengths of the schools. I also read lots of different articles on each part of the application for strategic and tactical advice. While I was at Sorenson, I flew to the campuses to do in-person visits to get a feel for the schools and start building relationships.

I originally applied in 2020 and was accepted for matriculation in the fall of 2021. I fully expected to attend and was excited to begin my MBA journey. I left Sorenson to do a pre-MBA internship at PDQ.com, a software company in Salt Lake, in preparation. However, during this time I got married and had a big project come up for work that I was heavily invested in. I was unable to defer so I had to formally reapply, which I did in the 2021 application cycle. Fortunately, I was accepted once again, this time to the Class of 2024, and with a generous fellowship from the school.

Advice for Your MBA Application

If I could go back in time and advise my younger self, there are a few tips I would give. First and foremost, it’s very important that you find a way to authentically tell your story within the framework of what the school is looking for. Your story and experiences will stay the same, but what you want to emphasize (or deemphasize) will depend on the school’s values and what it’s looking for. Different schools want different things and you need to be cognizant of this. Do a lot of research upfront so you know what those differences are, as this will guide you in every part of the application.

Second, start as early as you can. As mentioned, I took the GMAT right out of college, which was a huge advantage in the long run. I didn’t have to study or take it while working a full-time job and was thus able to devote more time and attention to studying and getting the score I wanted. This also applies to essays. You may end up having fifty different versions but it’s important that you force yourself to put thoughts on paper. This not only gives you time to revise and polish but also to reach out to peers and mentors and have them review it as well.

Lastly, I recommend trying to establish relationships with the schools ahead of applying. Increase their familiarity with your name by connecting your application with who you are as a person. Do this through on-campus tours, invite-only visit days, and your own proactive visits. Try and make a touch point with the admissions committee. While this may or may not affect your chances of admission, it may have a bearing on fellowships and scholarships.

Applying to business school can be a daunting process, but here at Leland, we’ve got lots of resources to help you. I love sharing the lessons I learned while going through the application process and I’d be more than happy to help guide you as you deal with the same things. Book time on my profile to get started today.

Final Note

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