My MBA Exchange Journey

By Sai Kota (MBA2024)

Embarking on an MBA journey is not merely a decision but a series of calculated trade-offs. Each step along this path demands consideration of what one stands to gain against what they might potentially sacrifice. One key trade-off that many MBA students face is whether to pursue an exchange program. While an exchange can offer the chance to explore career prospects in a new location and forge new connections, it may also mean sacrificing valuable time that could be spent with one’s cohort. Despite these potential downsides, I believe that with careful planning, one can significantly minimize their impact and maximize the value derived from the exchange program

Why I Chose US and Wharton

Even before I started my MBA journey at LBS, I was very keen on pursuing an exchange program in the US. While applying to business schools, I deliberately omitted US institutions since I had already completed my master’s degree there. Nevertheless, having experienced life as an engineer in the US, I was eager to explore the business school environment in the country.  Moreover, I considered it as an opportunity to further expand my network in the US, should I ever decide to move back to the country. In fact, one of the factors that influenced my decision to choose LBS was the opportunity to pursue an exchange program at one of its 30 partner business schools worldwide.

Having made my decision to pursue an exchange, I considered several factors to maximize my value from the experience. When deciding which schools to apply to for an exchange in the US, I exclusively considered those that offered exchange opportunities in the spring term. This decision was influenced by the fact that full-time consulting recruitment typically occurs during the fall term. Additionally, as the Co-President of the Consulting Club, most of our initiatives take place during the fall term, and I preferred not to be away during this period. After shortlisting the schools based on this criterion, I ultimately selected Wharton as my top choice. I was drawn to Wharton’s global recognition and the significant number of students pursuing consulting opportunities, allowing me to build a strong network in the field.

The likelihood of being selected for your desired exchange program hinges on two factors: academic performance in Term I and the grade on your exchange essay. When crafting your essay, I would advise reflecting deeply on your motivations for pursuing the exchange and the trade-offs you are willing to make. A few weeks after submitting my essay, I was thrilled to learn that I had been selected for my top choice, Wharton.

Preparing for Wharton

Once my exchange at Wharton was confirmed, I began preparing for the upcoming experience. I reached out to several second-year students who had already completed their exchange there. These interactions greatly equipped me in preparing for the exchange and inspired me to write this blog to support future cohorts. It was during one of these interactions that I learned about the opportunity to complete the exchange in a shorter duration of six weeks (1 term) instead of the regular 12 weeks (2 terms). While pursuing this option may require some compromise in terms of course selection at Wharton, it appealed to me as I didn’t want to be away from my LBS experience for too long. Upon gaining access to Wharton’s course bidding system, I was fortunate to find courses that aligned with my interests and were pre-approved by LBS. I would advise starting to shortlist courses as soon as you gain access to your school’s bidding system and verifying if those courses have been pre-approved. Any courses not pre-approved will need to go through the LBS approval process.

Wharton Experience

Confident that I was well prepared for my exchange, I travelled to Philadelphia in the second week of January. However, I was surprised by a heavy snowfall on our first day of classes- apparently the city’s heaviest snowfall in nearly 700 days. Having moved from London, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two cities. While both boast of rich histories and vibrant cultures, Philly’s smaller size and more compact layout felt markedly different from London’s sprawling metropolis.

On our first day, we had a comprehensive orientation session from Wharton for all exchange students which also provided me the opportunity to network with fellow exchange students.  As every one of us were in a foreign school environment, we were able to immediately bond together. Being part of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Wharton students get access to an extensive range of academic and extra circular activities. Majority of these facilities are also available to exchange students. I was particularly impressed by the standalone space allocated to the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and the buzzing activity inside the room all the time.

To maximize my academic experience, I signed up for a total of six courses ranging from Dynamic Marketing strategy to Fintech. Like LBS, majority of the classes used a case-based approach to enhance the learning experience. Further, I found the classroom environment at Wharton to be very engaging, thanks to the no device policy. Although the class makeup leaned towards Americans, the cohort still had a considerable diversity.  While I was busy with classes and assignments from Monday to Thursday, weekends provided me the respite to explore Philly and beyond.

Living in Philly allowed me to travel to New York frequently. Taking advantage of this proximity, I visited both NYU Stern and Columbia campuses and caught up with LBS students pursuing exchange at the two schools. Upon the recommendation of a friend, I also ended up attending a class on the Chinese economy at NYU Stern which intrigued my interest in this market. Managing a heavy course work and travelling in between, my time at Wharton just flew by. While I spent only six weeks at Wharton, the place had a significant impact on me. I remember taking the long walk back home after my final exam at school and feeling a heavy sense of nostalgia, considering all the amazing experiences the place had offered me in such a short time. After completing my exams, I took advantage of some remaining free time by traveling across the US to catch up with my friends and family there, reconnecting after almost five years.

Closing thoughts

After completing my exchange, I returned to London in mid-March, feeling like I was back just in time. It was a chance to reconnect with many classmates who had opted for the 18-month exit and bid them farewell as they left campus or London altogether. With the Tattoo deadline looming about a month away, my role as Co-President of the Dance Club required me to ensure we put on an exemplary kick-off performance. This period of return also afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my MBA journey and take some time off before diving into full-time work. In hindsight, I am incredibly satisfied with the trade-offs I made to pursue my exchange and the value I gained from the experience. I’m truly grateful to the exchange team at LBS and many fellow students whose support meant a lot throughout this journey. Pursuing an MBA at a top business school is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I firmly believe that a carefully planned exchange can significantly enhance and enrich this experience.

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