Aamer AbbasHello world, I’m back!

I’ve been at Wharton the last couple of months. It’s been an interesting experience and now that I only have a couple more days left, I thought I would share my experience with you.

There is a lot of mixed information going on about the Wharton exchange. In the end, I think each student must decide whether they want to do this exchange based on their own future career goals, but let me give you an overview of my experience.

Why I chose to go to Wharton:

As an American entrepreneur, I felt there was a very good chance that I would come back to the U.S. in the future. Even if I set up a business or target a job outside of the U.S., it’s likely that a significant part of my job will involve dealing with American markets. Being at Wharton is a good way to expose yourself to the “American way” of doing business. If you’re looking for a job, you are in a better position to target American companies. If you’re looking to start a business, it’s a good opportunity to build a network, learn about financing, and get some advice on how to set up a business here.

Academics:

From my experience, there was no discernible difference in the quality of teaching or the professors between INSEAD and Wharton. Both are quite good overall and both have some professors/classes that clearly outshine the rest.

However, in general, I would say the classes at INSEAD are more “laid back.” No, I don’t mean they are less difficult or less intense; what I mean is that I somehow felt it was easier to get to know my professors. Whereas in American culture there tends to be a division between the students and the professors, INSEAD has a great culture where there is a sense of equality between students and professors. I still stay in touch with several of my INSEAD professors and I’ve seen many professors form friendships with their students. This is a really great trait about INSEAD that I have yet to see anywhere else.

Having said that, I want to point out that the majority of my Wharton professors were really cool and nice people. If you want to get their advice, I feel they were also approachable. The comparison I’m drawing is perhaps more a reflection of the large size of the school and the culture of American universities rather than the personalities of the professors.

Lastly, as expected, Wharton tends to focus more on U.S.-specific issues whereas INSEAD focuses more on international issues. However, in the grand scheme of things, the broad lessons we learn at both schools are similar.

Facilities:

Wharton is clearly more well-equipped in terms of facilities. The campus is huge and is part of a full university system. One thing I particularly liked about Wharton is the fact that all academic materials were online. INSEAD is considering doing this in the near future … INSEAD, if you’re listening, please do this 🙂

On the other hand, Wharton also has a lot more competition for facilities. At INSEAD, I was always able to find an area to meet my group. At Wharton, you have to reserve a group study room a day in advance if you expect to find a reasonable time slot. And even then, you can only find 90 minutes at a time. This can be frustrating when you need to work on a long final project.

Administration and Student Life:
Despite what you might have heard about being treated like an “outsider,” I have to say that the administration at Wharton was very friendly. They did a good job making us feel like part of the community. Though I didn’t go through career services, some of my friends did and they received the same kind of service any full-time Wharton student would have received.

Overall, I think this was a very positive experience and I think Wharton has done a good job addressing concerns in the past that students felt like “outsiders”. This doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore as far as I can tell.

In terms of career services, Wharton has lots of jobs inside of the U.S. It’s brand reputation and extensive database of job listings makes the exchange essential for anyone who is certain they want a career in the United States. For jobs in the U.S., I think Wharton is far ahead.

Wharton also has lots of student clubs and they’re extremely well organized. In fact, there is a running joke at Wharton: “which group are you the president of?” There is always some event going on at Wharton and they do a great job bringing in great speakers (world leaders, business leaders, celebrities) regularly.

Wharton is clearly more vibrant than INSEAD in this area.

Networking:

Wharton is a good place to build a network within the United States, but I felt my networking experience at INSEAD (particularly, being on the Singapore campus) has been better.

Every exchange student at Wharton is now assigned a “buddy” and depending on how social your buddy is, you have a varying degree of integration into the Wharton social circle. But that’s just part of it …

The real difference between Wharton and INSEAD is simply the size and composition of the students. Wharton is huge. Not only do you have all of the MBAs, but you have undergraduates in the same building. You would think that with so many people, it would actually be easier to network, but I didn’t feel that was true at all. For anyone who has ever read The Tipping Point, you may recall there is a theory that it’s hard to really know more than 150 people at a time. I found the large numbers at Wharton leads to people forming small groups. In fact, Wharton core classes are segmented into “cohorts” and most people tend to associate themselves with a cohort for most of their time at Wharton.

In contrast, at INSEAD Singapore, we had about 200 people from our promotion on campus and it wasn’t too hard to know just about all of them. Regardless of which section someone was in, I probably knew them. This is truly a special and remarkable experience. Years from now, I know I can still call on these people for help and advice and that’s just awesome. For me, the networking opportunities at INSEAD’s Singapore campus are unparalleled.

International Experience:

Look, there is a reason why INSEAD is called “The Business School for the World.” We live it and no one comes close to us. My understanding is that Wharton has about 60% Americans and 40% international students. In contrast, INSEAD has almost no single nationality that represents more than 10% of the intake for that year.

Even many of the international students at Wharton (and, I imagine, any other American program) have spent the majority of their lives growing up in the United States. At an American school, when you ask “where are you from” you are usually asking which state one if from; at INSEAD, we would always be referring to a country or even a continent.

Over the next couple of months, I will be going to Korea, San Francisco, Singapore, Croatia, the U.K., France, and Pakistan. This may seem very international to a normal person, but at INSEAD, no one would be impressed 🙂 (in fact, many people will be traveling a lot more than this).

Overall:

Wharton is a fantastic school, but I have to say I am proud to be an INSEAD student. Every institution (including both INSEAD and Wharton) has its ups and downs, and I’ve tried to share both sides with you. In the end, you’ll need to decide whether you want to do this exchange based on your own goals.