One of INSEAD’s principal attractions is its dual campus infrastructure, which has now become three, what with the establishment of the Abu Dhabi location. However, the school also offers exchanges to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins University and to the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in China, which can be undertaken for one period in either P4 or P5.

The opportunity to spend some time at Wharton was one of the attractions when I applied to INSEAD and I was able to spend my P4 there after the summer break. I worked in New York and I wanted to return to Europe to study an MBA and continue working, so INSEAD ticked these boxes but I also had the desire to experience an American business school. I had a wonderful time in Philadelphia but the exchange reinforced my choice to study at INSEAD.

There are some characteristics of each MBA program which I liked and disliked but I will state vehemently that I do not feel that one program is better than the other. One’s preference boils down to what one wishes to get out of the respective program.

  • Wharton is a two year program vs. INSEAD’s one year. The academic content of both programs is very similar (this should be expected, given that professors spend time at the more established schools across the globe teaching their specific courses) but the volume is the same, hence the Wharton program spreads the course load over the entire duration. As a result, my timetable was quite empty in comparison to what I had become used to. At first, my fellow INSEAD exchangers and I found it odd to have so much free time but normality was (kind of) restored when the full-time recruitment cycle started.
  • The Wharton calendar does not have classes on Friday. To INSEAD students this means a long weekend trip but to Whartonites it is also for networking, extracurricular activities and personal reflection. The club scene is more prevalent; there are at least two hundred organisations that students can join. I reverted to type and joined the rugby club. There were at least sixty playing members, two/three training sessions a week and a match every fortnight. It was also – as all business school rugby clubs seem to be – one of the most social clubs on campus!
  • The clubs also provide a strong platform to foment friendships. Each academic cohort is comprised of 850 students. It is tough to get to know 250 classmates at INSEAD so imagine how tough it would be with three times as many students! I felt that the Wharton students were resigned to not know as many of their classmates as INSEAD students try to do but the club environment and programme length lend themselves better to deeper friendships.
  • The interpretation of diversity is different between the schools. There was an orientation event to kick off the exchange where the presenter indicated that 40% of Wharton students were considered as international. The INSEAD’ers chuckled at this statistic. Of course INSEAD cannot be matched by the number of nationalities associated with its students but then Wharton has a large contingent of students with a military or pharmaceutical background. Also, over time the age of the Wharton students was revealed to me: many were 25 or 26, which is definitely at the lower end of INSEAD’s age range.

All in all I had a great two months at Wharton. Being an urban jungle cat I thoroughly enjoyed being in Philadelphia (and spending most weekends in New York!) and getting away from the forest. I am fully aware that for D starters P4 is when full-time on-campus recruitment occurs but I did not feel like I missed out. In fact I feel that it was a shrewd move to avoid the stress that naturally accompanies this time period. However I would advise not to make recruitment the priority for exchanging to Wharton. There is probably a wider variety of opportunities than at INSEAD but many companies require immediate work authorisation.