How do I explain to my parents what an MBA is and why anyone would need one? Besides taking on loans, what other risks am I taking by being here? Can I afford to go on this amazing international study trip without breaking my budget? These are just some of the questions students coming from first-generation and/or limited-income backgrounds face when choosing to go to business school. For these students, the journey to Wharton may have been a little different from that of their peers. Making trade-offs between taking out an extra loan or missing out on an educational opportunity can be daunting. These kinds of choices often don’t come up in everyday conversations.

The Wharton Graduate 1Gen Club — known affectionately as Wharton 1Gen — was created to foster such dialogue, cultivate a sense of community, and build a tight-knit network. The club was founded in the spring of 2021, when Yohanna Pepa WG22 and Laura Muñoz WG22 brought their passion for FGLI issues to life. Though it’s one of the youngest clubs on campus, Wharton 1Gen has shown strong growth, reaching 150 members in its first year and 250 in the second. This year, the club’s mandate has expanded to admissions support, student mentorship, and partnership with other affinity clubs to promote intersectionality.

Wharton 1Gen aims to achieve these goals through a variety of programming. Potluck dinners, game nights, and themed suppers create safe spaces in which people can open up and celebrate each other’s wins in the face of adversity. Our guest speakers have included Due Quach WG06, who came back to campus last spring to share her journey of growing up as a refugee in inner-city Philadelphia, then navigating business school and an international career before founding her own business. We organize workshops every spring with information on financial literacy and long-term planning. At admissions webinars and happy hours, admits and applicants can ask questions about financial resources, community, and the MBA experience.

Looking forward, we hope to continue this momentum through discussions with Wharton administrators, admissions officers, and other affinity groups, to provide more safe spaces in which these dialogues can flourish and foster a supportive community where people are comfortable asking for help. We are also exploring opportunities to engage with the alumni community. Please visit our website to get in touch with us.

For many first-generation and/or limited-income students, being at Wharton means more than just upward mobility. It’s about breaking ceilings, creating financial security and stability for their families, and redefining their narratives. This journey can be incredibly complex, challenging, and at times isolating. But you don’t have to go it alone. Wharton 1Gen is here for help and support.


Published as “First, But Not the Last” in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Wharton Magazine.