“I’m pretty sure my inbox just exploded” was the constant refrain echoing throughout the first weeks of Q1. During this time an avalanche of emails about joining clubs, running for leadership positions, attending important information sessions and signing up for trips—more emails than I ever thought possible—inundated every first-year MBA student.

While I had arrived on campus with an idea of which clubs I wanted to join, with every email I read, I added another to the list:

Scotch & Whiskey Club? Obviously!
Beer Club? Check.
Chocolate Club? Delicious!
Coffee Club? Clearly.
Food Club? Sounds awesome!
Squash Club? Have to stay in shape somehow.
Dance Studio? Stretch experience!!!
Tech Club? Most definitely.
General Management Club? Of course!
Yoga & Wellness Club? Yes!

Every first-year was asking the same questions: Which clubs should I join? How many? Should I run for this leadership position? Should I go on this trek? Or that one?

Each activity sounded awesome, and despite a thousand warnings from students and administrators, I found myself wanting to, and starting to, sign up for everything.

In the midst of all this excitement, I lost sight of why I came to Wharton in the first place: to learn the ins and outs of management. Having spent several years in consulting between undergrad and Wharton, I’ve seen how large companies think through and set strategies. Our projects helped clients work through key issues to influence or put in place these strategic initiatives. Those experiences are incredibly educational in terms of understanding how companies think at that level. To complement it, I want to develop the skills required to execute on a given strategy and build companies from the inside. During the Wharton application process, I became particularly excited about participating in a Wharton Leadership Venture and the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, as they offer chances to test my leadership style in real time and provide an environment to evaluate my capabilities. Once I actually arrived on campus, I came to realize just how many more resources are available to develop skills I want.

At the same time, everything else sounded too good to pass up, and I became distracted by opportunities that I wasn’t fully dedicated to. Early on, for example, I attended information sessions about Cluster Council. I opened and closed the application several times over the course of a week as I debated what to write. Eventually, I asked myself, “Why am I actually running?” When I was honest about it, I knew I had been caught up in the energy of so much going on around me without considering what truly excited me. I closed the application, content with deciding not to run.

This realization was huge. Everyone comes to Wharton for different reasons, whether to change careers, develop new skills, launch a business or expand a network. In each case, Wharton—and Penn more broadly—has enough resources to fill your time with activities dedicated to that interest.


Watch James and three other first-year MBAs share their hopes, expectations and goals for their two years at Wharton in a video captured during their first month on campus.


In addition to focusing on management, I have gotten to know my classmates, joined social clubs, found stretch experiences and explored new industries. Time outside of the classroom has turned into a balancing act. I have realized that while I could spend all my time trying to do as many leadership- and management-related activities as possible, such a narrow approach would prevent me from having the full Wharton experience.

I’ve tried to be deliberate with respect to which new clubs and activities I’ve gotten involved in, devoting time to those I find the most fulfilling. In this vein, I ended up joining the Public Speaking Club, which has turned out to be one of my favorite activities each week. I’ve always found public speaking to be a bit stressful, but the club fosters a supportive environment that makes practicing public speaking more fun and engaging that I had anticipated. To get more involved, I’ve had to spend less time with other clubs.

Choosing where to spend my time like this has enabled me to keep from overcommitting early on, as well as be poised to take advantage of opportunities later in the year without being stretched too thin. While I am still figuring out this balancing act, I appreciate Wharton’s only real downside—not being able to try everything.


James Thorman is a first-year MBA student concentrating in Management and Marketing. He grew up in Connecticut, attended Princeton, and previously worked at Bain & Co., followed by Kiski Alpha Partners, a small financial services startup.