The “Nontraditional Candidate”

Over the summer, I got the following LinkedIn message from an incoming student:

If you know anything about me, I am about as far from “mathy analytical juggernaut” as you can get. I studied English, theater, and art in college; I haven’t taken a math class since high school and to this day I avoid Excel like the plague. In a class full of engineers and ex-consultants, my background places me in the euphemistically dubbed “nontraditional” bucket.

Tepper may not be “just” a quant school…but at least once a week, I get asked how I’ve survived in an analytical, data-driven environment. So for all those prospective candidates wondering if they can keep up in Tepper’s curriculum: if I can make it, so can you. Here’s how I managed to sail through Tepper’s quant-heavy curriculum:

1. I set realistic expectations for myself.

I didn’t come to school to be the top of the class, so from Day One I prioritized what was most important to me: campus involvement. Because of that, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the pressure to excel at everything I tried. I came to class ready to learn, but didn’t break myself trying to outperform my classmates.

2. I spoke up early—and often.

I think one of the hardest things in school (and in life) is being honest with others about what you don’t know. That’s especially tough in a room full of people who are used to being right most of the time. Even though it felt intimidating and uncomfortable at first, I practiced asking my professors and classmates to help me understand the concepts I found most confusing. It helped me appreciate the content more, bond with my peers, and get a lot more out of the class…and the more I practiced it, the easier it got.

3. I owned my strengths.

One thing I hear from many “nontraditional” students is that they don’t know if they belong in an environment that prizes a quant-heavy skill-set. What I always tell them is that the admissions department doesn’t make mistakes: everyone who gets into Tepper has something to offer their peers. While my first year opened my eyes to what I didn’t know, it also helped me feel more confident about what I did know—and leverage it to benefit my classmates.

At the end of the day, Tepper is an analytical school, but it’s so much more than that. We have students who came from business and engineering, sure, but we have people who came from the arts, from the military, from the Peace Corps, you name it. And each of those backgrounds adds something valuable to the Tepper community.

Lauren D'Souza
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