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August 02, 2011

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2014

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for Wharton for Fall 2012 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, and 2011 here. My preparation guide to Wharton interviews is here.

If you ask generic questions, you get generic answers.   A few years ago, Wharton’s essays had always been one of the easiest for my clients to handle.  In fact, my advice, both in this blog and to my clients, had been to start with Wharton, Kellogg, or Tuck, but not anymore in regards to Wharton.  Unless you are only applying to Chicago and Wharton, I would never start with Wharton because (1) You will have more word count for your goals for almost any other top MBA program and (2) it is advantageous to have a portfolio of content prior to selecting which of the two out of the three optional questions to write. 

In the preface to the Class of 2014 Essay Questions, the following is stated:
The Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.

This statement is really important because it provides some guidance as to what Wharton wants:

1.  Provide both personal and professional content.

2.  Be personal and analytical, not merely descriptive.

3.  Make sure you are stating things as briefly and effectively as possible.  Don't waste your words.  Use them carefully. Keep your essays within the word count.  That is what "succinct" means! 


Required Question: What are your professional objectives? (300 words) 

You might think that 300 words is not enough to convey your professional objectives, but if you think that you don’t have to explain why you need an MBA in detail, it is not actually bad length.

If Columbia Essay 1 is an “Extended elevator pitch,” Wharton’s Required Question is an elevator pitch.  I suggest you read my analysis of CBS 1 now.  After you are finished, read the rest of this post.

1.     What do you imagine your professional future will look like?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of your future.  You may or may not include a chronological framework (Short, medium, and long term), but if you don’t, you better make sure that you are still presenting something that effectively combines both ambition and realism.  A purely abstract dream or visionary statement could easily come across as unrealistic or ungrounded if not handled carefully.  However you write this, have a strong first sentence that immediately answers the question.  For most applicants this probably means either stating your ultimate professional objective or a statement related to your professional vision.
2.     What motivates your professional objectives?  That is to say, why are these your objectives? While the question does not say “What are your professional objectives and why are they your objectives,” if you are going to be “introspective, candid” and “yourself,” as per Wharton’s overall instructions, you had better also explain “why.” Clearly a drawn-out explanation based on a detailed examination of your past experience cannot be conveyed here, so provide a clear analytical answer as why your goals are what they are.
3. Should you mention Wharton or why you need an MBA? Yes, if it helps to explain your professional objectives, but I would certainly keep such “Why MBA?” and “Why Wharton MBA?”  statements to mere logical argument and not focus on the details. Unless it is intuitively obvious why you need an MBA, it may very well make sense to briefly explain why in this essay.  For example, if you are already well on your way along a certain professional path and wish to stay on that path, it does make sense to explain why an MBA is necessary at this point in your career.  If you are changing careers, you might want to briefly mention that you view an MBA as necessary to make this change effectively. Of course a simple analytical explanation is all that I am talking about, not a full elaboration of all the possible benefits of an MBA in general or a Wharton MBA in particular. If you can work something Wharton specific into this essay, great, but don't be surprised if it is rather limited.

Respond to 2 of the following 3 questions:
Wharton is giving you the opportunity to write on two out of three options here. I think all three of these questions are equally difficult, so other than saying something obvious like the importance of using your best stories, I don't have any general advice on which of the two applicants in general should select. That said, if you have entrepreneurial goals, I would suggest selecting Option 3 (For some brief comments on entrepreneurship at Wharton, see here).  Otherwise, it is totally case by case.  One of the best reasons for waiting on writing Wharton is that it is really nice to work on these essays after you have a portfolio content to select form.

Option 1: Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity. What was the thought process behind your decision? Would you make the same decision today? (600 words)


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.        20

This must be the single most quoted poem in MBA essays. Don't use it.  Don't use any poems, unless you write it.  I have nothing against poetry. I like Robert Frost and even the sentiment expressed in this poem. You might be wondering why I am starting this, especially because the question is focused on an opportunity that you did take. The reason is very simple, if you did not take one opportunity, you had to have taken another. To connect to Frost, you either choose one road or you choose another.

This is really a great question because it can be used in so many ways.
Opportunities take many forms, so to help you focus your thinking about this one:

1. Think about a situation were you really did have a viable opportunity and choose not to take it.  I stress the word "viable." If the opportunity you turned down was not really viable, it will make for an effective topic.
2. Think about why choose not to take this opportunity. You must be able to explain your reasoning very clearly. I would say that a least a third of the essay should focus on explaining your reasoning at the time.
3.  Think about whether you made the right decision.  The interesting thing about this question is that you may or may not have made the right decision. If you think you made the right decision, explain why.  If you think your decision was both right and wrong, be careful because you may find it difficult to provide an effective response in the space provided.

This topic lends itself well to employment, academic, and personal opportunities (I can't suggest covering romantic opportunities that you turned down).  Your answer may very well have an ethical dimension to it.  Also, depending on the situation, it might very well focus on your leadership abilities.

I think Wharton is asking this question so that they can really asses the way you think.  Help them understand that you posses the capability for both explaining your past thought process as well your present perspective.

Option 2Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience. How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it?  (600 words)
I think it is time for a musical interlude.

Just as the title of this classic Jimi Hendrix song, Wharton is asking "Are you experienced?"  If you have never experienced navigating a challenging relationship, you are not actually a human being. Which is it to say, that anyone can answer this question.  To be human is struggle in our relationships with other people.  The topics for this one are too numerous to mention, but here are a few likely themes: trust, empathy, courage, ethics, emotional maturity, stress management, teaching others, learning from others, negotiating, ending a relationship, establishing a relationship, repairing a relationship, working in a team, leading a team, interacting with a subordinate, interacting with a supervisor, and disagreeing with someone.  As with Essay Option 1, I can't recommend writing about a romantic relationships here. 

This question is  a behavioral question.  For a full discuss of such questions as well as some other examples of such questions, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay 3.

This really essay is a great way of focusing on how you interact with other people.  It is perfect designed to highlight soft skills.  Keep the focus of the essay on the relationship itself.  How did you work through whatever personal or professional challenges you faced when dealing with a particular individual or group?  Effective answers will provide a sufficient explanation about who you were interacting with and explain exactly why you found this situation so challenging.

While not applicable to all stories, the leadership grid that discuss in my Stanford 3 analysis is highly to be applicable to this essay.  While you must explain the challenge you encountered, it is equally important that you explain how you worked through the experience.

Finally, you need to explain what you learned  from the experience,  so make sure you are providing a strong interpretation and not just a description. It is critical that you learned something meaningful. Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the interpersonal situation  was, you have learned something important from it. While not stated, you may very well find that one way of showing what you learned is to discuss how you applied your lesson to a new situation.

Option 3: "Innovation is central to our culture at Wharton. It is a mentality that must encompass every aspect of the School - whether faculty research, teaching or alumni outreach." - Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School
Keeping this component of our culture in mind, discuss a time when you have been innovative in your personal or professional life.

Being innovative can take many forms. Unlike earlier versions of this kind of question such as CBS for Fall 2008 and Haas for Fall 2010, Wharton's approach to the innovation question is very open ended.  Remember that Wharton is not just asking for examples focused on entrepreneurship or even something work related.  The key consideration is that you conceptualized and implemented some kind of change.  This could take many forms. Here are some examples:
1. A time when you reformed a process or procedure at work that had a positive impact.
2. A time when you invented something new and implemented it. It could be a new product, service, research area, or even a patent.
3. A time when you created a new organization.
4. A time when you changed yourself in some significant way.
5. A time when you helped someone else change themselves.
6. A time when you lead a team to create meaningful organizational change.

The structure of this essay will really vary based on the kind of story you tell, but you should explain what the innovation was and why it was innovative.
When selecting which story to use, ask yourself the following questions:
1.  What kind of innovation am I demonstrating?
2.  How does this innovation relate to my potential to succeed at my post-MBA goals?
3.  What selling points about me are clear from this story?

I think it is interesting that Wharton is focusing on innovation because based on client perceptions that I have collected over a decade, I don't suspect the school is necessarily associated  by applicants with that word.  I am not commenting on the reality of innovation at Wharton, but merely perception.  Is this a sign of a brand trying to reinvent itself?  We can leave that discussion to another day.

Finally, you might have noticed that there is no specific place to discuss why Wharton in this essay set. My assumption is that if they really cared about that, they would ask.  That said, if you find it possible to explain why Wharton in the context of the more  interpretative aspects of your two 600 word essays, feel free.  It is a commonly used strategy to include such content, so only do it if it really works well.  A highly formulaic approach to this issue would be to mention Wharton at the end of each of these essays even if the point mentioned was rather small. Anyway, if they really wanted to know, they would ask just like Chicago, Columbia, and Stanford do.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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