Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 13, 2013

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2016

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for Wharton for Fall 2014 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 here.

For my most recent post on Wharton interviews, please see Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2016.

Wharton’s essay questions have again changed.  This year’s questions are greatly modified from last year’s.  Weighing in at two 500 word essays, the Wharton set is quite small, but given the nature of the questions, gives applicants a great opportunity to help admissions under the strengths and motivations of the applicant:
1. What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA? (500 words)2. Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community? (500 words) 
I think an effective essay set here will do the following:
1.  Provide both personal and professional content. Personal content can be expressed in academic, personal, extracurricular, and even professional contexts. Personal means giving insight into who you are as person and not just what you know or what you can do.  Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about your capabilities in a professional context, about your ability to work with others, show leadership, overcome challenges, and/or accomplish something.
2.  Be analytical, not merely descriptive. It is very important that you engage in a sufficient amount of interpretation of your actions and not merely a description of what you do. Your objective is help guide your reader’s interpretation of what you write, so that they perceive you in the way that you intend.
3. Think widely about what you want from an MBA and what you can contribute at Wharton.  The point is to give Wharton a sense of the best of who you are so don’t limit yourself too narrowly, but if you try to cover too much, you will end up not covering anything effectively.  Really consider what is best about you and is relevant to answering these two essay questions.
4.  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.  I advise all my clients to stay within the word count these days.  A few years ago, 10% over was no big deal, but given the general focus on shorter essay sets, I see no point to giving Wharton more than they want. Of course, if the school says they are loose on word count, no worries.
5.  Think about the rest of the application when writing your essays.  The application form, your resume, and recommendations are other ways that your strengths as an applicant will be conveyed. Where possible, make sure that what admissions reads in your essays is both distinct from and complementary to what they read in the rest of your application. 

Required Question: 1. What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
If you are having difficulty determining what your goals are and/or why you need an MBA in general, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay 2. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA. Here is how I suggest you think about Wharton’s specific essay question:
Make the assumption that an MBA from Wharton will be a transformative experience for you.  If you don’t make this assumption, you will likely find it particularly hard to explain what you want from the experience personally and will also probably come across as rather dull.  Your job is to engage the admissions reader so that they understand what you want from Wharton for your future.
What are your aspirations?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of personal and professional objectives for attending the MBA program.  You might include a clear post-MBA career goal and a longer term vision/goal, but depending on how you answer the question, you might express what you want from Wharton more in terms of the kind of person and kind of professional you want to become. You might express it in terms of your present situation and how you hope to be transformed by your Wharton experience.  A purely abstract dream or visionary statement could easily come across as unrealistic or ungrounded if not handled carefully, so be careful to connect your aspirations to  your past actions and/or clearly defined goals. Career changers (those planning on  changing industry and/or function after MBA) should explain why they want to change their careers and how Wharton will enable that. Career enhancers should explain how an MBA will enhance their careers to continue along the pathway that thy are already on.
While you should be explaining why you need a Wharton MBA in  particular. You should  learn about the curriculum, clusters / cohorts/ learning teams, Learning @ Wharton, community involvement, clubs, and WGA in order to determine what aspects of Wharton really relate to your professional objectives. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your aspirations align well with Wharton’s offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names of pa rticular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Wharton is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  ”I want to take Advanced Corporate Finance because I am interested in developing advanced corporate finance skills.” This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact.

An example of an actual explanation:  ”While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I want to master at Wharton to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Wharton. Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Wharton. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Wharton.

Finally remember that you have Essay 2 to discuss what you contribute to Wharton, which is an ideal place for mentioning particular classes, clubs, and events at Wharton.

2. Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community? (500 words) 
This is above all else a contribution question. In the first essay you explained what you want from Wharton, here explain what you can do for your fellow classmates and the community as a whole. Don’t just limit your contributions to what you can in the classroom. Fully consider how you can contribute to all aspects of learning at Wharton throughout the entire two year experience you will have there.
This essay is above all, an opportunity for you to help Wharton admissions understand how you will add value to others based on your strengths, values, skills and experiences.
Ask yourself how you would really add value to other students and the wider community at Wharton.
One way I like to think about contribution questions is to use a table such as the following:
Contribution  Skill/Strength/Value  Vivid Example that illustrates the Skill/Strength/Value Impact on Wharton's learning community
I recommend using this kind of table for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell vivid examples that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates.
The number of contributions that can be covered in about 500 words will obviously vary greatly based on each applicant’s approach to this question. Consider that some contributions might be fully analyzed and justified in a matter of 20-50 words, while others will require 150-250. I suggest finding something between two and about four contributions to discuss. Just make sure each contribution is meaningful and described effectively enough.
This question is real opportunity to show Wharton that you have really thought about how you become a successful and valuable member of the Class of 2016.
ADDITIONAL QUESTION FOR REAPPLICANTS: All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete the Optional Essay. Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)
An effective answer here will do the following:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Wharton is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”
OPTIONAL SECTION FOR ALL APPLICANTS: If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)
As with other school’s optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Wharton and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer “Yes!” to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.

-Adam Markus

-Adam Markus
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. 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. 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.
Real Time Web Analytics