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July 14, 2018

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2021

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for Fall 2019 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018  here.  For my most recent posts on Wharton interviews, please see here and here.
My clients have been admitted to Wharton every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 58 clients admitted to Wharton (50 admitted to Wharton and 8 admitted to Wharton Lauder), which is my biggest total for any school (HBS, INSEAD, Columbia and Booth follow, in that order, in terms of highest totals). My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on Wharton, I regularly help additional candidates with Wharton interview preparation.

A few initial thoughts about Wharton
The thing I like most about Wharton is that they really do admit a very diverse class. The class size certainly helps in that respect. But beyond that, I have really found Wharton to be a school where applicants are evaluated holistically and one need not be perfect to gain admission.  Such factors as a less than stellar GPA, a less than super GMAT, an older age or work experience in companies that are not necessarily prestigious are not inherent barriers to admission to Wharton’s MBA program.  I have worked with clients who had such issues, but also other amazing strengths which helped them gain admission. This could also happen at HBS or only rarely at Stanford, but it happens more at Wharton.  The school’s diversity is also shown through the range of courses offered and the many international programs.  Some people think of Wharton narrowly as a finance school, but to do so is to ignore the course catalog, clubs, and recruiting results.< /strong>

The thing I like the least about Wharton is the location. I wish it were just me but I know I am not alone. Philadelphia was a great American city in the 18th century. The location of the University of Pennsylvania is certainly not ideal as the neighborhood is not particularly safe and crime is relatively high.  Wharton is as much as commuter school as Booth (the commute for the Wharton students is shorter, but the Booth students have a better city to be in).  Its primary advantage location wise is that one can get to New York City quickly and with no classes on Fridays,  it is even possible to go intern in NYC. The location is ideal for those who want to work in the pharmaceutical industry given that industries’ presence in the area.  On the other hand, i f Wharton’s location were better it would likely be a harder school to get into.

Essays Class of 2021:
“First-time applicants and re-applicants are required to complete both essays.
The Admissions Committee wants to get 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.
Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)
Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):
  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)*
*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

The Required Essays
Essay 1:  What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Wharton is continuing to ask this question. An excellent answer to the Wharton essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will most benefit from. It is a future focused question.  A general characterization of Wharton- data driven, but also a place with a commitment to experiential learning, East Coast focused but with a San Francisco campus that is now become integrated into the MBA program, highly international, highly flexible with strengths in a large number of areas, including healthcare, finance, real estate, and marketing- is  helpful to keep in mind when writing this essay. Wharton has a lot to offer and, while some have characterized it as a CFO school, a finance school, a Wall Street school, all too some extent true, this is not so helpful when you consider that, for example, Sundar Pichai, Google’s guy in charge of Chrome, Android, and Google Apps, is a Wharton alumnus. Wharton is a huge program with so many strengths that the point is not to think about some big overall image of the school, but to focus on what you want to get out of it. Which specific resources you want to use and why. Keep in mind that Wharton is much bigger than HBS because of the undergraduate program. The range of courses, research, and opportunities is huge. The point is to provide a specific game plan on how you will use Wharton for your professional and personal growth.
An effective essay here will do the following:
1.   Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about what you want from your professional future.  In other words,  what do you want to do and/or how do you want grow as a professional?
2.   Think widely about what you want from a Wharton MBA.  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. Focus on specific factors that will help you achieve your professional objectives.
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 B. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA. Except for length, there is little difference between Stanford Essay B and Wharton Essay 1 as both questions ask what one wants from the school.

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 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 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 t o continue along the pathway that thy are already on.
You should be explaining why you need a Wharton MBA in  particular. You should  learn about the curriculumclusters / cohorts/ learning teamsLearning @ Whartoncommunity involvementclubs, 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 particular 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 if you have something that you really want to discuss about what you contribute to Wharton or wish to mention particular classes, clubs, and events at Wharton that you could not fit into the essay, you can always discuss that in the optional essay.

Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)

This question is different from last year’s question with respect to the fact that you now need to focus on how a single experience or accomplishment will enable you to contribute to Wharton and that it is a learning question. It is similar to last year’s question because it is also a contribution question. I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001 and the contribution question is one that I could explain to a client in my sleep.  I have done it on this blog many times before. Here is one of my old (2008) favorites, which includes a table that you can easily modify based on what I have written below (Sorry I am too busy to do that).

You must focus on a single story not covered elsewhere in your application (app form and resume) and must have learned something from the experience/accomplishment that will be the basis for one or more contributions at Wharton:

1.  A story not covered elsewhere in your application.  Whatever experience or accomplishment you mention, it should not be directly connected to something else in your application. This should be easy given that it surely would not be covered in Essay 1 and the only other options are the resume and application form. Since you are not seeing the recommendations, no way for you to know what is in them but it is surely not a good idea for a recommender to discuss the topic you would be writing about here.  Interpersonal accomplishments related to mentoring or leading others, pre-university accomplishments, highly personal accomplishments could all be possible topics.  Certainly many personal learning experiences would be outside  of anything covered in the rest of the application.  The key issue is finding a story that involved you learning something and that learning itself must be the basis for a good contribution(s) at Wharton.

2.  One Story with Distinct Contribution(s).  You must  focus on a single story.  It is possible that the story will show multiple ways you can contribute to Wharton or might only focus on one way.  Contributions are, at their heart, selling points based on something. It might be a professional or interpersonal skill, a value (ethics, morality, belief about how to interact with others, etc.),  or a unique experience (First person in family to go to college, experience on the battlefield, acting in a movie, etc.).  You will need to tell a story related to the selling point in order to convince the reader that you have something to contribute.  In general, the longer the story, the less contributions you will cover in the essay.  Less is not bad. Be convincing is good so 1-3  contributions that are distinct and interesting is better than 5 that are purely surface level.

3.  A story where you learned something. One requirement for this essay is that the contributions be based on something you learned from the experience or accomplishment.  Learning means discovering something new about yourself, other people and/or the world. It is about gaining a new perspective, insight into to how things work, possibly becoming more mature. It is about growth.  BEWARE OF FALSE LEARNING: False learning is any situation when you indicate that you learned something  but actually it was something that you already knew or others are likely to assume that you know. False learning tends to undermine the credibility of applicant in terms of their intelligence and honesty. It is thus best avoided. To avoid it, simply ask yourself whether you actually learned something new and were not merely obvious or the sort of thing you have learned while in kindergarten or soon thereafter.

4. How will what you learned contribute to the Wharton community? One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will add value to the community.  The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Your contribution(s) need to clearly connected to the community. Maybe it will be through the way you work with others, the knowledge you share, or the activities you organize but make sure the reader can fully understand how this be a contribution at Wharton.

Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):
  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)*
*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

First for reapplicants, 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.”

*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”
Second, for addressing any extenuating circumstances: As with the school’s other optional question, 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.

Best of luck with your Wharton application!
-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.
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