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

August 04, 2021

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for the Class of 2024

 In this post, I analyze the essay questions for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for Fall 2022 admission.  For my most recent posts on Wharton interviews, please see here.

 

My clients have been admitted to Wharton every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 84 clients admitted to Wharton (70 admitted to Wharton, 1 to Wharton Deferred and 13 admitted to Wharton Lauder), which is my biggest total for any school (HBS, Columbia, Booth, and INSEAD follow, in that order, in terms of highest totals). My clients' results and testimonials can be found here.

 

The thing I like most about Wharton is that they really do admit a very diverse class. The class size certainly helps,  but beyond that, Wharton is 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 or GRE, being older (30+) 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 had 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 huge course catalog, numerous clubs, and diverse recruiting results.

 

ESSAYS FOR THE 2021-2022 APPLICATION CYCLE

"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. For additional essay writing resources, see the essay tips article!

Essay 1: How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)

Essay 2: Essay 2: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)

Required Essay for all Reapplicants: Please use this space to share with the Admissions Committee how you have reflected and grown since your previous application and discuss any relevant updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, and extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)

Optional Essay: Please use this space to share any additional information about yourself that cannot be found elsewhere in your application and that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee. This space can also be used to address any extenuating circumstances (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, areas of weakness, etc.) that you would like the Admissions Committee to consider.

Please note:

  • First-time MBA applicants and re-applicants are required to complete essays 1 and 2."

 

 
The Required Essays
While the wording for Essay 1 has changed from last year, it is actually the same question, just stated more clearly.  Essay 2 has not changed.  Wharton’s essay set is transactional in the most basic sense because Essay 1 is about what Wharton can give you and Essay 2 is about what you can give Wharton. This reflects the core pragmatism of the school’s culture and specifically the culture of the admissions office.
 
 
 
Essay 1: How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM WHARTON?

An excellent answer to this essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will help you achieve your goals. 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 to achieve your goals.

 
An effective essay here will do the following:
 

1.   Explain what your goals are.

 

2.   Explain how Wharton will help you achieve your goals.   Focus on specific aspects of Wharton 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 Essays 1 and 2  in my Columbia Business School and/or Stanford Essay B analysis. In those posts 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. CBS gives 750 words (Essay 1 is 500 words and Essay 2 is 250 words) for what you need to cover in Wharton in 500 words.

 

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? What about your past experience?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of your professional objectives for attending the MBA program.  You might include a clear post-MBA career goal and a longer term vision/goal. You might express it in terms of your present situation ("past experience") 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.

 

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: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)

 

WHAT CAN YOU GIVE TO THE WHARTON COMMUNITY?

 

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 I have also used below.

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.  You should know enough about the Wharton community to show specific ways you might contribute.

Within the context of the Wharton application, Essay 2 is really one of the important places to show why you will add value to Wharton.  One way, I like to think about contribution questions is to use a table like the following:

CONTRIBUTIONSIs it a personal, professional or academic experience?What skill, value, or unique experience is being showcased?So what will you contribute  to the Wharton community?Is this special? Why?
Story 1:    
Story 2:    
Story 3:    
adammarkus@gmail.com. Free to use, contact me if you republish it.    

I use the above table for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question.  What this kind of table does is force you to think about exactly how something from your background is meaningful enough to add value at Wharton.

ADVICE:

  1. Tell your best story or stories that highlight how you will add value at Wharton.  Help the reader understand what is special about you, about the story you tell, and the contribution you make.
  2. Learn a lot about Wharton so that you can write about really meaningful contributions.  Talk to alumni and current students, attend online chats, and dig through the website and otherwise.  Google and network your way into Wharton expertise in order to be able to have really deep contributions.
  3. With respect to the kind of contributions you make, don't fall into the "Obvious Knowledge Trap."  What do I mean? Here is an example: "As my work on the Tesla/McDonalds Merger and Acquisition shows, I have deep knowledge of  finance and accounting which I will use to help my classmates without a finance background." This topic is bad for a number of reasons. First, that you have such knowledge will be obvious from your resume, application form and/or transcripts, so it is better to focus on something that the reader will not already know about you. Second just sharing knowledge is not enough, better to focus on how you would do that. For example, instead of writing about your knowledge of a topic, write about how you helped others learn something and how you will use that to make a contribution at Wharton. Then specify the Wharton specific context (Classes, clubs, activities, Learning Teams) where you will make that contribution.

 

SPECIFIC ESSAY 2 REQUIREMENTS: Since the question calls for contributions, my suggestion is to include at least two contributions.  The question does not indicate how many aspects of your background you need to focus on. So you can focus on one story from your background or multiple stories. In 400 words, I think 4 topics would be a maximum from your background to focus on but that 2-3 topics makes more sense.

 

ESSAY STRUCTURE:

It will depend on whether you cover 1 or more topics.   Here are two sample structures that I think are most common:

One Background Topic Essay Structure:

  1. Discuss one personal, academic, or professional story.
  2. Explain one specific and meaningful contribution that you will be able to make at Wharton based on what you do or learn from this story.
  3. Explain another specific and meaningful contribution that you will be able to make at Wharton based on what you do or learn from this story.

Two or Three Background Topic Essay Structure:

  1. Discuss one personal, academic or professional story. Explain at least one specific and meaningful contribution that you will be able to make at Wharton based on what you do or learn from this story.
  2. Discuss another personal, academic or professional story. Explain at least one specific and meaningful contribution that you will be able to make at Wharton based on what you do or learn from this story.
  3. Discuss another personal, academic or professional story. Explain at least one specific and meaningful contribution that you will be able to make at Wharton based on what you do or learn from this story.

Both of the above structures can work well for this kind of essay. It just depends on whether you want to cover one story in depth  and then show two or more contributions from it or show greater diversity of your experience and focus on 2-3 stories.  To tell a story about your background sufficiently and also explain what it shows you will add value at Wharton is very hard to do really effectively in less than 100 words, so 4 topics would be a maximum from my perspective. That said, I will encourage my clients to focus on 1-3 topics.

 

 

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 for the Class of 2024!

-Adam Markus
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