Tuesday Tips: University of Pennsylvania Wharton MBA Essay Tips

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has published the new essay questions for applicants seeking a space in the class of 2015, along with a new brand position: Knowledge for Action. This essay set focuses on your knowledge of Wharton. As the front page of the Wharton MBA admissions website states: “At Wharton, admissions is all about the right fit.” Understanding yourself and your fit with Wharton, and telling a cohesive story is key to success with this set of essays.

When contemplating the optional essays, it will be important to choose topics that will allow you to demonstrate both achievements at work and your extracurricular or personal activities. In addition, refer back to your application strategy and strengths and weaknesses to determine which personal qualities you want to highlight in your two essays.

Required Question:
How will Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

The career goals essay is a standard MBA prompt. For this particular prompt, notice what is NOT asked. You are not asked about your professional background or your key accomplishments. To answer the question asked, you will want to focus mainly on the future and what you are planning to pursue with your MBA degree. At the same time, there is certainly room to add color by using your background information where it is most relevant to your goals. Think about the key moments of your professional life that crystallized your goals for you, and focus on illuminating those decision points rather than reciting your entire resume.

Budget your words carefully on this essay and be sure to answer each sub question thoroughly. When discussing your career progress, focus on building a path from your past to your future short- and long-term goals. The AdCom will be looking for evidence that you can achieve your career goals and your goals are a logical extension of your background and interests. Do your homework on Wharton and provide very specific reasons why you want to pursue your MBA at the Wharton School.

Respond to 2 of the following 3 questions:

1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

This question allows you some flexibility to talk about either academic or extra-curricular activities that you are interested in. Because this question asks why you chose the activity you want to pursue at Wharton, you can showcase an interest that ties into an aspect of your application strategy you want to highlight.
Wharton no longer asks candidates “Why Wharton” explicitly in essay questions, but rather seeks to understand how your unique personal qualities fit with the overall Wharton culture. Doing your research on the culture and understanding exactly how you fit in will help you approach this essay, as well as navigate interviews and other interactions with the Wharton adcomm. Specifically to this question, you could identify Wharton faculty you would like to study with or demonstrate your knowledge of Wharton clubs and activities.
This question also provides an opportunity to show how you will be part of the vibrant Wharton community. Don’t forget to talk about how you will impact the course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement and your fellow students’ experience.

2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

Entirely open-ended questions like this can be a gift to an applicant, or can derail an otherwise strategic application.
Before you select a topic for this question refer to your application strategy and list of strengths and weaknesses. Have you covered your key professional experiences? What have you demonstrated about leadership? If you have not addressed important extracurricular or volunteer activities or a story from your background that illuminates your interest in Wharton and potential contribution to the class, this is the ideal space to provide that information.
This essay is a great way to demonstrate your capacity for creativity and innovative thought. In addition, this essay can be an opportunity for you to highlight experiences in your professional or personal life that may not have been covered in the previous essay due to limited space. If your professional experience doesn’t demonstrate the innovation you would like to highlight in this essay, perhaps your extracurricular or academic pursuits offer ideas.

3. “Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership.” ”“ Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School
Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

This question is entirely about your fit with Wharton, as exemplified by a story that shows how you fit with the new Wharton brand platform. Wharton combines intellectual rigor with an interest in making an impact in the business world, so ideally your essay tells a story about a time that you used analytical rigor and action to make an impact.
Behavioral questions like this one are meant to illustrate how you have acted in situations in the past, as a predictor of future behavior. Your answer should be concise but detailed, and clearly lay out both the situation and what you did and thought as you navigated the outcome.
While a professional example seems like the perfect fit for this type of question, don’t neglect the possibilities you might have outside of work. If you have made a large impact in a volunteer capacity this may be a place to discuss that process. Whatever the source of your example, make sure you are clearly demonstrating your ability to make thoughtful decisions and act upon them.

Reapplicant Essay:
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)

All reapplicants are required to provide information that supports your renewed candidacy. The most successful version of the reapplicant essay will provide tangible evidence that you have improved the overall package you are submitting this year. Improvements like GMAT score or new quantitative classes as especially tangible, but a promotion, increase in responsibility at work, a job change or even a change of goals and mission can apply.
A rejection or waitlist last year is a form of feedback, and may have led to soul searching for you. When you describe your changes make sure reflect your ability to take feedback and improve. Describe how you approached the reapplication process after assessing your own strengths and weaknesses as a candidate and making the appropriate efforts to improve.

Optional Essay:
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)

This question is truly optional and should only be used if you have extenuating circumstances in your background. If you do have an area of concern that is on this list, make sure you spend your optional essay space on explanations, not excuses. While you might be embarrassed to explain your D in undergrad Chemistry, better to explain that you had a difficult semester in your personal life than to leave the admissions committee to speculate.

Concerned about your Wharton application? Contact us to learn more about how Stacy Blackman Consulting can help.

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