Tuesday Tips – University of Pennsylvania Wharton MBA Essay Tips

On the front page of the Wharton MBA admissions website the adcomm states: “At Wharton, admissions is all about the right fit.” The questions this year continue on that theme, with several behavioral essay questions seeking to understand how you approach your life and work.

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:
What are your professional objectives?

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.

Respond to 2 of the following 3 questions:
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?
This Wharton Business School essay asks about the path not taken. The opportunity could have been professional, either a job or a project you decided not to pursue, or perhaps personal. Think about the areas you have already covered in other essays and decide what situation would be best for this question. Whatever situation you describe, make sure you spend equal time on the second and third part of the question.

Be clear about exactly how you decided to turn down the opportunity and the factors you considered. Are you the kind of person who weighs pros and cons or goes with your intuition? What criteria did you consider? Why did you ultimately decide not to take the opportunity presented?

The final question is whether you would make the same decision today. Think about the outcome of turning down the opportunity ”“ did it ultimately lead to a better job or project? Did you ultimately reach your goals, or do you think the opportunity may have led you down an interesting path? Either way, clearly articulate how you consider the decision today, and why.

2. Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience. How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it?
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.

Often a tough experience is an excellent learning opportunity and contributes to your growth and development. Think about the type of person who will be successful in an MBA program, and as a manager and a leader. What skills do you share with a strong leader, and were any formed during a challenging interpersonal situation like this?

The challenge could range from a difficult boss or coworker, to a relationship with a friend or family member. The key to a successful essay is to demonstrate how, specifically, you navigated the experience. A lesson learned or beneficial outcome to the experience would end the Wharton Business School essay well and allow you to illustrate your leadership, teamwork or social skills.

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.

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.

Along with the behavioral part of this question, there is an implied direction to show your fit with Wharton through your innovative mentality. 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 entire set of essays, as well as navigate interviews and other interactions with the Wharton adcomm.

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.

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 Section:
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).

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.

Before you start your applications, make sure to take note of the deadlines!

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