University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Essay Analysis, 2018–2019:
Often spurned at the last minute for Harvard Business School (HBS), the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and, at times, Columbia Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, possibly more than any other top MBA program, really wants to know that you want to earn your degree there. So, we were not at all surprised to see that Wharton has maintained the prompt for its first essay, which requires applicants to explain their professional rationale for wanting to go to Wharton. (Note that by contrast, HBS does not ask candidates to spell out “Why HBS?”) And even though the school has replaced its second essay question from last season with a new one about an “impactful experience or accomplishment,” the admissions committee still wants to know “How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community?” In other words, “Really convince us that you understand our program, and tell us why you will fit in here.” So again, in your second essay, you will need to demonstrate your knowledge of how Wharton works and the place/role you envision for yourself within it. We suggest that to respond effectively to Wharton’s prompts, you go the extra mile in learning about the school, so that you can write thoughtful, nuanced essays. Connect with students and alumni, attend admissions events, and especially, visit the campus (if possible) to get the kind of in-depth insight that will show the admissions committee you are really serious about Wharton and are confident you belong there.
Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Interested in learning how to tackle this year’s Wharton application essays? Watch the short video below before you continue reading the full analysis!
In a mere 500 words, you must discuss your career goals—giving very brief context for why they are realistic for you—and then reveal how Wharton will help you pursue these goals by demonstrating a thorough understanding of what the school offers and a well-thought-out game plan for availing yourself of these offerings. To effectively do this, you must first familiarize yourself with Wharton’s various resources and pinpoint those that truly pertain to you and the direction in which you hope to go. Simply presenting a list of classes that you think sound interesting will not suffice here, and avoid vague statements about how great the school is. You must clearly demonstrate a connection between your aspirations, what you need to achieve them (e.g., skills, experience[s], connections, exposure), and what Wharton in particular can provide that will enable you to fill those gaps.
Note that Wharton asks applicants to address only the professional aspect—not the professional and personal aspect (as it has in past years)—of their business school goals. This allows you to share your career-related stories and ambitions more fully, which in turn means you can and should use the other essay(s) to discuss non-work aspects of your life and thereby provide a more complete and well-rounded picture of yourself for the admissions committee.
In many ways, this prompt is asking for a typical MBA personal statement. We therefore encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples. Be sure to claim your copy today.
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)
The phrase “not reflected elsewhere” will likely cause some applicants a bit of anxiety, but let us reassure you—you will not be ejected from the applicant pool for taking an experience represented in a single bullet point on your resume and exploring it here in essay form. Likewise, the school will not penalize you if your recommender ends up writing about the same “impactful experience” you decide to showcase in this essay, because, most likely, you will not even know what he/she has written about! The key here is to focus on the “impactful experience or accomplishment” itself. As long as it is not described in depth in your resume or short answers, it should pass the “not reflected elsewhere” test.
We would recommend using the first 250–300 words of this essay to discuss a key experience, but even with such limited space, you will likely need to show that you sustained some bumps and bruises along the way, so that you can also reveal that you learned from the experience. By “showing,” or really spelling out, how things unfolded—rather than just stating an accomplishment and listing the takeaways—you will give the admissions reader some perspective on how you conduct yourself and how you achieve. You will then need to show connections between what you learned and the Wharton MBA experience, citing specific ways you will contribute. For example, a failed “side hustle” entrepreneurial project may have given you some valuable insights and skills that you could now pass on to your classmates in a myriad of classes or clubs that revolve around entrepreneurship, or maybe it gave you an interesting new perspective on commitment, determination, or countless other learnings. The specific knowledge you gained is not as important as conveying how you envision applying it as a student in the program, thereby revealing your knowledge of the school.
To better familiarize yourself with the Wharton program and get an insider’s perspective on its academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download a complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Additional Essay: 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)
If you are a Wharton reapplicant, this essay is pretty straightforward. Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Wharton wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Wharton MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.
However, if you are not a Wharton reapplicant, pay special attention to the last line of this prompt: First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. Here is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GRE or GMAT score, or a gap in your work experience. If you feel you may need to submit an additional essay for such a reason, consider downloading your free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (along with multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Wharton Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Interview Primer today