Wharton has unveiled their essay questions for the 2020-21 MBA application season, and they replaced one essay from last year. As a Wharton alum, I wanted to share my tips on creating an essay set that will impress your readers on the Wharton Admissions Committee:
Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
The prompt for Wharton Essay 1 has appeared on the school’s application in one form or another for several years now. Firstly, you should communicate a clear narrative arc in this essay. The arc begins with the path you have taken in your career so far, but your goal should be to devote the majority of your essay to a discussion of where you imagine yourself going and how Wharton will propel you there.
Wharton wants to understand your overarching career goals – the “big picture” of where you want to go in your career in the long term. At the same time, they want to get a sense of where you imagine yourself immediately post-MBA. Whereas you can and should dream big on your long-term goals, your post-MBA career plans must appear realistic and achievable. Moreover, you are going to be in a stronger position in an admissions officer’s eyes if the field you want to enter is one in which Wharton has historically excelled in placing students (e.g., finance) or is growing its footprint (e.g., tech, entrepreneurship).
Secondly, your essay needs to demonstrate how the Wharton MBA will prepare you for the next step in your career with some specificity. This essay is the place to show off your knowledge of Wharton’s unique resources and culture. Your essay is going to stand out from the pack if you have visited campus, spoken to current students and/or alumni, and researched course offerings and extracurricular activities in depth. The more you show a clear connection between your aspirations and what Wharton specifically offers, the more successful this essay will be.
Finally, the AdCom expects you to be both “candid and succinct” in your essay. A 500-word essay is only about one page single-spaced; use this space wisely to provide the reader with as much specificity and supporting detail as possible. Weave a narrative but don’t waste words fluffing up your story or trying to flatter.
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)
Wharton’s Essay 2 question — newly introduced in 2020 — offers you the opportunity to showcase distinctive aspects of your background that will enrich the Wharton community. Here, the AdCom asks you to connect your past with your future in Philadelphia. My advice as you set out to draft Wharton Essay 2: Ground the essay in your personal and professional experience while showing admissions officers that the Wharton community presents perfect outlets for your talents, knowledge, and interests.
What I like about Wharton’s essay question is that you are granted the freedom to take your response in any direction you choose. As the AdCom suggests, be yourself. You may find it helpful to cite two or three specific examples from your personal, professional, or undergraduate experience to ground your essay in something easy for the reader to visualize.
How will what you’ve experienced make you a more valuable community member? A persuasive essay will describe specific and concrete contribution areas. Do not leave it to the AdCom to connect the dots from your past to your future. Prove to them that you have done your homework on Wharton and show them how you plan to operate on campus.
For example, an essay that focuses on self-discovery and leadership gained while facilitating difficult group conversations might increase your value during a Wharton Leadership Venture or in the P3 Program. Alternatively, an experience that taught you about intercultural communication in a non-profit setting is a natural place to discuss how you can play a leading role in Wharton’s Global Impact Consultants initiative.
Where can you start your Wharton research? Try the Wharton Office of Student Life’s website. There you’ll find many outlets for your energy and talents amongst a multitude of clubs and conferences. Complement your online research by speaking with student leaders — many clubs’ websites include contact information for club officers, and Wharton students are usually generous with their time for prospective students. An A+ essay clarifies for the AdCom both how and where you see yourself contributing to the Wharton and Philadelphia communities.
Avoid topics where any experiences or accomplishments you cite benefited you more than others. This essay is not the place to talk about graduating at the top of your class or training for a marathon, no matter how real and hard the obstacles were. The AdCom’s usage of the word “meaningful” speaks to its desire to see that you have done great work in service of others and that you plan to add significant value to the Wharton community. Unsuccessful essays that I have seen focus on topics like dining out, meeting diverse classmates or playing on an intramural sports team. While these examples may be of intrinsic importance to the candidate, they don’t show how, in Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s terminology, you will act as a giver to — and not just a taker from — the Wharton community.
Lastly, watch out for a credibility gap between your experience and your aspirations as a Wharton student. If you’ve never taken a finance course, don’t write about leading a finance tutoring group. If your resume is light on community service, don’t pitch the idea of founding a non-profit initiative. If you do, you’ll only raise questions about your self-awareness and ability to set realistic goals.
In both essays, specificity is critical. The Wharton AdCom is using these essays to find candidates who will add to their diverse student body of socially-aware individuals who are excited about contributing to small teams and the broader community.
Demonstrate that you are an influencer with a coherent career narrative and developed a sense of self through your essays. Picture yourself making a tangible difference at Wharton, and with some luck, the admissions committee member reading your application will picture you in the class of 2023!