Wharton has unveiled their essay questions for the 2019-20 MBA application season, and they remain unchanged from last year, except that the word count for the second essay was reduced by 100 words. 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. MBA Prep School published some advice on this essay in our post two seasons ago, and I will add to that. 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: 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? (400 words)
Wharton’s Essay 2 question offers you a chance to showcase a unique aspect of your background that will add to the Wharton community in an exceptional way. Here, the AdCom is asking for a truly introspective story. Your story can be personal or professional in nature. The real measure of a great response to this prompt is how much you ended up learning and growing from the experience, not how impressive the achievement is. Even a simple life experience can be told with impact; don’t worry if the story is not about the time you climbed Mount Everest (really).
I recommend you consider one of the following topics: (a) a leadership experience, (b) a time you contributed to a team, or (c) a risk you took. Some stories might combine all three! What’s not optional is that you must reveal personal growth in the telling of your tale. Regardless of the specific example you choose, you will need to go beyond the facts of what happened to demonstrate true self-awareness and insight. Your reader wants to know why this experience was challenging or life-changing. Where did you stumble? What skills did you learn? How has this knowledge shaped you and the way you relate to others?
Those suggested questions are not meant to be answered exhaustively, but rather to provide food for thought. What I like about this new essay question is that each candidate can truly take her response in the direction she chooses. As the AdCom suggests, be yourself.
How will what you’ve learned make you a more valuable member of the Wharton community? Your primary aims are to reflect deeply, show you understand and connect to the values of the Wharton MBA community, and prove you are ready for more learning and growth at Wharton. A strong essay will describe specific areas of the Wharton experience to which the applicant imagines contributing. For example, an essay that focuses on self-discovery and leadership lessons gained while facilitating difficult conversations in a group might also suggest how the applicant would apply that knowledge in Leadership Ventures or the P3 Program.
In both essays, specificity is key. 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 to the larger community.
Demonstrate that you are an influencer with a coherent career narrative and developed sense of self through your essays. Picture yourself making a difference at Wharton and, with some luck, the admissions committee member reading your application will picture you in the class of 2022!