University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Essay Analysis

The Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.Essay 1 (Required)

Describe your career progress to date and your future short-term and long-term career goals. How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve these goals, and why is now the best time for you to join our program? (1,000 words)

Again, because this question covers very similar ground with other applications, I have created a document on personal statements that should help regardless of application. Please feel free to contact – – for a copy.

As for Wharton itself, experience has shown, and successful candidates who have gone on to work with Wharton admissions have confirmed, that Wharton pays special attention to “Why Wharton/Why now” and that your reasons must be thorough and compelling. This is not exactly news as every school wants to see this emphasis, but Wharton is more inclined to “ding” those who don’t nail this section. Your “Why Wharton” rationale should not just offer praise for the school, but should illustrate your clear connection, academically, professionally and socially (meaning that you understand the environment that you would be entering).

Essay 2 (Required): Describe a failure or setback that you have experienced. How did you respond, and what did you learn about yourself? (500 words)

The best failure essays are often those that show reasoned optimism and tremendous momentum toward a goal – a goal that is ultimately derailed. In most cases, you will need to show that you were emotionally invested in your project/experience which will enable the reader to connect with your story and vicariously experience your disappointment. If you were not invested at all, it is hardly credible to discuss the experience as a failure or learning experience.

With respect to setbacks, the door swings open to a range of personal experience as well. You could not discuss an injury that prevented you from competing for an elite college athletic competition, for example, as a failure, but it would certainly qualify as a setback. You can carefully consider setbacks, in which you bear no responsibility for creating the situation; in such a case, again, it is crucial that you show that you were emotionally invested, that events were going in a certain direction and that the situation quickly turned in an unfavorable direction.

Of course, the second part of the story, the reflective element, is vitally important. It is very easy to offer trite and clichéd statements about your response and what you learned about yourself (Note: everyone learns resiliency – consider another key learning). It will take time to truly create a unique statement about your road forward and lessons learned, but the payoff will come in an essay that is much more personal and self-aware than thousands of others.

Essays 3 & 4 (Required)

Clearly, by choosing two of four broadly based essays, you have a tremendous opportunity to showcase your greatest strengths below; the choices that you make here are, of course, contingent on your previous choices above. If you have offered a personal setback, for example, it will probably be time to discuss your professional accomplishments. You will need to exercise judgment in determining your approach.

Please complete two of the following four questions (500 words each):

* Describe a personal characteristic or quality that will help the Admissions Committee to know you better.

Again, this question is broad and flexible. You will need to offer consistent examples from your experiences to prove a theme. These essays often go wrong when they are light on experience, only offering one story to back-up a personal characteristic. Although it is possible to answer this question with one example if you provide an unusually strong story, it is more likely that creating a unifying theme across personal, professional, academic and community dimensions (and you can use a professional story to prove a personal characteristic) will be the most compelling.

* Describe an impact you’ve had on a team, group or organization. How has this experience been valuable to you or others, and what did you learn?

In this essay, you will need to show a clear cause and effect relationship, between your actions and the resulting implication for others. A successful essay will show how you took specific steps to produce the desired results, focus on the results themselves and then, most importantly, add a reflective element, explaining the learning, via the experience. This is a leadership essay and while it does not demand that you exemplify rousing “Churchillian” leadership, the goal is to show how you exercise your influence and bring about a new and better reality.

* What do you do best and why?

This essay will require a great deal of thought and you might start by asking those around you – parents, colleagues, supervisors, etc. – this very question, “What do I do best and why?” It is not only important that you identify what you do best, but you should ensure that what you do best is something unique/special or desirable to Wharton. In other words, if you are best at completing projects on time, this is probably not worth showcasing as many others do this quite well and while this might be your best trait it is unlikely a trait that will differentiate you from others or cause anyone to scream, “admit”. Again, in this essay, you will need to prove your case via experience; it is not enough to simply tell the committee that you are the best at X, you will need to show them your experiences which provide that proof.

* When have your values, ethics, or morals been challenged? How has this shaped who you are today?

Sometimes it is easier to explain what you should do in an essay by first explaining what you should not do. Inevitably, a candidate always asks if a story like the following would work: “My boss told me to trade on inside information and I said ‘no.’” In such an instance, there is no challenge to your value system; no one should be trading on inside information; no one should be breaking the law.

You need to start by offering an example in which there were two reasonable options which stand in stark opposition to each other — both with positive and negative aspects — and explore how you made your choice. In such circumstances, the outcome is less important than your reasoning. The committee is seeking to understand your thought process and trying to recognize the reasonable, logical and ethical applicant within. Furthermore, you will need to consider the lasting impact on you and identify the way that your thoughts or personality has changed; this is a heavy burden but if you can examine your changes, your story will likely be powerful and differentiated and will thus be the basis for a winning essay.

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