University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Essay Analysis, 2008-2009

1. 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)

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the “MBA Mission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer our guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today. 

For additional information on the Wharton experience, please consult the MBA Mission Insider’s Guide series.

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 will be entering).

2. Describe a setback or a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, 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. For example, you could not discuss an injury that prevented you from competing for an elite college athletic competition 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 vital. It is very easy to offer trite and clichéd statements about your response to the problem 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.

3. Where in your background would we find evidence of your leadership capacity and/or potential? (500 words)

In this essay, you have an opportunity to offer more than a single experience in one essay. It is possible to select two instances (three would likely be pushing it) in your background that showcase your distinct leadership skills. If you do choose to select two experiences, you would be wise to offer those that highlight different aspects of your style. For example, an “on the field” athletic leadership may exemplify strength of personality, while work experience might highlight skills of persuasion and diplomacy.  Regardless of the story or stories that you select, it is important that you prove to the Admissions Committee that you have an understanding of your own style and how you can be effective in leadership roles. Although there is no specific request for reflection in this essay, it would still be appropriate for you to contemplate your actions and show self-awareness.

4. Please respond to one (1) of the following questions:

a. Describe an experience you have had innovating or initiating, your lessons learned, the results and impact of your efforts. (500 words)

It is interesting that the Admissions Committee chose “innovating or initiating”. Although both actions require you to show your impact on a process, they are in and of themselves quite different. (Innovation means changing an existing process, while initiating means commencing a process.) It is possible that the Admissions Committee felt that because choosing only one word would be limiting in terms of accessing candidate experiences (some candidates struggle with Haas short essay three, where one must offer an “innovative solution) that they would at least give two opportunities for candidates to brainstorm around.

Of course, this essay becomes all the more challenging, coming after a mandatory leadership essay, where you must offer more than one example of leadership. Clearly, there can be some overlap between innovating/initiating and leading. So, you would be wise to brainstorm and really map out your strategy for these essays, lest you exhaust your stories before you have written this one.

After identifying your distinct idea, we would recommend that you focus on the “how?” and “why?” aspects of your actions. Innovation and initiation are the result of maintaining awareness of yourself and your surroundings and then recognizing a need or a problem that can be solved. How did this idea come to you? How did you and why were you capable of taking action and driving a process forward? Remember, the story in and of itself is not enough. The Admissions Committee wants to understand your results (which should flow naturally from the narrative), but more importantly, your lessons learned, which will require reflection. 

b. Is there anything about your background or experience that you feel you have not had the opportunity to share with the Admissions Committee in your application?  If yes, please explain. (500 words)

Essentially, this question is a “catchall” in which the Admissions Committee is ensuring that you will not miss the opportunity to offer something vital. If you happen to have unique experiences that do not fit neatly into the questions above, you can explore them here. While this question is open-ended, it is still a mistake to create an essay that lacks scope. This should not be a collection of ideas that you could not incorporate above, but a focused and compelling statement about your candidacy.  It would be wise for you to think through a thesis statement before you start to write.

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