University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Essay Analysis, 2009-2010

Essay 1: (750–1,000 words) As a leader in global business, Wharton is committed to sustaining “a truly global presence through its engagement in the world.” What goals are you committed to and why?  How do you envision the Wharton MBA contributing to the attainment of those goals?

As you approach this essay, you should recognize that the first sentence about Wharton is a bit of an unintentional diversion. Wharton is not expecting every candidate to write about his/her “global presence through (his/her) engagement in the world.” The admissions committee does not want you to parrot the school’s goals, but rather to write sincerely about your own goals and then explain why they are important to you. Remember, there are no “right” or “wrong” goals for Wharton—applicants who try to cater to what they perceive the school wants end up writing essays that do not fit their personalities and experiences, or that are entirely bland and generic.

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

For a thorough exploration of Wharton’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Wharton. Further, for unique insight into the application process, please read our exclusive interview with Wharton Admissions Director, J.J. Cutler.

Essay 2: (750–1,000 words) Tell us about a time when you had to adapt by accepting/understanding the perspective of people different from yourself.

Many MBA candidates who approach this essay will no doubt be troubled by the phrasing “different from yourself.” This phrase is intentionally left vague, because the school probably does not want to limit candidates by asking specifically about a cross-cultural experience. While such an experience is certainly fair game as a topic for this essay, the question essentially allows you to define your group “of people different from yourself” as anyone “separate” from you—for example, you may have once been persuaded by a team of unpaid interns at work, or a group of citizens changed your perspective on a particular political measure in your community, just to note two possibilities.

Of course, merely revealing that you accepted the opinions of others is not sufficient. Via a well written essay, you should impart the manner in which you weighed your own opinions against those of others and then took action to adapt—to change your approach to a problem or your opinion on an issue. In many, but not all, cases, your adaptation will act as the catalyst for change that enables the group to then achieve a positive outcome that otherwise would have been unachievable.

Essay 3: (500 words) Describe a failure that you have experienced.  What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself?

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, discussing the experience as a failure or learning experience is hardly credible.

Notably, in previous years, this question allowed candidates to discuss a “setback or failure,” but the setback option was eliminated last year. We suspect that this is because discussing a “setback” can allow candidates to offload responsibility. For example, an athlete who experienced a “setback” in the form of a broken leg just before the start of a college sport season can discuss the trauma of dashed expectations without ever having to truly accept any blame for the problem, because it was happenstance. However, in the case of a failure, you must take some, if not all, of the responsibility for the results and reflect on what you would have done differently or what you would do differently going forward.

Indeed, the second part of the question, 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, so consider another key learning.) Creating a truly unique statement about your road forward and lessons learned takes time, but the payoff will come in an essay that is much more personal and revelatory than thousands of others.

Essay 4: (500 words) Choose one of the following:

a.       Give us a specific example of a time when you solved a complex problem.

The key to writing a successful essay for this option will be explaining a complex issue in a simple manner. It will be easy to get bogged down in writing about the specifics of the central problem—particularly if it is a technical problem—but what is more important is discussing the solving of that problem. Your solution need not be novel, though if it is, that is certainly fine. However, in most cases, the reader will want to learn about your creativity and people management skills more than your operational prowess, and will want to know that these qualities came to bear in resolving a situation that seemed otherwise intractable.

b.      Tell us about something significant that you have done to improve yourself, in either your professional and/or personal endeavors.

In this essay, you should put far more weight on the road that you traveled than on the final destination. The admissions committee will be interested in how you identified an aspect of yourself that was ripe for improvement and will want to know exactly how you sacrificed and persevered to improve. By reading about your efforts in this area, the admissions committee will come to understand your personality—the path you took will illustrate your commitment to your professional, intellectual and/or personal growth and likely the achievement of an important goal.

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