University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

Wharton’s essay prompts for this application season may seem a bit perplexing. At first glance, the two questions seem rather similar. However, the first is basically a question about what you hope to get from your MBA experience at the school, and the second is mostly about what you can give to the Wharton program. With only 500 words for Essay 2 to give the school a sense of your personality and experiences, you will need to think especially carefully about what you want to say. At other schools, an interview will give you the opportunity to share these parts of your profile, but Wharton’s group interview will not be the place for you to talk about yourself, so this essay is your opportunity instead. Proceed thoughtfully…


Essay 1: What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

This essay prompt has the markings of the classic personal statement question, though it differs slightly in that it includes your personal aspirations in addition to your professional aspirations. With respect to your personal aspirations (note that the phrasing is “through” Wharton’s program), your goals can be anything from advancing your intellectual development while at the school to experiencing new cultures and personalities after graduating with your degree. The goal you claim is not as important as truly owning it and connecting it directly to what Wharton offers, revealing a very clear understanding of the school’s strengths and resources and of how you will use them. Avoid vague statements about how great the school is and focus on demonstrating a clear connection between your aspirations, what you need to achieve them and what Wharton in particular offers that will enable you to fulfill those needs.

Because personal statements are generally similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. 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 the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Essay 2: Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community? (500 words)

Here, Wharton gives you a chance to discuss how your past activities, professional experiences and, in some cases, even personal adventures could be harnessed for the benefit of others at the school. Consider identifying and exploring one or two specific instances in your life that were extraordinary or formative and allowed you to claim specific knowledge or expertise. Then connect them to specific elements of the school’s MBA program, revealing that you have a thorough understanding not only of the school itself but also of how your personal strengths could enhance the experience for your fellow students.

Your experiences need not be totally unique, but they must be conveyed in a way that paints them as specifically yours, and they need to be capable of being leveraged academically.  Note that the school’s question specifies a contribution to the “learning” community. However, this does not mean that you must have some sort of strictly academic knowledge. In fact, most essays written from that angle would end up being quite boring: “I worked on discounted cash flows modeling, so I can help others with such models” would be an almost sure loser. Unless you can claim a truly exceptional academic achievement that has direct application in class (“My PhD in nanotechnology would advance discussions on the topic of emerging technologies…”), you would be better off delving into how you developed particular skills or traits and then explaining how they could be applied. For example, if you have experience managing flexible teams, you would be well equipped to facilitate discussions on your learning team and thereby add value in that capacity.

As you approach this essay, be sure to not simply tell the admissions committee how great you are at something. Instead, use a narrative to illustrate that you have certain applicable experiences, skills and/or qualities and fully understand their value to others.

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