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The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has decreased its number of application essays to just two this year and is giving candidates a whopping 900 words with which to distinguish themselves. We surmise that the influx of application essays can be overwhelming for the school’s overworked admissions officers, who find them somewhat deadening over time. So, by cutting back the program’s application requirements, they are able to stay sharp and still get what they need from you as an applicant. While this change may be helpful on the school’s end, the limitations make your job much harder. Wharton gives you a mostly boilerplate personal statement and a rather Harvard Business School–esque “discuss what you want” style prompt—seemingly not a lot of latitude with which to make an impression, but the key word here is “seemingly.” The smart applicant will make use of Essay 2 in particular to stand out from the pack. Our analysis follows…
This year we require one essay, with a second being optional. For the second optional essay, we recommend that you use your best judgment and focus your energy on highlighting new information that we are unable to ascertain from other sections of the application.
Essay 1: Required: What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
In many ways, this prompt is asking for a typical MBA personal statement. In a mere 500 words, you must discuss your goals, giving very brief context for why they are realistic for you. You will then need to reveal how you will engage with Wharton’s resources in pursuit of these goals, by showing that you truly understand what the school offers and that you have a thoughtful game plan for immersing yourself in the Wharton experience. You will need to familiarize yourself with the school’s various resources and pinpoint those that truly pertain to you and the direction in which you hope to go—definitely do not just present a list of classes you think might be interesting.
Wharton adds a slight twist to this essay by asking you to discuss personal growth as well. This request might perplex you, but before you get too bewildered, take a step back and ask yourself what personal areas you genuinely need to develop. Maybe you need to challenge yourself to become a better public speaker, so you look forward to debating ideas in the classroom and on your learning team—not to mention pushing yourself out of your comfort zone by taking a role in the Wharton Follies. Do not worry about finding the “right” answer for what or how you want to develop personally—no such answer exists!—but focus instead on demonstrating self-awareness and showing that you truly grasp how Wharton in particular will best serve your personal 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: Optional: Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (400 words)
We were surprised to see Wharton’s admissions committee asking for new information it would be unable to ascertain from other sections of the application, because this appears to be unashamedly parroting Harvard Business School’s (HBS’s) essay question that says the admissions committee “can see your resume, school transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards” etc. and then asks, “What else would you like us to know?” Typically, each of the top schools has strived to maintain its own distinct essay questions to deter applicants from simply copying and pasting the same essay into multiple applications. By creating unique essay questions, the schools obligate you to do original work exclusively for their application, ensuring that you are genuinely interested in their specific program. Wharton’s imposition of a 400-word limit may be a tactic meant to force applicants to create something distinct; very few candidates will limit their open-ended HBS essay to just 400 words, so a copy and paste from HBS to Wharton (or vice versa) should make an applicant’s lack of effort fairly obvious. Note: we have to assume that HBS will be highly suspicious of 400-word essays!
As for what to write… even with only 400 words, you can still effectively grab the admissions committee’s attention. Indeed, as the committee itself suggests, think carefully about providing new information, but remember that you do not need to exclude anything and everything that has been included in minute detail in your application. Hypothetically, if a bullet on your resume describes your role on your firm’s charitable board, but it does not do justice to the incredible work you have accomplished in this capacity, you can use this essay to further explore and expound on this activity. Your task with this essay is to ensure that your reader is receiving new information about you—and additional information counts as new!
You can use this opportunity to reveal a single accomplishment, highlight a theme (thereby unifying several accomplishments), discuss a formative moment in your life, identify a time when your personal philosophy was challenged and changed—and probably countless other options. Just remember, you are trying to distinguish yourself from thousands of others. To do this, you need to own your story, and the best way to ensure that the story is fully yours is to tell it, as it happened, in your voice. Returning to the hypothetical example of your position on your firm’s charitable board, you should not start an essay with the following:
“I consider it a great honor to have been asked to join my firm’s charitable board. My work with the board is something that I will always be proud of, particularly because I was the youngest member of the team.”
This opening is not only banal and self-evident, it is also the type of information you could convey just as effectively in a single bullet on your resume. Instead, strive to put your reader in the middle of the action, and allow him/her to share your experience:
“As I advocated to the board to donate $11,500 to a literacy program for Caribbean immigrants, I reminded myself that I was taking on our firm’s CFO.”
In this second example, we are engaged in the details of a story—a story that this individual clearly owns. The applicant can continue with the narrative until he has created a representative example of himself (or possibly representative examples) and through his achievement has made a profound and memorable impression on the admissions committee.