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The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania must have been pleased with the submissions it received in response to its essay questions last year, because the school’s admissions committee is back with the exact same pair of prompts this season. Confusing matters slightly, Wharton also gives you an opportunity to write an “optional essay” of 400 words as well as to discuss “extenuating circumstances” in 250 words. We distinguish between these two essays in our analysis, which follows…
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 well-thought-out 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 sound 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 as part of 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.
And 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.
Optional Essay: Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (400 words maximum)
As we noted in our introduction, we feel that this is not a prompt for a typical optional essay, in which you would discuss a problem area (e.g., a poor grade, a low GMAT score, an employment gap), but is instead an opportunity to discuss aspects of your candidacy/profile that you have not yet been able to explore or include in your application—which, in Wharton’s case, is basically the greater part of your entire personal story. We have joked that this is actually a “non-optional optional essay,” because forgoing a chance to flesh out and add color to your application by not writing it simply would not make sense (or be prudent). Interestingly, Harvard Business School noted this year that not a single one of its applicants failed to submit an optional essay last year. We would be curious to know whether Wharton saw similar results with its “optional” essay prompt last season—if the school offered such stats, we imagine that the number would also be miniscule.
As for what to write about, you could use this essay to showcase 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 other eager candidates. To do this, you must own your story, and the best way to do this is to tell it, as it happened, in your voice.
Even though this is a “non-optional” essay, you should still be cognizant—and respectful—of the admissions committee’s time. In short, you need to write something that is truly worthwhile and that clearly reveals that you made good use of this opportunity to provide further insight into your candidacy. You cannot merely copy and paste an essay you wrote for a different school into this space. The information you provide needs to be very obviously crucial to understanding who you are as a person, not just a recounting of something particular you have achieved.
Additional Question for Reapplicants: All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete this essay. Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. Wharton wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Wharton MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.
All applicants, including reapplicants, can also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)
This is the true optional essay! Here is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Wharton Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Interview Primer today and be sure to check out our one-of-a-kind Wharton Team-Based Discussion Simulation Sessions.