University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Essay Analysis, 2019–2020

Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season.  

After making some small adjustments to its essay prompts last season, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania appears to have settled on questions that elicit the kind of information it is seeking from its applicants, because they have not changed for 2019–2020. Together, the prompts ask that you outline the kind of give-and-take you foresee from your engagement in the Wharton experience. Question 1 asks what Wharton can do for you, and question 2 asks—via the story of a significant achievement or other experience—what you can do for Wharton. Your greatest assets in approaching both prompts will be your knowledge of the school and the level of detail you infuse into your essays. Be knowledgeable, be authentic, and be thorough, and you should be well positioned to submit persuasive essays. Read on for more guidance on each question individually.

Interested in learning how to tackle this year’s Wharton application essays? Watch the short video below before you continue reading the full analysis!

Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

In a mere 500 words, you must discuss your career goals—giving very brief context for why they are realistic for you—and then reveal how Wharton will help you pursue these goals by demonstrating a thorough understanding of what the school offers and a well-thought-out game plan for availing yourself of these offerings. To effectively do this and write a reasoned, nuanced essay, you must first familiarize yourself with Wharton’s various resources and pinpoint those that truly pertain to you and the direction in which you hope to head. Go the extra mile in learning about the school—connect with multiple students and alumni, attend admissions events in your area, and especially, visit the campus (if at all possible). This will provide the kind of in-depth insight that will show the admissions committee you are really serious about Wharton and are confident you belong there. Simply presenting a list of classes and clubs you think sound interesting will not suffice, and absolutely avoid vague statements about how great the school is. You must reveal clear connections between your aspirations, what you need to achieve them (e.g., skills, experience[s], connections, exposure), and what Wharton in particular can provide that will enable you to fill those gaps.

Note that Wharton asks you to address only the professional aspect—not the professional and personal aspect—of your business school goals. This allows you to share your career-related stories and ambitions more fully, which in turn means you can and should use the other essay(s) to discuss non-work aspects of your life and thereby provide a more complete and well-rounded picture of yourself for the admissions committee.

In many ways, this prompt is asking for a typical MBA personal statement. We therefore encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This complimentary guide offers detailed advice on approaching and framing these subjects, along with multiple illustrative examples. Be sure to claim your copy today.

Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)

The phrase “not reflected elsewhere” will likely cause some applicants a bit of anxiety, but let us reassure you—you will not be ejected from the applicant pool for taking an experience represented in a single bullet point on your resume and exploring it here in essay form. Likewise, the school will not penalize you if one of your recommenders ends up writing about the same “impactful experience” you decide to showcase in this essay, because, most likely, you will not even know what they have written about! The key here is to focus on the “impactful experience or accomplishment” itself. As long as it is not described in depth in your resume or short answers, it should pass the “not reflected elsewhere” test.

We would recommend using only the first 200 or so words of this essay to describe your chosen experience, so that you will have sufficient leeway in which to then clearly reveal what you learned from it and how it has equipped you to contribute to the Wharton community in a meaningful way. Do your best in this limited space to “show,” or really spell out, how things unfolded—rather than just stating the accomplishment or flatly presenting the situation—to give the admissions reader some perspective on how you conduct yourself and achieve. You will then need to demonstrate both self-awareness and a thorough understanding of the Wharton MBA experience by outlining your takeaway(s) and drawing connections between what you learned and what you can subsequently bring the school as a member of its community. For example, a failed “side hustle” entrepreneurial project may have given you some valuable insights and skills you could now pass on to your classmates in a myriad of classes or clubs that revolve around entrepreneurship, or maybe it gave you an interesting new  perspective on commitment, determination, or countless other learnings. The specific knowledge you gained is not as important as conveying how you envision applying it as a student in the program.

To better familiarize yourself with the Wharton program and get an insider’s perspective on its academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, be sure to download a complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Additional Essay:  Required for all reapplicants. 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)

First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)

If you are a Wharton reapplicant, this essay is pretty straightforward. 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.

However, if you are not a Wharton reapplicant, pay special attention to the last line of this prompt: First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances.  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 GRE or GMAT score, or a gap in your work experience. If you feel you may need to submit an additional essay for such a reason, consider downloading your free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (along with 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.

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