University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Essay Analysis, 2020–2021

Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

In an unexpected (to us, anyway) move, the admissions committee at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has elected to change its essay prompts for the upcoming application season after all, though the adjustment is nuanced and, in our opinion, works in candidates’ favor. Taken together, the school’s prompts still essentially ask applicants to describe a kind of give-and-take with respect to their engagement with its MBA program. Question 1 asks what Wharton can do for you, and question 2 focuses on what you can do for Wharton. Your greatest assets in approaching both essays 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.

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 illustrate 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, pandering 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 means you should focus solely on sharing your career-related stories and ambitions here and then use the other essay(s) to discuss non-work aspects of your life, thereby providing 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: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)  

Although this prompt is clearly worded differently from the one Wharton posed last season, at its heart, the question is meant to elicit largely the same kind of information. By disconnecting your anticipated contribution from a specific “impactful experience or accomplishment” and what you learned from it, the school has significantly broadened the scope of material from which you can pull. This makes sense, given that in a recent blog post, Director of Admissions Blair Mannix explained, “Our main goal is to get to know you the best that we can, and the change to our second prompt was largely motivated by that desire.” The question’s increased breadth also allows you to provide a more rounded impression of yourself because you can discuss more than one aspect of or story from your life. However, the word count remains fairly restrictive, so you would need to be concise in doing so, without sacrificing effectiveness or thoroughness. 

We recommend using approximately one-half of your allowed word count to describe your chosen experience or quality, so that you will have sufficient space in which to then explain how it will enable you to contribute to the Wharton community in a meaningful way. Do your best to “show,” or really spell out, your story—rather than just flatly presenting or stating it—to give the admissions reader some perspective and context. You will then need to demonstrate both self-awareness and a thorough understanding of the Wharton MBA experience by drawing connections between this aspect of your background and what you can subsequently bring the school as a member of its community. For example, a past project may have given you some valuable insights and skills you could now pass on to your classmates in a related class or club. Or maybe a personal challenge gave you an interesting new perspective on commitment, determination, or other valuable quality. What is most important in this essay is conveying how you envision applying the knowledge or quality you can offer as a student in the Wharton program. 

To better familiarize yourself with Wharton 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

Required Essay for All Reapplicants: Please use this space to share with the Admissions Committee how you have reflected [on] and grown since your previous application and discuss any relevant updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, and extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)

Thankfully, 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.

Optional Essay: Please use this space to share any additional information about yourself that cannot be found elsewhere in your application and that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee. This space can also be used to address any extenuating circumstances (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, areas of weakness, etc.) that you would like the Admissions Committee to consider.

Here is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a low GRE or GMAT score, a legal or disciplinary incident, or, of course, one of the extenuating circumstances the school suggests. In past years, candidates who needed to explain any unclear or problematic issues in their profile had to use the reapplicant essay space to do so and were therefore limited to 250 words. With this new, separate prompt, Wharton appears to be silently acknowledging that some situations may need more thorough clarification than that limited space will allow. However, keep in mind that by submitting an optional essay, you are requiring the already overtaxed admissions readers to do additional work on your application, so avoid being overly verbose or sharing more information than is truly necessary just because you technically can. You must ensure that the admissions committee’s extra time and effort are truly warranted. If you feel you may have a reason to submit this additional essay, 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 Guides to spur you along! Download your free copy of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Interview Guide today.

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2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

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