Wharton Essay Analysis

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: July 10, 2014)

Wharton Business School Essay Tips for the 2014-2015 Admissions Cycle

Over the past five years, Wharton has steadily decreased the number of essays required in its application. This year, that trend continues, as Wharton announced that it will require only one, 500-word essay, a far cry from the four essays totaling over 2,000 words that it required half a decade ago.

At face value, this may just be an attempt by Wharton to reverse the decline in applications they saw with the Class of 2015, the latest class for which stats are available:

Percent Change in Number of Applicants


Requiring less essay writing lowers the cost of applying, likely increasing the number of applications Wharton will receive (and also making the school’s admissions stats seem more selective – something that can only help it stay at the top of the US News business school rankings).

But this change also raises the stake for applicants, who have a lot less space to capture the attention of the Wharton admissions committee. In about half the words that are in this blog post, candidates must answer:

What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA?

The question is nearly identical to the prompt provided for last year’s applicants, which asked, “What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA?” Perhaps this biggest different is the word choice Wharton used to set up the question. “Hope to gain” is a lot more down to earth than “aspire to achieve” – likely a subtle cue to applicants that went a bit overboard with their answers last year. Wharton isn’t looking for applicants dreaming of solving poverty and ending hunger; they want to get to know you in a very personal and real way. The shift in language is a subtle hint at that, and something applicants should be mindful of when they’re deciding how lofty they want to make their goals.

Last year, Wharton made a similarly subtle shift in this essay question, which previously had read, “How will a Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives?” The addition of the word “personal” last year was an important prod to get applicants to talk more about their passions and values, as well as their professional ambition and vision. The admissions committee wants to know how you’ll participate in the broader school community – and what you expect to gain from that involvement. It wants to know how you think you’ll grow as a person, so you have to go beyond the commonplace reasons almost all applicants give for why they want an MBA: enhance their skill set and grow their network.

So, given all of this, what does a good Wharton essay response look like? Here are the keys:

Focus on your goals, both personal and professional – This essay is, at the end of the day, a career vision essay. But, as discussed earlier, talking about your professional ambitions is necessary but not sufficient. You must talk about your personal goals, too.

And focus on how Wharton will achieve them – This essay is, also, about how Wharton and how an MBA will help you achieve those goals, again both personal and professional. It’s impossible to write a good response to this essay and not discuss the reasons why Wharton is the right fit and why you want an MBA.

Skip the lofty altruism – This year’s subtle wording change is likely a ploy to get applicants who’ve strayed too far from reality to come back to the pack this year. Too many candidates in recent years have jumped on the social enterprise bandwagon with little or no history to back up their altruistic claims. If your career vision isn’t to start the next microlending business in Africa, then don’t pretend like it is. Be realistic about your goals based on the choices you’ve made thus far.

Be vulnerable and personal – Wharton added the word “personally” to this essay prompt very intentionally two years ago, and those applicants that were admitted last year were the ones that paid attention to the addition. Realize that this essay is more than a career vision essay; it’s an essay about how you hope to grow as a person (and, implicitly, what you value as a person).

The Optional Essay

Wharton also provides applicants with a 400-word optional essay:

Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy.

This essay is, undoubtedly, a space for those candidates concerned about a red flag – a low GMAT score, a weak GPA, or non-existent extracurriculars – to address their weaknesses.

Some applicants may feel compelled to use this space to share additional information about their profile, and perhaps in some instances that is the right choice, but it many cases it will be fine to skip this optional prompt.

To those applicants that intend to use the space to address one of their weaknesses as a candidate, I’d only say this: every year, candidates seem to battle insecurities over the same issues – their GPA, their GMAT, their extracurriculars. It’s possible that those issues need to be addressed in your application, but Wharton will never admit you for mitigating every possible weakness in your candidacy; they will only admit you for showing remarkable strength in one or two really interesting areas. So, if you don’t genuinely have a good excuse for a low GPA, soft GMAT, or weak extracurriculars, then don’t pretend that you do. It won’t do you any favors with the Wharton admissions committee. Instead, spend your energy and effort in nailing the first, required essay question, which ultimately will be what gets you admitted anyway.

As always, if you’re looking for more personalized feedback on how to approach these essays or any other parts of you business school applications, feel free to reach out to us via our free consultation service, and of course check out our other posts analyzing the 2014-2015 applications.

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