Essay Advice – University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Wharton’s 2021-22 essay questions are out and offer a fresh twist on last year’s questions! As in prior years, their prompts are direct and allow enough word count to paint a robust picture of who you are and why Wharton is right for you (and vice versa). As such, I often recommend that my clients tackle this application first. The deadlines are also early in each round, which lends additional credence to this approach.

If you’re considering applying to Wharton, here is what you need to know:

Application Run Down

The deadlines are as follows:

Round 1: 8 September 2021

Round 2: 5 January 2022

Round 3: 30 March 2022 (please do yourself a favor and don’t wait for Round 3)

There are two required essay questions:

  1. How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)
  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)

How To Approach These Essays

As I mentioned earlier, the Wharton essay questions read as fairly straightforward. That’s great, but don’t let it lead you down the path of writing boring essays (which can tend to happen, if I’m being honest).  Run of the mill essays do nothing to help you stand out from the sea of applications Wharton receives. Additionally, while Wharton allows for a generous word count to cover the content they’ve asked for, you will absolutely need to be strategic about what you include – and don’t.

Your Career Goals Are the ‘Anchor’ For Essay One

So, where do you start? When it comes to the first essay, the critical thing to keep in mind is that all of your content should be ‘anchored’ by your short- and long-term career goals. If you haven’t given robust thought to these and done your due diligence to ensure they are sound, now is the time to do so.

Once you have defined and refined your career goals, you need to think backwards and forwards. What do I mean by this? By thinking backwards, I’m encouraging you to think about the formative experiences that led you to your post-MBA career goals. Perhaps in your work as a consultant you were staffed on a healthcare project that opened your eyes to how complex yet exciting the healthcare industry can be. This sparked your interest in shifting to a strategy role within a healthcare company where you can make a lasting impact on the industry and those it touches. Tell this story so the adcom can really feel your passion and the authenticity behind your goals.

By thinking forwards, I’m recommending that you think very specifically about the skills you need to build in order to be successful in your target career. Then, research and describe the unique elements of Wharton’s program that will help you to build them. If the examples you cite are offered by other business schools, they are not specific enough to make a compelling argument as to why Wharton will best position you for success. Getting this part right takes work and that is exactly why it matters.

Focus Essay Two on Being a ‘Giver’ Not a ‘Taker’

When it comes to the second essay, take a cue from what Wharton professor extraordinaire Adam Grant’s concept of ‘givers and takers’. Whereas the ‘why Wharton’ section of the first essay can cover what you will ‘take’ from the experience, this essay should focus on the ways in which you will be a ‘giver’ while at Wharton and even after graduation. A giver ‘…[looks] to help others by making an introduction, giving advice, providing mentoring or sharing knowledge, without any strings attached.’

To be in a position to ‘give’, you need to have a unique knowledge base, personality trait, or past experience from which others will benefit. This is the crux of the essay. It is, first and foremost, the place to share what distinguishes you from other applicants. Because the first essay is so career focused, I urge my clients to write about something personal here.

For example, a past client discussed how she would use the determination that had helped her overcome personal challenges to motivate her peers in Wharton Women in Business. She went on to describe a specific area of programming she would bring to the club that tied in with some of the personal challenges she had conquered.  The essay was strategic, specific, and thoughtful (and it was successful in earning her an acceptance with full scholarship).

If you need help with your MBA applications, including Wharton, click here to schedule an initial consultation. We look forward to speaking with you!

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