Last week Wharton published new essay questions for 2013 candidates. Below is Aringo's analysis and some tips (in blue) for answering Wharton's questions.
The Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.
Yours will be one of the expected 8,500 applications to Wharton this year, so how do you get yours to stand out? First of all, follow instructions: be introspective, candid, and succinct. Get their attention by giving them a sense of who you really are. Wharton cares a lot about leadership, teamwork, intelligence, initiative, commitment to community, and intellectual curiosity. Keep those things in mind as you write all of your essays.
How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)
There is no right answer here, but there certainly are wrong ones. A bad answer falls into one of two traps: a generic approach to “Why Wharton” and career objectives that are unclear or unrealistic or both. That means, you should do thorough research regarding the career path to your goals and how Wharton can help you get there, but it is not a place to take wild risks and get unnecessary attention, unless you have a stellar story to go along with your professional objectives, like a multi-million dollar family business that you intend to lead.
A good career plan is one that is based on your past experience and a clear understanding of how you can get there from here. You should always include the ways in which your past experiences have helped prepare you to this point, how Wharton will help you acquire what you lack in terms of knowledge or experience, and how you will progress in your career after earning your MBA. Even if you are a career changer, you should explain how your past has brought you to this point. For example, if you are a lawyer switching to business, state clearly how your legal background has given you skills and experience that you can leverage in a business career and why you need Wharton to help you get what you lack. Your ultimate goals should be ambitious and even “dreamy” because schools want grads to become rich and famous, but your path needs to be realistic. One suggestion is to find role models and emulate their career paths.
Answering “How will Wharton get you there” involves deep, personal research, beyond what you read on the school’s website. Talk to alumni, call leaders of clubs, make personal contact to get an authentic “feel” for the culture of the school. They will appreciate the effort and see that you’re serious about the school, which could help protect their yield. Relate specific features of Wharton – whether the vast course selection or special programs abroad – to your own personality, background and goals. Avoid clichés by being personal and specific.
Only 3 years ago, Wharton allocated 750-1000 words to an essay about your goals and Why Wharton. Today, they are giving only 400 words, which is why this essay must be complemented by either Essay 1 or 2 below …
RESPOND TO 2 OF THE FOLLOWING 3 QUESTIONS:
1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)
Our advice here is to complement the first essay with either this or the next essay, but probably not with both. In both essays, you need to show what your interests truly are and what you hope to a) gain from the program but also, b) what you bring to the table that no one else can. Here’s an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and get the adcom people to think, “Wow, this candidate will really add something to the class.” One word of caution: don’t use this as a catch-all for lots of clubs and courses. Since ask for one, and you should focus on one. If you are very clever, you can choose one that has several facets.
Standing out from the crowd here is probably harder to accomplish if you choose a course (although it’s possible), but there are plenty of opportunities to choose a co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that can demonstrate your understand of the school and your commitment to becoming an important contributing member of the Wharton community. You can also use this essay as an opportunity to show your past track record of engagement with organizations or schools, and how you will continue that commitment at Wharton. Our suggestion is to worry less about choosing the “right” course, opportunity, or engagement, and focus on choosing the one that will show the most about you, your background and your potential contribution.
2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself "work free" for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)
Advice here is basically the same as for Option 1 above. The main difference is that Option 1 is a safer option, and we advise tackling this question only if you have a truly spectacular answer. First, it has to be really believable. You can’t say, for example, that you would run to the nearest inner city school and work with the children if you have never volunteered with school children before. A spectacular answer would provide the adcom with a little window into who you really are, something super cool about you that they might not otherwise know. Basically, if you have a great answer for this, you’ll know it. If you don’t, you’ll probably know that, too, and we don’t advise manufacturing an answer, because the reader is likely to see through it.
3. "Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership." - Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School.
Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)
Finally, an achievement story. Hurray! We strongly recommend answering this one, and the story can be from either a personal or professional context. The most common mistake in an essay like this is listing too many facts and not including enough of the process and introspection and reflection that Wharton wants to hear. Wharton loves candidates with intellectual curiosity, and this is an interesting context to show that off. Choose a big accomplishment and dive deep into it – and make sure this does not read like a recycled, generic achievement story. Show how your action was the natural outgrowth of the knowledge and experience you had acquired previously. Show how you dealt with the challenges arising when practice diverged from theory or when you didn’t do something as well as you could have or something didn’t turn out as you expected. Show how you were rigorous and dynamic and thoughtful (but don’t tell them outright because that’s not good form).
While an essay like this is ideally about something objectively impressive (you dealt with millions of dollars or led dozens of people or convinced upper management to change accepted processes, leading to remarkable results …), you can still impress the reader even if you did not found your own NPO to save political refugees. You need to highlight not only what you did but how you did it, how you handled obstacles along the way, what you thought and felt, and most of all, your potential for thoughtful, effective big-time leadership down the road.
ADDITIONAL QUESTION FOR REAPPLICANTS:
All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete the Optional Essay. Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)
Do not reiterate what they already know about you. Use this very small space to add value to your application by telling them something new that could impact your chances for admission.
OPTIONAL SECTION FOR ALL APPLICANTS:
If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)
Unlike other schools that provide this space for just about anything, Wharton is explicit about using is only to explain “extenuating circumstances.” Don’t ignore those instructions and shove in, say, another accomplishment, as this is likely to annoy the reader. If you have any weaknesses, you can address them here but only if you have a good explanation, as anything that suggests an excuse is likely to backfire on you. For example, you can include a learning disability or the fact that you worked full-time throughout your degree as a reason for questionable academic performance, but you should not write anything about pursuing a difficult major as a reason for poor academic achievement, as there are certain to be those among your competition who excelled in the same major.
The Aringo Team.
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