Wharton Adds an Essay Question to their MBA Application

August 07, 2016 | by Matt Symonds

This year, in addition to the 500 word essay that Wharton has been using for the past several years “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA”, the admissions team has reversed an earlier trend to cut back on the number of required essays and has added one back into the mix − “Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)”

Judith Silverman Hodara from the Fortuna team, also former Acting Director of MBA Admissions at Wharton, was both elated, and also a bit relieved by the change. During her tenure at the school, the admissions team would get together in late May/early June, after all of the deposits had been received, the waitlist balanced, and the files cleaned up. Generally there would be a few breathing days after the alumni reunions and graduation, and then the admissions team would gather around the conference table to toss around ideas for the upcoming admissions cycle.

When Wharton went to the team based discussion model in 2010, which has become a hallmark of the interviewing season, they were making a clear statement about what they valued, as a school, in the individuals that they were offering a spot in the incoming class. Much as Columbia’s question about interacting with the city of New York, Wharton’s team based discussion, in addition to being a new interview approach, is also sending a very strong marketing message that the individual should be able to hold his or her own, and that the interaction among those gathered at the table is an important part of the culture of the school.

Similarly, in adding back this question about teamwork and collaboration, Wharton is signaling in another fashion what they hold in high esteem in their incoming class. Perhaps this move is also to counteract and counterbalance questionable ethical behavior on the part of big business in the past decade, but also to highlight to applicants that they really need to consider that they are going to be doing A LOT of team work throughout the duration of their two-year program.

The essay is an opportunity for the applicant to showcase not only what they have learned from their past leadership and collaborative experiences, but also what it is about their own background that would make an individualized contribution to the whole. The essay is also the perfect place to highlight what you understand about the collaborative culture, and the academic and extra-curricular, not to mention interpersonal opportunities that exist on campus. The Wharton School is one of 12 schools at the University of Pennsylvania; and the opportunity for cross-fertilization and engagement across academic disciplines is one of the pillars of the Wharton program.

This additional essay question makes the “optional essay” even that much more “optional” and it really should be used to explain a gap in employment, a challenging personal situation, college grades, or GMAT scores. It is not the forum, as some applicants have thought, to reiterate your interest in the program and why you are a good fit. The optional essay should be used only for those items which require additional explanation that do not fit anywhere else in the application package.

So, when Judith said she’s “elated” it is because as a Director at Fortuna, she thinks that the additional word count and area of discussion really allow individuals to showcase how they see themselves as part of a whole, and what they would bring from their own personal and professional background. Wharton seems keenly interested in learning more about the individual in this light. When she says “relieved” she can simply say that she now wears reading glasses after two decades in admissions, and this season, she will not be the one sitting behind those heavier application stacks!

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