Wharton MBA Essay Tips: How to Tackle the New Question

June 29, 2020 | by Judith Silverman Hodara

The Wharton School debuted a new required MBA essay question for the 2020-2021 application.

Like Columbia’s new essay question, it pushes candidates to get more personal while giving them greater latitude to do so:

“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)

I really appreciate the evolution of this question from last year’s, which was: “Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community?”

Both prompts seek to know how you will contribute to the Wharton community, but instead of springing from an ‘impactful experience or accomplishment,’ Wharton widens the scope of your source material to the stuff of your identity.

As Wharton’s former head of Admissions, I can attest that your history is really important to Wharton in this question, especially how it relates to the next steps of a Wharton education. The admissions office wants to understand your ‘origin story’ and how it informs the next steps of your leadership journey: what you envision doing while a student in Philadelphia and then as an alumnus of the school as you continue to make an impact on your wider community.

Here are three top tips to crafting a great response to the Wharton essays:

1. Connect the dots for the admissions committee. 
The specificity of the new question’s wording signals that you should connect the dots for the admissions committee between where you are coming from and where you are heading. Unlike earlier iterations, there is little room for ambiguity and also a lot of room for backstory. The new essay question invites you to go deeper into clarifying how elements of your identity and background shape your awareness and why it matters going forward. Don’t just reinforce a link to how your background will ‘aid in my teamwork skills,’ or how you’ve developed better communication skills, but share specifics with your reader that go deeper into who you are, what makes you unique and what you stand to offer. The Admissions Committee wants specifics.

Do you have a background in community organizing that lends itself directly to such activities at Wharton? Does your choice of academic study, or family background, or culture – influence what you have chosen to pursue professionally? In this question, Wharton is offering you a lot of leeway choosing what influence(s) to focus on. Get introspective and be discerning about what historical threads you choose to share and their significance, both for you and the future community with whom you hope to engage.

 2. Create a unifying narrative across your essays.
Remember to consider both of your essay responses as part of a unifying narrative. Essay one is straightforward, asking for 500 words on, “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” So if the first question is asking what you’ll get out of Wharton, the second question wants to know what will Wharton will get in return. This is a big bottom line for admissions: What are the forces that shape who you are, and how do they shape the kind of leader and community member you will be? The beauty of this kind of combination question is the opportunity to share an example from your background and connect it directly to your experience at Wharton. The challenge is to do so in 400 words, which requires both considered self-awareness and profound understanding of the community you’re hoping to join.

3. Prove you know the program as you answer the question.
This means writing from a deep understanding of Wharton’s values and culture. With more than 860 students in any incoming class, Wharton is without a doubt team-based, but it’s also community based. It’s about being part of a much larger organism than your learning team or your cohort, and also discerning how your unique experiences will shape the experiences of many of your fellow students, the program and the institution writ large.

Want more advice? 

View related articles from Fortuna’s expert coaches on applying to Wharton:

You can also view one of our top resources, the MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass featuring Wharton, below.

Find all sessions in our series of MBA Admissions Essay Masterclasses on Fortuna’s YouTube channel, as well as additional video strategy sessions related to Wharton:

Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder & Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former head of Admissions at Wharton. If you’re looking for more advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation

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