Wharton MBA Essays for 2021-2022: Tips & Strategy

June 28, 2021 | by Judith Silverman Hodara

Wharton released its online application for the Class of 2024, with a round one deadline of Sept. 8, 2021, round two deadline of Jan. 5, 2022, and round three deadlines March 30, 2022.

In essence, the first question is asking what you’ll get out of Wharton, while the second question wants to know what 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? Successful essays reflect self-awareness and profound understanding of the community you’re hoping to join.

As Wharton’s former head of Admissions, I can attest that Wharton is without a doubt team-based, but it’s also community based. With more than 900 students in any incoming class, the Wharton MBA experience is 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. Wharton’s two required essay questions reflect these cultural values.

Below is my advice on how to respond to each required question, along with the overarching strategy to keep in mind for making a compelling case for admission to Wharton.

Essay 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)

Wharton’s first question is straightforward, asking you to connect a persuasive career vision to how the Wharton MBA positions you to achieve your greatest aspirations. Wharton admissions officers want assurance that you can create a viable path to follow; understanding that while the actual industry and functions are variable, you should enter the program with a sense of purpose.

It also requires a deep understanding of Wharton’s values, culture and what makes it special. Without a nuanced appreciation of its distinctive community and program offerings – gained by thorough research, thoughtful networking and, whenever possible, a visit to campus – the admissions committee may not see you as a good fit. It’s key to acknowledge the specific things that stand out about the school and why they are important to you.

In referencing your past experience within what you “might consider,” Wharton is really looking to learn about what skills you have gained in your career thus far and how those will propel you into your MBA program. Using the Wharton MBA degree, what are your short and long-term career goals? The important thing here is to clearly identify your long-term goal and describe how your short-term goal will help get you there. You want to create a cohesive story so Wharton understands where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how they fit into your story.

What is it you want to do and how is Wharton going to get you there? For a question like this, the why behind the goal is as important as the goals themselves.

The first of Chicago Booth’s MBA essays poses a similar question, and my Fortuna colleague Bill Kooser (former Chicago Booth Associate Dean) offers this perspective: “Think of your long term goal in terms of impact – personal, organizational and social/community wide – not just in terms of a position or role. Why is this goal important to you? What led you to it?”

For a deeper dive and some great examples of short and long-term goals, view this article by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis on How To Create MBA Goals: Long Term Vs. Short Term Career Vision.

Essay 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)

Your history is really important to Wharton in this question, especially how it relates to the next steps of a Wharton education. The admissions officers want 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.

The specificity of this question’s wording – new in 2020 and preserved this year – 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 of this prompt, there is little room for ambiguity and also a lot of room for backstory. This 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.

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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