Wharton Application Essays for 2010-2011

After releasing its application deadlines a few weeks ago, Wharton has just released its admissions essays for the Class of 2013.

The Internet is already buzzing with chatter about Wharton’s new essays, which are radically different than last year’s. In Spring 2009, when Wharton Dean of Admissions J.J. Cutler was new to the job, the school made numerous changes to its essays. Now Wharton introduces even more radical changes to its application this year.

Wharton’s 2010-2011 MBA admissions essays are below, followed by our comments in italics:

Wharton Admissions Essays

Required Question
What are your professional objectives? (300 words)

This question is new this year. At its core, it is still in many respects a “Why an MBA?” essay. Also note that, while this mandatory question only requires 300 words, Wharton gives you 600 words for each of the other, more introspective essays. Clearly, the Wharton admissions committee is more interested in getting to know you as a person than as a professional. Business schools always say that, but Wharton is really putting this idea into action.

Still, it is critical that you use this essay to properly “set the stage” for the rest of your candidacy. It’s only 300 words long, but after reading this essay admissions officers should clearly understand where you want to go in your career and why a Wharton MBA makes sense for you now. Wharton doesn’t ask “Why Wharton?” and you don’t have many words to spare, so don’t devote too many words to answering this here. You have 1,800 – 1,900 words (across your three other essays) to help lead them to the conclusion that you’re a great fit with Wharton.

Optional Questions

Respond to three of the following four questions:

  1. Student and alumni engagement has at times led to the creation of innovative classes. For example, through extraordinary efforts, a small group of current students partnered with faculty to create a timely course entitled, “Disaster Response: Haiti and Beyond,” empowering students to leverage the talented Wharton community to improve the lives of the Haiti earthquake victims. Similarly, Wharton students and alumni helped to create the “Innovation and the Indian Healthcare Industry” which took students to India where they studied the full range of healthcare issues in India. If you were able to create a Wharton course on any topic, what would it be? (700 words)
  2. If you were worried about demonstrating your knowledge of (and fit with) Wharton, here’s your chance to show some of that here. The risk for many applicants will be in overreaching with this essay and discussing something too high-minded to be believable (e.g., “I want to start a class on providing drinking water to Third World nations.”) The Haiti and India examples will likely contribute to that problem. If there’s something you’re truly passionate about, this is a great place to discuss it, but it does NOT have to have the impact on the social good that the Haiti example provides. What are you passionate about? How would you want to educate your Wharton classmates on it?

  3. Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity. What was the thought process behind your decision? Would you make the same decision today? (600 words)
  4. This is a terrific “introspection” question. MBA admissions officers really want to see self-awareness and introspection in applicants, and this question provides that. Don’t worry if the opportunity that you turned down seems small — you don’t need to blow them away with the “sexiness” of the opportunity. Also, note the emphasis on your thought process; that’s far more interesting to Wharton than what the actual opportunity was. Help them understand why you made the decision, what you learned about your wants and values in the process, and how it’s shaped you as a person. Also, answering “No.” to the last part of the question is okay. Having the humility to wish you could make a decision over again is one terrific sign of introspection and maturity.

  5. Describe a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself? How did this experience help to create your definition of failure? (600 words)
  6. This is the only question that carries over from last year, although the last part is new. As with all failure-related questions, the key is to put enough emphasis on what you learned. This sort of self-awareness is what admissions officers typically look for when they ask a “failure” question. Also, ideally you will be able to describe a later time when you applied what you learned to a new situation to avoid a similar failure.

  7. Discuss a time when you navigated a challenging experience in either a personal or professional relationship. (600 words)
  8. This question is also new this year, although, at its core, it’s similar last year’s Question #2, which asked about a time when you had to accept the perspective of people different from yourself. You need to demonstrate empathy, maturity, and a willingness to consider others’ points of view. Where it differs is that it takes a little emphasis off of the idea of diversity and explores tough relationships of all types. As we said last year, it’s most important here that you can make clear why the situation was challenging, what you did to overcome it, and — hopefully — how you were successful. Even if you weren’t successful, though, what’s most interesting here is what you learned in the process.

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