Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2018

May, 09, 2015

Categories: Admissions Consulting | Essay Analysis | Essays | Wharton

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for Fall 2016 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015  here. While Wharton has not changed their website yet to indicate that the application essays from 2015 have not changed, John Bryne, at Poets & Quants, was told by a Wharton spokesman “that it plans to repeat last year’s essay questions and expects its online application to go live in early August.”  Therefore I am going ahead with this post now.  If there are any modifications when the questions are officially published by Wharton admissions, I will alter this post.


The Required Essay
Wharton has decided to go minimal with an essay topic that takes more thought about what you want from Wharton MBA. It is basically a very typical statement of degree purpose type question with the only twist being that you need to state personal and professional reasons for pursuing the degree. It is a future focused statement about what you want from the program and why:
“What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)”

An excellent answer to the Wharton essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will most benefit from. A general characterization of Wharton- data driven, but also a place with a commitment to experiential learning, East Coast focused but with a San Francisco campus that is now become integrated into the MBA program, highly international, highly flexible with strengths in a large number of areas, including healthcare, finance, real estate, and marketing- is  helpful to keep in mind when writing this essay. Wharton has a lot to offer and, while  some have characterized it as a CFO school, a finance school, a Wall Street school, all too some extent true, this is not so helpful when you consider that, for example, Sundar Pichai, Google’s guy in charge of Chrome, Android, and Google Apps, is a Wharton alumnus. Wharton is a huge program with so many strengths that the point is not to think about some big overall image of the school, but to focus on what you want to get out of it. Which specific resources you want to use and why. Keep in mind that Wharton is much bigger than HBS because of the undergraduate program. The range of courses, research, and opportunities is huge. The point is to provide a specific game plan on how you will use Wharton for your professional and personal growth.

I think an effective essay here will do the following:

1.  Provide both personal and professional content. Personal content can be expressed in academic, personal, extracurricular, and even professional contexts. Personal means giving insight into who you are as person and not just what you know or what you can do.  Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about your capabilities in a professional context, about your ability to work with others, show leadership, overcome challenges, and/or accomplish something.

2.  Be analytical, not merely descriptive. It is very important that you engage in a sufficient amount of interpretation of your actions and not merely a description of what you do.  Given the length, you really don’t have much space for highly descriptive writing or big stories told in significant detail. Your objective is to efficiently guide your reader’s interpretation of what you write, so that they perceive you in the way that you intend.

3. Think widely about what you want from a Wharton MBA.  The point is to give Wharton a sense of the best of who you are so don’t limit yourself too narrowly, but if you try to cover too much, you will end up not covering anything effectively.  Really consider what is best about you and is relevant to answering this question.


4.  Make sure you are stating things as briefly and effectively as possible.  Don’t waste your words. Use them carefully.
Think about the rest of the application when writing your essays.  The application form, your resume, and recommendations are other ways that your strengths as an applicant will be conveyed. Where possible, make sure that what admissions reads in your essays is both distinct from and complementary to what they read in the rest of your application.

If you are having difficulty determining what your goals are and/or why you need an MBA in general, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay B or Columbia Business School Essay 1. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA.


Make the assumption that an MBA from Wharton will be a transformative experience for you.  If you don’t make this assumption, you will likely find it particularly hard to explain what you want from the experience personally and will also probably come across as rather dull.  Your job is to engage the admissions reader so that they understand what you want from Wharton for your future.

What are your aspirations?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of personal and professional objectives for attending the MBA program.  You might include a clear post-MBA career goal and a longer term vision/goal, but depending on how you answer the question, you might express what you want from Wharton more in terms of the kind of person and kind of professional you want to become. You might express it in terms of your present situation and how you hope to be transformed by your Wharton experience.  A purely abstract dream or visionary statement could easily come across as unrealistic or ungrounded if not handled carefully, so be careful to connect your aspirations to  your past actions and/or clearly defined goals. Career changers (those planning on  changing industry and/or function after MBA) should explain why they want to change their careers and how Wharton will enable that. Career enhancers should explain how an MBA will enhance their careers to continue along the pathway that thy are already on.

You should be explaining why you need a Wharton MBA in  particular. You should  learn about the curriculumclusters / cohorts/ learning teamsLearning @ Whartoncommunity involvementclubs, and WGA in order to determine what aspects of Wharton really relate to your professional objectives. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your aspirations align well with Wharton’s offerings. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names of particular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Wharton is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning.

An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  “I want to take Advanced Corporate Finance because I am interested in developing advanced corporate finance skills.” This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact.

An example of an actual explanation:  “While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I want to master at Wharton to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Wharton. Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Wharton. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Wharton.



Finally, remember that if you have something that you really want to discuss about what you contribute to Wharton or wish to mention particular classes, clubs, and events at Wharton that you could not fit into the essay, you can always discuss that in the optional essay.


IMPORTANT NOTE: WHARTON HAS TWO OPTIONAL ESSAYS. THE FIRST ONE IS FOR THE GOOD STUFF, THE SECOND ONE IS FOR ANY ISSUES OF CONCERN AND/OR REAPPLICANTS.  For 2015 entry applicants this was confusing. Actually I was confused too!  Maybe the new application for 2016 entry will do a better job of eliminating that confusion.  We will start with the Optional good stuff essay and then discuss the other one.


“(Optional): Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy (400 words).”

From my perspective and I think that of my clients who applied for 2015 admission, this question was really helpful and not necessarily so hard to answer.  Given the deadlines for top schools, most applicants will not be writing Wharton first and I would not advise doing that because this is a really easy application to handle if you have a couple of other schools done first.  Especially in regards to this Optional Question, you may easily have content from schools like CBS, HBS, MIT,  and MIT that can be repurposed here, but make sure it does not look like you are answering a question for another school.


Given the completely open ended nature of this question, I think the important thing to really consider first is what you think they need to know about you.  Again don’t write a career goals essay or an essay totally focused on why you want to go to MIT Sloan.  Instead tell them more about you in whatever format you want.


Some Questions to get you brainstorming:

1. What do you want  Wharton Admissions to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?


2. What major positive aspects of who you are have not been effectively INTERPRETED or presented  to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?


3. Beyond what you have discussed in the Required Essay, what would you tell someone about yourself to create a strong first impression?

4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and

want to admit you, what is it?



5.  Is there some aspect of Wharton that itself really relates to you and is different from what you might have mentioned in the Required Essay?


6. Is there a particular contribution you want to focus on?


Given the open-ended nature of the question, I am sure my questions above don’t cover all possibilities, but I hope they are a good start to getting you thinking.


Optional Essay: This is the essay for those with concerns and for reapplicants. 

“First-time applicants can use this essay if you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)

All re-applicants (those who applied for Fall 2014 or 2013) are also 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 on your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extra curricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”


First for reapplicants, an effective answer here will do the following:

1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Wharton is right for you.

For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”


Second, for addressing any extenuating circumstances: As with the school’s other optional question, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it. In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.


Best of luck with your Wharton application! For my most recent post on Wharton interviews, please see Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2016.

-Adam Markus

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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