Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2020

Aug, 17, 2017

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 2018 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017  here.  For my most recent post on Wharton interviews, please see here and here.

My clients have been admitted to Wharton every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 51 clients admitted to Wharton (44 admitted to Wharton and 7 admitted to Wharton Lauder), which is my biggest total for any school (INSEAD, HBS, Columbia and Booth follow, in that order, in terms of highest totals). My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on Wharton, I regularly help additional candidates with Wharton interview preparation.


A few initial thoughts about Wharton

The thing I like most about Wharton is that they really do admit a very diverse class. The class size certainly helps in that respect. But beyond that, I have really found Wharton to be a school where applicants are evaluated holistically and one need not be perfect to gain admission.  Such factors as a less than stellar GPA, a less than super GMAT, an older age or work experience in companies that are not necessarily prestigious are not inherent barriers to admission to Wharton’s MBA program.  I have worked with clients who had such issues, but also other amazing strengths which helped them gain admission. This could  also happen at HBS or, more rarely, at Stanford, but it happens more at Wharton.  The school’s diversity is also shown through the range of courses offered and the many international programs.  Some people think of Wharton narrowly as a finance school, but to do so is to ignore the course catalog.


The thing I like the least about Wharton is the location. I wish it were just me but I know I am not alone. Philadelphia was a great American city in the 18th century. The location of the University of Pennsylvania is certainly not ideal as the neighborhood is not particularly safe and crime is relatively high.  Wharton is as much as commuter school as Booth (the commute for the Wharton students is shorter, but the Booth students have a better city to be in).  Its primary advantage location wise is that one can get to New York City quickly and with no classes on Fridays,  it is even possible to go intern in NYC. The location is ideal for those who want to work in the pharmaceutical industry given that industries’ presence in the area.  On the other hand, if Wharton’s location were better it would likely be a harder school to get into.



Essays Class of 2020:

“First-time applicant and re-applicants (those who applied to begin the program in the fall of 2017 or 2016) are required to complete both essays.

The Admissions Committee wants to get to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.

  • Essay 1:  What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
  • Essay 2: 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)

Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):

  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)*

*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

The Required Essays
  • Essay 1:  What do you hope to gain 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.It is a future focused question.  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.   Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about what you want from your professional future.  In other words,  what do you want to do and/or how do you want grow as a professional?

2.   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. Focus on specific factors that will help you achieve your professional objectives.


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. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA. Except for length, there is little difference between Stanford Essay B and Wharton Essay 1 as both questions ask i what one wants from the school.


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 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 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.


  • Essay 2: 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)


For me this question is like an old friend. I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001 and the contribution question is one that I could explain to a client in my sleep.  I have done it on this blog many times before. Here is one of my old (2008) favorites, which includes a table that you can easily modify based on what I have written below (Sorry I am too busy to do that). I think one of the easiest ways to brainstorm this question is to break it down into three key considerations:


1. Distinct Contributions. The first thing to consider here is that you need to discuss distinct ways you will contribute to the Wharton Community. You can focus on one story if you like, but typically applicants will likely focus on two to four distinct contributions. It maybe that a single story contains multiple contributions or, and this more likely, each story will focus on one key major contribution.  These are selling points based on a skill, value, or unique experience. Contributions are, at their heart, selling points based on something. It might be a professional or interpersonal skill, a value (ethics, morality, belief about how to interact with others, etc.),  or a unique experience (First person in family to go to college, experience on the battlefield, acting in a movie, etc.).  You will need to tell a story related to this in order to convince the reader that you have something to contribute.  Some applicants will write more detailed stories and others mere anecdotes.  In general, the longer the story, the less contributions you will cover in the essay.  Less is not bad. Be convincing is good so 1-3  contributions that are distinct and interesting is better than 5 that are purely surface level.


2. How will this distinct contribution contribute to the Wharton community? One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will add value to the community.  The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Your contributions need to clearly connected to the community. Maybe it will be through the way you work with others, the knowledge you share, or the activities you organize but make sure the reader can fully understand how this be a contribution at Wharton.


3. Have you demonstrated that fit Wharton’s collaborative culture? There are a number of ways of trying to determine whether someone really “fits” at a particular school, but certainly the most direct thing to do is just ask. Since the prompt is telling that Wharton values teamwork and collaboration, your contributions should highlight how you fit that.  They are not asking for just any contribution but rather contributions that will contribute to a collaborative culture. This does not mean you can’t discuss some  knowledge area that you have, but that you need to relate it to collaborating with others. For example, you might be highly experienced in sales and discuss how you will share this with your classmates who lack such experience in a particular professional club you are interested in where the sales function typically becomes important in later stages of a career (tManagement consulting for example).



Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):

  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (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.”


*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

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!

-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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