Wharton Posing New Applicant Questions

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School yesterday (June 18) made some substantial changes to the essay questions it is requiring new MBA applicants to answer. But the school apparently decided against the addition of a more innovative test it had piloted for some third round candidates earlier this year.

The labor-intensive test involved inviting groups of six candidates to campus for a recreation of an interactive discussion in an MBA classroom.

Unlike Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, which both cut back on the number of MBA essays this year, Wharton maintained its requirement for three questions. But only one of the three, requiring applicants to state their professional objectives, is retained from last year.

Instead, Wharton completely revised the section of its application that asks candidates to write up to 500 words each on two of three new questions:

1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

3. “Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership.” – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School

Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)


Wharton said its first round deadline for the 2012-2013 application season will be Oct. 1, with notification by Dec. 20. The second round deadline has been set for Jan. 3, with notification by March 23. Wharton has yet to provide specific dates for its final third round deadline, but will be sometime in March, with notification in May.

The changes are perceived to be a positive development for MBA admission consultants. Says Sanford Kreisberg, of HBSGuru.com, “This is Christmas in June for consultants. Sure, Ivy liberal arts types who work for McKinsey might be able to figure this out for themselves, but even then, you never know. But for some poor go-getter in Asia or Euro dude with one eye on the returning drachma, or some U.S. guy at a Fortune 1000 company, those last two questions are head scratchers.”

Last year, Wharton’s two-of-three option question was significantly different. The options were:

A) 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?

B) Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience. How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it?

C) Innovation is central to our culture at Wharton. Keeping this component of our culture in mind, discuss a time when you have been innovative in your personal or professional life.

The school also slightly rewrote the question about objectives. This year Wharton poses the 400-word question this way: “How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives?” Last year, it was: “What are your professional objectives?”

(See following page for Kreisberg’s advice on how to handle the new questions)