The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has cut the number of application essays in its 2013/2014 application to two, down from three in the previous application cycle.
Wharton (4th in P&Q’s 2012 ranking) is the latest top school to trim the number of required essays for incoming applicants – the business schools at Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern and MIT have all scrapped essays in recent years. Other B-schools have opted for nontraditional essays, such as Tweets and slideshows, to get a better understanding of their applicants.
Wharton’s decision to downsize the essay portion of its application was prompted by applicant feedback, according to Ankur Kumar, Wharton’s admissions director. Our goal is to strike a balance between getting information from candidates while respecting their time, she says. “We discovered that we could accomplish that in two essays and 1,000 words…so we streamlined our essay section.”
Candidates are asked to tackle the new Essay 1 in 500 words or less: “What do you hope to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA?” Kumar says the first question remains largely unchanged from last year’s first essay (“How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives?”). “We’re still curious to know why an applicant would be interested in pursuing a Wharton MBA. We want to hear about what they’ve done professionally and what they aspire to do in the future,” she says.
However, the school upped the word count for Essay 1 from 400 in the 2012/2013 version to 500 in this year’s application. Perhaps more significantly, Wharton also added “personally.” According to Kumar, the overall goal of the essays is to obtain information that isn’t redundant with other parts of the application, such as letters of recommendation and resumes. The new component encourages candidates to provide more detail on their aspirations outside the workplace.
Wharton also eliminated the choice from Essay 2. Instead of choosing two questions from three options like last year’s applicants, candidates are now required to tackle the following question in 500 words: “Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community?”
Wharton whittled down the number of questions and options after previous applicants said the choice caused more application stress, Kumar says. With the new question, the school is aiming to get a better handle on how applicants might fit in with the student body. “We’re a very intellectually curious community, both inside and outside the classroom,” she says. “Through this second question prompt, we hope to gain better insight in to what applicants are excited to learn about and how they would engage with the Wharton community, both inside and outside the classroom, around their topics of interests.”
Despite the hype over application essays – and changes to them – Kumar cautions that these answers are only part of much larger package. “The essays are only one component of a very holistic process for us,” she says. “Our goal across the board is to really understand the whole applicant and how they would fit in to the Wharton student body.”