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Wharton Drops To One Required Essay

Locust Walk on a beautiful fall day  just outside the Wharton School of Business

Locust Walk on a beautiful fall day just outside the Wharton School of Business

The Incredible Shrinking App strikes again.

Following last year’s move by Harvard Business School to ask MBA applicants for only one “optional” essay, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School today (June 2) said it would require candidates to complete just a single 500-word essay for its 2014-2015 application.

In making the change, Wharton joins a large number of highly selective schools that have been making it easier for prospective students to apply to their MBA programs. In the last month alone, both Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business dropped essay requirements. Only last year, Wharton cut the number of required essays down to two with a maximum word count of 1,000 from three essays a year earlier.


Wharton’s explanation of the move was rather vague. “In order to further streamline the application process, we have made changes to our essays and letter of recommendation questions by shortening both of these components of the application,” said Maryellen Reilly Lamb, deputy vice dean of admissions, financial aid, and career management, in a blog post. “The goals of these changes are to provide applicants with a more concentrated and effective means of expressing their candidacy and lessening the impact on those providing recommendations.”

Admission consultants say the change will likely result in an increase in applications to the school. “This change reduces the time cost of applying to Wharton thus encouraging more applicants to apply and increasing Wharton’s application volume,” said Linda Abraham, founder of, a prominent admissions consulting firm. “Higher volume decreases Wharton’s acceptance rate, improves its ranking in US News and makes Wharton look more exclusive whatever its ranking. Higher ranking translates into more recruiters and pleases both alumni and current students.”

The Wharton application, which Lamb said would go live in early August, will have only one required essay with a 500-word limit: “What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA?”

Lamb said there will also be a second optional 400-word essay. “For the second optional essay, we recommend that you to use your best judgment and focus your energy on highlighting new information that we are unable to ascertain from other sections of the application,” she wrote.


It reads simply: “Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy.”

As for recommendations, Lamb said that application recommenders for Wharton applicants will be required to answer two questions:

1. How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)

2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (250 words)


Admission consultants were surprised by the move and believe that it will reinforce the belief that Wharton will be more focused on applicant numbers, such as GMAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages. “Translation, please send us your stats ASAP and we will let you know if can get one of our confusing and odd interviews,” said Sandy Kreisberg, a leading MBA admissions consultant and founder of

Added Abraham of “Those with borderline stats are going to have a harder time showing they have the qualities Wharton values with the reduced essays unless there are some probing questions now behind the curtains because the entire application is not yet live. For those who apply “stats challenged,” this app will be less effective and hinder their ability to tell their story.”

Kreisberg said the optional question is “usually prefaced by wording which strongly hints that ALL they want to hear about is stuff like multiple GMAT scores, low GPAs or failing grades, breaks in work experience, etc. Leaving it open-ended like they do, there will be a whole school of thought saying, “Gee, it is not really optional, you should write some jive about what you will contribute to campus life (the actual required 2nd question last year) or ‘Inside my Lemonade Stand: The Moguls Early Days’ or some listicle, like ’10 and 1/2 reasons you should admit me and two reasons you should not.'” That last one actually could be fun.”

Wharton set a round one application deadline of Oct. 1, with notification by Dec. 16th. The second round deadline of Jan. 5, 2015, would allow for an admission decision on March 24. The third and final round deadline for Wharton is March 26, with a decision on May 5.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.