A New Trend? Wharton Adds An MBA Essay

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School - Ethan Baron photo

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. Ethan Baron photo

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business today (June 14) did something counterintuitive. After a wide range of schools, including Wharton, have reduced the essay requirements for MBA admissions, Wharton has decided to add a new essay for applicants to this fall’s entering class.

The school also said that applications to its full-time MBA program rose slightly more than 1% to about 6,660, up from 6,590 a year earlier, when applications were up nearly 8%. “We had a pretty big increase last year and this year we held steady,” says Maryellen Reilly, deputy vice dean for admissions, financial aid and career management. Wharton is among the first of the elite schools to release application numbers. Yale School of Management has reported a 6% rise to 3,652 applications this past year for the 325 seats in this fall’s new class (see Yale SOM To Change Out Essays), while UCLA Anderson has said that its applications were slightly down (UCLA Class of ’18 To Start Early).

Wharton’s addition of a new second question essay — which asks candidates to weigh in on what they expect to contribute to the Wharton community and culture — is the result of feedback from current and prospective students as well as MBA admission fellows who are second-year students who do on-campus information sessions and help recruit and support candidates. “We got a lot of feedback from prospective students and admissions fellows about this and and we did student surveys asking about the process,” Reilly explains.


Wharton Deputy Vice Dean of Admissions Maryellen Reilly

Wharton Deputy Vice Dean of Admissions Maryellen Reilly

“People felt they weren’t able to show enough of themselves in a single essay,” she adds in an interview with Poets&Quants. “As much as everyone hates the essays, that is really a great place to tell us more about yourself. So we’ve gone against the trend now. What we are trying to do is get students to tell us who they are. With the way the traditional application lays out there, there is not a lot of opportunity for that.”

In her blog post, she adds that “by asking these two questions, effectively breaking apart and expanding on last year’s essay question, our hope is to give applicants ample space to more fully explain their aspirations, goals, and how Wharton fits into those. We want to be able to view applicants from both sides of their world – one where they are professionals developing skills and seeking career advancement, but also the personal growth side where they are seeking out enriching experiences to become better, stronger, wiser, and a more robust person.”

Reilly says Wharton will slightly reword last year’s 500-word essay which will now be: “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” The new essay requirement, put in place of the school’s optional essay, will have a 400-word limit. The wording of the new prompt: “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?”

In a blog post today, Reilly set a first round deadline of Sept. 27th, with a second round deadline of Jan. 5, and a third and final deadline for MBA applications on March 28. The first and third round this coming cycle are both two days earlier than a year earlier. Though the school has yet to release decision dates, they will most likely be similar to last year’s dates: Dec. 17th for round one, March 29th for round two, and May 3rd for the final round.