INSEAD | Ms. Social Business
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Healthcare AI
GRE 366, GPA 3.91
Harvard | Ms. Risk-Taker
GRE 310 (to retake), GPA 3 (recalculated)
HEC Paris | Ms. Freelancer
GMAT 710, GPA 5.3
Harvard | Mr. Hedge Funder
GMAT 790, GPA 3.82
Chicago Booth | Mr. Non-Profit Latino
GMAT 710, GPA 3.06
Harvard | Mr. Fresh Perspective
GRE 318, GPA 3.0
USC Marshall | Mr. Supply Chain Guru
GMAT GMAT Waiver, GPA 2.6
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Harvard | Mr. Green Energy Revolution
GMAT 740, GPA 3.4
Harvard | Mr. MPP/MBA
GRE 325, GPA 3.6
Harvard | Ms. Analytical Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Technopreneur
GRE 328, GPA 3.2
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Hanging By A Thread
GMAT 710, GPA 3.8
London Business School | Mr. College Dropout
GMAT 690, GPA NA
Harvard | Mr. MBB Latino Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.75
Stanford GSB | Ms. Top Firm Consulting
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
INSEAD | Mr. Truth
GMAT 670, GPA 3.2
INSEAD | Mr. Powerlifting President
GMAT 750, GPA 8.1/10
Harvard | Mr. Mojo
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Ross | Mr. Law To MBA
GRE 321, GPA 3.77
Stanford GSB | Mr. Failed Startup Founder
GMAT 740, GPA 4
Wharton | Mr. African Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Sommelier
GMAT 710, GPA 3.62
Wharton | Mr. MBA When Ready
GMAT 700 (expected), GPA 2.1
Kellogg | Mr. AVP Healthcare
GRE 332, GPA 3.3

Wharton To Ask Rec Writers For ‘Essays’

Wharton School operations and innovation management professor Christian Terwiesch teaching class – Ethan Baron photo

After a major review, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has decided to ask recommenders of its MBA applicants to effectively write two short essays on the candidates they are recommending.

The changes, effective with the upcoming 2017-2018 admisssions cycle, occured after the school surveyed more than 1,200 writers of recommendation letters and asked about their experience with the process. Vice Dean Maryellen Reilly, who deemed the overall “significant,” said they were being made “in an effort to get a deeper understanding of a candidate’s personal characteristics and their impact on others throughout their career.”

It’s a major changeup, in part, because business schools have been reducing the number and the length of essays for MBA applicants for several years now. At least on the surface, it seems ironic that a school would now decide to essentially ask recommendation writers for a pair of 300-word essays. The move also comes not long after several schools have moved to a common rec letter format to make it easier for recommenders to provide support for their candidates to several schools.

IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK FROM ADMISSION CONSULTANTS MIXED

But Wharton ostensibly thought it could improve on the current system after asking rec writers for their perspectives. “Utilizing their valuable feedback, in conjunction with conversations with writers at a variety of companies and Wharton stakeholders, we have revised and improved how recommenders provide information on who a candidate is both personally and within an organization,” wrote Deputy Vice Dean Maryellen Reilly in a blog post about the change.

Several MBA admission consultants, however, weren’t nearly as enthusiastic about the change, largely because they saw it as an additional burden on recommenders. That could encourage more recommenders to ask applicants to write the essays for their approval. “For the personality traits, the good news is that Wharton is trying to get authentic and thoughtful responses from recommenders, rather than literally ‘check-the-box,'” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “Because there are truly no right or wrong answers, hopefully, students won’t be as anxious about not being top at everything.  For the qualitative questions, It’s great that the essay question specifically says up front, “give examples.”  Maybe that will bring more substance into some of the high-praise-but-fluffy recommendations that don’t differentiate candidates in the least.

“On the downside,” she adds, “moving away from the common application questions that have been asked by other top schools really does put more of a burden on the recommender. That has all sorts of repercussions that increases anxiety for the student and might even mean that Wharton loses some applicants.  Not sure that’s an optimal outcome for anyone.”

APPLICANTS MORE LIKELY TO SUCCUMB TO ‘YOU-WRITE-IT-I’LL SIGN-IT’

Linda Abraham, founder and CEO of Accepted.com, agreed. “Even those inclined to write their own recs are more likely to succumb to the time-saving temptation of you-write-it-I’ll-sign-it if they have to write two additional, distinctive responses to the open questions posed in the Wharton rec,” she says.  “This would be especially true for applicants applying to more schools.”

Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, sees an upside and downside to the change. “Unquestionably, relative to other schools, Wharton will get more thoughtful and colorful letters from those who take the recommendation process seriously – the questions almost force that outcome,” he says. “Unfortunately, they may also serve as a catalyst for those recommenders who may not want to put the time in and who may not put the time in and decide to shirk their responsibilities altogether. Because a truly excellent letter of recommendation can be a very powerful differentiator for any applicant, we strongly advise our clients to meet with their recommenders and discuss the process and more so what it means to write a standout letter.

“In doing so, we always advise our clients to be ready to diplomatically push back against a boss who says “write it yourself.”  There is a reason why the schools want recommendation letters – they want insight that an applicant just can’t objectively and compellingly state about themselves. So, we may emphasize an extra level of preparedness for pushback to our Wharton applicants, because it will serve them well. They will have a better chance of getting in if they can persuade their recommenders to embrace the process.”

NEW RECOMMENDATION PROCESS IN TWO SECTIONS

Wharton’s Maryellen Reilly Lamb

Reilly said the new approach will break letters of recommendations into two sections:

1) A selection of positive personality characteristics. Recommenders will be asked to choose three characteristics from a list of ten that best describe the candidate they are recommending.

2) Two free-form questions:

Question 1: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success in the Wharton MBA classroom. (Word count: 300)

Question 2: Please provide example(s) that illustrate why you believe this candidate will find success throughout their career. (Word count: 300)

Wharton’s online application is expected to open in early July. The round one MBA application deadline at Wharton this year is Sept. 19th.

DON’T MISS: 2017-2018 MBA APPLICATION DEADINES FOR LEADING SCHOOLS

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.