The Wharton School just debuted a new MBA essay question for its 2018-2019 application. As Wharton’s former head of Admissions, I’ll tell you this: I really love this new question. I’ll tell you why, along with some key tips for tackling Wharton’s new essay for a standout application. First, some quick context.
When Wharton says in its introduction to essays, “The Admissions Committee wants get to know you on both a professional and personal level” – it really means it. It’s first essay question remains the same, asking “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” (500 words) This, of course, is the opportunity to connect your powerful and coherent career vision within the context of how the Wharton MBA – in particular – will set you up for success. In essence, Wharton is asking what you’ll get out of being there.
The new second question, then, is an invitation to serve up something more personal. It really allows you to reflect, and offer additional information and insights that don’t appear elsewhere in your application:
“Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community?” (400 words)
So if the first question is asking what you’ll get out of Wharton, the second question is getting at this: What will Wharton get in return? This is a big bottom line for admissions: What have you learned from this experience, and how will it impact your contribution to the classroom and the Wharton community? The beauty of this kind of combination question is the opportunity to share an example from your experiences and connect it directly to your experience at Wharton.
The challenge, is to do so in 400 words, which requires both profound self-awareness and profound understanding of the community you’re hoping to join. This question isn’t just about what happened, but what you took away from your experience, how it shaped your awareness and why it matters going forward.
Here are three top tips to crafting a great response:
1. Don’t squander valuable real estate with long storytelling. Instead, you want to demonstrate valuable lessons learned. The emphasis is less about the example you choose – although it should be salient and compelling – and more about what you learned from the experience, and how your awareness will impact your contribution to the Wharton community. Get introspective and be discerning about your key take-aways and their significance, both for you and the future community with whom you hope to engage. Your 400 words will go fast, as I am sure you have realized by beginning to draft other essays!
2. Prove you know the program as you answer the question. This means writing from a deep understanding of Wharton’s values and culture. With more than 860 students in any incoming class, Wharton is without a doubt team-based, but it’s also community based. It’s about being part of a much larger organism than your learning team or your cohort, and discerning how your unique experiences will shape the experiences of many of your fellow students, the program and the institution writ large.
3. Get specific. Don’t just reinforce a link to how your experience will ‘aid in my teamwork skills,’ or how you learned about better communication skills, but tell your reader how the experience has allowed you to grow. The Admissions Committee wants specifics. What are you bringing that will help you impact the community? You will want to be clear about specific experiences, classes and interactions that will allow you to bring your self- knowledge to the campus.
The timing of Wharton’s essay release is terrific for anyone looking to get a head start now on their applications. It’s also a signal that Wharton Admissions Director Frank DeVecchis, who has been at his post for several years now, may no longer need a baseline question to gauge applications for the incoming class ; no doubt additional essay changes will follow in the coming cycles!
The bottom line: Do not fall into the storytelling trap, and remember, with 400 words, you really want to emphasize the take away, and the impact of the experience on you; and by extension, on Wharton itself.
Judith Silverman Hodara is co-Founder and director of Fortuna Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. During her time leading the admissions team at Wharton School’s MBA Program, Judith headed up the Admissions Committee, reviewed thousands of applications, and traveled extensively to meet with prospective students throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.