When big name schools like Wharton “release” their essay questions every year, it gets a certain amount of media coverage from MBA admissions consultants, business school pundits, and potential applicants in various online forums. Last week Wharton revealed essay questions for the class of 2015 and we break them down here for the benefit of candidates everywhere. Whether you are applying to Wharton or not, you can likely use parts of this in your applications elsewhere.
First of all, Wharton indicates that the admissions committee “is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid, and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.” This is largely true at most business schools and your application packages should strive to present your professional experiences and goals with a dose of personal flavor. The second part is also important: be thoughtful, but concise, be candid and show your own personality.
Wharton required essay question #1
How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)
This question is extremely pedestrian. Indeed this or some similarly worded question is in use at most business schools. The basis of attempting an MBA should be future professional benefits and consideration of some form of career goal. If you haven’t identified what you want to accomplish with your post MBA career, you are not yet ready to select schools to apply to and are also not ready to pursue an MBA. The career discussion always comes first.
Wharton required essay questions 2 and 3
Wharton MBA applicants are required to respond to two of the following three questions. Each one is discussed below.
1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)
This is a great question, but it is shocking that it has to be asked in the first place. When applicants write essays for MBA or other masters programs, they should strive to include the kind of detail that this question elicits. The interesting thing in this question is the unique combination of the school plus you. Most admissions essays submitted by your competition never get to this level of detail and make shallow reference (or none at all) to program attributes the applicant sees on a brochure or website. For example, if the program includes a semester abroad, most applicants will say how that feature of the program attracted them, maybe because they always wanted to see the other place, or they want to work on that language. It would be better to show the benefits to your career goals and say how the experience will help you achieve them. I recommend that every essay or statement of purpose for every school be written to include how some unique feature of the program connects with you – and I mean deeply.
2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)
So far, this is the only Wharton essay question that is unique and different that other business school essay questions. I like it because it allows you to put your personal narrative in place – to let your personality seep into the application. If you choose to answer this question, be candid and describe those three perfect hours. Don’t try to game the question and figure out what the admissions committee wants to hear. Don’t try to save the world or cure a disease in three hours. Be yourself and describe how you would actually use the time.
3. “Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership.” – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School
Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)
Now we are back to tradition after a brief hiatus in question 2 for some personality. This question could have come straight out of a job interview. Admissions interviews at some business schools mimic interview format and content for professional job interviews, but really not enough schools do. This question is more likely to come in an interview at other schools than in essay form. When answering this question, read your answer out loud to see if it sounds like a good interview answer. If the draft sounds like you are making a good case in an interview, then you are on the right track.