Wharton Essay Questions and Strategic Guidance, 2023-2024

When you hear “Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania,” the first thought that pops into your head might be “Finance!”—and understandably so, given the Wharton MBA program has been a leading institution in the subject of finance since the school was founded in 1881. But what you may not realize is how much of a powerhouse UPenn Wharton is in other business domains. Its marketing and customer analytics courses are cutting edge, while aspiring entrepreneurs will find loads of resources in Wharton’s new Tangen Hall, the largest student entrepreneurship hub in the world.

UPenn Wharton asks candidates to submit two essays as part of its application. As you will see once you examine the essay prompts (as we do in detail below), Wharton really wants to know two things: What can Wharton do for you, and what can you do for Wharton? To compose an effective response, you will need a strong grasp of Wharton’s offerings as well as which of those offerings will be most valuable for you. Though you should demonstrate in these essays that you have done your homework on the program, remember that the admissions committee ultimately uses the essays to learn more about you.

Essay 1: How do you plan to use the Wharton MBA program to help you achieve your future professional goals? You might consider your past experience, short and long-term goals, and resources available at Wharton. (500 words)

Wharton does us by favor sharing exactly what we would recommend for a career-oriented essay. In short, one of the easiest ways to approach this question is to present a brief overview of your relevant past experiences, share what you hope to do after business school, and then explain how Wharton will help get you from where you are now to where you want to go.

  • Your past: Do you have a defining professional experience from your past that you can share, perhaps something that clarifies how you became interested in your target career or reveals what motivated you to apply to business school? You might even highlight a story or vignette that relates to one or more of Wharton’s key values.
  • Your goals: Give the schools a sense of where hope to head after graduating from Wharton. Contrary to what you might hear from others, you do not need to be overly specific (though if you have clearly defined goals in mind, by all means, communicate them!). What is more important is that you have at least a general sense of where you are headed and that your plans make sense in the context of your past experiences.
  • Why Wharton: You should dedicate approximately one-half of the allotted word count to the “Why Wharton?” element.  Before you begin working on your essays, do some in-depth research on the Wharton MBA experience and identify specific reasons the program appeals to you. For example, which classes are you excited to take? What will you major in? Which skills and experiences do you need to have to be able to achieve your career goals, and which offerings at Wharton will provide them? Which clubs will you join, and what role(s) will you play in them?  Remember, Wharton wants to know specifically what you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA (not just any MBA program in general). Give Wharton every confidence that you can clearly imagine yourself on campus and that you fully understand why it is the right MBA program to help you advance toward your professional goals.
  • When researching Wharton, go beyond the school’s materials and website and also sign up for virtual classes and contact and speak with students and alumni. As you do your research, your goal is not to find the most unique or little-known classes or resources; instead, you want to identify several offerings that will enable you to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to go after business school.

Essay 2: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)

While the school’s first question is about how Wharton can help you, this second one is about how you can help Wharton.

  • To start, let us share a potentially uncomfortable truth, but one you need to keep in mind with respect to this essay. All of the following contributions are incredibly valuable, but you should assume that many—even most—other Wharton applicants can offer them as well: analytical skills to help classmates who might struggle with some of the initial coursework (this scenario is actually extremely rare), a robust network, a willingness to help (other) international/LGBTQAI+/minority/etc. classmates get settled, and an interest in being an alumni mentor and/or interviewer. Does that mean that under no circumstances should you mention any of these? Of course not! But if you do, you absolutely must offer clear stories and reasons that substantiate why you are (or will be) especially adept at what you propose.
  • Regardless of what you choose to highlight, your essay should not end up being just a laundry list, in part because you do not have enough space to enumerate a large number of ideas, but more importantly, because this is about quality, not quantity. In your mere 400 words, you want to highlight two or three examples (not referenced in Essay 1) of how you will participate in the community—the Wharton community, the Penn community, and/or the Philadelphia community more broadly. How can you make an impact? Have you identified a gap in the school’s offerings that you could help fill or a way of improving something that is already available (innovation!)? Can you offer something relatively unique based on your personal experiences and background? What would you do, and what role would you take?
  • A key part of this essay question that applicants often overlook is the intro phrase: “Taking into consideration your background.” Wharton is asking not just about what you expect to do, but why. What is motivating you to participate in the activity you mention? How does it connect with your life experiences, good or bad? Of all the many things you could choose to be involved in at Wharton, what has prompted you to focus on this one?
  • And to set the record straight, you do not have to avoid getting personal or worry about being “basic.” The main thing is to be authentic. For example, if you are an expert skier or a wine connoisseur, stating that you plan to join the ski club or wine club is perfectly acceptable, but you need to then go a step further and explain what you specifically can bring to the table.

To summarize, the key with this essay is not just telling the admissions committee how you anticipate being involved as a Wharton student but also why doing so is important to you and what impact you will have.

More about Wharton:

We have added this section because too often, we hear candidates dismiss Wharton because they assume Wharton is either too competitive or too focused on finance. While Wharton is full of driven, ambitious students, so is every top business school; collaboration on campus is still pervasive. Likewise, Wharton’s finance curriculum is top-notch, but so is its prowess in marketing, strategy, entrepreneurship and more. See below for more thoughts on what Wharton is really about and what it seeks in applicants. These notes can be helpful as you consider what to write about in your essays.

At Wharton, collaboration is crucial to success. From its team-based admissions interviews to the structure of its learning teams, Wharton demonstrates again and again that working with others to achieve a mutual goal is held in high regard. With respect to its essays, highlighting teamwork examples can therefore be useful, but note that a team involves people in many different roles, and various types of leadership are valued. Do not feel you must present an example of professional success or a team you “led” to be able to submit an effective essay; examples that demonstrate other types of leadership, or other roles on a team, can be equally or even more effective. (Note: If you are not familiar with the McNulty Leadership Program and what it offers, quickly reviewing it would be worth your time.)

Wharton has tried hard to break free of its former reputation as mostly a “finance school,” and one of the ways it has succeeded is by embracing innovation, through its courses, venture conferences and competitions, and student body. Demonstrating that you have an interest in being innovative, or in engineering change in any form, can help convince Wharton that you will be a good fit with its program.

Your analytical skills can be communicated through your GMAT/GRE scores and your undergrad coursework and GPA, but if your skills are lacking—and even if they are not—your essays (and/or your resume) can offer additional avenues through which to show the admissions committee your analytical prowess. Wharton wants to see quantitative proficiency, so make sure to show evidence of such. Note that we are using the word “show” here intentionally; you want to include examples that effectively “show” the admissions committee that you possess these skills, not just tell the schools that you have them.

In an effort to create future leaders with a global mindset, Wharton prides itself on the diverse makeup of its student body, with members hailing from around the globe. Describing the experiences you have had across different regions and cultures, and explaining what you learned/gained from those experiences, can reveal your ability strengthen the student body.