Wharton Essay Topic Notes

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Describe your career progress to date and your future short-term and long-term career goals. How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve these goals, and why is now the best time for you to join our program? (1,000 words)

MBA admissions committees (adcoms) are like venture capitalists – they want to “invest” in the best people with the best ideas. Your goals essay then is your “personal business plan,” expressing your short- and long-term career ambitions, their connection with your past experience, and why they matter to you professionally and personally. The most compelling goals express an opportunity that you will be uniquely qualified to pursue immediately after graduating. Your goals need to be realistic (i.e., possible given your previous personal/professional experience plus an MBA) and ambitious (e.g., a significant jump in your current organization, changing your career, starting your own organization). If not, adcoms will not be persuaded, and they will read the rest of your essays skeptically. The goals essay is the most important you will write during the application process.

Most common mistake: vague short-term goals that don’t reflect a realistic and ambitious opportunity. As is true with all essays, well-chosen details separate good essays from great essays. In the case of the goals essay, the details of your short-term plan will show how much thought and research you’ve done regarding your “business plan” as well as allow you to make direct connections to each MBA program. For example, if you plan to consult high-technology firms, then you should be looking for classes, projects, research centers, clubs, etc. that relate to those fields.

Describe a setback or a failure that you have experienced. What role did you play, and what did you learn about yourself? (500 words)

No one is perfect, and even the most successful professionals have failed or experienced setbacks. These experiences represent learning opportunities that disciplined professionals use to grow. This question requires you to recognize your role in a failure or setback. More importantly, it requires you show how you recovered and learned from your failure to become a more complete professional.

Most common mistake: not choosing a “good” failure. A “good” failure is something not too recent, perhaps from early in your career, so you can demonstrate that you had time to analyze your mistakes and make the right choices the next time you faced a similar situation. (If the school requires you to write a leadership essay as well, one strategy is to pick a failure that occurred before your leadership success. Your leadership success can often serve as proof that you grew through your failure.) A good failure also has to be a direct result of your actions or decisions, or else there is nothing for you to learn from the experience. Lastly, you should pick a failure that is “understandable” or “forgivable,” perhaps due to youth or inexperience.

Where in your background would we find evidence of your leadership capacity and/or potential? (500 words)

This is similar to a standard leadership essay, which is your chance to show how you have succeeded in “uncharted territory” through the will and ability to see an opportunity, execute a plan to leverage it, and overcome the obstacles that threaten success. Taking leadership often requires trying something new, which in turn requires winning the support of others. For this reason, this essay also presents a chance to demonstrate your teamwork, interpersonal and persuasive skills as important components of your leadership ability. By using the word “evidence,” Wharton seems to allow for multiple examples. And while they say “potential,” whenever possible you should choose an event that was a clear “win” for you.

Most common mistake: not detailing how you overcame various obstacles and instead relying on generic phrases like “persistent negotiations” or “unyielding efforts” that don’t illustrate core abilities.

Please Complete One of The Following Two Questions:

a. Describe an experience you have had innovating or initiating, your lessons learned, the results and impact of your efforts. (500 words)
While similar to the leadership question above, this topic focuses more on the creative aspects of your problem solving ability. If you answer the leadership question above, though, choosing this topic might lead to some redundancies in your application.

b. Is there anything about your background or experience that you feel you have not had the opportunity to share with the Admissions Committee in your application? If yes, please explain. (500 words)

This could be interpreted as an “excuse” essay to explain away weaknesses in your application, but the fact that Wharton offers a separate “optional” essay means this is meant as a personal experience essay. This essay can be approached from many different directions. One strategy is to concentrate on an important turning point(s) in your life to show the experience(s) that lead to your personal growth. This approach can be especially effective if your experience somehow relates to your future goals, e.g., if you spent time overseas in your teens and now you want to work internationally. You could also focus on personal accomplishments, barriers you’ve overcome, or something unexpected about you, such as an unusual hobby. The important thing is to provide insight into your personal experiences that shows your self-awareness, your personal growth, and if possible, how your personal experiences fit in to your professional life.

These notes are for general guidance only and might not apply to your particular situation. If you have any questions, please contact me.