Wharton has not changed its application essay questions for several seasons now. This is usually a sign that the admissions committee is happy with the kind of essays applicants are providing in response. Wharton asks candidates to share what they plan to do with their MBA in the short and long term and to discuss what they can contribute to the school’s community. The school’s optional essay then lets applicants address any issues with their profile, if needed.
And don’t miss our Admissions Straight Talk podcast interview with Blair Mannix, Executive Director of Graduate Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She encourages applicants to take risks and be themselves in their applications. The interview also covers the team-based discussion component of the admissions process and provides advice for reapplicants and those considering applying in the future. Listen below or click the image to read the full transcript.
Ready to get to work on your Wharton application? Read on.
Wharton application essay tips
Wharton 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)
This question is future focused and exclusively professional. What do you want to do professionally that you can’t do now and that a Wharton MBA will enable you to do? What “soft” and “hard” skills do you hope to acquire at Wharton? How will a Wharton MBA (the education, credential, and experience), combined with your past experience and education, help you achieve your dreams?
Wharton Director of Admissions Blair Mannix explains:
“We want students to do self-reflection on why they want this degree. We want students to explore the pivot moment – when they decided they wanted to do this – and unpack the talent and treasure they can bring to the MBA. Spend the time and really think about the top three things you will get out of the program.”
As with most MBA goals questions, Wharton wants to see how you plan to connect your MBA education to your future. Keep in mind that Wharton has an incredibly rich curriculum. How will you take advantage of its premier offerings to prepare yourself to realize your vision?
To answer this question well, you need to have professional direction and you need to know which of Wharton’s myriad resources make it the perfect next stop on your professional journey.
There are many ways you could structure your response. You might start with a pivotal experience that either illustrates what you seek to accomplish or shaped your short- and long-term goals. Then explain why this experience – ideally, an accomplishment – is important to you and how it relates to the question. In doing so, make sure you answer all the elements of Wharton’s essay question.
Wharton 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)
For this essay, start with the end in mind: How do you intend to contribute to the Wharton community?
To answer that question, research the cocurricular opportunities and pedagogical approach at Wharton. How will you add to the program and its community? Based on your experience, what difference do you intend to make? How will you participate and, yes, contribute?
Now decide on the aspects of your experience and background that have prepared you to have your intended impact. You can highlight achievements, challenges overcome, initiatives you’ve led, and teamwork situations, and that’s just for starters.
You’re now ready to write.
You can start this essay with the impactful experience from your past and then analyze the lesson you learned from that accomplishment. Then bring it forward and apply it to your intended role at Wharton.
Alternatively, you can start with your intended impact at Wharton and then go back to your past experience.
Regardless of how you structure your essay, you want Wharton to see you as a giver and contributor.
Wharton Reapplicant Essay
Please use this space to share with the Admissions Committee how you have reflected and grown since your previous application and discuss any relevant updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, and extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)
The name of the MBA reapplicant game is “Growth and Improvement.” Wharton is asking for reflection, and you need to provide it, while also showing how that reflection has led to action and improvement. Demonstrate to Wharton that you are a better candidate this time than last.
Wharton Optional Essay
Please use this space to share any additional information about yourself that cannot be found elsewhere in your application and that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee. This space can also be used to address any extenuating circumstances (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, inconsistent or questionable academic performance, areas of weakness, etc.) that you would like the Admissions Committee to consider. (500 words)
“Addressing extenuating circumstances” means that you should describe the issues and situations in a straightforward way. Give the admissions committee context, and absolutely avoid giving excuses or whining. If possible, provide evidence that those circumstances either were temporary or will not affect your performance.
Also note that this question is broad enough that you can use it to bring to the committee’s attention and interest, achievement, or obstacle overcome that you would like them to know about and that isn’t covered elsewhere in your application.
The Wharton MBA Team-Based Discussion
If you are invited to participate in a Wharton MBA Team-Based Discussion, be sure to listen to this advice from Mannix: What Is Wharton’s Team-Based MBA Interview Like? Tips From Director of Admissions Blair Mannix.
For expert guidance with your Wharton MBA application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages, which include comprehensive guidance from an experienced admissions consultant. We’ve helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top MBA programs and look forward to helping you, too!
Wharton application deadlines
|September 6, 2023
|January 4, 2024
|April 2, 2024
|Deferred Admissions Round
|April 24, 2024
To be considered for a round, you must submit a completed application by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on the day of the deadline.
Source: Wharton website
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with Wharton directly to verify its essay questions, instructions, and deadlines.***
Wharton class profile
Here is a look at the Wharton MBA Class of 2024 (data taken from the Wharton website):
Enrolled class: 877
LGBTQ+ students: 8%
- White: 29%
- Asian American: 23%
- Black/African American: 7%
- Hispanic/Latinx: 5%
- Native American/Indigenous/ Native Alaskan: >1%
- Did not report: >1%
International students: 35%
Countries represented: 77
Average GMAT score: 733
GMAT range: 530-790
Average GRE Quant score: 162
GRE Quant score range: 146-170
Average GRE Verbal score: 162
GRE Verbal score range: 143-170
Average GPA (from students who attended universities with a 4.0 grading system): 3.6
- Humanities: 34%
- STEM: 34%
- Business: 32%
Interdisciplinary and dual degree programs (students):
- Health Care Management: 75
- Lauder: 72
- Moelis (Deferred Admission): 19
- JD/MBA: 14
Average years of work experience: 5
Range of years of work experience: 1-24
Previous Industry Experience:
- Consulting: 27%
- Technology: 12%
- Nonprofit/Government: 11%
- PE/VC: 9%
- Other: 9%
- Investment Banking: 8%
- Investment Management: 7%
- Financial Services: 5%
- Health Care: 5%
- Energy: 2%
- CPG: 2%
- Media/Entertainment: 2%
- Retail: 1%
Are you dreaming of a Wharton MBA?
Get started with your b-school research:
- Which MBA Is Right for Me? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an MBA Program
- M7 MBA Programs: Everything You Need to Know in 2023
Once you have decided that Wharton is the place for you, Accepted can help you make your application stand out from the rest:
- Get Accepted to Wharton, a webinar
- What’s New at Wharton MBA, podcast Episode 440, an interview with Wharton Director of Admissions Blair Mannix
- Applying to Wharton Lauder? Do Your Research!, podcast Episode 465, an interview with Kara Keenan Sweeney, director of admissions marketing and financial aid at the Lauder Institute
With only 877 students attending Wharton out of 6,319 applications, you know that the competition is tough. Get Accepted! Speak with an admissions expert today in a free 30-minute consultation.
What’s New at Penn’s The Wharton School. And How to Get In. [Episode 545]
Welcome to the 545th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Thanks for tuning in. Are you ready to apply to your dream business schools? Are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s MBA admissions calculator can give you a quick reality check. You’ll not only get an assessment, but tips on how to improve your chances of acceptance. Plus it’s all free.
It gives me great pleasure to have back on Admissions Straight Talk, Blair Mannix, Executive Director of Graduate Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Blair first came to Penn as a graduate student where she earned her master’s in higher education management in 2010. She joined Penn’s undergrad admission staff in 2008. She’s been at Wharton since 2012 and became Director of Admissions in 2017 and the Executive Director in 2022. She was last on Admissions Straight Talk almost exactly two years ago. Let’s learn what’s new and exciting in the Wharton MBA program and admissions process.
Blair, welcome back to Admissions Straight Talk. [1:50]
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Linda. It’s great to be back.
It’s great to have you. So first question, can we start with a basic overview of Wharton MBA program for listeners who may not be that familiar with it and focusing on its more distinctive elements? [1:56]
Absolutely. So the Wharton MBA program is a two-year graduate program in the city of Philadelphia starting in August of the year that you enroll through to the summer where you go on an internship away from campus. And I think the thing that really makes the Wharton MBA program stand out amongst peer programs is its flexibility. We offer a lot of flexibility within our core curriculum and 200 electives that students can choose from. We really feel passionately that we want people to chart their own course through the MBA program and not just get classes taught in similar ways to the same people in the same cadence over and over again. We really want people to get, the way I describe it is wringing every ounce of utility out of this program, and we think the flexibility of curriculum really does that.
Another thing that Wharton does really well is that the Wharton MBA program is a very tactile degree, meaning that our students really are getting into the guts of understanding models or marketing strategic plans. And we’re not just teaching students to be leaders and managers, which of course we are, but we do really believe that you need to understand the inner workings and core operations of a company in order to lead it well. And so our degree is very hands-on in that respect as well.
One of the things that always struck me about Wharton is not only that you have this incredible plethora of options and flexibility, but the support that you give your students to take advantage of all that wealth of opportunity. [3:21]
Thanks for saying. That’s something we’re really proud of. I say it in jest, but I really do not think there’s going to be a time in your adult life that you are more supported than when you’re at the Wharton MBA program. We call it your personal board of directors, our advising support network. You’ll have advisors and support across all of our main components, the leadership program, career management of course, advisors, and how to navigate your career search and beyond, of course academic advisors and even student life advisors. So you do have this particular board of directors to help you navigate what is a lot. Wharton is a lot. There’s a lot of resources and how do you take advantage and again, wring that utility out of your two years.
Right now in preparing for the call, I noticed that Wharton seems to have in my mind, clarified its vision, namely in defining the Wharton Way, which boils down to, according to your website, elevate research impact, innovate through your pedagogy, collaborate through disciplines and divides, all to be accomplished through a data-informed approach aiming towards scalable solutions and equitable outcomes. Can you dive into the impact of these principles on students’ MBA experience? Sounds great, but they’re general and out there. [4:13]
I’m very happy for the question. I’m happy to talk about the Wharton Way. I’m really happy to talk about the Wharton Way. So this is Dean Erica James’ vision for her tenure of the Wharton School. So it’s something that of course is near and dear to my heart as it is near and dear to her heart. And so the three pillars, elevate research and impact, innovate through pedagogy and collaborate across disciplines. A couple of examples under that. First and foremost, the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School are research universities. That’s the bread and butter of what we do. And I think something that’s interesting that a lot of folks probably don’t think about is we have deep ties to government and obviously business. So a lot of the research you see coming out of government organizations or a lot of the research that’s cited across Fortune 500 companies is Wharton research and that pipeline and those pipelines through our centers of innovation and our centers of research already exist.
So when she says elevate that research impact, she just wants to continue that and continue doubling down on faculty research, getting out into the business and government community. So I think that’s something that we’re really excited about internally, and how do we create opportunities, mechanisms, and operations to get that done? So that’s something that has a lot of energy behind the scenes, so that’s exciting. And then of course innovating through teaching, innovating through teaching. Here’s an example I think is great. We have a fabulous professor by the name of Ethan Molik who runs our Wharton Interactive News Center. He’s a faculty member that teaches through games, and Wharton Interactive is now a revenue center. So we are trying to bring this pedagogy through innovative games to the world. And so that’s an example of what we’re trying to do there. Basically what the Wharton way is when everything boils down is that we don’t want to gatekeep Wharton resources.
I’m not saying we’ve been doing it a lot in the past, but we really want to give that to the world. So Wharton Interactive is an example. We have a great program called Wharton Global Youth that we’re trying to bring Wharton classes down to 16, 17 year olds and making sure that is just a lot more in the community. And the last thing, collaboration across disciplines is, the problems of society are not going to be solved by business faculty, business students and people within the business world operating alone. Public private partnerships, collaborating across governments, collaborating across medical, engineers, all of those things that’s going to be at the core. The University of Pennsylvania does a really good job of that just naturally through its own history and culture, and I think Dean James really wants to double down on that. And so that’s the third pillar of the Wharton Way.
Now in addition to the Wharton Way, what’s new at Wharton? I mean, there’s always something new at Wharton. [7:15]
Yeah, so let me start with this. So one of the organizations I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the last 12 to 18 months is our Wharton Executive MBA. And about a year ago, so about 12 months ago, we launched the Wharton Executive MBA Global cohort. So we’re allowing folks to take an Executive MBA, living and working out of their homes, but the key metric of this is that they actually are coming together nine times throughout their time. So it’s not a fully online MBA, they’re coming together nine times across the world globally, to learn from each other and be part of an in-person cohort. So that’s really exciting. I’ve been at the forefront of obviously the admissions and recruiting for that, and it’s just been a privilege to talk about. I would encourage folks that are listening if they’re interested, do a quick Google on the Wharton Executive MBA WAVE classroom because we’re not just teaching this on Google.
I keep saying it’s not your grandma’s Google or excuse me, we’re not teaching this on Zoom. It’s not your Grandma’s Zoom. Technology is actually amazingly cutting edge and groundbreaking. And so faculty are teaching in the round and there’s a screen for every student and the camera follows the faculty member looking at a particular person. And so it’s very much a synchronous experience. You have to show up for class at nine o’clock on a Monday morning. And so that’s very exciting. But I would say otherwise, when I was thinking about the answer to this question, Linda, AI, the research around AI that I see pumping out of the Wharton School every week, it seems there’s another faculty authorship on –
I just saw an article in the Wall Street Journal that I think was Wharton professors on AI. [8:46]
Thank you. Thank you for calling attention to that. So you’re seeing what I’m seeing.
It was fascinating. [8:52]
Right. And it’s coming from all angles. And so I just think that’s another hallmark of the Wharton School. So let’s just use research on AI as an example, but it’s coming from the marketing space, it’s coming from the management space, it’s coming from the finance space. And so all of those things combined is just pumping out this research that is being cited all over the globe. So I think that’s really exciting. Research in AI, publications on AI and what Wharton is doing there. The last thing that I’ll say before I stop belaboring the question about what is new at Wharton is just the analytical powerhouse that Wharton always has been and continues to be.
Our analytics at Wharton hub for innovation has just been churning out really interesting pieces of content. We just had our third annual, I think, Women in Data Science Conference that’s bringing women in data science from all across the world to Philadelphia, the Future of Work through our Wharton People Analytics Conference, like what are we all expecting in a post Covid world, that’s really exciting. And we actually just launched our first class through Wharton Interactive called Machine Learning and Business Decisions through actually our sports business initiative. So it’s like the machine learning, the gamification, the pedagogy and the innovation are all coming together in the analytic space. So that’s pretty exciting too.
That’s always fascinating. But the article that I was citing, if I remember was about human beings versus AI and innovation and basically saying that AI has a lot to offer in terms of innovation, and it went through the steps, different steps. I’m a lay person, I’m not an expert in innovation, and it was something that I could really understand. It was just a very interesting article. [10:06]
Did it have a title, something like Is AI a Better Entrepreneur than Humans? I feel like I-
Innovator, yeah. No, I’m right there with you. Yeah, it’s a really exciting time. I think it’s a really exciting time to be at Wharton when all of that’s swirling. So I’m happy you noticed that as much as I do.
What trends are you seeing in terms of interest from applicants in different sectors and geography? What trends would you like to see? [10:47]
I’ve been a member of the Wharton Adcom for 12 years. I think I’ll just maybe expand on the question slightly to see how I’ve seen it change over the last 12 upcoming 13 years. I think the main hallmark I’ve seen in the applicant pool is just a pure play diversification of where students are coming from. That doesn’t answer your question, but when I came to the admissions committee, it was a lot of more consultants, a lot more investment bankers, and I just think the ROI of an MBA has really expanded and I think that’s really important. For me, I don’t really have a specific answer, and I’m not trying to dodge the question. I really just don’t think I have an answer on what I want to see more of. But I’ll say this, this is what we want to see more of.
The MBA is transformative. It is a degree that can be utilized for the rest of your life across sectors. It’s not super specialized, clearly it’s not a credential. And so I think that my goal, at least in this role, is to try to continue to communicate that an MBA is valuable and can be valuable across sectors, from education to technology to energy to NGOs. I mean, a lot of applications say I get from the nonprofit sector that are really successful, they’ll say I’m in nonprofit, but even in nonprofit, you need to know how to run a business. You need to know how to pay people and do the accounting and things like that. And so I think that it’s a transformational experience that my goal is to get to as many different types of work experience backgrounds as possible. So that would be my goal, but not targeting a specific one per your question.
I was just thinking about my own MBA path and experience. Obviously the MBA has changed enormously since I got mine. I’ll admit I got it in 1979, but I did not follow a classic MBA path. And when I started Accepted, I had been doing different things. I’d taken off time for family and I questioned whether I got value out of it until I started Accepted, which was in the mid-nineties. And then I started a small business and it was valuable, it was invaluable. And I don’t mean the network and all that stuff. I mean the principles. I didn’t remember the formula for who knows what for a put or anything like that. I didn’t remember that at all. I didn’t need that. But the basic framework, the principles I had, and that helped me enormously. [12:22]
I mean for me, that goes back to the Wharton way, like innovation through pedagogy because people come for different reasons and you’re right, networking, meeting the people, getting your first job out of the MBA. We work hard at that, getting your first job, but that’s not what it’s really all about. It’s about what skills do you need in 20 to 30 years that you’re going to pop up from a classroom innovation in the types of things you’re learning in the classroom by faculty that you’re going to use in 20 years. And so Wharton works really hard at making sure that we’re being current in the marketplace of skills and ideas that students need to know. So it just makes me happy that you had that MBA experience ’cause what we hope to deliver.
Now what don’t people know about Wharton that you would like them to know? Or is there a common misconception that you’d like to dispel? [13:49]
Yeah, I have a common misconception. And the first is that it’s a very competitive place, very cutthroat, very competitive. The MBA program in particular, and I’ve said this over the years, but I always joke that when people meet me or the team or they come to campus and they say, “Oh, this is not what I thought this was, and it’s very different.” And I say, “Well, then that means I’m not doing my job. My job is to communicate to you in your own hometown or when you come to campus that what Wharton really is, not what you think it is.” And so I like to put out there that it’s actually a very collaborative place.
We have a system of grade non-disclosure, and we’ve had that for decades where there’s groups vote that they’re not going to share GPAs with potential employers, and that’s sexy and interesting to talk about, but really what that is: we want you to take chances. You’ve probably never taken a chance in your whole life. If you were admitted to Wharton, you got good grades, you had the right majors, you went to the right companies, you had the right political maneuvering and to get promoted and whatever you did, but we really want you to take chances because the business world is won by people that take chances. And so that’s why the curriculum is set up like that
Risk reward. [15:03]
Exactly. So that’s something we’re really proud of. Another thing that I think people sometimes lose in their maybe external opinion of Wharton, and it’s something we have struggled with internally, the duality of we are the best school to study finance in the world> Period. That’s something we’re really proud of. That’s something that’s been part of our DNA since our inception, but we’re also quite good at a lot of other things. We have top 10 programs and management and marketing, and these great dual degree programs like the Lauder Institute or our healthcare management program are groundbreaking. And so sometimes what makes my job difficult is finance, and we are very good at other things because a lot of times folks think, “Oh, Wharton’s not for me. I want to study marketing.” And we’re like, “Actually, it is for you.” So that’s something that I like to put out there as well.
Let’s turn to the application and start with testing. Now, Wharton requires either the GMAT or the GRE, no Executive Assessment for the full-time MBA. Is it okay for the Executive MBA, since you are now in charge of the- [16:04]
Yes, we do accept the Executive Assessment for the Wharton MBA for executives.
Could you review the rules surrounding the new GMAT Focus? Am I correct that you only really accept it for around three applicants? [16:07]
Yes, and I actually saw that you did a LinkedIn post about this Linda and I actually put in my to-do list to email you and I never did. So I’m happy we’re getting this chance. I mean all positive because-
Thank you. [16:24]
No, all positive. You got it right. Right now, the GMAT focus is launching this fall, but our deadline for round two is the first couple of days of January, and so it was too late for me to really have an evaluation selection process that felt fair and unbiased and equal. And so I just said we’re happy with the GMAT Focus. I believe in the efficacy of the test, I believe in the GMAT corporation, but we will be accepting the GMAT Focus starting in round three of this year, so April 2024, as well as with our Moelis candidates who apply in the same month. And so I won’t go into it, but there’s been a lot of mixed messaging. There was even a change on my website, which you very correctly noted when we were going to accept it, but I think the dust has settled. Final decisions are made. If you’re applying to the Wharton MBA program in the fall of 23 or the winter of 24, no GMAT Focus, but if you’re applying in round three or the Moelis Advanced Access round in April of 24, ready to go.
And obviously for the next application cycle. [17:20]
What’s new in the MBA application? [17:23]
Not a lot.
Nothing. And actually that’s very purposeful. There’s a lot of change. The MBA, excuse me, let me back up. The admissions business is changing. I have done nothing but this. I’ve been in this line of work for 18 years, and I have seen some shifts in the business and some ebbs and flows of changes. But I think, and there’s a couple of things to say under this, of course, the Supreme Court decision, but the GMAT changes as well. The market pressures on testing organizations, the GRE changes, and there’s questions, but I would love to talk about ChatGPT for college essays-
It’s next. [18:02]
Great. I have a lot to say about that.
How that works. I’ve been calling it admissions… We did something with our evaluation and selection process about eight years ago that I called Admissions 2.0. So internally, I’ve been calling this admissions 3.0, because the whole business is changing. And so given that scope and given that umbrella, I felt really strongly about not changing our application because enough is changing. Let’s not torture these applicants. And that’s where we’re at.
Or maybe the application readers also, I don’t know. [18:30]
Yeah. Maybe that too, but really it was for the applicants.
So you mentioned ChatGPT. What do you feel is the appropriate role of ChatGPT and AI in the application process? Obviously Wharton’s going all in on machine learning. You mentioned that a second ago. So what is the appropriate role? [18:34]
Faculty have done great work on the use of ChatGPT and passing Wharton exams. There’s a couple of fun articles about that too, but this is where the office of MBA admission stands. This is where I stand. My view personally is being fearful of ChatGPT and what it means for society is like being scared of email. It’s coming, it’s here. It’s an efficiency tool. People will be using it. I don’t believe it’s the right move to gatekeep using an efficiency tool, especially if we say that we’re cutting edge business leaders. Cutting edge business leaders outside of our walls should be using ChatGPT to speed up their work. Now ChatGPT, as we all know, has limitations. There’s studies in law schools that they put fake legal precedents on some of the answers they do.
You have to check it. [19:35]
Of course you have to check it, but I think it’s only going to get better. And so I think it’s an efficiency tool. Behind the scenes we use it for our own work. Faculty at Wharton use it for their own work. I think people should use it going forward. And so I have no reason to or no plans to put a disclaimer on our application saying, “Please don’t use ChatGPT” because we all know it’s not good. You’re going to have to work with it. And I think that’s okay.
I think it’s going to be another sign of judgment on the part of applicants. If they use ChatGPT wholesale and they don’t check it and they don’t add their own personal perspective to whatever ChatGPT produces, then they’re going to have very generic, superficial and substandard essays that will not enhance their chances of admissions. If they use it as a tool like spell check or grammar check, but the essay is still theirs, then it might just have a good place. It might take them some time. [19:59]
I was talking with some colleagues recently and they expressed concern about the tragedy competition or pity essays that seem to be proliferating. So two questions. Do you feel that, A, it is proliferating? Do you feel that people may be revealing much more than you need to know of their personal private lives in essays? So that’s question number one. And related, can you give some guidance as to what is too much information? [20:35]
Talking about the changes in admissions. Okay, there’s a change. [21:01]
Well, so let’s address the change and let’s address some history. For me, I’ve been reading applications in some form or another. I definitely have my 10,000 hours in for18 years. So saying, putting sad stories and essays is not a new phenomenon. It’s just not. And so anybody who’s newer to the business I think may think that, but it’s not a new phenomenon. So that’s going to exist. Admissions is changing. That hasn’t changed, at least in my experience. So I’ll just say that. In terms of advice, this is the advice I always give, and it’s not exactly to this, but I think we’ll hit the point. I always say, finish your application, close it, meaning click it off, walk away. Walk away for a week. Do you think there’s a story, and it gets to the optional essay, which I want to talk about. If you think there’s a story that you’re like a human being reading this really needs to know this story in order to understand me, I want you to write that story in the optional essay.
And it’s not a sad story, it could be a happy story, but I would say 50% of you have a story that explains who you are. And sometimes it’s a childhood story, sometimes it’s a promotion story, sometimes it’s a sickness story. Sometimes it’s how I found my passion story. But I would say if you don’t feel like you have a story, don’t write a story like that. So I would say about 50% of students write some additional component to their application that would be kind of addressed in the premise of your question and 50%. But that’s the advice I use. If you think that there’s a piece of you that somebody needs to understand to evaluate your candidacy, write it. But if you don’t, I don’t think I need to know that story.
I think just in terms of what I’ve seen and reality is that we frequently grow from the most difficult experiences and in order to show resilience, which is I think a quality that is increasingly valued, you have to overcome something. If you haven’t overcome something, you have nothing to be resilient from or to or whatever. So I think that’s part of what you’re seeing. But the point that others have made is sometimes people are revealing too much personal information or going into too much detail about the difficulty and less about the overcoming part of it. Have you seen that? [22:34]
Our essay questions are not geared towards that.
So you’re not seeing it. [23:18]
Yeah, as I think about it live, they’re not geared towards that. So I don’t really think I see a lot of that. But there are. I mean, listen, I’m a proponent and a student of this business. One of my favorite things to do is just talk admissions shop with people. People are in my email all the time. I’m like, “I will take a half an hour to talk shop with you.” And I say that because something I do regularly, but also people have questions on their applications from undergrad to grad school to professional schools, all of which I know and talk to that would draw you to those answers. And so my suggestion would be, if you don’t want to hear about these types of stories, maybe you don’t have essays that are geared towards that.
Now Wharton has two required questions and one optional. The optional asks, please use the space to share any additional information about yourself that cannot be found elsewhere in your application and that you would like to share with the admissions committee. It gives a lot of latitude and space. Number one, is it truly optional? How would you like to see it used? Do most admitted students write one? And you said you wanted to address the optional question on your own. So if there’s something else you want to say that’s not included in those three questions, go for it. [23:51]
No, I answered that question like what I want people to use it for. If you close your application, feel like there’s a story you need to tell, please put it in that optional essay. But I would say people use it for two different reasons and I encourage people to do it in two different reasons. And I’ll take this moment and put a quick plugin for some admissions’ application tips webinars we do that are on the Wharton YouTube channel. I did one that has a ton of views that I’ve gotten some nice feedback on, but our teams does great ones and it talks about this. It talks about what you should use your optional essay for. But really what they say is this a lot of students are like, “I have some things to say” and I’m like, have a couple bullet points if you want to say, “Hey, listen, I was sick in senior year and that’s why I have a C in statistics.” Put it in a bullet point.
“I want you to know there’s a gap in my career because they pushed all the hiring back to January.” “Boom, boom, boom, boom.” Bullet points are great. That gives me context. I’m happy with it. But then there’s a lot of people that want to tell this story. So I would say half use bullet points, half use a story. It’s fully open and optional because I really want you to use it to just tell me what you need to tell me. There’s no hidden agenda with me. I just want to know what I need to know because I would rather you tell me than me have to go find it.
Or guess. [25:28]
Yeah. Or there was a pass-fail grade. What happened at Brown in the summer of 2018? I don’t want to have to go find it. I would rather you tell me.
March 2020. [25:35]
Well, that one, I know what happened. We all lived together. I was there for that.
We all remember that one. Do most admitted students write the optional or is there any data on that? [25:42]
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I really don’t know, but you can tell how much it matters. It matters, but I don’t not track that stuff. Yeah.
How do you review an application? What do you start with? [25:55]
Transcripts. Transcripts, resume. Those are the two most important things. I think applications, they have a natural cadence. When you open the application, you’re immediately, the way I describe it and the way I train our readers, you’re just trying to take the student in. You’re like, “Okay, they’re 27, living in Boston, working in healthcare, living in the Back Bay, taking in the student, taking in the student. And then you click on the transcript and you’re like, “Okay, and then they went to Duke and they majored in mechanical engineering”, and then you’re just watching them walk through your life. Our whole job is figuring out how you walk through your life. And so you’re like, “Oh, they were a member of the swim team and they did this at Duke and they did community service. Okay, great. And then they graduated in 2020, good year to graduate.”
Okay, great pivot. I always call it the pivot moment. All right. Then they went out into the world, then we read the resume. What did they do? Where did they move? What did they make? How did they feel about it? What are their things? And then that natural discovery process leads you most often to the essays, but sometimes to the letters. For example, if there’s a student that has a little bit less years of work experience, I might be like, “What do people say about this person?” So I’ll go to the letters first before the essays. But then sometimes if you’re working in consulting and you’ve been there for three years and you’re applying to the Wharton MBA, which is more commonplace, not bad, but just more common, I might go to the essays to see what you want to do here. So it’s a pretty standard path. And then it diverges between essays and letters and then that’s it.
How many people review an application? [27:27]
We have two read each application before interview, and that’s really something I’m proud of. We have a “blind read” process, and so one reader does not know what the other reader says, and that’s to cut down on bias. There’s a lot of processes, and I’m a big student of decision analytics and decision science, and there’s a lot of not just admissions offices, but people that are hiring for jobs at scale that have one commentator’s comments read by another, and of course that influences you. So ours is blind. And then we do a full committee before interview to make sure that the decisions we’re making are strong and make sense. And then of course, robust interview, another read and then final committee.
What can an applicant expect if lucky enough to interview and participate in the team-based discussion? [28:12]
Yeah, so we’re on year 12 of the team-based discussion. So we’ve gotten good at it. I was part of some of the first waves, so I’m proud to say that. So this is what I like to say about the team-based discussion. I’m like, “We want to take the stress and the energy from here to here.” I’m like, “I’m never going to take it down here.” I know. Especially coming from my lips. I was like, “But I’m going to try.” So basically what the team-based discussion is when you’re invited to interview, you will know it. And I put on our website that we will be releasing decisions. I don’t quite know it off the top of my head, sometime in late October, but let’s just call it October 30th at noon. You’ll get your decision October 30th at noon. And that’s the story.
And so there’s no harangues, there’s no fear, there’s no waiting every week. It’s not rolling decisions. And then when you get invited to interview, you’ll get your prompt. We’re not going to spot prompt you and make you totally freak out, and you’ll get a one-page PDF on how you could prepare. But I think more importantly how you don’t prepare, because we don’t want people to be over preparing for something they can’t really prepare for. So you’ll get the discussion prompt, you’ll get how to prepare, more importantly not to prepare. And then it’s a 35-minute group discussion with four to five other applicants. So everybody’s in the same boat. Everything is on Zoom. We were actually Zoom beta users all the way back in 2018, 2019 before Covid. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Everything is on Zoom now, and you have a 35-minute discussion. I mean, and that discussion feels like a discussion at work.
How do you solve problems? How do you bring in different resources? How do you drive towards deadlines and decisions? And there’s a lot of academic and career research that says when people do certain things, they tend to get along better in groups. And that’s the type of stuff we’re looking for. So I always just tell people, imagine you’re walking into a conference room at work and you’re right about to take that left, and you’re thinking about who is in the room, and there’s some people that you’re like, “Yes.” And there’s some people that are ugh. Just think about what those people do, that’s a skill. Running a room and knowing how to work with people is a skill. And I think one of the things I’m proudest of in our process is that at the Wharton MBA Admissions Process, it’s not that you crest to the interview stage and then you interview and you either do really well and get in or you don’t do well and you don’t get it.
The skills of running a room are very different than the skills most times to get a 4.3 in physics at MIT, they just are. And so we’re a school and we want to have the room runners and we want to educate them to be the 4.3 In physics or finance, and then we want the 4.-
Then we want the 4.3s in finance, and we want to teach them how to run a room. And so that’s what it looks and feels like. After that, you’ll do a one-on-one with your interviewer, and the whole thing will be about an hour, hour and 20 of your life.
What’s the most common mistake that you see applicants make in the team-based discussion? [31:08]
The mistake questions are always tough for me because I don’t, it’s just like my brain isn’t oriented like that.
You’re much more positive than that. [31:20]
Yeah, I think I am. But of course, I’ve been in this chair for six years. I’ve just gotten asked the mistake question a lot, and I always don’t have a good answer. I don’t really think of it. I don’t think of it like that. I don’t know. I’m not talking at all – want to be part of it. There’s a book that I think-
How about trying to hog airtime? [31:39]
Maybe. I mean, maybe. But there’s a lot of research on different ways to be successful in groups. And so this is my thing. I’m like, it’s just be a normal person. Be the person that you are at work for 35 minutes. Keep it together.
Be the person you’d like to work with. [31:55]
Yeah, maybe that. Well, that’s another thing. So we were training our interviewers last year and I said, “I don’t do interviews. I don’t do them.” And someone said, “Why?” And I said, “Listen, I can’t do them all. So if I did only a couple, that wouldn’t be fair or accurate”, which is two of my guiding principles for this work in this office. Because if I interviewed, let’s say seven to 10 people, I would have a predisposition to admit the seven to 10 people if they did well, and who’s in the driver’s seat? Me. So that’s just not fair if you’re not one of those 17 people that’s randomly assigned to me. So that’s just an aside, but that’s how we work it behind the scenes.
What advice do you have for applicants wanting to join the class of 2026? In other words, those applying this cycle and probably preparing for a round two application. [32:35]
Take a look at the resources we put online. We really do try to democratize all the information that it takes to put a strong Wharton MBA application together and a strong, I believe, business school application. So there are application tip sessions. They’re an hour long. We go through what it means when you select the dropdown menu to apply to a healthcare management major versus the Water Institute versus a JD MBA. And if you do what that means and who reads it and what the timeline is. And so we give you all of that information. We even talk about essay structure, how to write those essays and give you real guideposts on how you’re supposed to spend your time and your pros. So we try really hard to put that out there. So go check it out. Just it’s on the Wharton YouTube channel.
We touched on this just a little bit in a previous question, and I didn’t send it to you ahead of time, but I’m wondering, for people belonging to underrepresented groups, do you have any special advice for them in light of the Supreme Court decision or for the applicants, it doesn’t really make that much difference in terms of what they say. [33:29]
Doesn’t really matter. The only change in that is that we no longer will be asking the race question on the application, but it’ll be suppressed for all readers, evaluators, staff members, and for the entirety of the cycle. And so for me, I don’t think it changes applicants’ head space, what they write about, what they talk about. They’re going to put together the same application that their soul wanted them to put together before. So no real advice.
Well, you mentioned the Moelis program- [34:14]
I was pronouncing it incorrectly. Any tips for applicants applying to that program, the Deferred Admit Program at Wharton? [34:20]
Yeah. First of all, that program has grown like gangbusters since we launched the global audience. Yeah. We launched it to the global audience in the summer of 2019 and started receiving applications for the first cohort that is external to the University of Pennsylvania in the summer of 2020. And we just think it’s a beautiful pipeline and it’s a beautiful representation of talent. This is what I would say, if you are thinking about applying to an MBA program through a deferred enrollment program, you’re already there. You’re already talented. You know what’s going on. You’ve done your research, you have some sort of direction. So I would just say, be really confident in your application because the fact that you’re even thinking about this, you’re already top 1% of the population. So we’ll just say that. Second thing is that, again, with these deferred enrollment programs, we want you to take risks.
That’s one of the points of them that you can lock in your admission, and we don’t want you to go backpacking and never work for two to four years, but you can take a little bit more risk. So think about that when you’re thinking about lining up your second job or your third job or what you want that deferment period to look like, because we really do want you to take risks because again, business favors risk-takers. It just does. There’s a reason that the American culture produces more entrepreneurs than most of the rest of the world, and that’s our tolerance for risk and some loss, but that’s who we are and that’s what we want to be part of.
The Moelis program has been in existence now for several years, so obviously some of the people that were admitted via that program already in Wharton, right? [35:55]
Are most of those people actually coming for the MBA? Are they deferring additionally, or are they just saying, “I said I don’t want it?” [36:04]
Good question, Linda. That’s a great question. So yes, you’re completely correct in saying that some of the first admits are starting to trickle back. So for the last couple of years I’ve had, I think, about 20 Moelis admits come back to the class. So about 20 in the class of 25, 20 in the class of 24, 20 in the class of 23. Next year is the year it’s going to skyrocket. They have a two to four year deferment. So numbers wise and statistically, we’re expecting about 60 to 80 come back next year.
So we’re really going to start to see that come back. You’re correct. We’ve had a couple of years to see if students get accepted through the MBA and decide, this is what I’m going to do or decide, “No, I don’t want an MBA.” And so far data says over 80% of our students are coming back. That’s something that they absolutely are committed to and want to do. That’s an interesting question. I feel like now I want to have a focus group about that. I’m serious. I’m like, I’m going to email someone. “Did you think of not coming back? Was there a moment where you thought like, “Oh, I’m just going to go out on my own and start my own company, whatever.”
I’m interested in the reasons that they came back or thought of not coming back. But the industry is one, meaning the industry of deferred enrollment programs is doing very well. So I think a really, it’s something that people were clamoring for because most of the top 10 MBA programs right now have deferred enrollment programs, and they’re all doing very well.
Now let’s turn to the applicants, which are, I guess, the other end from deferred admits. When you review a re-applicant’s application, and that would not be somebody who applied to Moelis and then applies later on, when you review a reapplication, do you look at the previous application, the notes on the previous application? Both. None. How do you approach a reapplication? [37:34]
I love that. Both. None. Yeah. We actually very, as a point of process, do not. We don’t want to be biased against a previous application because a lot of times with programs like this, it’s not that your application was not strong, it’s just the pool is so deep and we have a low admit rate. And so the way we read applications is not looking for your flaws. I say this all the time. We have a read-to-admit culture. We’re not looking for your flaws. And so it’s not like if I looked at the previous note, I would see a listing of your flaws. It’s just culturally, it’s not something that would ever happen. But we found over the years that if you do not put the old application in any way in the new application and a reader and a decision maker is not biased against the fact that they’re a re-applicant, the re-applicant admit rate actually goes up. So per round, our re-applicant admit rate is actually a couple percentage points higher than the overall admit rate.
In that. And so we fully credit that just to not being biased against reading your old application. So statistically, it actually is more beneficial for re-applicants for us not to read it.
Also, you would expect re-applicants, they have a year more work experience, they made some mistakes maybe on their application last time, they would be stronger applicants. [38:59]
Absolutely. Another really good point.
What advice would you like to give to someone thinking ahead to a fall 2024 application or even a later application? In other words, they’re not applying this cycle, they’re applying next cycle or later cycle. [39:12]
I would say really hunker down and think, and then speak to the people that you trust in your life, mentors, bosses about what you really want to get out of an MBA. We found, and this is anecdotal, there’s no data on this for us, but it’s like we found that if someone can come in pretty crystallized, and I’m not saying with exactly the type of company industry location that they want to work at post MBA, but I mean, what you want to do during your two years, what clubs you want to leave, what skills you want to learn, what do you want to use the program for, the more you’ll get out of it. And so it’s not necessarily a piece of advice towards applying. It’s a piece of advice on navigating, and that’s the advice that I’ve given over the years, and I’ve gotten some feedback that it’s been helpful.
It’s great advice. And what would you have liked me to ask you? [40:07]
Oh, goodness. I just think I’m excited for where… This is maybe not a question, but it’s an answer to a question you didn’t ask. I just want to say I’m excited for where the business of admissions and where the MBA admissions world fits into the grander ecosystem is going. I think with the changes to testing profiles and the bringing online of AI resources, most notably ChatGPT, which people use more often, as well as just the ecosystem of what’s been going on around the country, I think it’s really interesting moment to be a part of as someone that’s a student of the business. And so I’m really excited to be a part of it, and I’m excited to be a change agent within the four walls of an admissions office to hopefully the betterment of society applying to schools across the country. And that’s just where I will be putting my energy for the next 12 to 18 months. So stay tuned.
I want to thank you very much for joining me today, Blair. Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Wharton’s MBA program? [41:05]
- Wharton MBA
- Wharton MBA Essay Tips and Deadlines [2023 – 2024], Class Profile
- MBA Admissions Quiz – Are you ready?
- Wharton MBA Admissions YouTube Channel
- How to get into Yale SOM – podcast Episode 542
- The Only Online Ivy League Executive MBA Program – podcast Episode 490
- Admissions Directors Reveal the Most Common Mistakes Applicants Make – podcast Episode
- How to Get an MBA at Columbia Business School – podcast Episode 528
- How to Get Accepted to NYU Stern – podcast Episode 525