2016 – 2017 Wharton MBA Essay Analysis & Deadlines

I Intro & Wharton Deadlines
II How have Wharton’s MBA essays changed this year?
III 2016 – 2017 Wharton MBA Essay Analysis

I Intro & Wharton Deadlines

Two things that have happened at Wharton’s MBA program over the last ten years. 1) Wharton transitioned from a full MBA essay set down to one, very traditional Why MBA? Why Wharton? Career Goals essay. Since all schools are concerned about their graduates’ ability to land a job post-MBA the essay conveniently focuses on candidates post-MBA career goals . 2) Wharton’s MBA admissions policy became increasingly ‘numbers orientated’.

That means the Wharton Adcom has become much more selective over the years when it comes to hard data points in the MBA application like GPA and GMAT. You’ll find a detailed discussion of this in this Intro.

If you’d like to skip my GMAT analysis (I don’t want to bore you :) then head right on down to II How have Wharton’s essays changed this year? or my essay analysis III Wharton MBA Essay Analysis

Wharton Full-time MBA Application Deadlines 2016-2017

2016-2017Round 1Round 2Round 3
Wharton Full-time MBA Application DeadlineSeptember 27, 2016January 5, 2017March 28, 2017
HBS Full-time MBA Admissions Decision Release DateTBDTBDTBD

Based on my analysis, it would seem that Wharton isn’t as interested as it once was in finding out what makes applicants unique via personal essays. That’s a natural assumption to arrive at when you see that the school is pretty much ignoring anyone with a GMAT below a 710.

Back in 2013 the Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled, ‘What’s Wrong with Wharton?, which discussed the fact that Wharton’s brand had fallen out of favor with MBA applicants (applications dropped by 12% between 2009-2013). Why? My theory is that when the school found itself losing brand value among applicants I think it reacted by trying to lead with its numbers (high ave. GMAT and GPA). In fact, Wharton’s average GMAT (728) tops even HBS (726) and is second only to Stanford (732). But that’s just a hunch.

The Nerd in me says ‘let’s look at the numbers’ and so we shall. 

WhartonClass of 2010Class of 2015Class of 2016Class of 2017
Applicants7328603661116590
Applicants Admitted119011291263N/A
% of Applicants Admitted16%19%21%N/A
Enrolled800837859861
Yield (Enrolled/Admitted)67%74%68%N/A
GMAT RangeN/A630-790620-780620-790
GMAT Middle 80% Range660-760690-760710-750700-770
Bottom 10% of GMAT 640 or less630-680620-700620-690
Average GMAT715725728732

Why has Wharton’s admit rate gone up so dramatically? One reason is that the school has increased the absolute number of offers it extends (class size has grown by 6% since 2010). There are also less people applying to Wharton (Applications are down by 17% from the class of 2010 to the Class of 2016). Note that I’ve used the numbers for the Class of 2010 as a benchmark because these people applied in September 2007 – January 2008 and represent a pre-2008 financial crisis cohort. Let’s compare the admit rate (GMAT) at a few more schools for the Class of 2016:

  • School | % of Applicants offered admission | (Average GMAT) | (Average Class Size)
  • Stanford 7% (732 GMAT) (412 Students)
  • HBS 11% (726 GMAT), (934 Students)
  • Berkeley Haas 13% (717 GMAT), (252 Students)
  • MIT Sloan 14% (713 GMAT), (406 Students)
  • Columbia 18% (716 GMAT), (635 Students)
  • Wharton 21% (728 GMAT), (856 Students)
  • Kellogg 23% (713 GMAT), (524 Students)
  • Chicago Booth 24% (724 GMAT) (591 Students)

In addition, the the average GMAT at the bottom 10% of Wharton’s MBA class has shifted over the years. It used to be that you could actually get into Wharton with a 620! In fact 10% of the Class of 2010 probably had somewhere between a 580 and a 630 (90% had a 640 or more). Today that would be totally impossible. The bottom 10% of Wharton’s Class of 2016 had a 620-700 GMAT (90% had a 710 or more). The advice I give people who call me for a Free Consultation is: unless you are in some highly sought after, under-represented group of applicants there is no reason whatsoever to apply to Wharton with less than a 710.

In 2016-17 it is no longer worth a typical candidate’s time and money to apply to Wharton with less than a 710 GMAT.

The numbers support this statement and I also have anecdotal evidence from my own clients: I’m thinking of the 700 GMAT, over-represented candidate from McKinsey or equivalent with the best-layed career plans who gets interviewed at HBS, Kellogg, LBS but not Wharton.

But just because you have a 710+ doesn’t mean your guaranteed admission at Wharton. It means you’re competitive at Wharton.

That’s because the Wharton Adcom has two goals a) to select the best applicants; and b) to balance the skills, aptitudes,backgrounds, and experience of the incoming MBA class. Any top 20 MBA Adcom can take half of the applications it gets and throw them in the proverbial poubelle (that’s French for la garbage). They can do that right off the bat because at least half of applicants won’t meet their baseline criteria (at Wharton baseline criteria = 710+ GMAT). Other criteria include ‘insufficient work experience,’ ‘lackluster recommendations,’ ‘low GMAT/GPA,’ ‘too old,’ etc. For the Adcom that’s the easy part. The challenge is in what to do with the other half of the applications – the ones that aren’t in the garbage. The Adcom needs to distinguish the super-excellent candidates from the merely excellent ones. The truth is, if the Adcom were to take the academic and file data from all competitive candidates with ‘good numbers’, ‘good jobs’ and proven attributes, and compare them all with each other, they would all be astonishingly similar.

Good essays are what distinguish you as a super-excellent candidate among a pool of excellent candidates.


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II How have Wharton’s MBA essays changed this year?

Looking to start writing your 2016-17 MBA essays before Wharton’s official essay release date in early June? Based on fxMBAConsulting’s analysis there is a 90% PROBABILITY that Wharton’s MBA essays will remain the same from last year to this year. Therefore, it’s a relatively safe bet to begin working on your 2016-17 essays prior to the official release date using the essay questions from the previous application year.

The 2012-13 application year (Class of 2015) was the last one in which Wharton required a larger, more behavior-based, assortment of essays from applicants. In 2013-14 (Class of 2016) Wharton had reduced its requirement to just two essays (both of which focused on post-MBA career goals and why Wharton?). Then last year Wharton decided that there would be only one mandatory essay with an optional additional information essay.

Class of 20151. How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words) 2. Respond to two of the following three questions (500 words each):

  • Option A: 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.
  • Option B: Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do?
  • Option C: “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.

Class of 2016: 1. What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA? (500 words) 2. Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community? (500 words)

Class of 2017 & 2018 1. What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words maximum) Optional Essay: Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (400 words maximum)

My personal take on the evolution of essays questions at Wharton is that there seems to be a greater focus on what matters most to the school: candidates with a realistic idea of roles and industries that will be available to them post MBA.

Common MBA essay themes that emerge over the years at Wharton include:

  • Career Vision & Why an MBA?
  • Why Stern?
  • Discerning an applicant’s knowledge of the Stern community and what about the community and its resources the applicant finds appealing
  • Introducing oneself to fellow classmates in a creative way


Back to top: Outline

III 2016 – 2017 Wharton MBA Essay Analysis

Essay 1) What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (required, 500 words)

This is basically a straight-up Career Goals/Why MBA? essay. If this essay were a drink, it would be a vodka tonic with a twist of lime. The twist is  that in addition to explaining what you’ll gain professionally from a Wharton MBA, the adcom would also like you to explain how you’ll grow ‘personally’ from the experience.

There are five main components to a Career Goals/Why MBA? essay:

  • The Past: Personal and professional experience that have brought you to this moment in your life and have planted the seed for your future ambitions.
  • The Present: Why do you want an MBA at this point in your personal life and professional career?
  • The Future: What are your short and long-term goals/vision and how will you leverage your experience as a student, your MBA degree and the alumni network to achieve those?
  • Why an MBA?: Why an MBA and not another kind of degree or why not forego a degree altogether in favor of just working and networking your way towards your goals?
  • Why Wharton?: Why do you want an MBA from this school in particular?

What I like about these five components is that you can start off by answering them one by one. Then you can mix and match the components into paragraphs that flow well together. You don’t necessarily have to begin by talking about the past.

Here is an example of how you might leverage the five components to create your own, unique outline. You could lead with your short-term goal to transition from consulting into non-profit strategy (The Future). Then you might give us some of the backstory: What you’ve done in the past (work or personal experiences) and how that led you to be extremely passionate about the non-profit world (The Past). Next you might talk about how an MBA from Wharton will enrich you on a personal and professional level such that you’ll be uniquely prepared to take on future challenges (Why an MBA?). Finally you might circle back to your future vision and paint a picture of where you hope to be in 10-15 years time (The Future).

In this essay you need to discuss your professional goals and very briefly contextualize why those goals are realistic for you within the context of your career progression to date. You then need to aboard how you will leverage and engage with the resources at Wharton in order to pursue and reach your goals. You can do that by showing the Adcom that you understand the school’s offering and have given thought to how you will engage with the Wharton community and all the school has to offer. Don’t just rattle off a few course offerings, but look for deep connections between your goals and interests and the activities you plan to participate in. If you’re a bit stumped, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left list resources at Wharton that will benefit you. On the right list resources at Wharton that you can impact upon and benefit through your knowledge, experience or interests. Basically you’re breaking things down into take and give relationships.

When thinking about the personal growth aspect of this essay I would encourage you to have a good think about what your true weak points are and how you might leverage your two years at business school to work on them. Would you like to be just a bit more extroverted? You’ll have plenty of opportunities for public speaking and voicing your opinion in the classroom. Has your leadership experience been limited to superior/subordinate type situations (with you leading from the front as the superior or you leading from the middle as the subordinate)? Think about how you might gain experience you don’t have by leading peers in your study group or being the president of a club? Do you just want to get outside of your comfort zone? Think about how a trek to a foreign country or the Wharton Follies might help you do just that. The idea here is to simply demonstrate a certain level of maturity and self-awareness.

Essay 2) Please use the space below to highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (optional, 400 words)

Wharton’s optional MBA Essay 2 is different from its Optional Essay 3. Use Essay 3 to discuss a gap in work experience, a low GPA or paltry GMAT. Essay 2 is an opportunity to add color, life and more about your own personal story to your Wharton application.

During the 2014-15 application year (Class of 2017) this essay had a preamble statement from Wharton’s Adcom: This year we require one essay, with a second being optional.  For the second optional essay, we recommend that you use your best judgment and focus your energy on highlighting new information that we are unable to ascertain from other sections of the application. For the 2015-16 application year Wharton didn’t include the preamble and instead states: The Admissions Committee wants to get 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.

You have a lot of options with this essay – that’s both good and bad news. Writing a great resume isn’t about telling your full story – it’s about telling a niche story, one that bodes well with the job your applying for. In a similar vein, deciding what to share in this essay is about identifying a story that adds something memorable and distinctive to your application (rather than reiterating information that’s already there).

I’ve worked with clients that have written about how their philosophy was profoundly marked by a personal experience. I’ve had people use past journal entries as a springboard for talking about time spent in a foreign country. Other clients have chosen to discuss a particularly challenging moment or period in their lives. Still others have expounded on their passions or overarching goals at work or through their commitment to community service. This essay feels a lot like Stanford’s What most to you? essay or HBS’s Introduce yourself. essay.

Here’s an example of a Wharton Essay 2:

By the age of 26, my older brother P, had been subjected to what seemed like a never-ending cycle of experimental treatments and side effects – often for conditions he never even had. Unfortunately a correct diagnosis of X disease had arrived too late – six long years after he first fell sick.

Perhaps an artificial pancreas would become a reality or maybe 3D printing technology could cure him in the coming year. Restoring patients’ health falls within a physician’s social role, while helping them die transgresses it.  From the beginning, I think I really needed to hear the truth out loud, from somebody. But P’s prognosis seemed an impossible subject to broach with my parents, and no physician was ever able to come right out and say, what I eventually knew, that a remedy was not ‘just around the corner’. In my brother’s case, his doctors couldn’t cure him, in part, for lack of resources, and yet, they could no more resist the temptation to toss morsels of hope our way than we could resist blindly clinging to them. I felt cheated of my relationship with my older brother and wronged by the healthcare system.

Growing up in a progressively minded family, I think that my position – that every person deserves access to healthcare – was an a priori instilled in me early on. But it’s been my personal experience of the shortcomings in Country’s current healthcare system, which ultimately spurred in me the impetus to action.

It was important for me to understand the realities of the Country healthcare system through first-hand experience so I left the security of my position at Consulting Firm in order to return to City and work at Hospital X, a top hospital group. The team there had been struggling for some time to get its philanthropic arm off the ground. I eagerly accepted the challenge to lead its rollout. One of our first projects has been to improve the healthcare infrastructure in Y village where there is a shortage of doctors to treat common diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions.

Making small but meaningful differences in villagers’ lives convinced me of the value of our work in healthcare. My professional endeavors have allowed me some preliminary exposure to the healthcare sector; however, an MBA from Wharton would be an opportunity for me to hone, experiment and continuously refine the leadership skills that will make me a successful in my future endeavors.
– Wharton Essay 2 Example from past fxMBAConsulting Client

Essay 3) Optional Essay

Required for re-applicants, optional for first-time applicants. (250 words)

  • Reapplicants: Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements).
  • First-time Applicants: All applicants, including reapplicants can also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)

This is the real optional essay folks! If you do need to address any lingering questions that the Adcom might want to know about your candidacy, such as a lackluster grade or less than stellar overall GPA, a low GMAT score, or a gap in your work experience – feel free to do that here (but only if there are extenuating circumstances or you have a good excuse).

If you simply didn’t get the GMAT or GPA you had hoped for, the best thing to do is accept it and put your best foot forward in every other way (with great essays, recommendations and short answers). You need to show the Adcom that you’re capable of assuming responsibility for your past performance. If there was an extenuating circumstance that impacted your undergrad GPA or if you simply want to point out that there was an upward trend in GPA from your Freshman to Senior year – you can do that. Example: ‘I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that my GPA consistently increased over the course of my undergraduate years: from a 3.2 my Freshman year to a 3.9 my Senior year’. What constitutes an extenuating circumstance would be something out of the ordinary and serious (like being hospitalized or suffering a prolonged illness) – Grandpa or Grandma passing away, while sad, does not count.

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