So you want to go to the renowned Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for your MBA. You’re not alone. Wharton receives 6000-7000 applications every year for a class of about 840. There are many aspects of your application that are set in stone when it comes time to fill out the app: your GPA, your test scores, and your past extracurricular and work experiences. But what’s not set in stone is how you choose to present yourself on the actual application form. I know many hopeful applicants who are frantically filling out their applications down to the wire on the day of the deadline, but this is a huge mistake. An outstanding business school application (one that will get the stamp of approval for an interview amongst thousands of others that will not) needs to be carefully pondered over for months, with careful consideration of both what makes a Wharton student and what will make you stand out from the other Wharton students. So let’s take a closer look at what makes for a successful Wharton application:
How is the Wharton School of Business Different from Other Top Business Schools?
In many ways, Wharton is the most traditional-minded of the top three or four b-schools, particularly in terms of curriculum. Graduate students pursue a required core curriculum (although it’s recently become more flexible) and one of eighteen majors. The curriculum combines a traditional mix of lecture-style classes, casework, and experiential learning (compare this to Harvard, for example, which relies almost exclusively upon the case study approach).
Wharton students have fun too, but there is a certain seriousness surrounding Wharton students, a passion for intellectualism and introspection. They appreciate Wharton’s heritage in the financial world, even if they have different passions, and its emphasis on well-roundedness.
Wharton is also particularly proud of its extensive and impressive alumni network (check out the 25 most successful Wharton graduates you might rub elbows with at a Homecoming BBQ). Some see it as a tad elitist (welllll, it kind of is…), but Wharton/UPenn is a brand that is proven to open doors. Numerous students have reported that they’ve been told point-blank that they wouldn’t be sitting in certain CEO’s offices for a meeting or interview if they weren’t Wharton business grads (We won’t name names). This means that Wharton is also particularly concerned about the placeability of its applicants after they finish their MBA. They have a reputation to protect here, so successful applicants need to look like they are already well on their way to making Wharton proud.
What is Wharton Looking for in MBA Applicants?
First, very strong test scores. High GMAT (or GRE scores) are a critical piece for most successful applicants. For more on that, check out our breakdown on Wharton GMAT Scores.
Second, substantive work experience. Wharton places more emphasis on work experience than the other top dogs. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few students who are accepted straight out of undergrad or what Wharton calls “early career” (meaning 0 to 3 years of work experience). Around a quarter of students fall into this category. But that means that 75% of successful applicants have at least 4 years of work experience, and the average is 5 to 6 years.
Third, diversity. The incoming class of 2017 is made up of 30% US students of color and 32% international students from 73 countries. This isn’t radically different from the demographics of the #1 (Stanford) and #2 (Harvard) business schools, but it is an aspect of the Wharton experience that Wharton likes to promote: the vast range of perspectives sitting in the room around you. While hailing from a more unique demographic background might help you in this respect, it’s important to remember that diversity is far more…diverse…than this. Your diversity may come from a different place. At the very least, make sure to take note of the fact that Wharton is very much appreciative of global experiences, whether this means telling them about your own international experiences or your interest in participating in one of Wharton’s international programs.
Fourth, leadership. You aren’t going to get into Wharton if you don’t have leadership experience and potential. This is particularly true if you have less work experience than the average applicant. Once students are at Wharton, they are expected to actively take ownership over their education. Wharton is famous for being “student-run” and entrepreneurial in spirit. Nearly every Wharton student will head up a major project, committee, or create a student group, foundation or organization on campus. Wharton wants to know you are this type of student.
Tips for the Wharton MBA Application
- Be thoughtful about what you share
What is interesting about Wharton’s app is that, although it asks for an attached resume, it doesn’t give the amount of space for open-ended responses and extended descriptions of activities and work experiences that many other apps do. Rather, Wharton admissions is most interested in a few specific quantitative details. For example, regarding your activities, they want to know about the organization size, the positions you held, and the hours per week. For your work experiences, they want to know how many employees you supervised. Once again, the theme here is leadership. If you have more activities or work experiences than are allowed by the space, be choosy about which ones you want to highlight. And make sure that you have SOMETHING to back up your leadership in these organizations, even if it is a more informal position.
It’s also worth noting that a good number of fields on Wharton’s application are optional. You can occasionally use this to your advantage to avoid answering questions that are not going to show you off in the best light, but be very careful about what you selectively omit. If you only spent a half hour a week with a certain volunteer group, you aren’t going to fool them into thinking that you put in a lot more hours by “accidentally” not filling in the hours per week line. Use good judgment in choosing what to complete and not complete. If at all possible, find something to say for optional fields. It always looks better to look like you have too much to say rather than not enough.
- Write both the essays
There is one required essay and one optional essay on Wharton’s app (as well as an additional short response only if you have extenuating circumstance or if you are a reapplicant). My advice is to complete both of the standard essays (but don’t use the “extenuating circumstance” space unless it really does apply to you. Acrostic poems about your love for Wharton don’t count.) After all, why not take advantage of all available space to show Wharton the various dimensions of yourself? Particularly since the main body of Wharton’s application is rather dry and personality-less (sorry, Wharton).
- Make sure to tell Wharton what you will give it
Here are the current essay prompts:
- (Required) What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
- (Optional) Please highlight any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your candidacy. (400 words)
Essay 1 is ideally where you highlight what you want to study and what you see yourself doing after Wharton. But despite what the question states, be careful not to focus only on what Wharton will give you (this is a common trap applicants fall into), but what YOU will give the Wharton community.
- Use the second essay to establish your uniqueness
The optional Essay 2 is a great opportunity to show off your uniqueness and well-roundedness. This is where you can truly distinguish yourself from the pack (see my advice on Stanford’s app for more on this). Particularly if you feel like your application is a little one-note, this is where you can throw them an interesting curve ball or tell a good story: a chance encounter, a challenge you’ve faced, a unique talent or hobby, or a course-altering life lesson that caused you to choose business school (and specifically the Wharton School). And once again, don’t forget about Wharton’s emphasis on leadership and intellectual perspective. In other words be clever, be assertive, be introspective, be self-aware. And you will fit right in.
Have specific questions about the applications for Wharton or any other of the top b-schools? Let us know in the comments below!