A Guide to the Wharton School MBA Application



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.

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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

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. Make sure to tell Wharton what you will give it

Here are the current essay prompts:

  1. (Required) What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
  2. (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.

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  1. 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!


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8 Responses to A Guide to the Wharton School MBA Application

  1. Gautam May 23, 2017 at 12:53 am #

    Hello Kristin,

    Your guide is extremely helpful! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I’m currently an undergrad student about to go into my third year. I’m doing a 5 year dual degree course. I’m planning to start studying for the GMAT this Summer. I unfortunately have a very low GPA, and was wondering how much that would hurt my chances to get into Wharton.(Assuming that I do well in GMAT) I also wanted to know is it preferred for students to get a job first for a year or two and then apply for MBA? If we have enough work experiences(internships and all), wouldn’t that be enough to show that we are ready?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 23, 2017 at 11:42 am #

      Hi Gautam,

      Thank you for your kind words! Now, please note that we generally do not focus on individual admissions counseling, but rather focus on test preparation. That being said, I can offer some guidance to get you on the right path! First, I think it’s a great idea to get started on the GMAT as soon as possible. While you’re already in the studying mindset, it’s easier to knock the exam out before you start working.

      Next, generally most MBA programs do prefer that you have a few professional years under your belt. The reason for this is that they are not only looking for academic excellence, but also for professional excellence. You will see in the application process, that the Wharton MBA prefers professional recommendations rather than academic ones. They want evidence that you’re capable and excel in the workplace. So, it is a good idea to have a few years of work experience before applying to make you a stronger candidate.

      Finally, if you do have a low GPA, you want to have other areas in your application support your academic performance. This includes the GMAT! There are also other ways to show this through additional courses, certifications, and/or an explanation in your application. In addition, the more years of work experience may decrease the weight of your academic GPA. For example, with only 1 year of work, you don’t have as much support in proving that you’ve excelled in the workplace, and a program like Wharton may then defer to focusing more on your GPA. However, with multiple years of work and excelling in this environment, the program may better see that your old GPA may not be representative of who you are now, although it may still be important.

      I hope this helps! For more advice, we recommend that you check out some admissions consulting services, such as Stacy Blackman Consulting. Best of luck! 😀

  2. Angelina December 9, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    Hi Kristin!

    Your article was extremely helpful, but I had a few questions I was hoping to get some insight on. Most importantly, how much does Wharton value grades? I have always been an average to above -average student, and I know this can be a major deterrent while applying to B school.

    Just to give you a little back ground, I have completed a Masters in Science degree, and have a year of internship experience and plan on gaining at least a year of work experience before applying, also on a preliminary attempt I scored around 730-740 on GMAT and I have been involved in social work continuously for the past 8 years (I’m currently 24) and have held many leadership roles since school.

    So in such a situation, how much would my log grades affect my application.?

    • Kristin Fracchia
      Kristin Fracchia December 9, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      Hi Angelina! Congrats on your great GMAT scores, master’s degree, leadership roles, and life goals! While, of course, I have to start with my disclaimer that there are many factors involved in business school admissions and I don’t know your entire profile, generally speaking, grades are going to be more important for “early career” candidates (that would mean you if you apply with only one year of work experience). That being said, you could absolutely kill it in your first year of work and that would be impressive enough for them. But most of the time, they won’t have as much to go on as far as work experience as they would for someone with four or five years of experience. You mentioned you have a Masters, so I am guessing you went to grad school right out of undergrad? If your grad GPA is much better than your undergrad GPA, that might work in your favor (although it sort of depends on the field and rigor). But if your undergrad and/or grad GPA are under the average of 3.6 then you’ll be able to check off the GMAT box with those scores but your GPA would get your app some extra scrutiny. Solid work experience and or impressive leadership experience certainly might override that, but those categories become all the more important in that case. If you’re interested in applying for Wharton next fall, I would highly suggest you start demonstrating interest now and developing connections to help support your application, and of course, identifying whatever you can possibly do in your first year of work to demonstrate leadership potential :).

  3. Ranjith kumar October 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for the quick reply. I am an undergrad student currently in my 7th semester. I do have a good gpa (8.58/10) and i am among the toppers of my batch. I do have adequate internship experience ( i think so). I even took a course offered by wharton school online related to operations management. I have been taking as many management related courses as possible to cover all my bases and i am currently enrolled and a topper of a management course offered for mba and phd scholars even though i am just an undergrad student ( the professor made an exception for me even though the course is not offered to undergrad students). My final year project is also related to this field. I know that my gmat score is slightly low for the top colleges especially due to my lack of work experience, and hence was wondering what else i could do to pump up my resume.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Kristin Fracchia
      Kristin Fracchia October 8, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

      Hi Ranjith, it sounds like you have some good experience so far. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer but that would really require a lot more knowledge of your situation and that’s beyond the scope of what I can really do in blog comments :). However, if you are applying right now (and I am assuming you are applying Round 2 because it’s pretty impossible at Round 3), that means you only have a couple months at most. There’s not too much beyond what you already are working on that is reasonable to achieve in the next couple of months that is going to have that much of an impact on your application EXCEPT raising your GMAT score. Now, you may have already worked really, really hard on it, but while adding a community service activity now, for example, is not likely to do anything for you–it’s too close to deadlines–a 700+ GMAT score would. And that is something that could be possible to achieve with focused study for a month. Again, assuming that you don’t think you haven’t already given it your all–which you may have done!

      Other than that, I would work on making your existing application as strong as it can be–put a lot of work into your essays; make sure you are in communication with your recommenders; if you’ve made any contacts at schools you are applying to, reach out to them for advice and to demonstrate your interest. That is where I would put my effort rather than adding to your resume at this point.

      That being said, if I misunderstood and you are planning on applying next fall (because you are in a 5-year program or something like that), I would still say GMAT scores and a really solid long-term business internship and full-time work over the summer. Get as much work experience as you possibly can so you can make your case for that part of the bargain.

  4. Ranjith October 7, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Hello Kristin,

    First of all thanks for your wonderful insight. I am an engineering student with a gmat score of 670 and awa score of 5. I know it is difficult to get into this school with this score especially because of my lack of work experience. Is there anything i can do in order to make make up for this fact when applying to MBA programs in top colleges?

    • Kristin Fracchia
      Kristin Fracchia October 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Hi Ranjith! Thanks so much! Guessing you mean you are an undergrad engineering student now? Or are you in grad school looking to then go for an MBA? And are you applying this fall or looking to apply next fall? There are so many variables in the application process and yes, generally work experience is a big one. You could target schools that accept more students out of undergrad or with less average work experience (you can find this info on class profile pages on admissions websites) for better odds. In your case, if you are currently an undergrad, hopefully you can back your application up with impressive grades, internship and research experience, and recommendations, but one of the most important things you need to do is make a case for why you want/need to go to business school NOW in your essays and interviews. If you don’t have that, well, why wouldn’t they say, “Why don’t you get some work experience first and try again?” So you need a good reason and you need to convince them that you are ready for grad school. If you have time (meaning you are planning on applying next fall), I would work on your GMAT score (it’s good but could be more competitive for top top schools). If your GPA and GMAT score are above average for admitted applicants, then they can tick off these boxes and concentrate on determining whether or not you are ready for business school. It’s also not the end of the world if you apply, don’t get in, get some work experience, and then re-apply (I know that may not be what you want to hear–but you should be prepared!). That way in a few years, you could re-apply and persuasively show that the past 3 or 4 years have been dedicated to this goal of building the resume you needed to go to X business school. That could definitely work in your favor. Good luck!!

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