Breaking Down the 2012 Wharton Essays

We’re going to call it the Wharton Weave – the art of taking the usual tenants of a career goals question and weaving them throughout an entire (and admittedly tough) Wharton application. 

Last year we found that our clients were really stressed and somewhat confounded by the tiny Required Essay of 300 words that asked for professional objectives.  We walked them through how to use the Create a Class essay to place parts of a typical goals essay and the result was a series of really clear, strong essays.  

This year, Wharton must have decided that A) they were making their admissions officers read too many words, and B) the Create a Class concept was not being as definitely handled by the majority of applicants.  So out with last year’s optional choices and in with a new set – from which candidates can choose two of three.  And in with even more confusion.  Not only did Wharton fail to indicate word counts when they posted the essays last week (although a bit of research seems to have to turned that up), but they presented a pretty tough series of questions from which to compose a strong application. 

Luckily, we have the Wharton Weave solution. 

It starts with understanding what must go in a traditional career goals essay.  We don’t mind sharing the secret sauce on this because we’ve posted it all before and share it on consult calls anyway.  But a rock solid career goals essay in a typical 600-1000 word setup will need to feature the following: 

WHAT (defined goals)

WHY (the motivator behind an MBA and especially the long-term goal)

HOW (the proof that you can get the post-MBA jobs by pointing to transferable skills – we’ve written about this at length)

WHEN (why now is the right time)

WHERE (why School X)

For instance, a good Columbia Essay #1 includes all of that, in that exact order, in five balanced paragraphs.  In many applications though, parts of that sequence have to be farmed out to other essays.  Wharton – and its 300-word goals statement – is the ultimate example. 

So here is where everything goes: 

Required Question (300 words) – What are you professional objectives. 


WHAT – Define your goals. 

HOW – Indicate the experiences that have given rise to the necessary transferable skills to achieve them. 

WHEN – State that now is the right time for an MBA from Wharton. 

Optional Questions 1 and 2 (600 words) – 

1. Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity.  What was the thought process behind your decision?  Would you make the same decision today? 

2. Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience.  How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it? 

These questions go together because they are both “behavioral” in nature and get it certain thematic qualities.  #2 is probably more “Wharton” based on its interview questions last year, but our advice is to pick whichever of the two can help you achieve a really authentic, inspiring moment of conviction for your goals and pursuits.  Because here is where you need to include: 

WHY – Either of these essays should finish with a lesson learned from the experience and the takeaway that you are willing to devote your life’s work to X (your Long-Term goal).  That’s the whole ballgame here.  What do you want to do with your life and when was the singular moment when you decided to do that thing.  Normally you can pick pretty much any memory, moment, person, trip, realization, etc., so long as it supports your goals and pursuits with passion and inspiration.  With Wharton, you have to find that singular moment, but make sure it falls under the heading of either a decision to turn down an opportunity (Essay 1) or a challenging interpersonal experience that promoted growth (Essay 2).  

Optional Question 3 (600 words) – (A quote from Dean Robertson about the Wharton pillar of innovation) followed by the prompt: Discuss a time when you have been innovative in your personal or professional life. 


WHERE – Make sure to finish this Impact Story essay with a robust paragraph devoted to Why Wharton, using the idea of innovation (and how it is prized by both applicant and school) as your transition.  Few will recognize this opportunity, but it’s not much different from when NYU Stern asked “what do you plan to contribute” last year and fully expected candidates to take that prompt and use it to discuss prior involvement and commitments (and not just rattle of things they liked about Stern).  It’s a great, great chance to transition from talking about yourself to talking about why Wharton is a fit for you based on a shared tenant.  (And if innovation is not something you prize or can display or that you feel strongly about, then you should probably not be applying to Wharton, quite honestly.) 

We hope this helps all of you aspiring Wharton candidates out there.  Good luck!

If you are interested in our services for Round 1 applications, email to inquire about packages, prices, or setting up a free initial consultation.  



  1. Corey

    For the last question, what constitutes innovation exactly? Does it have to be inventing something?

    • No, it does not. It is simply demonstrating successfully that there is a different (and thus innovative) way of getting from point A to point B. Of course, you were the one who led that change.

  2. dvs

    Your remarks following optional questions 1 and 2 seem to imply that one of the two should be used in conjunction with optional essay 3. I preliminarily chose option 1 and 2 and have found that the takeaways are very similar. can you confirm whether you believe it is best to use 1 or 2 along with 3? thanks!

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