10 Insider Tips for Applying to Wharton
May 16, 2013|by Matt Symonds
The low-down on how Wharton MBA Admissions will evaluate your profile from the former Director of MBA Admissions
Fortuna Admissions’ Judith Silverman Hodara, was a core member of the admissions committees at the University of Pennsylvania for almost two decades, most recently as Acting Director at the Wharton School’s MBA Program. Below she shares her top 10 insider tips for applying to the school.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #1 – I have heard that Wharton is an “eat or be eaten” kind of environment. Is there any truth behind this? Contrary to popular belief, uber-competitive Wharton, is actually home to an extremely collaborative and team-oriented learning environment. The utilization of learning clusters, cohorts, and teams (you may be work with 15+ over you time in the program) provide a platform for collaboration and learning to lead through teamwork. Accordingly, your application needs to reflect your ability to actively contribute and thrive in these settings. Individuals that present themselves as lacking a team-orientation or having a leadership style that is closed rather than facilitative will be at a disadvantage in terms of being invited to interview and ultimately being granted admission.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #2 – I have heard that Wharton lumps together all of the consultants, bankers and others into groups and then lets them fight it out for the admissions. So, how am I evaluated beyond what I do for a living?
Wharton does look at each of the files holistically understanding that what you do for a living is not WHO you are or WHAT you will bring to the community. You certainly would not want someone to consider you only by your profession, so its a good idea to use some balance within the framework of your application- your essay examples should reflect things that the committee may not know about you from outside the workplace in addition to showing your professional skills. If you can keep in mind that you are a sum of about 10,000 parts, and show that in the application, the admissions officers will see that passion and connection too.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #3 – I know that Wharton wants evidence that I am familiar with the school in their admissions process. What is the best way to show I do that without just throwing in random class names?
Choosing a particular field of interest may really be the key here. Of course applicants have a variety of interests that they intend to pursue during their MBA. However; in the application it may be a good idea NOT to be a generalist. To that end, you will want to speak specifically about a professor or a class or a club that interests you- and have them all be connected, so that there is a theme to your writing. While business school is sometimes compared to drinking from a firehose, it is a good idea to think of this essay as a small sip of very flavorful water instead.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #4 – If I’ve gone to Wharton as an undergrad, does it make sense to go back for my MBA?
The Wharton undergraduate experience is not surprisingly, and intense one.. but in a different way than the MBA program would be. Within the framework of the MBA, the exposure to individuals with real- world experience in addition to their academic abilities is extraordinary. Although the undergraduate program supports leadership development, this may be one of the hallmarks of the Wharton MBA program. The competition via grades for the perceived coveted jobs is almost non- existent, and the environment is very collaborative. About 5% of any entering class at Wharton has a degree from Penn.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #5- I am coming from a non-traditional background and have worked in non-profit for the past three years. How does this experience compare to applicants coming from Wall Street ?
Wharton actively encourages applicants coming from non-traditional backgrounds to apply to the school. In addition to bringing a wealth of diversity to the classroom discussion from an industry perspective, applicants from this sector have often also had non- business undergraduate academic interests. This combination helps to add to the energy of the classroom and club interactions. With the breadth of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate programs, where students can take up to 4 classes outside of the Wharton prorgram and receive credit, it is not surprising that many Wharton students take classes in other related fields that would further their career paths in non profit work, such as at the School of Education or School of Social Policy and Practice.
Wharton top 10 insider admissions tip #6- Do I have to have studied at an Ivy League or top Liberal Arts College to be admitted? How does a state school in the US stack up?
While Wharton certainly has applicants from the top universities in the United States and abroad, what is probably more important than the name of the school or if it is public or private- is how the candidate fared while they were enrolled. In my tenure at Wharton, I saw a lot of applicants from lesser known private schools, or state schools- who had really made a name for themselves both academically and in the campus community with leadership and engagement. In fact, I think that students who are coming from those schools bring so much to the MBA community and are sometimes the most involved and participatory members of the class. At the end of the day- going to a “name brand” is only as good as what you bring to that brand, and if you can bring a great deal of academic ability as well as the ability to transform the community you’re a part of- then you’ve got a great case to make for yourself.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Admissions Tip #7 Does Wharton care what I do outside of work, or just my title and the number of hours I put in at the office?
The holistic review process at Wharton lends itself to the programs desire to bring in a class with top-notch candidates from many professional, educational, social and cultural backgrounds. They are also looking for individuals with personality (and a life outside of work!), which contributes to the diversity of the classroom and campus experience at Wharton. Believe it or not, who you are, matters. Maybe you’re passionate about a specific organization or cause and to this you devote much of your free time – or maybe it’s triathlons, caring for family, or running a business. The moral of the story is whatever it is you love to do in your free time, highlight how that makes you unique. If the activity itself isn’t so unique or glamorous, perhaps what differentiates your participation is why the activity is important to you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself here.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Admissions Tip #8- I’m an international student and I am worried that I have never had work experience outside of my home country. Will this affect my chances of admission?
Wharton certainly is one of the most international of the top US MBA programs; but internationalism comes in many forms. Generally speaking, while experience abroad can certainly be a great addition to your resume, perhaps there are other ways to exhibit this kind of interest in the world around you. Perhaps you mention that there are certain courses or clubs that appeal to you precisely because of the international exposure you will receive. Or, you can think of ways within your current career to gain more cross- cultural experience even if you never have the opportunity to leave your home country. Both possibilities exhibit that you are “open” to the possibility of international exposure, and this “ openness” is something which is something that Wharton does value highly.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Tip # 9- If I am not sure what path I really want to choose post Wharton, should I indicate that I am “open” to possibilities, or should I try to narrow down my choices within the application process? After all, isn’t Wharton all about exploration?
It’s important within the context of the application process to show that you have a career path in mind. Students who indicate that they have “so many ideas that they don’t know where to start” can come across as unsure and non- directed. The Wharton Vice Dean once famously said at Convocation “If we only granted diplomas to those of you who had followed your suggested career paths from your applications, no one would actually graduate!” The beauty of a transformational business school education is that it does give you tremendous exposure to possibilities on a professional and personal level. However, Wharton admissions officers want to ensure that you can create a viable path to follow; understanding that while the actual industry and functions are variable, you enter the program with a sense of purpose. Business school has been likened to drinking water from a firehose- and those who come in with no plan at all are frequently hosed down by the blast. Within the framework of the application it is certainly advisable to give as much detail as you can about next steps in your career, showcasing that you understand what the Wharton program will allow you to do along the way.
Wharton Top 10 Insider Tip # 10 – I’ve heard that it’s best to get a Wharton alum to write my letter of recommendation, if I can find one within my network .
While it’s always “nice” to have a Wharton MBA (or any MBA) on your recommendation list, it’s by no means a requirement of the admissions committee. Wharton does prefer a Direct Supervisor as one of your recommenders, who can speak to your contributions within the workplace, and compare you to your peers in the professional realm. If this person did go to Wharton, great. However, finding a Wharton graduate write in on your behalf within the formal recommendation process just for the sake that they have a Wharton degree- does not carry more weight in the perception of the admissions committee. And importantly, use your judgment in this decision making process, as you think about your recommendation writers. You want to make sure to choose those who will be able to write about your candidacy with clarity and depth; regardless of their degrees.
(Update: We’ve added another “why” transfer essay example with a detailed critique here.)
One of the most important elements in your transfer application is the essay on why you want to transfer to the college of your choice. Here, we’ll deconstruct a real-life transfer application essay by David, a student who is trying to transfer from Amherst College to the University of Pennsylvania. The essay was posted on About.com, which says that the essay is for the Common Transfer Application. However, this might be an error, because you wouldn’t write something school-specific for the Common Application. The essay was more likely written for the University of Pennsylvania Application Supplement for Freshmen and Transfer Applicants, which has the following prompt:
Answer the essay question on a separate sheet of paper. (Do not exceed one page.)
Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, and, of course, the charity school that evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. As they served the larger community of Philadelphia, each institution in turn formed its own community.
Which of the academic communities and social communities that now comprise the University of Pennsylvania are most interesting to you and how will you contribute to them and to the larger Penn community?
For freshman applicants, the prompt is straightforward. They just have to talk about a great academic and social community at Penn. The transfer applicant, however, must also explain why s/he wants to transfer to Penn.
We’ll work through David’s essay for Penn, paragraph by paragraph, looking at the good and the not-so-good.
During the summer after my first year of college, I spent six weeks volunteering at an archaeological excavation in Hazor, site of the largest tel (mound) in Israel. My time in Hazor was not easy – wake-up came at 4:00 a.m., and by noontime temperatures were often in the 90s. The dig was sweaty, dusty, back-breaking work. I wore out two pairs of gloves and the knees in several pairs of khakis. Nevertheless, I loved every minute of my time in Israel. I met interesting people from around the world, worked with amazing students and faculty from Hebrew University, and became fascinated with the current efforts to create a portrait of life in the Canaanite period.
This opening paragraph works well because it follows our rule 3 for the college transfer essay: Be specific. It also follows the mantra for college essay writing: Show. Don’t tell. For the most part, he verbally creates a visual for the reader, helping us to imagine what it felt like to work at the archaeological dig.
Imagine if he had written something vague like, “I volunteered at an archaeological excavation in Israel and learned a lot from the experience. I worked with great people who taught me more about my field of interest, and I truly grew as a person. [More of the same fluff…]” This kind of essay doesn’t really tell admission officers anything. Don’t waste their time with filler statements.
To strengthen this paragraph, he could highlight his accomplishments by pointing out one concrete way in which he added value to the project. The college transfer essay is the place for you to make your superstar qualities shine.
Upon my return to Amherst College for my sophomore year, I soon came to realize that the school does not offer the exact major I now hope to pursue. I’m majoring in anthropology, but the program at Amherst is almost entirely contemporary and sociological in its focus. More and more my interests are becoming archaeological and historical. When I visited Penn this fall, I was impressed by the breadth of offerings in anthropology and archaeology, and I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Your broad approach to the field with emphases on understanding both the past and present has great appeal to me. By attending Penn, I hope to broaden and deepen my knowledge in anthropology, participate in more summer field work, volunteer at the museum, and eventually go on to graduate school in archaeology.
It looks like he took the effort to learn about Penn and its anthropology program. He clearly lays out the difference between the program at his current college and Penn, getting to the heart of his reason for applying to transfer to Penn.
This part could be improved by mentioning a particular course at Penn that exemplifies the aspects of the anthropology program that stand out for the applicant. What’s so special about the anthropology and archaeology courses at Penn? Don’t they have those courses elsewhere?
The line, “I absolutely loved your Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology” is not informative. Perhaps he let rule 3 (be specific) slip a little. An example of why he “loves” the museum would be helpful. He could also include one line about how the availability of the museum could specifically add to his anthropology education.
The last sentence could use some work. What kind of summer fieldwork (or fieldwork with which professor)? Although it’s great that he pointed out his desire to pursue graduate studies in archaeology, he could elaborate on how transferring to Penn could help him reach that goal.
My reasons for transferring are almost entirely academic. I have made many good friends at Amherst, and I have studied with some wonderful professors. However, I do have one non-academic reason for being interested in Penn. I originally applied to Amherst because it was comfortable – I come from a small town in Wisconsin, and Amherst felt like home. I’m now looking forward to pushing myself to experience places that aren’t quite so familiar. The kibbutz at Kfar HaNassi was one such environment, and the urban environment of Philadelphia would be another.
This is a great paragraph, in which he follows our rule 2: Be honest. He is honest with himself as well as the Penn admission officers, in that he admits that there are reasons related to his social life and personal development driving him to apply to transfer. He’s also following our rule 1 (be mature) by exhibiting his understanding of himself and hope to leave his comfort zone. Also, he emphasizes another benefit of attending Penn—its urban setting, which greatly differs from the area around Amherst and what he’s used to.
As my transcript shows, I have done well at Amherst and I am convinced I can meet the academic challenges of Penn. I know I would grow at Penn, and your program in anthropology perfectly matches my academic interests and professional goals.
Though the essay doesn’t exactly end with a bang, his conclusion does its job.
Overall, this essay is a good one. Maybe we’re being too picky, but why not aim for the best when writing an essay that’s so crucial? Our transfer guide has real-life, successful examples and advice about the transfer essay from actual transfer students, so check it out!
(Photo: Ryan Neuls)
Here's the Full Story on Transferring to the College You Want
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