IMPORTANT UPDATE 5/13/11: THIS POST IS DISCUSSING *OLD* ESSAY QUESTIONS! Some of the info here may very well apply to future years, but this post is OLD!!!
OK, soldiers, we’re moving fast now – onto the other three options of the “pick three” choices that Wharton has provided to you in their bschool app this year.
We covered the career goals question, and the “create a course” question, in a separate post. Here are the three questions where the adcom is looking for evidence that you can think.
Actually all these questions are geared that way. Or for the “failure” question which is nearly the same as last year — when it was required. This year they are giving you 100 more words and they’ve tacked this little gem on: How did this experience help to create your definition of failure? (EssaySnark says “eek!” to that).
We’re going to punt on the failure question because it’s asked in different flavors by other schools and as alluded to before, deserves a post of its own. So that will be forthcoming. Soon, we hope. The one comment on this failure essay is that, since this question was REQUIRED last year, and since it’s the ONLY essay question to have survived from last year, EssaySnark is interpreting that to mean: IT WOULD BE A GOOD CHOICE FOR YOU TO ANSWER THIS ONE.
Another reason that the “failure” question would be a good one is, the other two remaining questions are actually an awful lot alike.
For both Wharton’s “turned down an opportunity” and “navigated a challenging experience” they are wanting to see how you THINK (there’s that word again), how you ASSESS A SITUATION and REACT to it. The questions are posed very differently — certainly that last one is a great way to show off your interpersonal skills and demonstrate that you can handle yourself in a tricky situation. That would let you show “readiness” for bschool through this essay. AS LONG AS you’re not a whiny little brat* in how you present it. AS LONG AS you don’t blame everyone else and point fingers and make excuses for why it was a challenging experience. AS LONG AS you take responsibility and show that you were able to FIX IT and turn it around to a positive. Those are the key elements we would look for in that essay.
On the “opportunity” essay it can either be an opportunity that you turned down — and you show why that was a good decision. Or potentially you could show a refusd opportunity that you now wish you had pursued. Those would be trickier to answer but, EssaySnark proposes, so much more interesting for the adcom to read. So if you’ve got one in that category, consider using it – AS LONG AS you don’t end up sounding like an idiot for passing up the opportunity in the first place, and AS LONG AS you don’t now sound like a whiny little brat in how you present “the one that got away.”
What you do want to do is to show them you can make a sophisticated analysis of a situation, and this is also an opportunity to potentially convey some of your backstory, so they get a sense of how you ended up where you’re at. This would be an ideal essay topic to use for someone who’s transitioning careers – you could talk about how you’ve moved into the position you’re at now and are ready for the next big jump forward (that bschool/Wharton will facilitate) by taking your original path and discussing how/why you’re switching gears and showing what you’ve done to lay that new foundation. That’s just an idea – the beauty of these questions is that you have free rein to do anything you want with them. (Within reason.)
Either of these essays could potentially focus on something outside of work, a nonprofessional context story, AS LONG AS it’s still brought full circle in support of your application to bschool. You must make it relevant. Can’t just be an interesting story. Needs to be integrated as a logical part of your pitch. Remember, TMI is real, and it’s a danger! Don’t burden the reader with stuff that they really don’t want to know about! No leaving-the-fiancee-at-the-alter stories in here please! No I-wish-I-hadn’t-gotten-behind-the-wheel-drunk stories! Be judicious!
A primary rationale behind these particular questions from Wharton is almost undoubtedly (we are still guessing but we’re pretty confident on this) the adcom is B-O-R-E-D to death with essays and they’re trying to mix things up so that they get some INTERESTING!! responses from all of you. So don’t shake things up too much — keep your essay focused and on track and relevant to a bschool app — but feel free to explore the edges a bit and don’t be scared to show them you can think!
*@MSP – we are blogging anonymously so that we can say things like “whiny little brat” in our posts without risk of offending our much-beloved and oh-so-dear clients. Because certainly we’ve never seen evidence of any whiny brats amongst our client base.