This post has been marked as OLD. EssaySnark's advice and strategies for winning MBA applications don't change from year to year, but some of the school-specific admissions policies, essay questions, or other information covered in this article may be outdated.
If you’ve been following along as the schools have been releasing their essay questions for the 2014 season, you will have noticed that there’s not been much in the way of real news.
Most schools are actually keeping their apps the same, or largely so. The HBS app is near-identical to last year; the GSB lopped off one question; Columbia and Tuck tweaked theirs; etc. The differences have been so minor that we haven’t even been covering them on the blahg, we’ve just been updating the essay question pages for each school.
Wharton released their questions yesterday and you would think that these small changes too would not be worth commenting on.
Wharton has actually made a radical departure from what they’ve done before.
They kept their career goals/why MBA question nearly intact from last year, changing just one word (“achieve” to “gain”). It’s 500 words, same as last year – and 500 words should be sufficient to tell any school why you want to go there.
However, now that one essay is the only one that’s required for applying to Wharton.
And that is in fact kind of a big deal.
They do have an additional information section, whereby you can cover anything else you may need to that’s not already covered in the resume or their not-yet-open online application. They allocate another 400 words to you for that, if you decide you need it – yet from the wording of the question, it seems like it’s not meant as an essay per se. They tell you that you can “use the space below” — meaning, a field in the application, we presume — to “highlight any additional information” that you want them to know.
(Tip: We do recommend writing it as an essay, even if you’ll end up pasting it into a text field in the app.)
If you’re a reapplicant, then you get another 250 words to share with them how you’ve improved your candidacy since last time; we don’t know why they’re calling that the “Optional Essay” instead of “Reapp Essay” since it appears that this is separate and distinct from the “additional information” section of up to 400 words. A little confusing.
Most notable though is there’s no required second essay. For many years running, Wharton – like Columbia – has had a school-specific essay question where they want you to talk about innovation or international experience or knowledge for action or some other Wharton-branded catchphrase or keyword. They’ve asked applicants to dive into their curriculum and program offerings and talk about the things that they’re interested in that Wharton provides.
It’s always struck us as at least slightly contrived. It does force applicants to read the school’s website, which many people apparently can’t be bothered with if they’re not forced to. But what often ends up happening with those types of “tell us about our school” questions is that everyone says the same stuff – which is usually the stuff that the admissions people are talking about in the info sessions. Such essays are often just exercises for BSers in regurgitating the school’s marketing materials and parroting back the things that they’ve heard the adcom say. While we have always felt that these essays are valuable in that they force people to actually do that research, it’s not really a way to get at a deeper level of authenticity in the candidate pool.
Essay questions like that are making applicants play a game. They put people in the “I’ll write what I think they want me to write” mindset more than other types of questions ever have. The schools may as well have set up a virtual treasure hunt where they asked a question in the application which requires candidates to type in some secret code that can only be found after spending umpteen hours poking around on their website.
To that extent, it’s a relief to see Wharton abandon such questions, and the fact that they’ve done so is in our opinion a fairly radical move. At least, it is for Wharton. While this school is one that always changes essay questions every single year, and they have often had difficult-to-decipher prompts that weren’t always easy for candidates to figure out, they haven’t exactly been doing things any differently from year to year. Even with questions that changed, they were still very “Wharton” questions. This change represents a new direction for them, if you ask us. They’re taking a risk. That is something new for this school.
Wharton has a new dean coming on board this summer, but he’s not there yet. We have no idea if there have been planning sessions and consultations about the new app between him and Admissions even before he’s arrived. Maryellen Lamb, Wharton’s admissions director, took over after last season was already underway, so this is the first app that has come out under her leadership. This change might be completely her doing. But we’re guessing that this is reflective of an effort to more closely mirror Harvard*, and it’s a direction coming from the new dean.
That’s pure conjecture, of course. But we wanted to call attention to this radical – and welcome – departure from what Wharton has done in recent memory.
It’s not going to be easy for Brave Supplicants to figure out how to pitch Wharton. Just 500 words is scarce, and not everyone really needs to use an “additional information” section to communicate who they are. The core of an app already does that. It will be tempting for many to include “additional information” just because it may feel like you’re not giving them enough of yourself if you don’t. That may be a mistake in some cases though. For MBA essays, less is often more.
We’re going to dissect all these changes in the Wharton essay guide that is already in the revision process for 2014. Look for that within the week. If you have questions on or reactions to the Wharton changes – or any other school’s, for that matter – feel free to post in the comments.
If you’re applying to Wharton, good luck!!
*Did you see what we did there? “Reflective of an effort to mirror Harvard”? So witty! So sharp! We can hear you say it now: “My, what a way with words you have, EssaySnark!”