Wharton Essay Analysis


What are your professional objectives? (300 words)

300 words. Get in, get out. Don’t faff around.

In theory, they could have simplified it even FURTHER and said “In three bullet points, describe your professional objectives.” But they did afford you 300 words of essay writing to develop it a bit. Let’s figure out how to develop this sucker.

Now, what does Wharton really wanna know here? Yes, they want to know what your objectives are, just as the question says. In other words, what is it you’d like to achieve in your career. But there is one absolutely crucial component to include here… context.

Without context, a professional goal is maybe not quite meaningless, but it certainly is lacking in impact. If we don’t know what drives you, where the goals come from, why you’re drawn to your goals, etc., the goals will be a bit hollow. And claimable by anyone. “I’d like to be an astronaut.” Great. Anyone can say the same thing. “I’ve spent three hours a day, 365 days a year for 21 years of my adult life looking through a telescope, figuring out what I’m gonna do when I get into space. I’d like to be an astronaut.” You get the idea. The second kid gave us context, that goal BELONGS to him. The first kid just spat out a generic goal. It lacks ownership. It lacks certainty. It’s no good.

So, spend a little bit of time (not much, you don’t have it) setting up the reason behind the goals, the origin story (if you will) of the want. Do this succinctly, in 100 or even 150 words. Paint a picture. Tell a story (a super quick one). Give us the context.

Then clearly define professional objectives. The most important thing here is to come across like someone who has an action plan that is ACHIEVABLE. It’s one thing to have a far off look in your eyes and a grand vision, and by all means, HIT us with it. But, whatever you do, support this section with a sense of well-hewn objectives that are practical, sensible, and big enough to wow, but small enough to be actually achievable. If you say “I’d like to solve world hunger,” it is an insanely compelling IDEA, but worthless on the achievability scale. If you said, “I’m going to make a dent in the effort to solve world hunger by solving it in the small town of Greenbits, population 20,000. I’ll do this through x, y, and z. This movement will have a viral effect and have the best chance in human history at actually affecting a problem that affects humanity, the world over.” It’s not a great example because it’s a bit removed, but you see the idea here. Ground your ideas in practicality. Come across like someone who knows your future well. Someone who can see it clearly. We need your success to seem virtually automatic. It almost doesn’t matter what your goal is.

Let me say that again. Your actual goal is far less important that convincing the Adcom that you’re the kind of person who is guaranteed to succeed, at “whatever you set out to achieve.”

No one at any MBA program is keeping track of where you end up compared what you started on your business school applications. They are keeping track of whether you succeed or not. Convince them of THAT here, through goals and a confident writing style that promises self-assuredness, and clarity of your path forward.


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? (600 words)

As with most business school application questions, no one cares about the actual details of your response. Really, these questions endeavor to find out how you think. How you react at a decision node. Are you gonna be successful. All the questions they throw at you are various attempts at figuring that aspect out. Turning down an opportunity rquires careful valuation of risk, benefit, emotional attachment, objective analysis, personal sacrifice, personal gain, etc. Tons of elements that are central to making or BREAKING a successful leader, or businessperson. What is YOUR process during this type of “test”? The process (not the situation)… the PROCESS can help give us insight into how you’re gonna fare both at Wharton, when surrounded by a stimulating class of bright classmates, but more importantly out in the real world where your ability to navigate through difficult choices will be a strong determinant of success, long term.

In effect, there’s no real “right answer” here, except that the right answer needs to IMPRESS us with your process, whatever that process is. So, let’s dig into the structure a bit to understand how to use these 600 words well.

First thing’s first. We need to UNDERSTAND the choices very clearly. This is, hands down, where most folks go sideways. If the setup is unclear, then the thought “process” is completely opaque to the reader. The situation needs to be sickeningly clear. Turning down an opportunity implies a choice between X and Y. X is staying the course. Y is accepting an opportunity. Before we dig into the details, we need some basic facts first: the job, the year, the moment in your career (was this three years into your job? was it day two? etc.). Once we have our bearing, now we need to know what the opportunity was. Now, an opportunity implies something that has potential value. If someone said, “Hey man, I’m gonna give you the opportunity to enter this torture chamber and suffer pain for the next 50 years of your life.” That’s not really an “opportunity,” yknow? To “turn that down” doesn’t really tell us much because as humans, generally, we are conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

So the opportunity HAS to appear to have potential BENEFITS for you. As you’re explaining “X,” the opportunity, do NOT get ahead of yourself and talk about it like it was a thing that was fraught with drawbacks. Bring into your state of mind when the opportunity seemed like a GREAT thing. Give us the other guy’s sell. Give us the ROSY version. Make our mouths water. The most effective thing you can do is make US feel like this opportunity is a no-brainer.

Then explain the alternative. Explain what happens without that opportunity. Not what happens by turning it down, but as though the opportunity never existed in the first place. What would your trajectory have been like if you’d erased that offer entirely? Map that out, show us where it goes, give the appeal THERE. And sell it, too.

So now we know at the very least where each “opportunity” (or path) will lead. Now reveal your decision, in turning down X for the sake of Y. Now’s the time to explain all the details. The pros AND the cons. The process behind HOW you weighed things. Remember (and this is KEY), the decision itself isn’t as important here as the PROCESS BY WHICH YOU ARRIVED AT the decision. Explain the process. Did you make a chart and weigh pros and cons? Did you interview veterans to get their take? Did you do research? Did you consult with anyone outside this industry to get an outsider’s take? What did you DO to figure it out? It isn’t JUST an explanation of why you chose what you chose, but instead a reveal of HOW you chose what you chose. This one’s about How and much as it about Why. Both are important, but if we aren’t clear on the mechanism and the tactics, it’ll be lacking.

Spend 100 words or so at the end explaining whether or not you’d make the same decision again. Just about everyone says they WOULD make the same decision. It’s okay to say the other thing. It’s okay (and possibly even badass) to point out flaws in your decision-making process that led to a bad decision. If your reasoning is sound, you may come across ten times more dangerous than the guy who is always content with whatever he chooses. Maybe that guy doesn’t have the capacity to get BETTER. So, don’t hesitate to attempt this. The result could be huge. But you have to argue it very well.

2. Discuss a time when you faced a challenging interpersonal experience. How did you navigate the situation and what did you learn from it? (600 words)

Once again, process process process. “How did you navigate” is the KEY component here. Now, content is important too, because if someone stood between you and the elevator, and made you late for work, and you got into an argument over it, sure you may have navigated the situation with particularly impressive grace, but it isn’t really a great story for your Wharton application. There needs to be some MEAT here. A person who really became a WRENCH in the works. We’ve all faced that guy, so there are probably plenty of stories to grab from here. Here are some ideas for potential SOURCES of interpersonal conflict:

• someone who was inefficient

• someone who was incompetent

• someone who was senior, and resistant to a younger boss

• someone from a different culture

• a competitive colleague, gunning for the same success as you

• a non-team player

• a seemingly unmotivatable team member

Just a few ideas; there are others. Whoever the person is, there must have been an objective you had, that was somehow IMPEDED by a person, or team. We need to understand THAT situation 100% clearly. So don’t get too deep into the interpersonal stuff before we have our bearings (the setup, the context).

Once we understand the conflict at hand, the dilemma, now your task is to explain the PROCESS by which you “navigated” through the problem. We’re going far beyond just giving us the problem and explaining what you did and why you did it. When you’re lost in a city and you need to “navigate,” you need two things: (1) a clear understanding of where you need to end up (the destination, the objective), and (2) the ability to drink in your surroundings and make directional choices BASED on those sign posts. Navigation also implies overcoming challenges. If you needed to traverse a straight line from the train station to your hotel, you haven’t really “navigated.” You’ve followed the path. If you lose your compass, and your map, and you take a wrong turn, now you need to NAVIGATE. You do this by looking at the sun and figuring out where “north” is. You identify a river and remember that the hotel is located to the WEST of the river. Etc etc, you troubleshoot, you act and react to your environment. This is what this question is looking for. How do you REACT when an interpersonal issue gums up an objective of yours?

As you describe the “navigation” here, it’s all about CHALLENGES posed by the person (or team) within the situation, and HOW YOU RESPONDED to it. What did you do? How did you troubleshoot? How did you approach them? Did it succeed? If not, what did you do NEXT? This question should leave us with a sense that if we threw you into a smouldering volcano with a pack of gum, a hairbrush, and piece of dental floss, you’d somehow create a rope (or something) to get yourself OUT. It’s that “troubleshooting” “navigational” ability we’re seeking to understand here. Do NOT just give us the situation and tell us what happened. This question is about ACTION, and understanding WHY you took those actions.

In the “what you learned from it” section, again, don’t hesitate to give us the part where you messed it up at one point. Or entirely. Maybe the entire approach of yours was a colossal bust. That’s okay. It could be that your reasoning was sound, but maybe the conclusions were off. But if you’re capable of introspecting and figuring out what went wrong and why, that could be absolutely dynamite. Either way, we want some SELF-reflection on your process. Don’t toss in a token sentence at the end. Give this space. 100-125 words, even.

3. “Innovation is central to our culture at Wharton. It is a mentality that must encompass every aspect of the School – whether faculty research, teaching or alumni outreach.” – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School 

Keeping this component of our culture in mind, discuss a time when you have been innovative in your personal or professional life. (600 words)

Okay, now this is the exception to the “content doesn’t matter” rule. Nothing matters more here, than content. If you have a ridiculously weak example of innovation, it’ll look lame. The innovation HAS to be coool. And we can help be the ruthless determinants of that if you’re unsure.

Innovation generally implies something no one else has thought of. New-ness. If it’s simply a clever solution, it may not count. It has be something that makes us go, “wow, I wouldn’t have thought of that; what a frickin great idea.” The day before the “light bulb” came out, people presumably couldn’t even conceive of what such a thing could be. Then when they see and hear about it, they say “wow, what an amazing idea—I wish I’d thought of it.” This one’s tricky, because if the “innovation” falls short, you’re sunk.

One good way to develop an argument though, is to measure your “innovation” against the convention. Whatever had been established practices in whatever situation you’re writing about (personal or professional), explain what they were. Explain the expected courses of action, the things someone ELSE might have done. Or, reasons someone else might have GIVEN UP because of a SCARCITY of obvious courses of action. THEN, hit us with your way AROUND it. How you came up with the idea. Define the ways in which it contradicted the conventional course of action, or completely changed the game entirely. Something to show us some contrast between “normal” and “innovative” in the context of your example.

Don’t be too proud of your innovativess, because the reader’s instinct will be to cut it down. Instead, emphasize the way that another person would have gotten STUCK in a more conventional approach. Lay out the ONLY WAYS that other guy would have known to solve the problem. Then get into the tools you used to break it wide open and come up with something that maybe only YOU could have come up with.

The take home here, again, is providing us with evidence that you are impossible to STUMP. If put in an impossible situation, you will find a way out. You will innovate. Looked at another way, even if things AREN’T challenging, you may find a way to innovate and IMPROVE your situation because you have an itch. That’s another way to skin this question. Status quo wasn’t enough for you, so you looked for ways to shake it up and improve. That’s the kind of person Wharton wants on their team.



All reapplicants to Wharton are required to complete the Optional Essay. Please use this space to explain how you have reflected on the previous decision on your application and to discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). You may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)

Eep, 250 words. This section is all about demonstrating the difference between last year’s version of you, and this year’s “reissue.” Think iPhone. iPhone 1 was awesome, game changing, etc. But it had problems. Identify those problems and show how iPhone 4 (i.e., the CURRENT ISSUE—you, this year) has improved upon all those things that were lacking, AND added impressive (and relevant) NEW things to improve the value of this latest version. We need to see the difference between the two versions, AND be convinced that this is a candidate who is a juggernaut, on a rampage of further improvements.

The “reflection” part is important too. Give us a sense for how you didn’t cry for days, and wither into a lifeless, depressed mess. Show us how you roll with a punch. What if you don’t get what you want after business school? Show us how you’re gonna succeed ANYWAY. Those moments after the decision will potentially give us the confidence that you ARE the kind of guy who will react to setbacks with unusual aplomb.


If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, or questionable academic performance, significant weaknesses in your application). (250 words)

Do what they say. Don’t fit in “some cool other thing that you couldn’t get to elsewhere.” They lay it out very clearly, gaps in resume, low GPA (more on that here), any other major red flags. Make sure the TONE here is assertive, unapologetic, and confident. Do not justify or make excuses. Simply EXPLAIN a red flag, own up to it, and assure us that you “have the situation covered.” If it’s bad grades, tell us about classes you’ve taken independently and earned As in. If it’s a low GMAT, indicate some OTHER measure of academic/intellectual prowess (that’s somehow measurable). If it’s a gap, tell us why the gap, simple. Don’t apologize, don’t seem like you’re begging for mercy or asking us to overlook it, etc. That shows weakness, or even “guilt.” Lives are complicated, everyone understands this. Be bold and confident and SUCCINCT here.