Wharton Slashes Required MBA Application Essays

Huntsman Hall, Wharton Photograph by Kendall White/The Wharton School

Wharton has slashed the number of required essays to get into its MBA program, making it the latest major business school to join the lean application movement.

The new Wharton questions reduce the total maximum word count by nearly 30 percent to 1,000 words, from 1,400 last year. Now there are just two essays, down from three the year before. The first asks, “What do you hope to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA?” The second: “Engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community?” Each question has a 500-word limit.

The questions, for the class entering in 2014 and graduating two years later, are very different from last year’s questions. The first asked how a Wharton MBA will help the applicant achieve his or her professional objectives. Applicants could then choose two additional questions from three supplied. One asked applicants to choose a Wharton course or extracurricular activity and describe how it connects with their interests. Another asked applicants what they would do with three “work-free” hours. The third asked applicants to describe a time when they “put knowledge into action.”

Ankur Kumar, the admissions director at Wharton, says the decision to eliminate the choice of questions was based on feedback from applicants who said they preferred to have specific required questions. The second question is an attempt to learn something about the applicant’s “intellectual curiosity and academic engagement,” qualities that do not get discussed anywhere else in the application. “Essays are a way for us to learn more about our applicants from their point of view,” she says. “What we’re really looking for is who they are and how they think. “

A number of top business schools have already scaled back on MBA essay questions for the entering class of 2014, including Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, NYU’s Stern School of Business, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Another top school, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, announced new essay questions but did not reduce them in number or size. Each of the questions has a 500-word limit. The first asks applicants to describe how they would contribute toward advancing Sloan’s mission—developing “principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice”—while the second asks them to describe a time when they pushed themselves beyond their “comfort zone.”

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