July 20, 2019

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania MBA Essay 2

UPenn Wharton

Wharton MBA Essay 2

Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)

The crux of this question is understanding (truly understanding) the concept of VALUE-ADD. “Value” is only a part of it. Say you’re a Biz Dev guy, and you’re expected to bring in five new partnerships and roughly 10M in new revenue. As long as you roughly hit either or both, congrats, you’ve just “done the job that was expected of you.” Are you adding value? Kinda. But kinda not. Great that you’re not causing a dip, sure, but, we still haven’t achieved the “add” part of “value add” yet.

Let’s go a different route. Imagine a popular restaurant loses its chef, makes a snap hire who’s not as good, customers notice, sales dip. The restaurant finds a hot new chef to BRING IT BACK to the previous level of business. Say it works. That new chef kicks ass, word of mouth spreads, and the restaurant RECLAIMS its previous position in the ranks, back to where it was. Phew, the day is saved. But, again… did that guy “add value”?

Kinda. But kinda not. Again, he was valuable, sure, in the sense that he saved the business from collapse. But, until he pushes things to new heights, brings in a new audience, does something to ruffle the status quo, changes the game, shifts things, does something unexpected, it’s not truly a value ADD.

Let’s say that that’s our bar. First, we need to understand what the bare minimum is. What’s “expected.” Only then, can we wrap our heads around what stuff pushes us into the hallowed territory of VALUE ADD-NESS. For that Biz Dev guy, maybe it’s 10M and 15 (not 5) new relationships, which include a brand new CLASS of partner, that leads to a new vertical. Okay, now we’re gettin somewhere. Or it’s the same ol five partners, and same partner TYPE, but instead of 10M, homeboy brings in 40M instead of the expected 10M. 4x the expected revenue? That’s some sh*t (where “some sh*t” = “added value”). In order to classify it as such, however, we first need to define and understand “the normal.” For the chef example, what if while saving the restaurant, that guy also brought with him a game-changing operations game that bumped efficiency by some sick amount. Or, what if the chef brought in a younger audience with affected “lifetime value,” and therefore impacted their marketing budget? “Value add.” It’s all about that thing the guy delivered that was unexpected, new, created a shift, created a surplus… “went beyond the expected.”

Aight, so, let’s bring this back to the Wharton essay questions: before you look into your resume and your application and hustle to “find the first available untapped story to vomit out here,” you need to consider what Wharton’s community is, and moreover, what’s expected of you as a student/member of that community. It can’t just be to “attend classes” cuz if that were the case, why bother screening applicants! It can’t be to attend classes and also hook into some extracurricular activities. “Everyone does some version of that.” See where we’re headed? Keep going with it, do your research, talk to alums, read like crazy, talk to folks who know Wharton/business schools inside-out, and a very cool thing will start to happen. You’ll start to develop a sense for what it is about YOU specifically, and YOUR EXPERIENCES, that can “add value” to this scene. The thing that isn’t already there in droves. Might be a leadership story that at its core might not be uncommon, but there’s something about the way you grew up, the circumstances surrounding your particular experience –– whatever those elements are –– that equip you with an ability or perspective that another guy doesn’t. THAT could be a value add.

But we need to keep digging. HOW will it add value? Well, flesh it out. How will that stuff positively affect another individual, a group of individuals, and eventually… a community? Sell us on it. Show us in a way we can picture. We need to be able to imagine a few years at Wharton WITHOUT YOU, and then those same few years WITH YOU. And we should be able to see clearly (in our minds) that the version WITH YOU is somehow better. THAT’s your challenge here, to make that case apparent. Once you understand that, now you can figure out what story remains in your arsenal that you can mine for gold here.

Let’s think of this as a Two-Act essay:

Act I – The Experience/Accomplishment

  • Give us the experience/accomplishment itself. If it was an accomplishment, set us up with the GOALS, and then establish all the OBSTACLES in your way that made it “not easy.” Then lay out what you DID (actions we can PICTURE) as you achieved it. If it was an experience, the structure can go a million different ways depending on what type of experience it was, but your end point will be a THING that changed you, bettered you, rocked your foundation, something. [125-175 words]
  • What did you WALK AWAY with? This is (more important part) where you talk about the take-away from it all. Cuz, remember, no one cares about the ACTUAL accomplishment so much as “the thing you peeled away that will positively affect THEM somehow.” If you earned a company an extra $5M somehow, Wharton isn’t gonna see any of that. So that’s the not the part to dwell on. Dwell on the “thing you learned (or that you brought to the table) that will allow you to do it again, and again, and again.” [50-100 words]

Act II – All That Stuff Above? Is a NET GAIN For Wharton, Here’s How

  • Show us (not in the abstract) but as if you were mapping out the details of a HEIST, exactly how you’re gonna rock the Wharton community. It’s a great conceit to have to “prove it” with steps. Otherwise you’ll end up saying superficial things like “I will share that story with my classmates at Wharton.” And what… they’re going to magically improve upon hearing it? Maybe. If your story is THAT good. But prove it. Walk us through the CHAIN REACTION. There will be two pieces to this section: (1) demonstrating an understanding of what Wharton and the Wharton community IS, and (2) convincing us that you’re going to “add value” to it. [150-175 words or so]

This is gonna be hard. And it’s gonna get most of you STUCK. But grind it out, and see what you end up with on that first pass. If you think about it this way for a bit, your first draft will end up being a far more valuable hunk of clay we can sculpt than a much more generalized stab (which is usually what we see from even the BEST of applicants).

Rock and roll, comrades. Curious to see what y’all churn out.

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