by Brian Burnsed

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers

We posed questions to admissions officials at the The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants, and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:

1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?

Know yourself: Applicants should be able to reflect on their own experiences, where they are in their lives to date. They should also be able to gauge their own personal strengths and weaknesses so that they can accurately and passionately represent their stories on paper. Knowing yourself--participating in some serious examination of your own goals and motivations--is the first step toward creating an original and personal application.

2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

Essays help us understand more about how much--or how little--the candidate has thought through their application to our program, particularly with regard to the clarity they have around their goals, their level of self awareness, and the knowledge-base they hope to develop while in our program. Applicants should read their essays closely--if what they are writing is simply summarizing an experience, then it is likely not what we are looking for. A simple description of an action or event won't mark them as different than other applicants; instead, it is the reflection, the learning, the takeaways that are unique to each individual who applies. Bringing these insights out in their essays is crucial to helping us gain a unique understanding of how each applicant thinks.

3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?

Our process is holistic and, as such, no one factor carries more "weight" than any other. Wharton is an academically rigorous place where students who like to solve complex problems will thrive. We use GMAT, GRE, GPA's from undergraduate and other master's work, as well as work experience, to gain a complete view of all aspects of a candidate's intellectual potential.

4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?

At Wharton, we hope to bring together a diverse class of students from different backgrounds, nationalities, industries--students who are at different moments of their professional careers. As such, we have no required minimum number of years of work experience. The "right" amount of work experience is a different number for each applicant. Whether you have 10 years of work experience or none, we will still be looking for candidates who can contribute to our community because of their rich life experiences and their track record of success.

5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

Wharton has a history of fostering innovation and providing an environment for people who really love to tackle hard problems, who like to work in teams and think analytically. Part of the Wharton culture includes the idea that we embrace rigor--across all disciplines, across all academic departments, focusing with an intellectual lens on everything from marketing to leadership.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?

It is always a mistake for a candidate to choose a recommender who doesn't know them well or hasn't worked with them directly. Applicants should choose recommenders who have a deep knowledge of how they conduct themselves in a professional setting, including their communication style, their leadership potential, and even more personal elements such as their sense of humor and their reaction to setbacks. At Wharton, we prefer letters of recommendation from professional sources rather than from academic sources--there is a great deal of teamwork here, and we need to get a sense of how applicants work with others.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

Wharton is known for having a transparent admissions process. Each year, we communicate timelines to applicants both on our website and through E-mail once they apply. We have three rounds of admission, each with its own deadlines and set of important dates. The first important date, obviously, is the application deadline when all materials need to be submitted to our office. The second important date is the "mid-release" date. On the mid-release date, we will either invite candidates to participate in an in-person session with a member of the Wharton community, or we will let them know that they have been denied admission. For the remaining candidates, the final important date is the decision release date when we inform them that they have been admitted, waitlisted, or denied. .

8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

Please find below an alphabetical list of top hirers from the Class of 2009 full time and the Class of 2010 interns.

A.T. Kearney, Inc.

American Express Company

Bain & Company

Barclays Bank PLC

Booz & Company

Boston Consulting Group, Inc.

Citigroup, Inc.

Comcast Corporation

Credit Suisse Group

Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Deutsche Bank

Goldman Sachs & Company

International Business Machines Corporation

Johnson & Johnson

JP Morgan Chase & Co.

McKinsey & Company


Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.

Microsoft Corporation

Morgan Stanley

Novartis AG

Pacific Investment Management Company, LLC


9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

Applicants make a mistake when they don't take ownership of the process: they don't do their research and find their own reasons to connect with Wharton. They also sometimes make a mistake when they don't use their own, good judgment when navigating the application process. The Wharton M.B.A. Admissions Officers are happy to help applicants as they apply, but when we have people asking us, "Should I double space my essays?" or, "I've worked here for x months and here for y months. How many years of work experience do you think I have?", those are the moments when we wish they would realize that they can trust themselves--their good judgment has gotten them this far in their lives and careers; it can certainly be relied on to successfully direct them through our application process.

10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?

Wharton students enjoy solving complex problems. They like to take what they learn in the classroom, and use it outside of the classroom, real-time and live. They are collaborative, engaged, and deeply committed to having an impact. For a Wharton student, every moment is an opportunity to learn. Whether that happens in a lecture hall or on one of our Leadership Ventures in Patagonia, they are constantly thinking, reflecting, analyzing, and pushing themselves to become better.

Available on

Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College


Copyright © U.S. News & World Report


How to Get In: The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School