Forster-Thomas essay coach Ben Feuer shares his tips on how to answer the Wharton essay questions for the class of 2015

Wharton’s MBA application essay questions have changed this year, but the underlying message remains the same: show us why you’re a good fit for Wharton, and get us excited and engaged with what you have been doing and what you plan to do with your life (both personally and professionally). Remember that these essays are about more than just repeating bullet points from your resume, or talking points from your interview checklist. You have to infuse the essays with your personal feeling—the essence of YOU.

1. How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

At first blush, this might seem to be a standard “goals” essay, sharing what you want to achieve in your career and why you need an MBA to go do it. But as always, a close reading of the prompt provides important clues about what kind of answer Wharton is looking for. Note, for example, their shift from a single, all-encompassing “goal” to the more moderate “professional objectives.” This isn’t an invitation to check your passion at the door, but it is a reminder that this essay is about putting forward exciting possibilities, not set-in-stone business plans. And the prominent mention of a Wharton MBA in the prompt suggests that you should be paying even MORE attention than usual to the program details that attract you to the school. Try to connect every point you make about your future career back to the Wharton experience. Find the line of continuity between what you have been doing, what Wharton will teach you to do, and where that will eventually take you.

2. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity, or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

This essay invites you to dig deep into one thing—JUST ONE—that excites you about the Wharton experience. There are a few effective ways to approach this question. One would be to focus on a course that is the perfect bridge between your professional experience thus far and your future professional goals. With only 400 words in the previous essay to talk about your goal, you can use this essay as a chance to better draw those connecting lines between yourself and Wharton. You could also talk about a course or co-curricular that connects to one of your greatest passions and describe how learning more about it would inform your professional development. However, it seems to this Essay Coach that an equally viable path for many candidates will be extracurriculars. Talking about a club, and your contributions to it, gives you the opportunity to really put yourself in the middle of something exciting that is already taking place on campus, and envision yourself in a leadership role. It also gives you a chance to refer back to similar positions you may have held in the past. What would you keep? What would you change? What would you disrupt? The world is at your fingertips.

3. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself "work free" for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

At its heart, this is a passion essay (see Chapter 15 of The MBA Reality Check), a question has circled around from school to school over the years—because it is, well, a good way to get to know the real you! For those of you who are feeling a little creative, this is your chance to really get the admissions officers excited about having you around. Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t talk about going to see your family, or going to see that new movie that’s in theaters. Instead, write about something that is unique to you, that allows you to explore a side of yourself they might otherwise overlook. Something surprising. Maybe even something a little bit dangerous. Just because this is business school doesn’t mean you have to be all business, all the time! What are your passions? Your secret fascinations? I know what I would do: pull out my laptop, listen to a few Broadway show tunes and get inspired. To some people they may scream dorky, but I have always been fascinated by the evolution of story in song. Your turn! Go off script! Start sharing, and you’ll eat up those 500 words in no time—and admissions will eat you up! But don’t forget to tie it back to a broader point about your candidacy overall—you don’t want this essay to stick out like a sore thumb.

4. "Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership." - Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School. Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

This scintillating quote from the Dean of the Wharton School, Thomas S. Robertson, invites you to explore a leadership or accomplishment experience (yes, just in case you didn’t recognize those clues in the quote about “research, thinking and LEADERSHIP,” this is a leadership essay)—but with a twist! This leadership experience must begin with knowledge, something you know that others do not. Often this will come from specialized workplace knowledge; you may be the Excel genius of your office, or maybe it’s sales…or yodeling. Whatever the knowledge may be, this is a great place to address it. Make sure it ends in action, positive change that transformed a group or organization. The more exciting and “disruptive” this change, the better. The harder it was to implement, the better. But the key thing to remember is that it must begin with knowledge; whether you acquired that knowledge through research, deep thought, or dumb luck*, doesn’t matter—something you knew sparked you to get off your butt and lead!

*Seriously, it’s fine if you encountered your knowledge via dumb luck; after all, Auntie Evan claims that most of his best lines were overheard in an elevator. Just make sure you’re honest about it being dumb luck, and you’ll be fine.

Need help digging down deep to write amazing MBA essays? Call Forster-Thomas at 212-741-9090 or click here to set up a free candidacy assessment.

Forster-Thomas essay coach Kirsten Guenther shares her tips on how to answer the Stanford GSB essay questions for the class of 2015.

Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

Save the best for last. Hold off on this essay until you’ve completed the essays for every other school you’re applying to. Trust me, “WMM” will be strengthened by the introspection you have gained from delving into the other essays.

Important: This is not a goals essay (as Auntie Evan points out in Chapter 16 of The MBA Reality Check). This is not “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Think of WMM this way: The airplane is going down…you have one minute to live—think fast—what’s the most important thing in the world to you?

BE HONEST. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Stanford wants to know who you are at this juncture in your life, how you came to be that person and what it taught you, and how you have applied that lesson—or how a realization has shaped who you are today.

I recently read a book called, What I Saw and How I Lied. For the protagonist, the most important thing in the world was to live a life that is truthful. So true that she refused to even laugh at a joke that she didn’t think was funny just to fit in. HOW did she come to be this person? HOW did this become the thing that mattered MOST to her? When she was a teenager her mother committed a crime and asked her daughter, the protagonist, to be her alibi—this ended up causing a ripple effect of even more serious issues. The protagonist saw that no one was helped by the lie; in fact, their lives were made much worse because of it and they were unhappy. It was then that she vowed never again to tell even the whitest lie.

If she were applying to Stanford, I would urge her to write about the moment she made the decision to lie for her mother—the fallout from NOT being true to herself—and then what led her to make the commitment to live a truthful life in the future. She could then write about how this has affected her relationships with friends and colleagues and how she has had to adapt her communication skills in life from that day forward. No longer could she say she liked a Christmas sweater she didn’t, or could she agree with a co-worker just to placate someone. She would have had to adapt her communication skills so that she could be honest but not off-putting or awkward—not just in business but in her personal life as well. Who she is as a person was largely shaped by the decision she made to live a completely truthful life.

Last, drill down deep—you’re not revealing anything about yourself to stick to broad, common themes (no matter how truthful) such as “family” or “honor,” and you sound like you’re just saying what you think they want by writing about “access to opportunity” and “making the world a better place.” This isn’t the Miss Universe pageant. These things matter to everybody. Teach us something that makes you you.


Essay 2: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?

What do you REALLY want to do? Okay—in the spirit of Forster-Thomas’s own Project Ridiculous—Go! Want to create an Indian dance troop to tour the globe, bringing awareness to the Indian tradition and culture? Great. Write about that…if that’s what you REALLY want to do. But if you think that’s just going to win you points by sounding meaningful? The adcom will see right through it (because nothing else in your candidacy will back that up).

State your aspiration—but don’t forget to include why YOU…why this is your calling. Why will YOU (specifically) succeed in this? Talk about the skills you’ve built thus far, but ALSO talk about your personal background or relationships you can draw from in terms of pursuing your goal. Maybe your cousin in India is a theatrical producer and the two of you can join forces?

DISCLAIMER: While your goal should be something you are passionate about, if you know nothing about Indian dance and have never been to India but you saw Slumdog Millionaire and thought it looked cool, that does not mean you should write about it in your business school application. You’re not playing pin the tail on the donkey with your aspirations here. Your goal needs to be something that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and educating yourself about—it is something for which you have developed a PLAN to accomplish. This plan includes business school.

Next, talk about what skills you want to gain or improve—and why these skills are essential and how you will build these not at any business school but at Stanford. VISIT the school. Talk to alumni—go through the class schedule and figure out what curriculum and classes will support your aspirations. Don’t just talk about why these classes will help you achieve your goal, but also what you will offer your classmates and what you will contribute to the Stanford COMMUNITY.


Essay 3: Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.

  • Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

Leadership. Leadership. Leadership. They want to know that you can motivate a group to work toward a common goal. More so, they want to know that you can bring together the right group to accomplish that goal. “When you built or developed a team…” For example, the time the afterschool program at the high school in your hometown was losing funding for the arts and you cast a team from your friends and colleagues to raise the funds to save the program. Maybe you called your college roommate who was a theater major, and your brother’s girlfriend who is a public school teacher, and your buddy on your intramural basketball team who’s a marketing guru. Talk about a time when you not only coached the team but you drafted the players as well.

  • Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

This is about creating positive change—leaving something better than when you found it. It’s not that guy you’re dating who you got to stop wearing two-toned shirts (though that would be an improvement). In this question, they want to know that you seek opportunities to create positive change. This doesn’t just have to be raising enough money to expand the work of a charity you believe in—get creative—and remember, leadership. Talk about the time you designed an innovative marketing strategy for your favorite charity and how that plan is reaching more donors. That is something that will CONTINUE to improve the cause, as opposed to a one-time fundraiser (we call this “legacy”—see Chapter 5 of The MBA Reality Check).

  • Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

Talk about a time you didn’t just do the research your manager asked you to do and organize it into a spreadsheet—talk about the time you did that AND then created a method to make sharing this research with your whole department more effective. A time you didn’t just adopt a homeless dog—you built an animal shelter.

For all of the choose-one-of-three questions, remember to talk about HOW you were able to accomplish these things: what your methods were for problem solving and how you lead your team. What skill set and resources did you draw from?

For more information on the Stanford 2012-2013 essays, see our Stanford Essay Guide.

Need help digging down deep to write amazing essays? Call Forster-Thomas at 212-741-9090 or set up a free candidacy assessment.

INSEAD's MBA program has announced its essay questions and application deadlines for the class of 2014 and 2014, respectively.  (Yeah, it sounds weird, but that's the way INSEAD rolls. It must be a French thing.)

The deadlines are as follows:

Application Deadlines – September 2013 Intake (Class of July 2014)

Round 1 Deadline: October 3, 2012
Round 2 Deadline: December 5, 2012
Round 3 Deadline: March 13, 2013

Applications Deadlines -- January 2014 Intake (Class of December 2014)

Round 1 Deadline: April 3, 2013
Round 2 Deadline: June 12, 2013
Round 3 Deadline: August 7, 2013

The essay questions are identical to last year's questions, and can be found in our INSEAD Essay Guide. But for those of you who are too lazy to click on the link, here they are:

Job Description Essays

1. Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/ products and results achieved. (250 words maximum)

2. Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words maximum)

3. If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme? (250 words maximum)


1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words maximum)

2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date (if possible specify one personal and one professional), explaining why you view them as such. (400 words maximum)

3. Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words maximum)

4. a) Discuss your short and long term career goals. (300 words maximum) and b) How will studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words maximum)

5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:

  • Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words maximum)
  • Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words maximum)

Forster-Thomas essay coach Susan Clark shares her tips on how to answer the Columbia GSB essay questions for the class of 2015

Essay 1:

  • Part A. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (Maximum 500 words)

Thanks, Columbia, for including in your prompt an essential part of great goal setting: “What’s your plan, Stan?” “You wanna see Mecca? Ya goin’ by boat, plane, or camel?” In other words, you have a degree in earth science and your dream is to build a green tech consulting company … now what? Your short term goal of a position in a consulting firm is a start, but still a long way from establishing your own company. Including a job currently not attainable, even with your MBA, is an essential interim step. Moving into a strategy position at a sustainability program in a major corporation—eventually becoming senior sustainability officer—would allow you to develop expertise in the industry and the credibility and network to raise funds. Include in your plan the specific role education plays: “An MBA will give me the internship necessary to move into consulting, the management training to lead a corporate department, and the entrepreneurial mindset to start my own company,” for example. Believable steps from where you are now can take you anywhere you like, to Mecca or even the Moon. Make sure the final destination is worth the effort. Demonstrate leadership and creativity in your goal. By the end of the essay, you’ve transformed your image from that of a tree hugger into a thoroughbred the ad-com can bet on.

  • Part B. Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)

What do business schools expect when they ask a “Why do you love us” question? It’s like my husband showing off his muscles (he’s been working out) and asking “You like these guns?” The only thing I can say is “Ooh, ahh, wonderful.” Columbia makes it worse by nearly dictating what they want you to say. They seem to be begging for “I want to be part of Columbia’s community because of its wonderful student organizations, countless events, and lifelong friends.” It’s enough to make you gag. If you want to stand out—and you do—you have to give them something other than the canned answer.

Beneath this question and video is an interesting piece of information. Columbia is looking for students who love student organizations, attending diverse events, and are inspired by working with others. “No loners need apply” is the subtext. Columbia wants community leaders: let them know you are one. Slip in that service accomplishment: “After a month as a volunteer cleaning plastic off Hong Kong beaches, I organized a fundraiser for Project Kaisei, a non-profit cleaning up the Pacific Ocean. I raised $30,000 and convinced the CEO of my investment firm to institute sustainable plastic-use policies in every portfolio investment.” Then, demonstrate how this interest of yours is relevant: “I envision creating opportunities for Columbia students to make an impact on our local environment and community by generating an interface between Columbia’s Community Action Rewards Everyone, and the nonprofit Bronx River Alliance.” 80 words spent on that, plus a few more on why it’s meaningful to you, are infinitely more powerful than the gush about the gorgeous campus and tight knit community in the Big Apple. And, of course, your demonstrated interest in the environment needs to be for real, not for resume.

Essay 2:

Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (Maximum 500 words)

Personal. That is a very specific word. This is not the time for the career failure you wrote for that other school. It is about your life as a real person—your dad, your first car, the most embarrassing moment of your life—an experience that made you who you are. Personal does not mean intimate, however. Don’t use that very tempting “My girlfriend broke up with me” story. Slipping in a line or two at the end about how the personal experience resulted in fame and fortune could work; however, remember not to let those few words pull attention away from the main event.

You can look at this question as consisting of three significant parts.

The experience:

  • This can be a story about be an event that caused you to make a decision, or to change your mind. It can be about your first puppy, or about the time your drill sergeant pushed you until you nearly died. It can be beneficial to have an event that stymied you in some way or forced you to make a choice of some sort. I would probably write about the time when I was six and stole a quarter from the church collection plate to buy an ice cream. I cried for three hours after confessing to my mother. You can also take another approach. You can describe an experience that is broader than just an event—one that arises from a condition, like being the shortest kid in class, or growing up with a popular sister. Any state of being is ok: being the loser, the immigrant, the only one that didn’t speak Spanish, the rich kid. I would use the fact that I was one of eight kids raised in the inner city of Trenton, New Jersey.

The influence:

  • This is the heart of the essay—how the experience influenced you. Your response to the experience should be life-affirming and active, rather than passive. “Because my mother dropped me, I became afraid of heights” is passive: Something else was the causal factor. Active is: “My mother dropped me. I decided that I wanted to make sure all babies have safe environments.” This is the part of the essay where you define what you are made of, what kind of thinking drives your behavior. How awful I felt after the theft of the quarter made me realize that nothing is more important to me than my integrity. My large, struggling family made me into a bit of a tough but I also discovered how to stand by others and be loyal.

The result of that influence:

  • Demonstrate how this influence plays out in your life. For my quarter story, I could cite a time my integrity was challenged, but I think I would go with the time I helped a kid make the right decision when he was tempted to make the wrong one. The result of influence could be expressed in a variety of ways. For example, my loyalty has been challenged many times with good and bad results. A lot of my essay could be about the progression of my experience of what it means to be loyal.

Overall, this essay is very adaptable: it can be all touchy-feely, or accomplishment-driven. At its heart, this prompt wants you to reveal who you are. The ad-com wants to get to know you better, just as you learned that I am a Catholic inner city street tough who will never let you down. Given half a chance, I’ll kick your butt all the way into the best MBA program possible.

For more information about the Columbia essay questions and deadlines, see our Columbia Essay Guide.

The last of the top 10 MBA programs has finally spoken. Here are the essay questions for Kellogg's  class of 2015:

  1. Discuss moments or influences in your personal life that have defined who you are today. (500 word limit)

  2. What have been your most significant leadership experiences? What challenges did you face, and what impact did you have? This is your opportunity to explain how you Think Bravely (personally and/or professionally). (500 word limit)

  3. Imagine yourself at your Kellogg graduation. What career will you be preparing to enter, and how have the MBA and Kellogg helped you get there? (Please answer in terms of your program choice: One-Year, Two-Year, MMM, JD-MBA) (500 word limit)

  4. What one interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you? (25 words or less)

There are also essays for re-applicants, MMM applicants, and an optional essay, all of which can be found on our Kellogg essay guide.  

The University of Chicago's Booth MBA program has announced its essay questions and application deadlines for the Class of 2015. 

Perhaps following in HBS's footsteps, Booth has moved its Round 1 deadline up a full week; it is now October 2nd, 2012. The Round 2 deadline is January 8th, and the Round 3 deadline is April 4th, no doubt intended to coincide with the auspicious births of Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Timofeyevich Isakov and actor Heath Ledger.

The Essays are:

1 - Essay
What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will an MBA from Chicago Booth help you reach them? (500 words)

2 - Short Answer Essays

  • a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it? (200 words maximum)
  • b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)

3 - Presentation/Essay
The Chicago experience will take you deeper into issues, force you to challenge assumptions, and broaden your perspective. In a four-slide presentation or an essay of no more than 600 words, broaden our perspective about who you are. Understanding what we currently know about you from the application, what else would you like us to know?

For more information, see our Chicago Booth Essay Guide.

The University of Michigan's Ross MBA program has announced its essay questions and deadlines for the Class of 2015.  Drum roll, please...

Round 1 Deadline: October 10, 2012
Round 2 Deadline: January 3, 2013
Round 3 Deadline: March 4, 2013 

The Essays are as follows:

  1. Introduce yourself to your future Ross classmates in 100 words or less.
  2. Describe your career goals. How will an MBA from Ross help you to achieve those goals? (300 word maximum)
  3. Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words)
  4. What are you most passionate about and why?  How will this passion positively impact Ross (300 word maximum)
  5. Optional question: Is there anything else you think the Admissions Committee should know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (500 word maximum)

For more information, see our Ross Essay Guide.

Tree-huggers rejoice: Mother MBA has spoken. Berkeley's Haas School of Business has released its essay questions and deadlines for the Class of 2015.

The deadlines are:

Round 1 Deadline: October 17, 2012
Round 2 Deadline: November 29, 2012
Round 3 Deadline: January 16, 2013
Round 4 Deadline: March 12, 2013

The Haas essays haven't changed dramatically from previous years, but the new essay #1 question is sure to have the blogosphere chatting and b-school applicants buzzing about what to do (the answer: be honest).  Here you go:

At Berkeley-Haas, our distinctive culture is defined by four key principles — question the status quo; confidence without attitude; students always; and beyond yourself. We seek candidates from a broad range of cultures, backgrounds, and industries who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles. Please use the following essays as an opportunity to reflect on and share with us the values, experiences, and accomplishments that have helped shape who you are. (Learn more about Berkeley-Haas' Defining Principles)

  1. If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why? (250 word maximum)
  2. What is your most significant accomplishment? (250 word maximum)
  3. Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 word maximum)
  4. Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)
  5. a. What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals?
    b. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (750 word maximum for 5a. and 5b.)
For more info, check out our Haas Essay Guide.

Yesterday, Karen Marks, the director of admissions at Dartmouth's Tuck MBA program, announced the new essay questions for the Class of 2015 in her blog. While the number of mandatory questions has been cutfrom four to three, the three remaining questions are almost identical to those asked last year. Here they are:

Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. Compose each of your answers offline in separate document files and upload them individually in the appropriate spaces. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. There are no right or wrong answers.

Please double-space your responses.

  • Essay 1:Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA program for you, and what will you uniquely contribute to the community? (If you are applying for a joint or dual degree, please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)
  • Essay 2: Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?   
  • Essay 3: Describe a circumstance in your life in which you faced adversity, failure, or setback. What actions did you take as a result and what did you learn from this experience? 
  • Essay 4: (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.
 For more information, see our Tuck essay guide


MIT's Sloan MBA program has joined in the June madness, announcing their essay questions for the Class of 2015.  And in case you have trouble spelling MIT, they have provided a handy photograph on their admissions website

The new application deadlines are October 24th, 2012 for Round 1 and December 27th, 2012 for Round 2. If you celebrate Christmas and plan on applying in Round 2, you might want to start changing your holdiay plans now.

As in previous years, candidates must include a cover letter and essays. 

Cover Letter: Prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.


We are interested in learning more about how you work, think, and act. For each essay, please provide a brief overview of the situation followed by a detailed description of your response. Please limit the experiences you discuss to those which have occurred in the past three years.

In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did.

  • Essay 1: Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
  • Essay 2: Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
Check out our MIT Sloan essay guide for more information.