What follows is a summary of my thoughts on the Wharton essay prompts for the 2013-14 admissions season.
1. What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
This question is asking about two specific things: (1) your future goals, and (2) how experiencing Wharton will help you to achieve those goals. "Goals" here are defined by the question as including both personal and professional elements, and so ideally you'll aim to include both in your vision for your future. It's not enough to detail how you'll be successful. Instead, professional success should be accompanied by personal growth and making a positive impact on the people around you and you should do your best to incorporate both in your answer. You can include example of this growth and success at and after the MBA. Think of the question as containing BOTH of these elements: what do you hope to achieve DURING the Wharton MBA, and what to do hope to achieve USING the Wharton MBA after you've graduated? Both are important here.
Start this essay with an introduction by detailing the skill set you have now. Move from here to your career goals - and be as specific as you can about what you aim to accomplish and why accomplishing this is important or meaningful to you. After introducing what you've learned and done up to now and what you aim to do in the future, you're ready to define the "gap" - i.e. what you need to learn to position yourself to achieve your future goals. Ideally this short list will include things you can learn from an MBA, and in particular from the Wharton MBA. To show that Wharton is your ideal destination, be sure to give specific examples demonstrating how this program is the best for you. Read my blog entry titled "How to Find and Show Fit with an MBA program" for a short list of examples of how to do this.
2. Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community? (500 words)
Each applicant will bring different abilities to the program - what will you offer? Don't make the mistake of only considering examples from your professional experience. The learning community at Wharton extends from the classroom to extra-curricular activities to experiences in other countries, and for each you can give an example of how a work or non-work activity will help you to add value to the experience of your classmates in the program.
Base your answer on examples and try to cover each of classroom-based learning, extracurricular learning (such as a student club) and international learning via one of the several overseas opportunities Wharton offers. When detailing your contributions, think of your work and non-work interests as possible examples. Remember: setting up a friendly international soccer competition for Wharton students and family members is just as important as offering insight in supply chain management in a particular course: both will help you to add value to those around you.
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 our application). (250 words)
The wording of this question seems to make it ideal only for addressing weaknesses in your application. The goal of any MBA essay is to reveal something positive about you - ask yourself how you might be able to do this as a part of shedding light on that particular weakness you choose to write about. A weak GPA for instance could be an opportunity to detail a strong extra-curricular activity and the learning that came from that.