The University of Pennsylvania, or Penn, was established in 1790 and is one of the oldest universities in America. This prestigious Ivy League school is known for its top-notch research as well as its undergraduate programs that focus on practical applications grounded in a strong liberal arts foundation. It accepts the Common Application or the Coalition Application and requires a Penn writing supplemental in addition to the general Common/Coalition Application essay. Your supplemental essay helps Penn gain a more holistic view of you as a potential student. The Penn website states, “Our ideal candidates are inspired to emulate our founder Benjamin Franklin by applying their knowledge in ‘service to society.’” Through your Common Application, the admissions committee is aware of your grades and test scores, and understands the level of rigor in your curriculum within the context of your high school environment. Use the supplemental essay to demonstrate how you are an ideal match for Penn and how Penn will help you to accomplish your life goals. Illustrate how you engage with and think about the world around you. Communicate your thoughts, values, and perspectives so the admissions committee can understand what is important to you!
Penn offers a binding early decision option with a November 1 deadline. Consider this option if Penn is your first choice, because the rate of admission is higher during the early decision round. In addition, if Penn is your top choice and you have any alumni ties, early decision might be the best approach. In the past, candidates with alumni affiliation received the most consideration during the early decision program. Keep in mind, applying to any school via binding early decision will limit when and how you can apply to other schools. You are allowed to apply early decision to Penn and early action to other nonbinding or nonrestrictive early action programs. Always check with the specific schools for guidelines.
Before you sit down to begin writing your essays, do your research to learn as much as possible about Penn’s approach to education. Familiarize yourself with the unique character of the school, read through the website, get a sense of the campus and academic atmosphere, visit the campus (if possible), speak with students, and imagine yourself studying at Penn. In short, identify what makes the school a good fit for you.
Penn is located in the city of Philadelphia and offers an exceptional education in a diverse urban setting on a primarily residential campus. Penn provides many opportunities for students to investigate various areas of interest. The availability of learning hubs is an example of how the school fosters the active and dynamic exploration of ideas. Think about how you might embrace this approach and the overall academic climate at Penn.
It should come as no surprise that Penn is steeped in tradition. Although the curriculum at Penn is flexible, it has a high-quality liberal arts and science foundation. The four undergraduate schools (College of Arts and Science, Penn Engineering, School of Nursing, and The Wharton School) pride themselves on providing an integrated and functional education. The Penn site states that students “combine theoretical and practical thinking while developing the tools they need to innovate and lead in a world that demands an increasingly broad perspective.” Consider how these values will affect your experience at Penn.
Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words, only required for first year applicants)
First, consider your overall application to Penn, because you want to shed light on something you have not mentioned in any detail elsewhere. The person you write to should be someone who has had a positive impact on you – on your life, your way of thinking, your identity, your interests, or in any other significant way. This is a short note, so use concise language to explain what you are thanking them for, how what they did (intentionally or not) affected you, and why you are grateful.
How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective, and how your experiences and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)
This prompt is meant to address the interplay of how you might add to and benefit from the extracurricular atmosphere at Penn. How will you participate in the Penn community and contribute to it in meaningful ways? You only have 200 words in which to express what excites you most about the Penn community, provide some insight into how you might engage with it, and reveal how you might both enhance and grow from it based on your individual identity and perspective. Among other things, this prompt provides an opportunity to express your cultural background and unique interests. Consider the diverse population of students and their experiences in light of your own identity and perspectives.
Also consider the Penn community within the context of the city of Philadelphia. Remember that Penn’s founder, Ben Franklin, was focused on service to society, and that begins with the dynamic community around you and expands from there. Overlay your individual story with the community at Penn. This essay requires you to look at your identity and perspective and to consider the ways in which you mesh with the Penn community. How might it affect you, and likewise, what impact might you have on those around you? What do you bring with you based on your life experience? What might you gain though your potential interactions/opportunities/exchanges with others in the community at Penn?
The school-specific prompt will now be unique to the school to which a student is applying. Considering the undergraduate school you have selected, please respond to your school-specific prompt below. (For example, all applicants applying to the College of Arts and Sciences will respond to the prompt under the “College of Arts and Sciences” section).
For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer this question in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.
For this response, you will address the school-specific prompt (School of Nursing, College of Arts and Science, The Wharton School, or School or Engineering and Applied Science) in 150-200 words.
Although each prompt is slightly different based on the school to which you are applying, the underlying question is the same: how does Penn support your intellectual and academic interests, and how do your goals align with the specific mission of the school? Do your research into your school of choice. How will it prepare you to achieve your goals? You must demonstrate an understanding of yourself by articulating your personal connection to the program’s mission. Consider why you are a good fit for the undergraduate school (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). What specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities might enhance your journey and help you accomplish your goals? Include examples of how your personal experiences make the program at Penn a good fit for you. How will the opportunities at Penn expand, nurture, and support your interests and aspirations? In closing, remember to address why you are driven to attend the program at Penn and how a Penn education will help you to effect change in the world.
Students applying to dual-degree and specialized programs should address the prompts above in terms of the single-degree school choice in your response. Your interest in the coordinated or specialized program can be addressed in your program-specific essay.
Note that additional essays are required if you are applying to one of the Coordinated Dual Degree and Specialized Programs offered at Penn. These responses have limits that range from 400 to 650 words. Although these individual prompts are not addressed in detail here, keep in mind that each one asks you to share specific examples and experiences that demonstrate your potential for success, along with your enthusiasm for and attraction to the particular program. These programs are a significant commitment, so you need to convey your genuine dedication. The admissions committee uses your essays to determine whether you will be a good match for the particular dual degree or specialized program to which you seek admission.
This is a competitive application process, and you are up against an increasingly competitive group of applicants. Although Penn withheld admission rates for the Class of 2027 in an effort to put the focus back on students rather than low admissions rates, it received 59,463 undergraduate applications, and only 2,420 enrolled in the first-year class. If we look back at previous years that had fewer total applicants and similar class sizes, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2027 is likely in the 4% to 6% range.
Here are a few more numbers to consider. Over 90% of the students admitted were in the top 10% of their high school class, with an average SAT score of 1535 and an average ACT score of 34.5. Effectively communicating the intangibles through your essays is the best way to differentiate yourself among this prestigious crowd. Use your essay responses to discuss what is meaningful to you, project the value you could add to the campus community, and convey how Penn is the ideal place for you to achieve your dreams for the future.
Take a deep breath, and try not to be intimidated by this process. Start early to allow yourself enough time to thoroughly research, prepare, and complete all aspects of your application. All these components must come together in a compelling way to present you as a highly competitive applicant. Penn is interested in your personal stories, life experiences, hopes, and aspirations. It seeks to attract and foster great thinkers and future leaders who will play constructive roles in society. Take the appropriate time and invest the necessary energy to reveal your best self!
Marie Todd has been involved in college admissions for more than 20 years. Marie has both counseled applicants to top colleges and evaluated more than 5,000 applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology; School of Nursing; and Taubman College of Architecture. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch.