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. 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. 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 is grounded in 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. “Penn 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 impact your experience at Penn.
Penn accepts the Common Application or the Coalition Application and requires a Penn writing supplemental essay in addition to the general Common/Coalition Application essay. Your supplemental essay helps Penn to gain a more holistic view of you as a potential student. Penn states: “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 becomes aware of your grades and test scores, and gets to learn about the level of rigor in your curriculum within the context of your high school environment.
Penn offers a binding early decision option with a November 1st deadline. Consider this option if Penn is your first choice, because the rate of admission is higher during early decision. In addition, if you have family alumni ties to Penn, early decision may be the best approach. (Alumni affiliation receives the most consideration during the early decision program.) You are allowed to apply early decision to Penn and early action to other non-binding or non-restrictive early action programs. Always check with the specific schools for guidelines.
The Penn supplemental essay
The supplemental essay is an opportunity 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 will understand what is important to you!
Before you sit down to begin writing your essay, do your research to learn as much as possible about Penn’s approach to education. Familiarize yourself with the unique character of the school by exploring Penn’s website and getting a sense of the campus and academic atmosphere. If possible, plan a visit to the campus, speak with current students, and imagine yourself as a student at Penn. In short, identify what makes the school a good fit for you.
University of Pennsylvania 2020 – 2021 supplemental application essay prompts
Penn supplemental essay #1
How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)
For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions 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.*
This prompt invites you to discuss the origins of your academic passions, and to demonstrate why Penn will be the right place for exploring your interests and flourishing personally and academically.
- Was there an “ah-ha!” moment that sparked your intellectual and academic interests? If so, that’s a great place to begin! Don’t be afraid to show your excitement, but ground it in specifics as they relate to the educational experience available to you at Penn. Include examples of how your personal experiences make the programs at Penn a good fit for you.
- Consider why you are a good fit for the undergraduate school of your choice (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?
- How will the opportunities at Penn expand, nurture, and support your interests and aspirations?
- How do you hope to contribute to the collegiate environment at Penn?
- Consider how you might positively impact the overall Penn campus community.
- Discuss why you are driven to attend Penn and how a Penn education will help you to affect change in the world.
Penn supplemental essay #2
At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)
This prompt is new this year and is meant to address how you might contribute to and benefit from the extracurricular atmosphere at Penn. You only have 200 words to express what excites you most about the community at Penn, provide some insight into how you might engage with it, and reveal how you might both enhance and grow from it based on your unique identity and perspective.
- One way to address this prompt is by discussing your cultural background. Consider the diverse population of students and their experiences in light of your own identity and perspectives. How will you learn and grow from interacting with those from different backgrounds? How will your background add to the Penn community?
- Consider the Penn community within the context of the city of Philadelphia. Remember Penn’s founder Ben Franklin was focused on service to society and that begins with the dynamic community around you and expands from there. Reflect on Penn-specific opportunities to get involved in the local Philly community.
- Either way, Your response requires you to look at your identity and perspective and consider ways you mesh with the Penn community and how that might affect you and likewise, how you might impact 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 those in the community at Penn?
Final thoughts on applying to Penn
This is a competitive application process and you are up against an increasingly competitive group of applicants. Penn received 44,961 undergraduate applications for the class of 2023. Only 3,446, or a record low of 7.7%, were offered admission. Here are a few more numbers to consider. 96% of the students admitted were in the top 10% of their high school class with median SAT scores of 740 in evidence based reading and writing, 780 in math. Half of admitted applicants had an ACT score of 32 and 35. Effectively communicating the intangibles through your essays is the best way to differentiate yourself in this prestigious crowd. Use your essay responses to discuss what is meaningful to you, project the value you might add to the campus community, and convey how and why Penn is the ideal place for you to start transforming your dreams into your 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 factors 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 time and invest the energy to reveal your best self!
If you’re applying to the University of Pennsylvania, you already know you’re up against tight competition. Don’t be overwhelmed. Get the guidance of an experienced admissions specialist who will help you stand out from the highly competitive applicant pool so that you can apply with confidence and get accepted! Click here to get started!
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***Marie Todd has been involved in college admissions for over twenty years. Marie has both counseled applicants to top colleges and evaluated 5000+ 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 with Marie Todd.