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5 Tips for Writing a Great UPenn Essay

Posted by Hayley Milliman | Sep 22, 2019 2:00:00 PM

College Essays

 

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The University of Pennsylvania requires all first year applicants to submit a personal essay as well as a Penn-specific essay. If you're hoping to be one of the 8% of students admitted to Penn every year, your UPenn essay is an important part of your application. You'll need to make sure your essays are strong to increase your chances of admission.

In this article, we'll go over the UPenn essay logistics—covering exactly what you need to write for each college you're applying to at UPenn. Then, we'll break down each prompt, offering suggestions for what to write about. Finally, we'll give tips on how to write an amazing UPenn essay that'll help you get into your dream school.

 

What Are the UPenn Essay Prompts?

If you're applying to UPenn, you must submit your application to one of UPenn's four undergraduate schools. Depending on which undergraduate program you're applying to, you'll need to answer UPenn's specific statements as well an additional essay for that school.

The UPenn specific essay is a traditional "Why UPenn" essay that asks you to elaborate on why you want to attend UPenn as well as what you hope to study at the undergraduate school you're applying to. Here's that prompt:

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)

UPenn's second essay prompt for all students is:

At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, 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)

UPenn also adds:

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.

Depending on the undergraduate program you're applying to, you may have to write an additional essay as part of your application.

Here are those additional essay prompts and the program for which they apply:

  • Computer and Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence: Why are you interested in the Computer & Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)
  • Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program: You must answer all five prompts.
    • Please list pre-dental or pre-medical experience. This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research, etc. Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and description of your experience. If you do not have any pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry. (250 words maximum)
    • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. (250 words maximum)
    • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? (250 words maximum)
    • Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry. Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least. (250 words maximum)
    • Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school? If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended. (250 words maximum)
  • Digital Media Design Program: Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)
  • The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business: The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally-minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to make a contribution to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)
  • The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Science and Management: LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What advantages and opportunities does the combination provide, and what issues could it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. It is important that you share your thoughts written in your own words because that is what we are interested in reading. (400-650 words)
  • The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology: Please complete both prompts.
    • Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)
    • Question 2: Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words maximum)
  • The Rejendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering: Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words)
  • Nursing and Healthcare Management: Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn's coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)
  • The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research: Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

 

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UPenn Essay Prompts, Analyzed

In this section, we'll analyze each of the UPenn supplement essay prompts and offer suggestions for what you should talk about (and avoid) for each.

 

Penn-Specific Essays

Prompt 1:

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words)

For students applying to the other 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.

The first prompt, which all students must answer regardless of what program they're applying to, is a traditional Why UPenn essay. It asks you to explain why you want to attend UPenn.

While these types of prompts are common, the Why UPenn essay prompt focuses specifically on academics—it's not concerned with your interest in UPenn's extracurriculars or campus life. Your answer, then, needs to be specifically focused on your academic pursuits and how UPenn will help you achieve your goals.

You'll need to talk about how the undergraduate school you're applying to affects your academic interests, so do your research on the school. You don't want to talk about a class that you won't have access to because it's in another undergraduate school. All of your answers should be reflective of the courses you'll be able to take if admitted to the undergraduate school of your choice.

You should have a good sense of the classes offered by your program. It's a good idea to name specific classes or professors you'd like to study with. Similarly, if there are any specific opportunities available to students in your field, such as internships or study abroad programs, this essay is the place to talk about it.

Prompt 2:

At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, 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)

The first prompt was largely focused on academic interests. The second is where you can think more about community.

Going to college isn't just about what you'll learn in class. It's also about forming life-long friendships and exploring different communities to find out who you are and what you like to do.

Of course, you can't predict exactly what your social life is going to look like before you even get accepted. You may end up in clubs you never expected, with friends you never anticipated. But that's okay—UPenn isn't asking you to lay out, step-by-step, how you'll participate in college communities. They just want to know that you're thinking about it!

To answer this question, consider looking into UPenn's many student-run clubs and activities and find some that match your interests. Think about how these clubs and activities will contribute to the vision you have of your future. What impact do you expect them to have on you?

But don't forget the second half of the question! UPenn also wants to know how you will shape the community, not just how it will shape you. What unique perspectives do you bring? What can you do that nobody else can?

This question is a pretty typical "why you?" essay prompt that's focused on community rather than academics. Think about how you fit into your social groups; what makes you unique? Are you the token caregiver friend? Or maybe you're always pursuing a new weird hobby, and your friends love hearing about what your new niche interest is. These are just two traits that you could use to explain what you'll bring to the UPenn community—get a little creative, think about how you participate in your friend groups, and plan how you're going to bring those thoughts into your new school!

 

Computer and Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence

Why are you interested in the Computer & Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)

This question is pretty straightforward: UPenn wants to know why you want to be part of the Artificial Intelligence program. You have over 400 words to tell them about your interest in AI, your goals, and how attending UPenn will help you achieve them.

With any prompt of this kind, you want to be sure that your essay is unique to the school you're applying to, and also to you as an applicant. You want UPenn to know that you're the right candidate, and that they're the right school for you. To demonstrate this, make it clear that your essay is crafted specifically for UPenn.

One way to go about this is to cite specifics about the college's program. You can talk about professors whose work you admire, specific courses you want to take, or clubs you want to join. Using specifics makes it clear that you're passionate about this college, not just the prospect of college in general.

You want UPenn to come away with the impression that it's not just about getting your degree, but about getting your degree from UPenn's Artificial Intelligence program—nothing else will do. You don't have to beg and plead for you acceptance letter, but do make it clear that you're interested in this college because of its strengths, not just because it's convenient!

 

Bio-Dental Program

Please list pre-dental or pre-medical experience. This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research, etc. Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and description of your experience. If you do not have any pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry. (250 words maximum)

List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. (250 words maximum)

What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? (250 words maximum)

Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry. Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least. (250 words maximum)

Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school? If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended. (250 words maximum)

The prompt for the Bio-Dental program is extensive. Attack it in pieces, being as specific as possible when answering each question.

Don't feel that you need to make up any specific experience. If you haven't interned at a dentist's office, don't invent that experience. You should stick to reality. If you haven't observed at a dentist's office, you can set up a time to visit a local dentist so that you're writing about your real experience, not something you've invented.

When listing your activities, be sure to indicate how each is relevant to dental skill. Maybe you do a lot of needlepoint, which shows that you're able to carry out complex patterns. Again, you don't want to make anything up. Not only will your essay read as inauthentic, you won't have the experience you need to enter into the program.

Take your time and work through this prompt in pieces if you have to. Be thorough, honest, and accurate.

 

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Digital Media Design Program

Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)

Just like the Artificial Intelligence essay prompt, in this essay you'll want to explain exactly why the Digital Media Design program at UPenn appeals to you. There are a few important components to an answer for this prompt: specificity, personality, and genuine interest.

To tackle the first important feature, you'll want to do some research into the program you're applying to. Find the unique things about this program in comparison to others; that can mean the professors who teach in it, the classes that are offered, what former students are up to, or anything else that you can tie specifically to UPenn. The reason for this is that the college wants to know that you're not just applying there as a fallback choice. UPenn wants students who are driven and passionate about what college will help them achieve, and putting specifics into your essay is a great way to show that you care about attending.

Next, be sure that your essay has personality. You want your essay to read as if only you could have written it. Having specifics will help with that, but you should also make it a point to let your own unique voice and interests shine through. If Digital Media Design draws your interest because you've always been drawn to the unique storytelling potential of animation after growing up on Pixar films, that's worth mentioning! Remember, your college application is all about getting the college invested in you as a student; let your personality shine through.

And lastly, demonstrate genuine interest. UPenn is a great school, and you should use your essay to show that you're not just applying there because you needed to fill another slot on your college list. Express your passion for attending UPenn, and specifically the Digital Media Design program. What brought you here over every other school? Even if UPenn isn't your top choice, remember all the things that made you put the school on your college list in the first place, and keep them in mind as you write.

 

The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally-minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to make a contribution to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)

For the Huntsman essay, you'll need to explain exactly what draws you to UPenn's International Studies and Business program. This is a dual-degree program, so you'll be studying at the intersection of these two fields. A working understanding of each will be important to writing this essay.

To start, make a short list of reasons why this degree appeals to you. What international issues interest you? Why take a business approach rather than a sociological or political one? You don't have to put the answers to these questions in your essay, but if you know the answers to them, you'll be better prepared to answer the prompt with confidence.

The question specifically asks for how you'll use what you learn in this program to make an impact on a global issue. That requires some familiarity with global issues; think about causes that matter to you and how you can use business to approach them. How will attending UPenn help you toward your career goals?

You can cite specific classes, instructors, or other features of UPenn to help make your point. Your essay should feature not just how you want to make an impact on the world, but also why you're seeking a dual degree, and specifically a dual degree from UPenn.

 

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Science and Management

LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What advantages and opportunities does the combination provide, and what issues could it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. It is important that you share your thoughts written in your own words because that is what we are interested in reading. (400-650 words)

The LSM essay is a traditional college prompt, seeking to understand why you're applying to this particular program. As a blend of science and management, it's a fairly unique program—UPenn wants to know that you understand the intersection of these two fields and that you're passionate about each.

The trick to answering this essay well is to make your response as personal as you can—anything inauthentic to you as a student will read as off to the admissions committee. Demonstrate not just that you know that life science and management are important fields, but that you, personally, are interested in pursuing them. What do you hope to do with your degree? How will it combine the fields of life science and management? You don't have to outline a clear career path, but if you know the answers to these questions in advance, you'll be able to write an essay that's full of concrete plans and details.

You'll also need to be specific in your answer, so if you have a particular career path in mind, be sure to highlight it. While the prompt calls for originality, don't stretch yourself trying to come up with an out-of-the-box answer to impress your essay readers. Your answer needs to be realistic and authentic.

 

The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

Please complete both prompts.

Question 1: Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)

Question 2: Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words maximum)

You'll need to complete two additional essays if you're applying to the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology.

Like many UPenn programs, this school combines two different fields—management and technology. To answer this question effectively, you'll need to know exactly how the two can work together. Think about why you've chosen this particular program—what can you gain from it that you wouldn't from a program in either management or technology? How will a degree in this program help you reach your personal and career goals? This prompt asks for how you'll use it to explore your interests, so don't be afraid to get specific!

The second question is also concerned with your problem-solving ability. This classic prompt wants to know about a time when you faced adversity and either overcame it or learned from it. Don't be afraid to show yourself tackling a real challenge here—your ability to persevere is more important than showing that you never make mistakes.

 

The Rejendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering

Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words)

The easiest way to answer this prompt is with a story. Tell the admissions committee how you became interested in this line of study.

You should be as specific as possible in your answer. After all, the prompt calls for examples from your own experience. You should be able to clearly articulate where your interest stemmed from. Don't feel like you have to talk about everything that interests you within this field—focusing on one or two clear examples that you have a lot of interest in will go further than trying to talk about everything related to networked information systems and technologies.

 

Nursing and Healthcare Management

Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn's coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)

You have plenty of space in this prompt (up to 650 words), so you should make sure to address both parts of the question—why you're interested in Penn's nursing and healthcare management program and how the program will help you achieve your future goals.

Key to answering the second part of the prompt is to have some future goals thought out—have a specific idea of what you want to do with your degree. Then, tie that back to things you can study at UPenn. It would be helpful for this prompt to familiarize yourself with aspects of UPenn's program—courses, professors, learning and employment opportunities. The more you can show why UPenn is the right school for you to achieve your goals, the better your essay will be.

 

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

There are two parts to this prompt: why you are interested in this specific program and area of study and how UPenn will help you achieve your career goals. You have plenty of space in this prompt, so make sure you answer each aspect thoroughly. Don't invent previous experience if you don't have it—be honest and authentic in your answer.

You should have a clear idea about which VIPER majors you're interested in. Be prepared to name specific UPenn majors and provide reasoning, in the form of classes you'd like to take or professors you'd like to study with.

 

5 Tips for Acing the UPenn Supplement

Hoping to write amazing UPenn supplement essays? Follow these key tips to do so!

 

#1: Use Your Own Voice

The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond what's featured in other parts of your application. Your admissions essays are your chance to become more than just a collection of statistics—to really come alive for your application readers.

Make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't just write what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not—it will be really easy for the committee to tell you're lying.

If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will at best diminish its effectiveness and at worst make the admissions committee think twice on accepting you. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think UPenn wants you to be.

 

#2: Be UPenn-Specific

All of your UPenn essays should be UPenn-specific. Don't be generic in your answers—the admissions committee should get the idea that you know about UPenn and that your answer is specific to that school, not about college in general.

Don't waste your time telling the admissions committee that UPenn has a world-class faculty—first of all, the admissions committee knows that and second, many universities do. Talk about why UPenn is the right school for you and be prepared to give real, concrete examples.

 

#3: Do Your Research

You can make your essay UPenn-specific by doing your research. Look into the course catalogue, visit your prospective major's website. Schedule a meeting with a professor or current student if you can. The more specific information you have, the better.

 

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#4: Avoid Cliches and Overused Phrases

When writing your UPenn essays, don't use cliches or overused quotes or phrases. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." You can write something more original than that!

Each of the UPenn essays asks you something specific about your experience or background. Your essay should be 100% you—you don't want the admissions committee to think, "Anyone could have written this essay."

 

#5: Check Your Work

Your UPenn essays should be the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your UPenn application, edit and proofread your essays.

Run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit and ask someone else to read your essays. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.

 

#6: Have a Spike

What's a spike, you ask?

In short, a spike is something that makes you stand out. Something that no (or very few) other applicants have.

When you're applying to college, it's tempting to seem well-rounded and interested in all the things.

Don't do that.

Your application won't stand out if you're mediocre in band, on the track team, and on student council. It will stand out if you travel to Japan to perform with a world-class performance ensemble or qualify for the Olympic trials in shot put.

When your focus is on one thing, you'll be better at it than if you have to split your time and attention. It will also be more impressive on your resume.

 

Final Thoughts

Your UPenn essay is an important part of your application. Depending on the specific school you're applying to, you may have to write three or more essays.

No matter which school at UPenn you're applying to, keep in mind:

DO:

  • Be authentic.
  • Highlight your best qualities.
  • Use specific examples of UPenn courses and professors you want to study.

DON'T:

  • Be generic.
  • Make anything up about yourself.
  • Split your focus by talking about too many different ideas.

 

What's Next?

If you're applying to UPenn, you're likely applying to other colleges on the East Coast, too. Check out our expert guides to the Williams essay, the Tufts essays, and the Harvard essay.

Need help writing your Common App essay? Our tips will show you how to write a Common App essay guaranteed to make you stand out from other applicants!

 


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.



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