Every high school student has to go through the tough process of filling out college applications. The dreaded exams, essays, and details required make the admissions process a grueling one. And there’s always one question that students find is the hardest: “Why us?” We asked some students from UPenn to tell us their best strategies to tackle that difficult question:
penn120: “Everyone applying to a liberal arts college is going to be thinking the same, relatively broad thing: I like the balance of courses and I don’t know what I want to do yet so I want to take a variety of classes. You have to make the essay school-specific. What can you say about the school (that isn’t cliche) that really applies to you? Think about why you are applying to the school in the first place, and brainstorm, choosing a few ideas that you can elaborate on in an essay. Your essay should not be about why the college is a “good school,” but why it would be a good fit for you, and moreover, why you would be a good fit for it. Say what you are going to bring to the community, whether it be through activities, study abroad programs, research, etc. Do your research on the school and point out specific programs that interest you.”
Mizo: “For many “Why” essays, I had a template that greatly simplified the college application process. Basically, the first two paragraphs of my essay discussed my passion and how I, in and out of school, took initiative to explore my passion. My last paragraph tied back to the college I was applying for, as I discussed what offerings the college had that would allow me to delve deeper into my passions—which classes I would take, which professors I would love to learn from, which clubs I would participate in, etc. This template allowed me to answer the question, demonstrate specific knowledge on the school, and show parts of myself I may not have had the opportunity to address in the rest of the application.”
whartonschool19: “Penn is a very diverse campus, both in regards to the student body and the offered academic programs. When writing about Penn, many prospective students tend to generalize what interests about them; they focus too much space on describing the city of Philadelphia, the actual location and setting of the campus, the types of students that attend the college, and how “the great academic standing of Penn will help me be successful in the future.” Try to avoid using these types of topics to discuss your interest. To successfully write the “Why Penn” essay, look your intended major and look back at your high school career to see what types of activities, classes, and extracurriculars you were involved. Try to see how these aspects highlight your interests and goals and look for specific programs and opportunities Penn offers that will help you further explore these these interests and help you develop them.”
PennBen: “Research your chosen school (SAS, SEAS, Wharton, or Nursing) or program in detail in order to gain a sense of the opportunities that the school/program offers. Show that you’re driven and organized by communicating your genuine passion and connecting it to your personal experience and well-thought-out future plans. “Genuine” is the key word in this instance, since most of the people reading your essay will have read hundreds if not thousands of other essays and will be extremely adept at sniffing out anything that doesn’t “sound right.” Penn students are generally ambitious and innovative, so it helps if your reasons for applying relate to your experiences or future plans.”
lilk16sen: “Unique research about a school, if you can mention something the school prides themselves on and feels it’s part of what separates themselves from other schools it will help you dramatically. It isn’t too hard to find as it is usually featured prominently on all websites and pamphlets the school will use.”
GoQuakers: “There are tons of clubs and organizations at UPenn that you can mention in your essay. I personally wrote about my interest in the Wharton Undergraduate Media and Entertainment Club and Wharton Women. I know that a fantastic campus organization to target if you’re a writer is the Kelly Writers House. You can also discuss the amazing faculty and diversity of the student body. Whatever the case, DON’T be general. Paint the admissions officers a picture of how you will fit in at UPenn.”
Applying to UPenn? See essays, scores, and advice from real students who were accepted. Our UPenn packages feature some of our favorite essays that got accepted to this iconic Ivy League school.
Located in the heart of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania has a vibrant social life and prides itself on its interdisciplinary education. Penn also has many specific programs that have separate essay questions beyond that of the College of Arts and Science. This post will walk you through navigating the basic Penn essay as well as the individualized essays for specialized programs.
Note: although this year’s Penn app words some of its questions differently, the true meaning of the prompts have not changed. Thus, we’ve updated this year’s post only slightly to reflect new trends in admissions. Read last year’s post here.
1) Penn Writing Supplement (for all applicants)
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 coordinated dual-degree programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice. Interest in coordinated dual-degree programs will be addressed through those program-specific essays.
This essay is essentially a “Why Penn” essay – Penn is trying to gauge if you actually want to go to the school or if you are just throwing in an application. This question however is a bit more focused, as Penn asks you to frame your answer through the lens of the school to which you are applying. Your essay therefore, will naturally lean towards speaking about academics. As such, you want to first explain what your specific academic interests are, but more importantly how Penn will allow you to pursue them. Simply saying that you are interested in business because of its ability to galvanize economic growth and that you thus want to study at Wharton is not enough – you could study that same topic at any business school around the country. You need to incorporate why Wharton is the only business school for you.
For those of you that have dreamed about Penn your whole lives and have visited multiple times, this should be relatively straightforward. Hone in on one or two aspects of the school to which you are applying and emphasize how that matches your personality and interests. Perhaps during one campus visit you sat in an electrical engineering class with a quirky teacher whose lesson of the day was on applications of electrical engineering. Using the vehicle of the classroom is an effective (and interesting) way to convey your interest in how Penn might foster the “real world applications” of what it teaches.
For those of you that have never visited Penn, this might seem a bit more difficult. A good way to still write an effective essay is to discuss a few core aspects of Penn (it’s okay if they are widely known) and explain how your personality fits in to them. For example, Penn prides itself on interdisciplinary education. Following the Wharton example above, you might choose to speak about how Wharton’s close intersection with the College of Arts and Sciences (and how Penn offers the ability to take classes between the two) will allow you to pursue, say psychology as well, adding a “human element” to your business education. This fundamentally distinguishes a Wharton business education from that of another school and can be seen as a compelling reason as to why you want to attend.
This is a relatively long essay, so after you have successfully answered the core academic component of this question, if you still have some space you can allow your essay to flow into other aspects of the Penn life, making this a true “Why Penn” essay (so long as you focus on intellectual topics). For example, concluding your essay with a paragraph that remarks a bit on what you expect to do outside your school can be an effective way to introduce yourself not just as a participant in the classroom, but an active member of the community. You can be creative here; throwing in a small joke about the terrors of classwork associated with being engineering major and how you plan to unwind by studying quantitative finance algorithms (provided you actually do) with the Penn ARC can be a lighthearted way of including yourself in the Penn community. Be careful not to go overboard here, however — this year’s prompt specifically references intellectual interests.
Discuss a current international issue, which demonstrates how international affairs and business intersect and explain how the Huntsman curriculum might assist to resolve the issue. (500 words maximum)
Compared to previous years’, this year’s question seems less limited in scope in that you are now allowed to discuss any current international issue (in previous years, the wording of the question seemed to directly encourage you to write about an issue “in light of your personal interests in language, business, and international affairs,” implying that you needed some personal experience in that language or international affair). Make no mistake, however — despite the ostensibly expansive nature of the prompt, the most competitive applicants to Hunstman will still elect to write about issues relevant to their own spheres of interest. Thus, you are best served picking an issue that has something to do with your intended specialization within Huntsman.
Huntsman is a program between the Wharton school and the College of Arts and Sciences that allows students to develop skills in a certain language while pursuing a business and international relations degree from both schools. The key aspect of Huntsman is that you choose a country/culture and you heavily focus on it during your four years. Thus, this question is attempting to gauge your interests in business, international relations and the specific culture you would like to study all through the vehicle of a global issue. As you can see, this is a pretty hefty essay to cohesively address all of those aspects.
A really successful way to answer this, however, is to hone in on one cultural aspect of the country you want to study, and relate that aspect to some business/economic issue facing the rest of the world. For example, you could have a deep interest in how Chinese business is conducted in the absence of hard promises and focus on its ability to address the communication/relationship problems of an increasingly globalized economy. The Huntsman program would allow you to further explore this Chinese cultural nuance and apply it to improve synergy between multinational giants. The key to this question really is to indicate an understanding of a culture beyond what any random person would know. For example, the world knows that Germany is famous for its engineering abilities; the world, however, is not privy to the concept of the German “geist,” a philosophical concept explored in nineteenth century literature that expresses the cultural German conservatism. Make sure that your answer definitely addresses all parts of this question, including the culture/language, your interests in business, and your interests in international affairs.
LSM (Life Sciences & 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 needs does it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. (400-650 words)
This question is similar to the Huntsman question, as it requires to you to synthesize your interests into a general “Why LSM” answer. This program attempts to bridge the constant gap between scientific innovation and marketable solutions. An effective way to answer this is to point to a problem within a lab setting, and explain how management overhauls can address it. For example, you could focus on the problem of managing the profitability of important drugs in low-margin markets. For example, a cure to Dengue Fever would be targeting extremely low-income individuals in developing natures. As such, research efforts are dampened by a perceived lack of profitability amid large R&D expenses. An LSM education could provide the insight into the management side of life sciences to effectively raise the margins of a new drug that would motivate investment and seed funding to ultimately bring about a cure for millions of individuals. Be sure that whatever problem you choose illustrates your knowledge of the issues facing the medical field you want to pursue.
Management & Technology
Explain how you will use this program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. It is helpful to identify potential engineering and business paths available at Penn. (400-650 words)
This essay is relatively straightforward. As opposed to the other Penn specialized programs that require you to analyze the field through some specific lens, this essay literally just inquires about your interest in the intersection of business and technology, which megatrend-wise is paramount to the modern economy. A good strategy for this essay is focus; you don’t want to attempt to synthesize all of engineering with management in a general way. Instead, start with an area of engineering and highlight how progression in the management aspect of that field is important to solve some specific problem in the field.
For example, you could analyze specific environmental challenges with respect to offshore drilling and explain how revolutionizing the supply chain of the industry would lead to substantial increases in margins as well as improvements in environmental sustainability. The focus of the essay would be on how the Jerome Fisher’s intersection of business and technology would provide the necessary breadth to tackle such a challenge. Be sure to be specific here too; it can help to mention specific classes or other programs at Penn that would allow you to pursue this intersection of interests.
Please describe a time in which you displayed leadership. (250 words maximum)
This essay is also relatively straightforward. Because Jerome Fisher heavily emphasizes leadership abilities, it is attempting to gauge applicants’ experiences working with and leading others. It’s hard to really mess up this essay; you just need to provide an example of some leadership experience you have had. However, you want to be careful that the leadership you choose to highlight is legitimate leadership – and not solely from a resume perspective. For example, there is a difference between leadership by position and leadership by action. Simply writing about how you were the President of FBLA and managed the club is not necessarily a display of leadership – in fact (as with almost all high school EC elections), you’re just showing that you won a popularity contest. What’s more important to convey is what you did with that role. Focusing on how you used your authority as FBLA President to organize a business workshop for small businesses in your community and provide them with marketing/sales tips developed by your club members is a much more legitimate display of leadership – you physically invested your power to bring about a positive change.
Keep in mind for this question that your display of leadership also does not need to be tied to a specific position. If you have relatively little leadership on your resume, you can definitely write about a time when you (as a regular club member) went beyond your regular role and took some initiative to help the club. For example, perhaps during one Model United Nations meeting, the entire board failed to show up. Writing about how you were the one to step up and run the meeting anyway (without having a board position) can be an even more powerful display of de facto leadership.
NETS – 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)
This essay is relatively open-ended and attempts to assess your awareness of networked systems as they relate to society. You can attack this topic from multiple lenses. For example, you can take a business/entrepreneurship focus and speak to how networked systems provide exciting opportunities for various new ventures (think healthcare, for example). Alternatively, you can write this essay from a political perspective, highlighting the implications of a digitally ubiquitous government.Finally, you could use this essay to provide more of a social commentary of the larger role networked systems play in our lives – perhaps you hope to use the NETS education coupled with a Penn liberal arts education to explore and prescribe solutions to potential consequences of the sheer amount of time our generation spends plugged in.
When physically writing the essay, you definitely can be creative in terms of how you structure it. This topic heavily overlaps with social media, so employing an interesting technique (such as writing the essay as if through a Facebook chat) could be successful – make sure, however, that you don’t distract from the core content of your essay with whatever vehicle you choose to employ.
Nursing and Health Care 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 can frame the answer to this question much in the same way as the answer to the Vagelos prompt (check out Part 1 of writing the Penn essays). A good way to frame this essay is to acknowledge a challenge facing healthcare that can be resolved though better facilitation through management. You may heavily want to emphasize the problems facing patient care and how better coordination within hospitals is a area in which you are really passionate. Alternatively, you could focus on the cost-disease of healthcare and discuss how better management could help keep costs lower for patients. No matter what issue you choose to use as the catalyst to your interest in the program, make sure you really focus on how Penn’s program will allow you to explore that interest.
VIPER – Vagelos
Describe your interests in energy science and technology and your previous experiences (academic, research, and extracurricular activities) that have helped you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, consider describing your research project at a level appropriate for an educated non-expert, outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions. Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. (400-650 words)
If you have conducted research in some sort of energy-related field, you definitely want to use this essay to speak to that experience. Be sure to not solely list what you did, but rather explain the thought processes and obstacles you faced and how they (1) broadened your perspectives on the energy field and its intersections with other fields (environmentalism, government policy, etc.), and (2) challenged you intellectually and further solidified your interest in the field. Trust Penn when they say to write this for a non-expert; you will not impress anyone with an illegible treatise on energy policy. Rather, you want to communicate effectively to an average reader your passion for what you did and the field itself, which ultimately prompted you to pursue the VIPER program.
If you have not conducted research in the past, this again becomes a very basic “Why VIPER” question. It is crucial that you properly develop your interests in a believable manner. You can tackle an energy policy issue that you are passionate about, prescribing an innovative solution developed through the foundation given by VIPER. You could also use an extended anecdote to track the development of your interest in the energy field. For example, perhaps your first car was a hybrid. Developing your interests in sustainable energy policy through the lens of that hybrid could be an effective way of communicating your interest in the field.
7 Year Bio Dental
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 predental or premedical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry. (250 words)
This question is relatively straightforward; you literally need to express you background with medicine. If you have a hefty amount of research or clinical experience under your belt, be sure to convey what you did as accurately as possible (Penn will have a hard time believing you dabbled in some heart surgery). You also want to describe the experience of what you did and explain how it further fostered your interest in medicine. A good way to do this is through an anecdote. For example, perhaps continuously delivering medication to patients in the ER began to give you an acute awareness of problems facing patient care, motivating you to enter the field to truly improve the way that patients are cared for.
If you have absolutely no background in medicine or research, you should first question if you actually want to commit to a 7-year program in the first place (especially one as difficult to get into as Penn’s). If you are set on the decision, however, this essay is of crucial importance to legitimize your application amongst an applicant pool of relatively outstanding students with actual medicine backgrounds. As the prompt suggests, focusing on why you ultimately are deciding to enter dentistry is a proper way to answer the question. You can also use an anecdote here; perhaps you have a family relative that suffered from a health problem you are hoping to study in further detail in the program. That can serve as a powerful organizing tool to explaining your entry into medicine.
List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. (250 words)
This essay is attempting to gauge your physical capabilities as a doctor. Talking about your experiences in Woodshop, Robotics, etc., can be a good way of demonstrating your ability to work with your hands. If you were relatively hands-off in high school with respect to your activities, pulling an example from outside of school can help you answer this essay. Perhaps you are the one in your family that eagerly assembles Ikea furniture, or are an avid fan of Legos. Keep in mind that you don’t need to appear capable of brain surgery at this point in your life; you simply need to illustrate to Penn that you are comfortable connecting your brain and your digits.
What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? (250 words)
This question is a lot more open-ended. You can speak about anything from a leadership position, to a community service role, to even your experiences at home with siblings. If you still feel the need to highlight your interest in medicine, you can try to answer this from a medical perspective. Perhaps you had a relatively hectic administrative position in a hospital ER – your ability to calmly and collectively perform tasks with others in this stressful environment can highlight your teamwork abilities as well as emphasize once again your passion for medicine.
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)
This essay is more specific than a simple “Why Medicine” essay. You need to explain why dentistry as a field appeals to you. You can focus on a modern problem in the field and explain how you hope to pursue it at Penn. Alternatively, you can have a more human-answer and explain why patient care in the industry is important to you and how you hope to take your education and make some impact in that area.
Be careful, however, that this essay does not too strongly overlap with your essay about pre-dental experience. If you had no experience to begin with, you likely wrote about how you developed an interest in the field. Make sure you don’t use the same topic for this essay.
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).
This is also straightforward. If you have relatives, mention them. If you do not, don’t stress too much. You won’t be disqualified for a lack of legacy.
With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect UPenn Supplement. Best of luck from the Admissions Hero team!
For more help, feel free to check out last year’s post on How to Tackle the UPenn Essays or reach out to work 1-on-1 with one of Admissions Hero’s trained UPenn essay specialists.