College essays are hard to write, especially when they’re for competitive Ivy League colleges like the University of Pennsylvania.
Here’s the deal:
College essays are 100 times easier to write when you have examples of what is both good and bad.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how to approach the question, “Why Penn?” in your application. We’ll walk you through exactly what makes this admissions essay effective and what could have been better.
Let’s start with why this essay works.
Why this admissions essay works:
1. The student opens with a succinct and clear direction of where the essay is heading. He gets straight to the point and dives right into the meat of the essay.
2. The second paragraph demonstrates to an admissions counselor that this student has done his research on the school—in turn showing the counselor that this student is a serious applicant. Demonstrated interest is crucial in today’s competitive admissions scene to stand out from the rest of the pack.
3. The student breaks down his key message into three subsections: academics, extracurriculars, and student life. By doing so, the student stays true to the first paragraph in providing a clear direction throughout the entire essay.
3. Paragraphs 4-5 are particularly effective because they epitomize demonstrated interest; in this case the student draws on his own experiences visiting the school campus.
4. In paragraph 5, the student starts explaining to the admissions counselor how he can fit into the Penn community; as important as it is to convey to the counselor that you’ve done your research, arguably the most important part of “Why X?” supplements is helping the reader understand where you fit into the school community. The student answers this question by talking about his previous world experiences.
5. The student concludes with a short and sweet ending and draws on a cultural food item of Philadelphia, where Penn is located. What this essay demonstrates well is the fact that while introductions and conclusions are important, the main content of the essay is the most important component of all. Students often get bogged down trying to think of attention grabbers and clever ways to open and close their essays; as a result they end up not developing the meat of their essay well enough to demonstrate to the reader that they have done their research and can fit a specific niche within the school’s community.
How this Why Penn essay could have been better:
The student did a great job demonstrating to the reader that he had done his research; however, the essay itself could have been more creative in its approach. The introduction and conclusion are succinct and effective; however, a more unique introduction would have drawn the reader in faster. The student made up for this with the quality of the content of the essay.
Since first setting foot on campus two years ago, I have found that Penn has always stood out in my search for the perfect university. Every aspect, from the flexible academics to its urban environment, to the diversity of the student body seems to readily match the setting in which I hope to immerse myself over the next four years.
Academically, I hope to continue pursuing my interests in economics and business, international studies, and French. Unlike many other schools, Penn openly encourages such breadth of study, believing the skill sets developed through different subjects to be universally interdependent and pragmatic in the real world. Through Penn’s one-university system, I would work towards my B.S. in Economics through Wharton while simultaneously taking courses in international studies in the College, and even have the opportunity to hone my accent in France for a semester. In 2012, I would graduate from Penn knowing my education over the past four years helped build my foundation as a better critical thinker who can apply core business and teamwork skills in any field.
All the while, I would be actively building on my high school extracurricular experience at Penn. I plan to continue my studies in economics outside of the classroom through Penn’s Undergraduate Economics Society both to continue improving my leadership skills and to join the club’s campaign to stimulate interest in economics on campus, an objective of mine at my high school since my junior year. I would also like to take part in editing and writing in the club’s unique International Undergraduate Journal of Economics. To stay active, I hope to join the Men’s Club Tennis at Penn, and I look forward to building on my experience with elementary-age children through the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.
But perhaps above all, it is the student community at Penn that has attracted me the most. My first time strolling down Locust Walk with my family seeing all the club representatives left and right trying to convince students to join their causes was just amazing. There was an air of perpetual excitement and community, a feeling that Penn’s student body is extremely tightly knit. In October, I was even lucky enough to shadow two Huntsman Program freshmen on my third visit to campus. Staying overnight with a student from Morocco concentrating in French, but who was studying Spanish, as well as a student from Oregon targeting German, I found that I felt very comfortable living and learning in the diverse environment at Penn.
Sitting in on several classes, I also discovered Wharton’s unique MGMT 100 course to be perhaps the ideal class to tie together my experience in teamwork, interest in community service, and enthusiasm to immerse myself in a real-world business environment. Armed with an open mind and experiences from my travels to a multitude of countries across Asia, North America, and Europe, as well as my volunteer work at events such as the International Children’s Festival and the East African Center’s Evening for Africa, I believe I will bring a very unique and worldly perspective to campus, an outlook I hope to share and broaden working with some of the brightest students from around the globe at Penn.
With so many new doors to open, I know a college experience at Penn will prove challenging, yet undoubtedly rewarding. I look forward to a fulfilling four years of hard work, fun, and cheese steaks.
Photo by Haque, Abul, Photographer (NARA record: 8467822) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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The Penn Writing Supplement Prompt
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 response around the specific 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 into 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 an 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.
Huntsman Essay Prompt
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 last year’s question, this year’s seems less limited in scope, because 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, though, despite the ostensibly expansive nature of the prompt, the most competitive applicants to Huntsman 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.
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.
Vagelos Program in Life Sciences & Management Essay Prompt
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. An example would 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.
Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Essay Prompts
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, as 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.
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 Essay Prompt
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 Essay Prompt
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. 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 want to heavily emphasize the problems facing patient care and how better coordination within hospitals is an 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 Program Essay Prompt
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.
Bio Dental Essay Prompts
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 your background in 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 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 CollegeVine team!