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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UPenn is filled with driven, passionate, and entrepreneurial students. Therefore, I think the best way to communicate how you'd fit in at UPenn is to emphasize how a UPenn education could get you to your end goals. UPenn loves a practically oriented student, so be practical and clear about what UPenn will allow you to achieve.
The supplemental essay question for the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is as follows:
"The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and / or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals. (400-650 words)
Undergraduate School Choice:
UPenn has four undergraduate schools with additional specialized and cross-disciplinary programs. In order to demonstrate your interest in UPenn, make sure you're applying for the right school for what you want to study.
- The College of Arts and Sciences
- The School of Engineering
- The School of Nursing
- The Wharton School
- AI | Computer and Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence (the College and Engineering)
- BIO-DENT | Seven year bio-dental program (the College and the School of Dental Medicine)
- DMD | Digital Media Design (Engineering)
- Huntsman | Huntsman program in international studies and business (Wharton and the College)
- LSM | Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management (Wharton and the College)
- M & T | Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology (Engineering and Wharton)
- NETS | Networked and Social Systems Engineer (Engineering)
- NHCM | Nursing and Health Care Management (Wharton and Nursing)
- VIPER | Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (the College and Engineering)
If you want to study economics would you apply to the Wharton School of Business or to the College of Arts and Sciences? This depends entirely on whether you want a pre-professional approach (Wharton) to business and economics or want a more theoretical and academic approach (the College). Make sure you're selecting the school that's right for getting you to your end goal. If your dream is to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, an application to Wharton is much more in line with your goals , and that will shine through to the Admissions Committee.
How Can Penn Further My Goals?
A good supplement answer will clearly outline what your passions are and how Penn's opportunities will help you achieve them.
1. Look through the majors and programs at UPenn.
The list of undergraduate programs at UPenn Majors and can be found here. Each major has its own site with information and a list of the classes it offers. Look through some of the classes in the majors that look interesting. Can you see yourself rushing to sign up? If so, these are classes you'll want to reference in your essay.
2. Identify professors you'd like to work with.
After looking through the majors and classes you'll likely see some opportunities that interest you. Google the names of the professors teaching the classes you find compelling and the heads of the programs or majors you like. Is the professor published in areas of your interest? Read his or her writing and tell the admissions committee what you think! The more academic familiarity and passion you can display in your essay the better. Looking through classes, programs, and professors will help you envision yourself at Penn and more clearly portray that vision to the Admissions Committee.
3. Identify research opportunities.
While finding a professor you'd like to work with and referencing he or she is a good way to showcase your interest, not all professors are willing to take on research assistants. In order to link students with research opportunities, UPenn created the The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). It is a great resource on campus that the school is really proud of. The Admissions Committee is sure to love it if you reference an opportunity that you find on CURF's site. The site can be found here.
4. Identify UPenn alums you admire
If you know the type of career you'd be interested in having, look at some UPenn alums that are working in those fields. What did they do with their UPenn degrees and what opportunities were they able take advantage of while at UPenn? Wikipedia has a great list of UPenn alums organized by discipline you can find here.
5. What if I don't have a specific passion?
UPenn is a great place to find yourself. If you are undecided about your future talk about some of the ways in which UPenn can help you foster your goals and learn about yourself. For example, the multidisciplinary requirements at UPenn ensure you'll get a taste of a variety of academic fields. Take a look at the advice for Freshmen written by UPenn deans about how to find their academic niche. Also, do not forget about how important it is to give back! Information about opportunities for community involvement at Penn are here.