Penn Admissions convened for a brief discussion on application essays in light of the recently released Penn Writing Supplement prompt. The ’13-’14 admissions cycle is still in mind and the conversation that follows reflects much of what was learned this past year. Join the discussion.
How does the Common Application essay, or personal statement, complement the rest of the application?
Danielle Branch C’09 (DB): The role of this essay is to divulge information we haven’t seen in the application or expand on experiences that were already presented.
Frank Cabrera G’12 (FC): If an application is well done, each component is a piece of a larger self-representation. When complete, the essay can tie together all of these aspects helping to construct a snapshot of the student.
Alexandra Feinson C’11 (AF): It’s the “personality” in the application.
What are strengths you see in the Common Application essay?
Michelle Chikaonda C’06 (MC): Essays that admit vulnerability. These pieces do not need to be the “best written” but be honest, compelling, and touching. You don’t have to be a lyrical genius but you have to be honest. Pick a story and tell it really well.
Landon Reitz C’11 (LR): Proper mechanics don’t hurt.
AF: Strong essays can tell us who students are as peers, as roommates, and as friends.
JJ Anthony C’09 (JA): It can be a space to share with us things that would not be shared in other places. It’s a personal statement for a personal reason.
FC: Students do not need a dramatic story to write a good personal statement. At 17 we don’t expect that but everyone has an authentic voice and authentic experiences.
Authenticity and voice are often key words that come up when discussing the personal statement. Can you discuss these concepts?
DB: During Ivy in Your Backyard, a college essay workshop at Penn this past fall, an important idea was making the ordinary extraordinary. Students should think about how their writing can convey the depth of their experiences.
FC: To get to what is real, students might create a timeline of things that have resonated with them and that were significant in your journey.
LR: Keep the focus narrow but include a lot of personal detail. This shows authenticity. You can’t just google your specific individual experiences.
Can you comment on the Penn Writing Supplement prompt for this year?
Jayson Weingarten C’12 (JW): I think about this essay as a Venn diagram of who the student is, what Penn is, and, most importantly, the overlap in the middle. For the majority of the essay, student should talk about that overlap.
JA: Make connections. We ask why students want Penn and why Penn would not be the same without them.
MC: The prompt asks specifically about academic fit. Remember that undecided does not mean without momentum, direction, and force. Every student has direction and interests and we need to know that.
FC: We like to see students take the next step and explain why they want to explore their distinct academic interests in this specific environment.
MC: As a thought exercise, imagine yourself at this school.
JW: Describe why it “clicked” when you walked down Locust Walk. There should be reasons why students feel connected to campus.
JA: When looking at the website, at Penn’s YouTube channel, attending the information session, write down your thoughts. This text can’t only convey excitement but should speak to something specific. If there are reasons for a match, students also can’t assume that this is obvious to us.
FC: Don’t underestimate the “why.” Both parties need to grow from this exchange. Individuals have to show us that they can transform Penn and that they will also allow themselves to be fostered by this community.
This conversation should not only provide momentum for beginning your essays, but encourage you to take time for reflection. Much of your essay content, of what you will express about your interests, accomplishments, and goals, will be reached through introspection. The 5 Is provide organization for this work and allow you to look forward to your self-assessment. Choose a comfortable language, form, and medium and begin to reflect.