Penn-Specific Essays 2019-2020

Skyline of Center City Philadelphia from campus

Penn-Specific Essays 2019-2020

“When you are finished changing, you’re finished.” – Benjamin Franklin

In some ways, summer shouldn’t be a time for change.  In fact, it could be argued, given how hard we know students work during the school year, it should maybe be a time for specifically NOT changing and laying on a beach, or on a couch and watching the world go by. Summer, sometimes, should just be about rest. You can tell the adults in your life we said that.

But, let’s face it, summer does sometimes become a time for change: new experiences, new friendships, new destinations, new responsibilities, self-examination, anticipation of the year ahead.  A lot can happen in the few months between school years.

For Penn Admissions, it has been a time to reflect and to decide to make a change.  Earlier this summer, we started to focus on our Penn-specific essay prompt, and we asked ourselves, “Is our current essay helping applicants share their full story?” We asked some of the counselors we work with, “How can we improve our essay question so that it helps applicants tell us more about their reasons for applying to Penn?”  We listened to their thoughts, reviewed our old prompt, and decided we needed to shift our essay question for the first time in a number of years.

To that end, we wanted to share the new – and, we hope, improved – Penn-specific essay prompts for the 2019-20 application year:

  • 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)
  • 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)

We’re now asking you to answer two questions, but with the same total word count as the old prompt.  We hope this gives you an opportunity to share both your academic interests and your intentions for your life outside of our classrooms.  Both prompts together will help you to convey critical information to the admissions committee on how you see yourself connecting different dimensions of yourself to our university community.

Before beginning this essay, I encourage you to work on the Page 217 framework of 5 I’s and 4 C’s. The 5 I’s form a deep self-assessment and the 4 C’s focus on your priorities for your college list. The Penn specific essay prompts build on this reflective work. We are asking you to connect your ideas, intellect, and interests to Penn’s academic ecosystem. Keep the following in mind:

Carefully read the questions.

We are asking you to explore your academic interests and potential intellectual path at the University of Pennsylvania. We expect that you will discuss the undergraduate school to which you are applying, potential majors or minors, classes of interest, lab opportunities, or professors of note, among other academic resources. And we hope you’ll use the second question to share something about your life experiences, your identity, and your interests beyond academics: how do you see yourself bringing these to your Penn experience?

Use the helpful tools on our website.

This essay should be specific to Penn. Not sure what clubs or classes are available? We share a lot of student journeys on our website that can help you get a sense of what happens here at Penn.  Our Explore Interests tool can help, too, so that you can see how what you like is reflected here on our campus.  Remember that our Instagram (@PreviewingPenn), student blogs, campus visits, and Penn-In-Your-Town sessions are great sources of information, whether you’ve been to campus or not. Campus visits can be great, but we know not all of you can make the trip – that’s ok! We’ve built all of these tools to help you get to know us from wherever you are.

Make connections.

These pieces should read as essays and not as lists. Balance your understanding of the academic offerings at Penn with information about your interests and ideas. Help the admissions committee get to know how you think and what occupies your thoughts. What are you curious about? How do you explore your passions in your school and community? What might you want to do in the future and how will Penn get you there?

Don’t be afraid to explore possibilities.

You should feel comfortable writing about majors, classes, and research opportunities that pique your curiosity even if you do not have formal experience within these academic areas. Tell us why these disciplines stand out and how they inform your future goals.

But remember, we do ask you to apply to a specific undergraduate school at Penn: the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing, the Wharton School, or the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In your application, you will need to decide which undergraduate school is the best fit for your potential academic path, and you’ll share with us your reason for that choice.

However, whichever undergraduate school you apply to, you might still opt to apply to that school without a clear decision about an intended major.  That’s ok! A substantial portion of our applicants apply as undecided. Once you’ve narrowed in on a school and a general area of interest, discuss the potential majors, minors, or class choices that feel right for you right now.

If you apply to a dual degree program, there will be an additional essay to demonstrate your fit for that specific program. In the Penn-specific essay prompt be sure to speak to your single-degree choice.

We look forward to reading your responses to these essays and, as always, we are cheering for you. We know that, wherever your college application process leads you, you already have everything you need to thrive.

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