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UPenn is a private Ivy League research university that accepted just 8.39 percent of applicants into the class of 2022, a record low for the university.
To earn an acceptance letter from a highly competitive school like UPenn, completely understanding the admissions process is essential.
You don’t want a small mistake or misunderstanding to cost you your spot at Penn.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, you’ll find:
- Important info about UPenn
- Can’t-miss application deadlines
- Application essay topics
- How to apply, step-by-step
- Tips for applying successfully
Remember that the information in this guide is not meant to intimidate or discourage you.
Instead, we want you to be an informed applicant with every advantage possible during this process.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to submit a highly competitive application to UPenn!
UPenn was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin. While other colonial colleges focused on religious studies, Franklin had more contemporary educational ideas.
He wanted UPenn to train young people for leadership in business, government, and public service.
- Today, Penn has 12 schools. Four offer both undergraduate and graduate studies, while the remaining eight offer graduate studies only. The school utilizes a semester-based academic calendar.
Notable Penn alumni include former U.S. President William Henry Harrison and current U.S. President Donald Trump, three Supreme Court justices, 8 signers of the United States Declaration of Independence and 12 signers of the United States Constitution, 30 Nobel laureates, and poet William Carlos Williams. Penn has also produced 25 billionaires, more than any other university in the world.
Enrollment, Tuition, and Financial Aid
Undergraduate enrollment at UPenn totals 10,496. Total enrollment is 25,367.
With 4,722 total faculty members, the student-faculty ratio is about 6:1. The most frequent class size at Penn is 10-19 students.
- For the 2017-2018 school year, tuition and fees at Penn cost approximately $53,534, with the cost of room and board totaling about $15,066.
- Fortunately, Penn is highly ranked in Kiplinger’s Best Values in Private Universities, and it’s #25 on the Princeton Review’s list of “Colleges That Pay You Back.”
- The university is committed to making its “practical, powerful, and flexible Ivy League education available to the best and brightest of students, regardless of their economic circumstances.”
In 2007, Penn launched an all-grant policy. The policy states that financial aid awards will not include loans, but will consist of grants and a work-study job.
Regardless of family income level, all undergraduates who are eligible for financial aid receive an all-grant package. Penn is the largest school in the nation with a program of this kind.
The average financial aid package for incoming freshman is $48,977.
With all of these programs in place, finances shouldn’t restrict you from applying to UPenn.
UPenn occupies 302 acres in the University City section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Students said that the university provides a “college town feel” against the backdrop of a big city. It’s the perfect mix between an urban setting and a more traditional college campus.
- Students have easy access to downtown Philadelphia, where they can find restaurants, concerts, casinos, zoos, national parks, nightclubs, and more.
At the same time, students get the comfortable feeling of having their own campus, complete with libraries, museums, and public gardens of its own.
Taking a bus to New York or Washington D.C. for the weekend is also a common student activity.
UPenn’s most popular majors include Finance, Economics, Registered Nursing, Biology/Biological Sciences, and Political Science and Government.
- Penn has several highly ranked graduate schools, such as the Wharton School, School of Education, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Medicine, and Law School.
- UPenn has an excellent freshman retention rate, with 98 percent of freshmen returning for their sophomore year.
This is an indicator that students are satisfied with the education and experiences they receive at Penn.
Students appreciate the wide variety of course offerings and say that professors are extremely well-versed in their subjects.
Student Body and Extracurricular Activities
Penn highly values diversity. 46 percent of students identify as black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American, and the school enrolls over 5,000 international students from 126 different countries.
- 51 percent of students are female, and 49 percent are male. 97 percent of students are full-time.
Students describe the student body as determined, brilliant, and career-driven.
They also applaud the diversity on campus, noting that there are students from all over the world with all sorts of experiences and perspectives.
There are 350 registered student organizations on campus, ranging from performance groups like the ballroom and Latin clubs to student publications such as the Penn Political Review.
- Over 25 percent of students are involved in Greek life, and the school has about 45 fraternities and sororities. Students at UPenn also say that they have more of a social life than students at most other Ivy League schools.
The Penn Quakers have over 25 NCAA Division I sports teams, which compete in the Ivy League.
They’re noted for successful lacrosse and baseball teams and enjoy an especially intense rivalry with Princeton.
As a university with such an extensive history, it’s no surprise that Penn has a number of long-running traditions.
- These include a variety of Penn Songs, the annual Spring Fling with food, dancing, a carnival, and concerts, and throwing toast onto Franklin Field after the third quarter of each home football game.
The school song includes the line, “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn.” After alcohol was banned from the stadium in 1970, students began throwing toast instead.
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Penn has 13 college houses, and freshmen are eligible to live in nine of them. All freshmen are required to live on campus and have a meal plan during their first year at UPenn.
- After accepting an offer of admission, freshmen can access the Housing Preference Request form. 52 percent of undergrads live on campus.
Dining services at UPenn offer a wide variety of options, including:
- An on-campus market
- Retail locations with grab-and-go options
- All you can eat cafes
Students can find food options open from 7:30 am to 2 am on weekdays and until 7:30 pm on weekends.
Penn Dining also offers “meal equivalency,” which allows students to purchase a bundle of items (entrée, sides, a bottled beverage, a dessert) from on-campus retail locations for the price of one meal swipe.
Applying to UPenn
Now, let’s take a look at the most important information you’ll need to know to apply to UPenn.
Average Admitted Student
Since UPenn accepts only about 8 percent of applicants, it’s important to understand what test scores and GPA will give you the best chance of acceptance.
If you’ve got time to spare before applying to colleges, you can take action to improve your numbers accordingly.
UPenn’s average admitted student has an SAT score of 1510 out of 1600. The 25th percentile score is 1450, while the 75th percentile score is 1570.
Here’s what that means for you:
If you want to go to UPenn, you should aim for a 1450 at minimum.
- Almost anywhere else, this is an exceptional SAT score, but at UPenn, it still puts you slightly below the average accepted student. To be on the safe side, it’s best to score a 1510 or get as close to 1570 as possible.
UPenn is quite competitive when it comes to GPA as well, and the average admitted student has a GPA of 3.93. This means you’ll need to take challenging courses, make nearly straight A’s, and be near the top of your class.
What if My Numbers Are Lower?
It depends on what grade you’re currently in. If you’re already in your junior or senior year, you don’t have much time to significantly boost your GPA.
- Instead, try to earn the highest SAT score possible, get enthusiastic letters of recommendation, and write engaging and insightful college application essays.
Of course, you can apply to UPenn even if your numbers are lower than those mentioned here.
UPenn’s website explains that they do a “holistic review” of applications, which they define as reading and discussing “all pieces of the application, quantitative and qualitative, descriptive or numeric, at once.”
The school considers additional factors including:
- Intellectual curiosity
- Range of interests and hobbies
- Leadership skills
- Potential impact at Penn
- A willingness to apply your knowledge “in service to society” like Penn’s founder Benjamin Franklin
Still, we encourage you to be practical throughout the college application process.
It’s important to understand that if your numbers are much lower than those of the average admitted student, it’s not very likely that you’ll be accepted (although there’s always a slight possibility).
Here’s the bottom line:
Pursue your dreams by applying to UPenn, but protect yourself by applying to additional colleges and universities that are a better match for your numbers.
You have two options if you’re applying to UPenn: Early Decision or Regular Decision.
Early Decision is binding, and UPenn’s website explains that you are obligated to attend Penn if accepted through the Early Decision program.
The website further clarifies that you should only apply early if Penn is your top choice “given extensive research, conversations, and perhaps even campus visits.”
The deadline for Early Decision applicants is November 1. Students can be admitted, denied, or postponed to Regular Decision.
- Admissions decisions are announced in mid-December, and students must reply and confirm by January 9.
The Regular Decision deadline is January 5, and decisions are released online on April 1. Accepted students must respond by May 1.
Should I Apply Early?
If you’re sure you want to go to UPenn, applying early lets you find out much earlier if Penn is a real possibility for you.
Your college search can wrap up several months ahead of time, allowing you to focus on a successful end to your high school career.
But does applying Early Decision give you an advantage in the application process?
- Most universities claim that applying early does not increase your chances of acceptance and that they make the same decisions regardless of when an application is submitted.
However, some evidence suggests an early application might give your chances a slight boost.
- According to Business Insider, UPenn accepted 22 percent of Early Decision applicants, a number significantly higher than the acceptance rate for Regular Decision.
And the university’s website does state that “an applicant’s affiliation with Penn, either by being children or grandchildren of alumni, is given the most consideration through Early Decision.”
- An early application indicates that you’re truly excited about the possibility of living and learning at UPenn, and you’ll also be compared to a smaller pool of applicants.
Of course, you should only apply early if you’re 100 percent sure that UPenn is your first choice.
Applying early also means you’ll need to have your standardized tests, letters of recommendation, essays, and application completed by November.
Applying to UPenn: The How-To Guide
To apply to UPenn, you’ll need to complete the Common Application or the Coalition Application, along with the UPenn supplement.
Penn also participates in the National College Match Program for high-achieving students with significant financial need.
From QuestBridge National College Match Finalists, the university will also accept the QuestBridge Application.
- Penn has no preference for either the Common App or the Coalition App, encouraging students to review the features of each platform and decide which is the best fit for them.
With this advice in mind, let’s take a quick look at both applications.
The Common App is accepted by over 700 colleges and universities. To complete it, you’ll need to create a student account at commonapp.org and add UPenn to your “My Colleges” list.
You’ll be prompted to provide general information about your grades, course activities, test scores, exam dates, and parents/legal guardians.
During the process of applying to colleges and scholarships, it’s a good idea to keep all of this information together in one place.
The Common App also has a required personal essay. In brief, the seven topic options include:
- Meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent
- Lessons learned from a challenge, setback, or failure
- A time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea
- A problem you have solved or would like to solve (ethical dilemma, intellectual challenge, or research query)
- An accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth
- A captivating topic, idea, or concept that you find fascinating
- A topic of your choice
When you fill out the Common App, you’ll also complete UPenn’s writing supplement. This supplement, which we’ll discuss in-depth momentarily, is a key component of your application.
The Coalition Application is a newer option that’s accepted by 113 member schools.
It provides college tools and collaboration spaces for students to connect with teachers, parents, and/or counselors.
If you decide to go with the Coalition Application, you’ll need to create an account on mycoalition.org, add Columbia University to your “Colleges” list, and invite your guidance counselor and any teachers who will be writing letters of recommendation.
Like the Common App, the Coalition Application requires a personal essay. The five topic options are:
- An experience that demonstrates or helped shape your character
- A time when you made a meaningful contribution to others by focusing on the greater good
- A time when a long-cherished or accepted belief was challenged
- The hardest and best parts of being a teenager now
- A topic of your choice
As with the Common App, you’ll need to also complete the UPenn supplement.
Again, choosing which application platform to use is entirely your decision, and it won’t impact your chances of acceptance.
You may wish to make this decision based on what application(s) are accepted by the other colleges you’re applying to.
Since the Common App is accepted by many more schools, it may save you time during the college admissions process.
When you apply to Penn, you must submit your application for admission to one of the four undergraduate schools.
In the Penn-specific Essay, you’re asked to address both why you are applying to Penn and why you are applying to that specific undergraduate school:
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. (400-600 words)
If you’re applying to one of Penn’s dual-degree programs, there are additional essays you’ll need to complete.
These dual-degree programs are even more competitive, so remember that your Penn-Specific essay should still address your first single-degree or single-school choice.
The dual-degree program essays are listed below.
The Huntsman Program: 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)
LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management: LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What kind of benefits could an individual trained in both disciplines bring to society? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. (400-650 words)
M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology: Question 1– 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). Question 2 – Please describe a time in which you displayed leadership. (250 words maximum)
NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare 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)
VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research: Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)
NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in 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)
If you’re applying to Penn’s prestigious seven-year dental program, you must answer five additional essay questions:
Essay 1 – 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 pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry. (250 words)
Essay 2 – List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. (250 words)
Essay 3 – What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? (250 words)
Essay 4 – 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)
Essay 5 – 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)
Penn’s website has this to say about your essays:
“It is essential that you help us discover who you are, what is important to you, and how you would flourish on Penn’s campus. Let us hear your authentic voice. Tell us your story. We look forward to reviewing your accomplishments, learning about your dreams, and getting a sense of what you might contribute to the Penn community. Each one of you is different. Your application should not look like anyone else’s.”
For more information, read our article on specific, in-depth tips for the Penn-Specific essay and each of the dual-degree program essays.
Additional Application Materials
You will also need to pay a $75 application fee. If this represents a financial hardship, you may submit a fee waiver request.
In addition to the materials outlined above, your application must also include:
- The School Report with a counselor recommendation
- Two academic teacher evaluations
- Official SAT or ACT scores
- Official transcript
- The Midyear Report, when mid-year grades are available
- The Final Report, for matriculating students
- Any additional items required by the school to which you’ve applied (SAT subject tests, portfolio items, etc.)
- Optional Alumni Interview (offered based on availability)
About Alumni Interviews
Once UPenn receives your application, your contact information is provided to volunteer alumni interviewers in your area.
- These alumni interviewers will contact you via email to set up an interview. Typically, about 90 percent of applicants are offered an interview, but this depends on availability.
- If you’re not offered an interview, don’t worry. The admissions committee is aware of this and will not hold it against you when reviewing your application.
If you do get an alumni interview, your interviewer will send their thoughts about your personal strengths to UPenn, and this information will be added to your application file.
Prompts are available on Penn’s website to help you prepare.
Penn does not require the writing portion of either the ACT or SAT. Official scores must be sent directly to the school from the College Board or the ACT.
- If your native language is not English, you must also take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Students are encouraged to admit their entire score history for either the ACT or the SAT. Penn does superscore the ACT, and the SAT is superscored within old and new SATs, but not between old and new SATs.
SAT Subject Tests are recommended but not required. Not taking SAT Subject Tests will not have a negative impact on your application, according to the university’s website.
After completing your application, be sure to save copies of all materials for yourself.
- Check your email regularly for communication regarding your application, and ensure that UPenn emails (or emails regarding alumni interviews) are able to bypass any spam or junk filter.
Once you’ve submitted your application, you’ll receive access to the Penn Applicant Portal. Through this portal, you can check the status of your application.
If you don’t receive access within 48 hours of submitting your Common Application, double check your spam, junk, and promotion folders.
Conclusion: Applying to UPenn
When applying to UPenn, you’ll need to complete the Common Application or the Coalition Application, in addition to the Penn-Specific Essay.
Applications must be submitted by November 1 for Early Decision and January 5 for Regular Decision.
UPenn also requires the SAT or ACT, transcripts (including mid-year and final updates), and two teacher recommendations.
Two SAT subject tests are optional but encouraged, as are alumni interviews (although these interviews are subject to availability).
You have the best chance of being admitted to UPenn if your SAT is at least a 1510 and your GPA is at least a 3.9. UPenn admits around 8 percent of applicants, meaning admission is highly competitive.
If Penn is your dream school and your numbers are lower, you’re still welcome to apply. Simply apply to a few safety schools as well, so that you have a backup plan in place.
At the same time, don’t feel discouraged: Penn considers many factors in addition to test scores and grade point averages.
Build up your SAT and GPA as high as possible, and write engaging, reflective college application essays that help admissions officers get to know you and all you have to offer.
By using the information and tips here and our guide on getting into the Ivy League, you’ll be a competitive applicant who just might receive one of those coveted acceptance letters.