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The University of Pennsylvania, also known as UPenn or Penn, is a private Ivy League school located in Philadelphia.
Like other Ivy League schools, it’s prestigious and competitive. Last year, Penn admitted only 9.4% of its 40,413 applicants.
If you’re applying to the University of Pennsylvania, you’re up against some tough competition.
Should this discourage you?
No! Instead, you should feel motivated to put together the best application possible in order to increase your chances.
Every component of your application matters, and that includes the UPenn supplement. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to complete the UPenn supplement in order to make your application shine.
What Is the UPenn Supplemental Essay?
This supplement, referred to as the Penn-specific Essay, is a 450-600 word essay. While many other colleges with supplements offer a variety of topic options, Penn has only one topic. It may seem like this limits your creativity, but, on the plus side, it does simplify the process of completing your supplement.
Penn’s essay topic is as follows:
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)
How to Prepare for the Penn-specific Essay
Penn has four undergraduate schools: the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing, The Wharton School, and Penn Engineering.
When you apply to Penn, you’ll apply to one of these programs in particular.
The Penn-specific essay is asking you to explain how your specific program will help you explore your intellectual and academic interests.
So, here’s your first step:
In order to answer this question effectively, you’ll need to know a lot of information about the program to which you’re applying. (And if you’re interested in attending the program for four years, it’s definitely worth knowing about anyway.)
- In your essay, you shouldn’t just talk about the program in general.
- Each program offers a wide variety of majors.
- You should research the majors offered by the program of your choice, and choose one on which to focus.
- You’ll also want to look into course offerings, professors, research or volunteer opportunities, and other specifics about that major.
Penn wants to know that you didn’t choose the school simply because it’s Ivy League and highly regarded.
What makes Penn the right choice for you, your interests, and your ambitions?
How to Write the Penn-specific Essay
As you start writing your essay, you’ll need to cover several pieces of information:
- What are your intellectual and academic interests? Give a few anecdotes or examples of why you’re passionate about this topic and how you’ve explored it already. Make sure your tone is excited and enthusiastic.
- How can the program/major of your choice at Penn help you develop this interest and prepare for your career? Specificity is key!
- If possible, mention specific courses, professors, or opportunities that have you feeling especially excited about Penn.
With this essay, you should demonstrate to the admissions officers that you’re passionate about learning and about Penn, and you’ve taken the time to research exactly how you can pursue your intellectual and academic interests at Penn.
Not only will this demonstrate that Penn is a good fit for you, but it’ll also help admissions officers see that you’re a good fit for Penn.
Your response to this essay can help the admissions committee visualize how you’ll fit into and contribute to the program of your choice.
To write a stellar Penn-specific Essay, you’ll need to:
- Be as specific as possible. (Write about one major, along with certain classes, professors, and opportunities. Connect them to your particular passion, area of interest, and—if applicable—career aspirations.)
- As always, write in your unique and authentic voice.
- Be sure that your tone is enthusiastic. You should sound genuinely excited about learning and about the opportunities available at Penn.
- Address both parts of the question. Talk about your intellectual and academic interests, AND how your program at Penn will help you explore them.
If the word limit allows, it’s okay to talk about why you’re interested in Penn in general, perhaps in a brief paragraph at the end of your essay.
In this case, too, you would want to be specific. Don’t just say that Penn is “Ivy League” or “prestigious” or “offers great opportunities.” Do your research and provide some details!
Here’s a special tip:
- Feel free to begin your essay with a brief story or anecdote.
- Make sure the anecdote invokes an interest of yours that you can further pursue at UPenn.
- Then, explain how you will use specific UPenn resources, programs, classes, advice from professors to chase this interest.
- You can also add problems you’d like to solve in the field of your interest or discuss your ambitions.
Here’s an example:
- I live in a big city where I’ve seen large corporations pollute rivers and the local bay.
- This alarms me. If pollution like this occurs on a global scale, I want to make sure humanity can survive on this planet over the next few centuries.
- After volunteering at a nonprofit’s cleanup-the-shore drive, I came across a water-filtration system that is effective but expensive.
- I’ve researched Professor X’s coursework and projects on supply-chain management at Wharton.
- I want to avail myself of [specific aspects of that coursework and projects] so I can work to reduce the price of valuable green technology in the future.
- Eventually, I want to establish a company that makes solar panels and cleaning robots at 30% of the current cost.
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Specialized Program Application Essays
Penn also offers specialized joint-major and interdisciplinary programs. If you’re applying to one of these specialized programs, you’ll need to write the Penn-specific essay and one or two additional essays.
- The only exception is if you’re applying to the College of Engineering’s specialized programs in Digital Media Design and Computer & Cognitive Science.
- If that’s the case, you’ll need to address both your single-degree choice and the specialized program in the Penn-specific Essay.
For all other specialized programs, the Penn-specific essay needs to focus on your single-degree choice (if you aren’t admitted to the specialized program), while you’ll cover the specialized program of your choice in the specialized program application essay.
- Each essay should be able to stand on its own, and you shouldn’t repeat too much information between the two essays.
Keep in mind that these specialized programs are extremely selective. They don’t just want to know that you’re a great student or that you’re interested in their program; they want to know that your interests and experiences make you an excellent fit.
- The Huntsman Program, for example, admits only 45 students annually. So if you aren’t admitted to the specialized program of your choice, it doesn’t mean you’re less qualified or inferior to other students. It just means that the committee felt other students were a better fit.
As with the Penn-specific Essay, writing the specialized program application essay(s) will require thorough research and a deep understanding of the program to which you’re applying.
Below, we’ll take a brief look at each of Penn’s specialized programs and their essay topics.
The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business Essay
The Huntsman Program’s prompt is:
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)
According to the program’s website, the Huntsman Program integrates “business education, advanced language training, and a liberal arts education.” Students graduate with both a B.A. in International Studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School.
Huntsman students specialize in the area of the world in which their target language is spoken.
For this essay, it’s best if you can talk about an international issue from the perspective of a particular country or region. Briefly demonstrate why this country, culture, or region—and the issue you’ve selected—are important and meaningful to you.
You should select a complex problem, which means you won’t have time to propose a solution in just 500 words.
- Instead, focus on how the Huntsman Program can help give you the skills and knowledge to address this international issue and effectively study the problem.
- Mention coursework, projects, and grants that will help you hone your skills and boost your subject-matter knowledge.
LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management Essay
LSM’s prompt reads:
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)
LSM allows students to explore both bioscience and business, culminating in a Bachelor of Arts in a life science major, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
For this essay, you may wish to address a problem in a lab setting and explain how organizational and management changes could be helpful in solving it.
Or, you might be interested in innovative treatments, like gene therapy, while also understanding that effective business communication strategies are key for introducing new (and potentially controversial) treatments to doctors, patients, and society in general.
Remember that LSM is asking you to be as specific and creative as possible in writing this essay!
M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology Essays
M&T has two required prompts:
Question 1 – Identify a disruptive technology, one that many consider could drive truly massive economic and societal transformations in the coming years. Argue why the technology may not be as successful as observers think and suggest ways to address the concerns. (400-650 words)
The M&T program at Penn allows students to simultaneously pursue degrees from the College of Engineering and the Wharton School.
As you address the first M&T essay, you’ll want to spend time brainstorming if you don’t have an emerging technology in mind.
- Don’t worry, you don’t need to be right. You need to support your answer with an argument.
- So, don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty academic details and theories. Stick to real-world interpretations and applications of the technology.
- And then argue your point.
You can start this essay with a story, perhaps a time you were using this technology or researching it. Once you choose this technology, get right to the point and begin addressing the rest of the prompt.
- What happened, and what did you learn about the technology’s limits?
Do your research. Someone studying at UPenn’s M&T program needs to demonstrate a high upside for research, interpretation, analysis, and application. That means you need to make sure you know what you’re talking about.
- Then, explain why you think that technology is limited.
- Feel free to give supporting arguments. Explain them quickly.
Don’t forget to provide ways to address your concerns. Demonstrate your creativity.
- Again, provide supporting arguments and empirical research to strengthen your claims.
- Perhaps mention ideas you’ve worked with or tested that you’d like to implement.
- Remember, this program weds engineering with business – precision and experimentation are critical elements to success in these fields.
All told, you don’t need to be correct. You just need to make sure your premise has clear and coherent supporting arguments. Show UPenn that you can think of pitfalls and solutions.
Question 2 -Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words maximum)
When addressing this prompt, don’t spend too much time describing the problem.
Instead, focus on action. What did you do to solve the problem? Generally, when you take initiative to solve a problem, you’ll naturally demonstrate creativity and leadership traits. For example:
- My robot crashed into a wall during a robotics racing competition.
- The team and I spent time on Skype and SolidWorks to bring our CAD design and fixes to fruition.
- On the day of the next race, I had to ask other teams for their equipment because our link tool broke.
- Although we didn’t win the race, I learned about leadership under pressure and asking others for help.
NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management Essay
The prompt for this program reads:
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)
The NHCM program allows students to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
This essay topic is straightforward. You’ll need to mention your interest in both nursing and health care management and how you think this program can help you reach your specific goals in these areas.
Similar to the other specialized essay topics, you may want to choose a particular problem in nursing, and how you think simultaneously learning about health care management can give you the skills and knowledge to solve it.
VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research Essay
VIPER’s essay topic is a bit lengthy:
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)
According to the VIPER program’s website, “the ultimate goal is to raise innovators in high-caliber research careers who develop sustainable ways to harness, convert, and use energy,” and the program engages students in energy research almost immediately.
If you’ve done energy research before, this topic should be easy for you. You’ll simply describe that research, including its results.
- You can talk about your specific goals and interests when it comes to energy research, and how the VIPER program will help you achieve these goals.
If you haven’t participated in any energy research, you can still demonstrate that you have the skills needed to be a good researcher. If you’ve completed research not related to energy, you can talk about your scientific inquiry skills, and how these skills can be transferred to another scientific field.
In these cases, you’ll also want to talk about why you’re interested in the field of energy research. Convey your excitement and passion for the subject, even if you don’t yet have a lot of experience in this area.
NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering Essay
The NETS program has one essay topic:
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)
The NETS program blends courses in engineering, mathematics and science with courses in sociology, game theory, economics and policy. Its aim is to “connect the study of networks with the study of human behavior.”
For this fairly open-ended essay, you’ll need to choose one specific network about which to write.
- It should be a network that you find fascinating.
- You should also discuss how this particular network impacts society, and why you’re so interested in this network and its intersection with economics, communication, or “the creation of beneficial content.”
This program is seeking creative engineers who are interested in how technology and society interact with and impact one another. This essay should showcase your fascination with technology, as well as your ability to think creatively and analytically about its potential to influence society.
Seven Year Bio-Dental Program
This is a seven-year joint program for students who will major in Biology and intend to enroll in the Dental School during their senior year. Acceptance for freshman applicants is conditional, and official acceptance will be offered upon completion of a student’s junior year.
The program is highly structured. While there is room for creativity in their required essays, it’s most important to clearly convey the information that is being asked of you. There are five essays for admission to this program:
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)
This essay is essentially asking for a resume of your pre-dental and pre-medical experience. If you have none, this statement will need to make a very compelling case for why the experiences you do have still make you a strong and prepared candidate for such a rigorous and competitive dental program.
Essay 2 – List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. (250 words)
This straightforward question simply aims to evaluate whether you can complete complex activities with your hands. Did you take Woodshop? Robotics? Are you constantly taking apart and piecing together items? Are you the go-to person for assembling furniture in your home?
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)
Questions 3 and 4 are also very straightforward and self-explanatory. However, be careful when talking about what interests you the least in dentistry.
The true purpose of this question is to ensure that your interest in dentistry is deep enough to be aware of pros, cons, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But you don’t want to be too negative as you address what interests you the least.
Explain that you have respect for people who are committed to this area of study, but that you’re more interested in [insert what you’re most passionate about here].
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)
If you have relatives who are dentists or in dental school, mention them. If not, don’t panic. Not having relatives in the profession will not disqualify you from this program!
Conclusion: Writing the UPenn Supplemental Essays
For Penn’s supplement, all students need to respond to the Penn-specific Essay.
This essay requires you to research the specific school and major you’re interested in. You’ll explain both why you’re interested in this subject and how Penn can help you explore this interest further.
If you’re not interested in any of Penn’s specialized programs, you’re done at this point. You don’t have to apply to any specialized programs—it won’t impact your chances of admission to Penn in any way.
If you are interested in one of Penn’s specialized programs, you’ll need to write either one or two essays (or, for the Dental Program, five) explaining this interest and why this program would help you achieve your goals.
For all of these essays, research and specificity are key. Penn is looking to see that you’re passionate in whatever area you would like to study, and they want to know why you’re interested in Penn’s specific programs.
They’re also ensuring that you’re a great fit for their highly competitive, selective programs—so, choose your words wisely. Be sure to seek feedback and polish your essays to a shine.
By following these tips, you can stand out from Penn’s highly competitive crowd of applicants!
And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions, check out our college essay boot camp.