Sample College Essays Penn

* Students applying to Digital Media Design and Computer & Cognitive Science should address both the specialized program and single-degree choice in their response. For students applying to the other coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.

 

This essay is asking a very straightforward question: what do you want to study and why do you want to study that at Penn in particular. With this question, the admissions officers are trying to do three things. First, they are trying to weed out those candidates that are just applying to Penn because it is a “fancy school.” Second, they want to learn something about your intellectual passions and interests. Third, they want to see if you have done your research and started to figure out how you will use Penn to pursue those intellectual passions and interests.

 

When they ask you to talk about your major within one of the four schools — Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Nursing, and Wharton — you should realize that you are not necessarily talking about these schools in general. Each of these schools contains a multitude of different majors, areas of focus, research opportunities, and Penn wants to know that you have taken the time to research their offerings.

 

For example, if you are applying to the College of Arts and Sciences, you should not be talking about “Arts and Sciences” as a whole (everything from biology to French literature!). Focus on the major and classes within the school of Arts and Sciences that you want to pursue.

 

Maybe you want to study at Penn because of its remarkably high number of professors (10!) working on differential geometry — a subject of particular interest to you. You might begin your essay by talking about how you have been interested in differential geometry ever since you asked your high school math teacher, “Okay, we’ve gone over how to find the surface area of a cube, but how would you even begin to find the surface area of something like a plastic bag floating in the air?” You can then go on to talk about the work you’ve done studying new topics in geometry over the summer, the thrill of thinking about how billiard balls bounce around differently shaped boards, and the overlap between your interests and the unique research profile of Penn’s mathematics faculty.

 

An important thing to remember here is that you need to talk about both your passion for a particular subject area and what Penn has to offer you — both aspects are equally important!

 

If you are interested in one of Penn’s specialized programs, you still need to write an essay about how you intend to pursue your intellectual interests at Penn, regardless of whether you are admitted to a specialized program or not. The trick here is to write an essay that communicates the full force of enthusiasm and excitement for a plan of study at Penn that does not hinge exclusively on admission to a specialized program, such as Huntsman (discussed in more detail below).

 

Maybe you have been fascinated with international relations and diplomacy ever since you started learning French and playing Massive Online Multi-player strategy games that required weaving complex treaties with people from many different parties. You can write a great essay about how you hope to use Penn’s resources to pursue a major in international relations, and how you especially look forward to studying abroad — maybe to meet some of the people who you have been collaborating with from all over the world.

 

Then, if you are interested in the intersection of business and international relations, you might use your Huntsman essay to talk about your abiding interest in logistics (perhaps related to your work in gaming) has drawn you to the problem of how conflicts in international law might affect the efficiency of global shipping supply chains.

 

The College of Engineering’s special programs in Digital Media Design and Computer & Cognitive Science are something of a special case.

 

For these two programs, your statement of why you fit into them belongs in this general admissions essay, not in a separate prompt. As such, you need to treat this essay like an application for a specialized program that also addresses the major you will pursuing outside these specialized programs. This means you will need to cram a lot into this essay. The trick in these cases is to use your essay to show how the distinctive intellectual interest that you are pursuing in the College of Arts and Sciences or the College of Engineering will be augmented by the addition of these specialized programs.

 

For example, if you are applying to Computer & Cognitive Science, you might also be applying to the College of Arts & Sciences to study Linguistics. You can start the essay by talking about how language has always fascinated you: you always wanted to dig deeper than the rules listed in your grammar books. Why — you ask — do we say “the big red house” and not “the red big house?” Maybe part of what drove you to start learning Spanish and Russian was to see if rules of syntax in English also applied to other languages.

 

Then, you’ll pivot in a new paragraph to talk about how your interest in syntax also makes you interested in Penn’s program in Computer & Cognitive science. Your interest in word-order might go beyond human-made languages and extend to the languages machine intelligences are starting to create. In order to show the admissions committee that your passion for computing is no less than your passion for learning new languages, you might talk about the work you did programming a chatbot or creating a little video game to help you study your Latin declensions. If you are applying to any of these interdisciplinary programs, you want to show the admissions committee that you have already started to think across disciplinary boundaries.

 

What if you are not particularly interested in any of Penn’s specialized programs? That’s perfectly fine! Not applying to those programs will not hurt your application or make you seem like an “unambitious” student. After all, most of the specialized programs are focused on the intersection between the business school and other areas of study. Returning to our math example above, maybe you are just fascinated with geometry and not particularly concerned with its applications on Wall Street? That’s perfectly fine! But for those with a sincere interest, Penn’s specialized programs offer unique interdisciplinary possibilities. The rest of this article will tackle those prompts.

 

Finally, though this essay asks you to discuss the “specific undergraduate school” you are applying to, that does not mean you cannot mention (in a short paragraph, maybe at the end of the essay) some of the social and cultural reasons that attracted you to the city of Philadelphia and its surrounding social and cultural possibilities. Maybe you are a history buff fascinated with Benjamin Franklin or maybe there is an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of art that you have been dying to see. You won’t spend all your time in class at Penn, and it can’t hurt to offer a glimpse of your extracurricular interests in this essay. As Penn says, “Your essays tell us what sort of person you are — and provide a glimpse into the intangibles you might bring to our community.”

 

Specialized Program Prompts

As a part of the application process, applicants must complete a personal essay. Additionally, Penn applicants must complete the Penn-specific Essay.  

We carefully read each essay you submit, as they can help us get to know you much better than your transcripts and test scores. While essays are a good indication of how well you write, they are also windows into how you think, what you value, and how you see the world. Your numbers tell us what kind of student you are. Your essays tell us what sort of person you are—and provide a glimpse into the intangibles you might bring to our community. 

Be sure to answer the question or questions that are being asked of you. We understand that you may be writing essays for different schools and you may be looking to reuse material, but read through your essay to make sure your essay is relevant to the essay prompt.  Essay topics are chosen because the Admissions Committee wants to know these specific things about you. If you do not address the question directly, the Admissions Committee is left with having to make decisions regarding your application with incomplete information. 

Students applying to Penn must submit their application for admission to one of our four undergraduate schools. In the Penn-specific Essay, be sure to specifically address both why you are applying to Penn and why you are applying to that specific undergraduate school. Students who are applying to one of our coordinated dual-degree programs will have additional essays they need to complete, but the Penn essay should address the single-degree or single-school choice.

  • Penn-specific Essay

    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) *Students applying to Digital Media Design and Computer & Cognitive Science should address both the specialized program and single-degree choice in their response. For students applying to the other coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.

  • Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

    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

    Please complete both prompts. 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)

  • Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

    • 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. • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands. • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people? • 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. • 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.

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