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How to Answer the UPenn Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

NOV 10, 2019 • 10 min read

There's a lot to love about Penn. It has a cozy, historic campus, connections with neighbouring schools, fiercely active clubs and communities, opportunities in Philadelphia, and perhaps most importantly, a bevy of world-class academic programs with professors that are leaders in their field.

Penn has several undergraduate schools including, Arts & Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Nursing, and Wharton (business). There are also several interdisciplinary programs, such as the Huntsman Program for International Business, that span across several schools.

If you would like your essay reviewed by an expert so you can feel confident when submitting your college application, get your essay reviewed by Crimson.

Excited about applying to Penn yet? Let’s get started by taking a closer look at UPenn’s supplemental essays.


Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Ivy League Universities such as UPenn.

Essay 1: 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)

Your goal in writing this essay is to convey:

  • Your understanding of Penn and its programs
  • That you thought long and hard about why you are perfect for Penn and why Penn is perfect for you, i.e. don’t copy and paste another essay you have already written.

Do your research on Penn. In your first few sentences, you should make crystal clear:

  • To which school you are applying
  • Your intended major
  • Your intended minor / special program

UPenn admissions officers are realistic, they know that if you’re applying to UPenn, you’re probably also applying to Harvard or Dartmouth or maybe both. Make sure you’re clear, though, that you have dedicated the time and thought to UPenn’s application specifically.

For example, avoid any lingo that is clearly copied from another school, like your intended “concentration” (Harvard) or your excitement about life in the “residential colleges” (Yale). Instead, use language specific to Penn.

Here’s a potential essay outline that may help get you started:__

Demonstrate your academic fit

Courses: for whichever school and subject that interests you, go on that school/department’s website. What specific courses do you want to take? Bonus points if there are any that Penn uniquely offers.

  • Good example: Adam Grant, a writer for the New York Times, teaches MGMT 238: Organizational Behavior. Sure, you can take management courses at other business schools, but only at Penn can you access this famous business thinker.
  • Bad example: ECON 1 - Introduction to Microeconomics. Every economics department in the world offers this intro course - unless you have a perspective on why it’s unique at Penn, don’t list this as a reason why Penn’s econ department is unique.

Professors: on the department website that interests you, look at the profiles of a few professors that interest you. Do they teach any classes or lead any research opportunities that are relevant to your interest? If so, list them in your essay.

Demonstrate your campus life fit

Fit your interests: how does your background fit into life at Penn? Make sure you link your specific interests and activities to specific organizations at Penn. Let’s say you were very involved in theater in high school - you can write about your interest in TAC-e at Penn (the Theater Arts Council).

If you stick to this formula, your Penn supplement will be clear, relevant, and compelling.

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Essay 2: 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)

Essay 2 gives you a bit more room to be creative. That doesn't mean we need to lose focus on being specific. Instead, we want to use this as an opportunity to bridge our personal lives with curricular and extra-curricular opportunities at Penn. That is, make sure it seems well considered and as a bonus, you might want to reference a community-oriented group at UPenn that interests you, and that is similar to community volunteering/work you have done before. Whatever you do, be honest, as admissions committees can sense if you are exaggerating, and be sincere. Humility and creativity are essential here.

Some Examples:

  1. Neighborhood Helper. Do you help your neighbors out with babysitting for free? Do you have siblings you help to take care of? What about elders in your family or community? Do you work with an at-needs community? Have you ever spent the summer working as a camp counselor? Talk about the time you helped a student learn how to swim or the time that you took a group of inner-city kids into the forest for the first time, their look of awe, and the sense of discovery they experienced at that moment. You can talk about how bringing discovery to more communities is what drives you to be an engineer since you want to engineer the next generation of infrastructure that makes carbon-free public transportation a speedy reality.
  2. School Volunteer. When it comes to the classroom, have you served a volunteer or consistently volunteered with some group or community project? When have you felt a call to participate in your community and how did you do that? You could talk about your motivation to help an afterschool group that volunteers with people who have Down Syndrome. You could talk about the summer you spent with people who have Down Syndrome and the inspiration you felt in working with people whose needs exceeded your own but nevertheless revealed how far they had come in their own accomplishments. You can talk about how you want to continue working with differently abled communities through technological innovation that is geared towards their educational needs and interests.
  3. Humanitarian Worker. Have you ever spent a summer in Guatemala or Lagos? Have you volunteered abroad? You might want to describe a time abroad in which you helped bring vaccines, food, potable water, or something else to an at needs communities. From that time abroad, you can talk about how your work in Guatemala helping Maya children learn English as a third language revealed to you how linguistic interaction in the 21st century has a long way to go. Inspired by apps like Duo Lingo, you want to make the next generation of translation software for communities that are beginning to participate in the global marketplace.

Each of these questions and examples illustrates the connections you should make between your volunteer experience and the world at large. In other words, even if you just help your friend get to school on time by picking them up, talk about why it takes a village to get something done. And show how your involvement in the community is fundamental to your academic interests at UPenn, through examples that creatively outline possibilities for your career.

Crimson’s holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essay, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and more.

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Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to an Ivy League university like UPenn.