NOV 18, 2018 • 6 min read
Penn-specific Essay: [same as 2017-18] 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)
There's a lot to love about Penn. It has a cosy, historic campus, synergy with neighbouring schools like Temple, fiercely active clubs and communities, opportunities in the city of Philadelphia, and perhaps most importantly, a bevy of world-class academic programs with professors that are leaders in their field.
Demonstrating your knowledge of the opportunities that make Penn unique is crucial to completing UPenn's supplemental essay.
The question, reprinted above, is an integral part of your application. It can show officers who read your application why you, because of both your experience and your aspirations, are a good fit for Penn, and why you believe Penn is the school for you.
Penn's supplemental essay question is a classic why-this-school essay. In the essay, you need to prove to the admissions officer that you know a decent bit about Penn and that your specific goals and interests align with Penn's programs.
You can and should mention the particular school to which you are applying. An Arts and Sciences experience will be very different from a Wharton or School of Nursing experience.
The key to this essay is making it specific to Penn's academics and culture. Essays that emphasise, for instance, the academic prestige of Ivy League schools in general, will not effectively convince an admissions officer that you must go to Penn. If you can control-F and replace the school's name with Princeton or Pomona, you've written a bad supplemental essay.
A persuasive essay will spend at least a couple of sentences speaking anecdotally about the formation of particular academic and intellectual interests in your life so far. Then, it would address how the formation of those interests impacts your eventual career goals.
Finally, you should utilise the specific knowledge of Penn's programs you've built to show how those goals could be best realised at Penn, and complete your argumentative case. For example, if your academic interests are varied and interdisciplinary, you would explain those interests and how the College will allow you to take courses across disciplines.
That being said, you should not spend more than a sentence writing about a joint-major or special program like the Huntsman Program. There's no guarantee you'll get into one, so you want your general admissions essay to stand on its own.
Make your fit with Penn seem even more exact by listing specific professors, courses, and clubs that interest you, and explaining why.
Maybe you volunteered in a local museum and wondered about the history of the artifacts you work with. A class like Anthropology 258: "Visualizing the Past/Peopling the Past" would allow you to develop that interest while working on exhibits in the Penn Museum. Maybe a campus visit that included a stop at the Penn Women's Center gave you some ideas for how to better pursue community-based action you are involved with in your home community.
Emailing Penn students and professors and asking them questions you have about their research, courses they teach, and clubs they lead can also be quite helpful in building this section of the essay.
In my experience, Quakers are genuinely delighted to answer your questions when you have a shared interest. For example, Professor Daniel Gillion recently published a book about how politicians speak about race. Why not email him and ask him about the most challenging part of his methodology? Maybe you'd consider writing for the Penn Moviegoer. Reach out to the editor and ask her what she likes about film criticism. These interactions will make your essay more nuanced and specific.
I will leave you with one final trick for picking out the things that are most exciting or unique about a specific school, in this case, UPenn. Pretend that you just found out you were rejected. What are you disappointed you'll never get to experience? What did you picture yourself doing at Penn that now you can't? Write about those things you would regret to miss out on. Draw a direct connection between those things and your personal interests and goals. This exercise can be a downer, but it works!
In general, hold the braggadocious posturing, and skip the generalities. Write about the real, specific, reasons why Penn has captured your heart, and you'll write a great Penn supplemental essay. Good luck!