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Command EducationGuide

How to Write the University of Pennsylvania Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

In addition to school-specific prompts, UPenn asks students to write their supplemental essay as a letter to someone they want to thank. Discover how you can convey something meaningful about your candidacy with a strategic and unique essay!

Question 1

Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words)

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Explanation:

Identify a meaningful person: Start by thinking about who you want to thank. This could be anyone from a teacher who has influenced your academic career to a family member who has supported you, a friend who has been there for you during challenging times, or even someone you barely know but who has unexpectedly helped you or made a significant impact on your life. This is a good opportunity to give the admissions committee some insight into the meaningful relationships in your life.

Be Personal and Sincere: The note should be written from the heart. Authenticity is essential. Ensure that the essay communicates your gratitude sincerely and explains clearly the reasons behind your acknowledgment. Highlighting how the relationship has affected you positively is a good way to demonstrate maturity and introspection.

Reflect on the experience: After writing your thank-you note, spend a few lines reflecting on the experience. What has it taught you? How has it affected your perspective or actions? Have you learned something about gratitude, empathy, or connection? Try to tie this reflection back to your personal growth and development.

Stay within the word limit: Stick to 150-200 words, and ensure every word adds value to your message. The thank-you note should be concise, clear, and impactful.

Polish your writing: Even though this prompt may seem less formal than others, you still need to write professionally and coherently. Proofread your work for grammar and spelling mistakes.

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Sample:

Dear Grandma,

I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks for the example you have set for me. Your work organizing voiceless residents of your retirement community towards productive action in the family council is the roadmap for bettering my community. Your committed work paved a path that I will always follow.

You’ve taught me the essence of advocacy, not just through your unquestioning support of me, but by showing what it means to work for the community. I hope to handle the obstacles of life with the grace, resilience, and unwavering conviction that you embody every day.

In the 1940’s, when you were not much older than I am now, you decided to dedicate your young adulthood to educating Japanese children in the face of internment and unimaginable bigotry. Your example showed me that—then as now—people young and old are capable of affecting immense change. Your courage is what I aspire to.

In our long rambling conversations about my world and yours, I’ve learned that empathy, gratitude, and connection are not just virtues, but guiding principles. Thank you for being an extraordinary example of strength and for teaching me to stand up for what is right.

Your loving grandson,
Cole

Question 2

How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective, and how your experiences and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)

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Explanation:

Research the Penn Community: Penn offers a lot of unique opportunities and programs—from academic and research communities to cultural and interest-based groups. Many of these groups are pre-professional and provide unparalleled opportunities for experiential learning. Show that you’ve done your homework by mentioning specific aspects of the Penn community that align with your interests and values.

Clarify your interests and goals: Clearly articulate what you are interested in and how you plan to pursue these interests at Penn. This might be specific courses, extracurricular activities, research opportunities, clubs, or community service projects. It is crucial that your writing is as specific as possible. Broad generalities will not fly in this essay.

Demonstrate Contribution: Universities value students who not only take advantage of opportunities but also contribute to the campus community. Show how your unique experiences and perspectives will enrich the Penn community. It could be a unique cultural background, personal experiences, skills, or interests you will bring to the table.

Discuss the impact of Penn on your perspective: Address how being a part of the Penn community would shape your world view and future career aspirations. Demonstrate not only how you would contribute to the Penn community, but how the Penn community will contribute to your academic, personal, and intellectual growth.

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Sample:

Since the start of my Senior year, I have begun developing youth engagement and outreach strategies to ensure students are involved in the campaign for California education chief. In democracy, I believe that participation in the civic process is an individual’s primary responsibility. Justice Louis Brandeis put it best when he said: “The most important [political] office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.”

As a student, I see my civic responsibility as far greater. Unable to participate through the ballot box, my ideas must stand as testimony to my citizenship. During high school, I have found civic engagement to be transformative in my life.

By engaging in the myriad opportunities for civic engagement at Penn, including the Netter Center and the University Assisted Community Schools program, I hope to engage Philadelphia students in Penn’s push for civic engagement. I want to use my time at the ‘civic
Ivy’ to create structures for engagement in school governance and connect students to Penn education policy researchers. Only at Penn will I find a university community that is devoted to the civic engagement that has transformed my life.

College of Arts and Sciences Specific Prompt:

The flexible structure of The College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum is designed to inspire exploration, foster connections, and help you create a path of study through general education courses and a major. What are you curious about and how would you take advantage of opportunities in the arts and sciences? (150-200 words)

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Sample:

Politics became my passion at nine years old when I began staying up late watching The West Wing with my parents. Much of the jargon flew over my head, but I learned that government has the power to bring people together to work for the common good.

With Penn’s unique opportunities for experiential learning in education policy and government, the College of Arts and Sciences is the perfect environment for me to explore the roles of racism, sexism, religion, privilege and power in the American experience. Through programs such as Penn in Washington and the Penn Program for Public Service Summer Internship, I want to perfect my role in the office of private citizen. In the process, I know I will better understand how I can be a part of social and political change.

With Penn’s stimulating curriculum and unique approach to learning, I hope to immerse myself in the passion for Government that I have had since I was nine years old. Whether I pursue a career in public policy, political office, the law, or even film and television, I know that Political Science at Penn will give me the platform necessary to be a true leader.

Wharton Specific prompt:

Wharton prepares its students to make an impact by applying business methods and economic theory to real-world problems, including economic, political, and social issues. Please reflect on a current issue of importance to you and share how you hope a Wharton education would help you to explore it. (150-200 words)

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Specific Prompt:

Penn Engineering prepares its students to become leaders in technology, by combining a strong foundation in the natural sciences and mathematics, exploration in the liberal arts, and depth of study in focused disciplinary majors. Please share how you hope to explore your engineering interests at Penn. (150-200 words)

Dual degree programs (such as M&T or the Huntsman program) also have additional program specific essays.