Successful Upenn Essays

College essays are hard to write, especially when they’re for competitive Ivy League colleges like the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s the deal:

College essays are 100 times easier to write when you have examples of what is both good and bad.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how to approach the question, “Why Penn?” in your application. We’ll walk you through exactly what makes this admissions essay effective and what could have been better.

Let’s start with why this essay works.

Why this admissions essay works:

1. The student opens with a succinct and clear direction of where the essay is heading. He gets straight to the point and dives right into the meat of the essay.

2. The second paragraph demonstrates to an admissions counselor that this student has done his research on the school—in turn showing the counselor that this student is a serious applicant. Demonstrated interest is crucial in today’s competitive admissions scene to stand out from the rest of the pack.

3. The student breaks down his key message into three subsections: academics, extracurriculars, and student life. By doing so, the student stays true to the first paragraph in providing a clear direction throughout the entire essay.

3. Paragraphs 4-5 are particularly effective because they epitomize demonstrated interest; in this case the student draws on his own experiences visiting the school campus.

4. In paragraph 5, the student starts explaining to the admissions counselor how he can fit into the Penn community; as important as it is to convey to the counselor that you’ve done your research, arguably the most important part of “Why X?” supplements is helping the reader understand where you fit into the school community. The student answers this question by talking about his previous world experiences.

5. The student concludes with a short and sweet ending and draws on a cultural food item of Philadelphia, where Penn is located. What this essay demonstrates well is the fact that while introductions and conclusions are important, the main content of the essay is the most important component of all. Students often get bogged down trying to think of attention grabbers and clever ways to open and close their essays; as a result they end up not developing the meat of their essay well enough to demonstrate to the reader that they have done their research and can fit a specific niche within the school’s community.

How this Why Penn essay could have been better:

The student did a great job demonstrating to the reader that he had done his research; however, the essay itself could have been more creative in its approach. The introduction and conclusion are succinct and effective; however, a more unique introduction would have drawn the reader in faster. The student made up for this with the quality of the content of the essay.

———-

Since first setting foot on campus two years ago, I have found that Penn has always stood out in my search for the perfect university. Every aspect, from the flexible academics to its urban environment, to the diversity of the student body seems to readily match the setting in which I hope to immerse myself over the next four years.

Academically, I hope to continue pursuing my interests in economics and business, international studies, and French. Unlike many other schools, Penn openly encourages such breadth of study, believing the skill sets developed through different subjects to be universally interdependent and pragmatic in the real world. Through Penn’s one-university system, I would work towards my B.S. in Economics through Wharton while simultaneously taking courses in international studies in the College, and even have the opportunity to hone my accent in France for a semester. In 2012, I would graduate from Penn knowing my education over the past four years helped build my foundation as a better critical thinker who can apply core business and teamwork skills in any field.

All the while, I would be actively building on my high school extracurricular experience at Penn. I plan to continue my studies in economics outside of the classroom through Penn’s Undergraduate Economics Society both to continue improving my leadership skills and to join the club’s campaign to stimulate interest in economics on campus, an objective of mine at my high school since my junior year. I would also like to take part in editing and writing in the club’s unique International Undergraduate Journal of Economics. To stay active, I hope to join the Men’s Club Tennis at Penn, and I look forward to building on my experience with elementary-age children through the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.

But perhaps above all, it is the student community at Penn that has attracted me the most. My first time strolling down Locust Walk with my family seeing all the club representatives left and right trying to convince students to join their causes was just amazing. There was an air of perpetual excitement and community, a feeling that Penn’s student body is extremely tightly knit. In October, I was even lucky enough to shadow two Huntsman Program freshmen on my third visit to campus. Staying overnight with a student from Morocco concentrating in French, but who was studying Spanish, as well as a student from Oregon targeting German, I found that I felt very comfortable living and learning in the diverse environment at Penn.

Sitting in on several classes, I also discovered Wharton’s unique MGMT 100 course to be perhaps the ideal class to tie together my experience in teamwork, interest in community service, and enthusiasm to immerse myself in a real-world business environment. Armed with an open mind and experiences from my travels to a multitude of countries across Asia, North America, and Europe, as well as my volunteer work at events such as the International Children’s Festival and the East African Center’s Evening for Africa, I believe I will bring a very unique and worldly perspective to campus, an outlook I hope to share and broaden working with some of the brightest students from around the globe at Penn.

With so many new doors to open, I know a college experience at Penn will prove challenging, yet undoubtedly rewarding. I look forward to a fulfilling four years of hard work, fun, and cheese steaks.

Photo by Haque, Abul, Photographer (NARA record: 8467822) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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We’ve been saying for years that admissions officers have about 5-18 minutes MAX to review an application. Every year parents and students are quite surprised to hear this. In years past the process has been that one officer typically does the review, then “pitches” the candidate to the full committee. As The Chronicle of Higher Education has just reported, UPenn and other high level universities are now stating that the number of minutes in an application review is actually closer to four minutes, and the number of eyes to an application is likely lower than ever.

As The Chronicle states, Penn admissions officers work in pairs, each reviewing an applicant’s materials electronically. Each person scores the applicant, types in notes on the file, and states “admit” or “deny.” From there, the applicant is placed into category 1, 2 or 3 and put into a final review.  Penn states that in the past admissions officers reviewed 4-5 applicants in an hour –now it’s 15 an hour.

UPenn Isn’t Alone

The Chronicle confirmed that Swarthmore has also adopted this model of applicant review and this is now the third year working under the model. Admissions officers used to read 40 students a day — now it’s 90 a day. They no longer write, or have time to write, summaries on applicants; notes point the admissions committee to a specific section of the application and THAT is what’s reviewed. That’s one shot, one very brief and quickly read shot.

Given the short amount of time that an applicant has to make a case for himself in his materials, he needs a theme or a hook of sorts to present himself once he makes the grade in terms of scores and grades. This theme is what we set out to help our students articulate and deepen. We encourage students to nurture their natural passions and then help them make choices and present this theme or collection of interests in a bold, clear way on paper. Think of it as an overview of your four years in high school coupled with your academics, extracurriculars and passions. Colleges are looking for what the student will bring to the school; not how well rounded the student is, but rather how well rounded the class will be by admitting that student. We help students see that by presenting clear, focused applications highlighting a student’s academic niche.

Admissions officers want to admit kids with clear passions backed up by action. We encourage our students to add academic activities to their free time—focusing on a very specific academic area—and create a theme that is compelling to colleges, coupled of course with the high scores, grades and rank to maximize their odds. It’s not all about participation in lots of things—lots of students do that—but how can a student stand out in his/her area of academic interest and show leadership in one or two areas? Again, colleges want scholars and we want to make sure students present with an academic niche, a clear scholarly focus. For the top schools, a student simply has to stand out in a particular area –and he must stand out strong and fast…especially with the dwindling time being spent on actual application review.

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