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Juliana Furigay

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

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Not sure how to approach the UPenn essay prompts? CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the UPenn supplemental essays will show you exactly how to write engaging UPenn essays and maximize your chances of admission. Need help crafting your UPenn supplemental essays? Create your free account or schedule a free advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

UPenn Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • UPenn has an acceptance rate of 5.7%—U.S. News ranks UPenn as a highly competitive school.
  • We recommend answering all UPenn supplemental essays comprehensively and thoughtfully.

Does UPenn Have Supplemental Essays?

Yes. In addition to the main essay prompt that you’ll encounter in the Common App or Coalition App, you’ll also have to answer additional UPenn essays. Both of the required UPenn essays can make a critical difference in admissions.

Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get great tips from our Common App essay guide.

What are the UPenn Supplemental Essays?

The UPenn supplemental essays 2021-2022 are on the Common App site. However, you can also visit the UPenn admissions page to view the UPenn essay prompts and other application requirements.

How Many Essays does UPenn Require?

There are two required UPenn essay prompts on the 2021-2022 Common App. All applicants must complete both UPenn application essays in order to be considered for admission. In addition to the UPenn supplemental essays that all applications must complete, there are additional program-specific essays that we’ll cover below.

As you look at the UPenn essays, however, you'll also notice that there are several special degree programs with additional UPenn application essays. If you intend to apply to one of these programs, make sure you complete the specific UPenn essays referenced on the UPenn supplemental essays page.

This guide to the UPenn essay prompts will primarily cover the general UPenn supplemental essays. However, we will walk through the prompts for the program-specific UPenn essays to help you approach them with confidence. You can also use the tips we provide in this guide to help craft your program-specific UPenn application essays.

What does UPenn Look For in Essays?

The point of UPenn supplemental essays is for the admissions officers to get a picture of how you’d fit into UPenn, both academically and socially. Simply put, the UPenn essay prompts are designed to help you show the admissions team who you would be at UPenn.

At the end of the day, the admissions team wants to build a college class full of interesting students from a variety of backgrounds. If your reader can envision how you would fit into this class, your UPenn essays have done their job.

Want to view examples of successful UPenn supplemental essays? Check out our sample UPenn application essays written by our advisors who were admitted to UPenn.

How to Write the UPenn Essays:

We have provided the prompts for the 2021-2022 UPenn supplemental essays below. You’ll find a breakdown of how to approach each of the UPenn essays as well as tips for creating an application narrative that will stand out in admissions.

UPenn Supplemental Essays – Question 1 (Required):

Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania?  For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay. (300-450 words)

At first glance, the prompt for the first of the UPenn supplemental essays may seem long and elaborate. Of the two required UPenn essay prompts, however, this one is arguably more straightforward. Much of the prompt itself clarifies how students applying to a dual-degree or specialized program should approach the question.

With the fluff removed, your first UPenn essay should answer the much simpler question, “How will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania?” Looking at this simplified prompt for the UPenn supplemental essays, the key elements stand out. The university wants to know more about your academic and personal interests and how UPenn will help you explore them.

Academic vs. intellectual

Remember, this UPenn essay prompt breaks interests down into two components: academic and intellectual. It may be tempting to conflate these categories. However, this separation gives us insight into how to write the UPenn essays. In evaluating your UPenn supplemental essays, the admissions team wants to see that you prioritize intellectual engagement both inside and outside of the classroom.

As you approach this UPenn essay, compile a list of your interests. Sort out the interests which best show your curiosity, and then categorize them into academic and non-academic. Familiarize yourself with UPenn’s degrees and course offerings, and then see when your interests—academic and intellectual—accord with UPenn's resources.

For example, you may plan to study music but have always had a passion for forensics. Use this space to talk about how you’d like to take UPenn’s forensic analysis course.  You may be an American history buff who awaits opportunities for exploration offered by the school’s location in Philadelphia. If there’s a course that will also deepen your understanding of American history, even better! Essentially, this UPenn essay prompt asks you to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and can articulate concrete examples of how UPenn will help you pursue your interests. Remember to draw your readers in with an opening anecdote or story. In fact, when approaching UPenn supplemental essays, remember that how you write about your topic is nearly as important as what you’re writing about.

Be specific

UPenn application essays value quality over quantity and specificity over generality. For example, don’t simply state that you want to take a political science course. Instead, describe a specific course and professor from UPenn’s class roster. Then, include an explanation of how you see yourself learning better in this situation than anywhere else. This prompt grants a generous 450 words, so you have room to be descriptive.

Finally, keep in mind that the prompt asks you to “[consider] the specific undergraduate school you have selected.” While a student applying to the School of Engineering and Applied Science (also known as Penn Engineering) and one applying to the Wharton School will both describe their passions in their UPenn supplemental essays, the passions that they illustrate should almost certainly be different. That is, make sure your prospective major accords with the rest of your application.

“Why Upenn”

In your UPenn application essay, you essentially want to determine what makes your target school right for you and communicate this to your readers. After completing the UPenn essay prompts, perform a simple test to ensure your essay meets its goals. If you can replace “UPenn" with another school and your essay still makes sense, then you haven’t been specific enough. UPenn supplemental essays should be highly specific to the school. Demonstrated interest, or your ability to show how interested you are in attending the school you’re apply to, is a key part of the application process.

UPenn Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay distinguish between academic and intellectual interests?
  • Do you tailor your response to the specific undergraduate school you are applying to?
  • Does your essay mention specific courses, regional attractions, professors, etc. only available at UPenn?

UPenn Supplemental Essays – Question 2 (Required):

At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, 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)

Of the two required UPenn supplemental essays, this is the shorter–both in delivery and word limit. However, the lower word limit doesn't make this UPenn essay prompt less consequential. This UPenn essay is just as important as the other UPenn application essays, if not more.

While the first of the UPenn supplemental essays evaluates each prospective student’s intellectual life, the second one gauges each student’s community involvement. Like the other Ivy League institutions, UPenn prioritizes collective learning and engagement with peers. The admissions team hopes that each student will build a sense of community at UPenn–whether that be by joining or creating a club, participating in school traditions, or otherwise engaging in UPenn's various offerings. To that end, this UPenn essay serves as an opportunity for you to convey your identities in relation to the UPenn community.

Define community

Like the first UPenn essay, you can approach this UPenn essay prompt in a variety of ways. For instance, you could focus on the school’s location by speaking about the unique culture and history that Philadelphia offers. Successful UPenn supplemental essays may also discuss the school itself, focusing on specific organizations on campus.

Be sure to thoroughly research your UPenn application essays. Don’t just say you hope to join a theater organization. Instead, mention the name of the school’s thespian club (in UPenn’s case, Quadramics Theatre Co.). Look at UPenn’s listings of groups and organizations before writing, and highlight any organizations that you find appealing.

While you should use your UPenn essay prompts to tell a story about yourself, you should also use these UPenn application essays to discuss interests that don't appear elsewhere in your application. After all, there are only so many ways to say, “I have a burning love for every possible form of mathematics.” If you've already addressed your primary interest in one of the other UPenn supplemental essays, you might choose to focus on a secondary passion in the second essay. In general, UPenn application essays should present a cohesive picture of you as a student and person, not a repetitive one.

Note that this UPenn essay asks how you will grow at UPenn as well as how you will influence the community around you. UPenn does not want a static student. Instead, they want you to actively contribute to your circles while learning from others around you.

Show growth

In your UPenn essay, showcase specific opportunities to learn and grow at UPenn and specify why those opportunities would promote your development. For example, one student might say, “Through Asians for Justice, I can explore my intersectional identity as an Asian American woman and further advocate for social justice initiatives.” This response shows how you hope to be informed by your peers while also clarifying how you hope to make a change in your community. The admissions officers reading UPenn supplemental essays are looking for strong and unique perspectives. Thinking about your definition of community, and how that may evolve during your four years at UPenn can be a helpful place to start.

UPenn Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does this essay cover new ground from your first essay?
  • Do you reference specific facets of the UPenn community that you hope to participate in?
  • Do you explain how you will learn and grow at UPenn?

Program-Specific UPenn Supplemental Essays (Required, if applying to a specialized program):

DMD: Digital Media Design Program

Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words / 3575 characters)

Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally-minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to make a contribution to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)

Interested in applying to the Huntsman Program? This extremely competitive program only admits about 50 students each year. Consequently, the admissions officers are on the lookout for UPenn supplemental essays that stand out from the crowd. Our CollegeAdvisor guide for the Huntsman Program includes tips and an essay example breakdown from an Admissions Expert who was admitted to the program!

LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

The LSM program aims to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the life sciences and their management with an eye to identifying, advancing and implementing innovations. What issues would you want to address using the understanding gained from such a program? Note that this essay should be distinct from your single degree essay. (400-650 words)

M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)
Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 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 / 3575 characters)

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)

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.
Please note that there is a 250 word limit for the Bio-Dental Program supplemental essays.

VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

How do you envision your participation in the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) furthering your interests in energy science and technology? Please include any past experiences (ex. academic, research, or extracurricular) that have led to your interest in the program. Additionally, please indicate why you are interested in pursuing dual degrees in science and engineering and which VIPER majors are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

If you choose to apply for one of the specialized programs above, you must respond to the aforementioned UPenn application essays along with the additional, program-specific UPenn essay.

For these UPenn essay prompts, make sure you reference internships, research programs, clubs, or other experiences that specifically drew you to your chosen program. These programs are highly selective, so demonstrated interest is important.

These UPenn essay prompts are not unlike the ones you've already completed! Essentially, all of the program-specific UPenn essay prompts ask you to describe why you’re drawn to the program to which you are applying.

Answering these UPenn application essays requires a two-step approach. Firstly, explain why you’re interested in the program. Take Huntsman, for example, you’ll want to begin your response by describing how your involvement in Future Business Leaders of America has sparked your interest in business and international affairs. Secondly, the best answers to these program-specific UPenn supplemental essays will illustrate how the student’s program program of interest will help them develop personally and professionally. Do your research whether it’s by speaking to students, reading The Daily Pennsylvanian, or simply browsing through the site and highlight specific facets of your chosen program that will allow you to develop your interests.

Program-specific UPenn Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Have you referenced internships, research programs, clubs, or other past experiences?
  • Do you extensively convey your expertise and interest in your chosen program?
  • Does your essay draft show that you've done your research on your chosen program?

UPenn Supplemental Essays – Final Thoughts:

Completing the UPenn supplemental essays can seem daunting, but don’t let them discourage you from applying. Instead, view these UPenn essays as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions team.

For more information on UPenn’s application and the UPenn supplemental essays, you can view this video from their admissions team:

In fact, this UPenn YouTube playlist on admissions should be bookmarked by any students looking to attend. Hearing tips, straight from the university on how to approach elements of the application is a great way to clear up confusion and provide guidance if you’re stumped.

You can also check out our free webinar on UPenn, which was led by two current UPenn students. In this webinar, they discuss the ins and outs of attending the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an in-depth look at the admissions process.

When approaching the UPenn supplemental essays, remember to give them the time and attention that they deserve. A well-written set of UPenn essay prompts can work in your favor. Use this UPenn supplemental essays guide, as well as our UPenn essay examples to help you approach each of the UPenn application essays with a solid strategy and enough time to draft and revise each of your answers to the UPenn essay prompts. Good luck!


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This 2021-2022 essay guide was written by Juliana Furigay, Columbia ‘23. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on UPenn, click here. Want help crafting your UPenn supplemental essays? Create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

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