How to Get into UPenn
May 1, 2019
How to Get into UPenn
Whether it’s been your dream school for as long as you remember, or you’re considering it when working on your college list and looking through the Ivies, you might be drawn to the University of Pennsylvania. If you’re wondering how to get into UPenn, you’re not alone - UPenn received a record breaking 44,960 applications for the Class of 2023. While the application numbers went up, the acceptance rate was 7.44%, UPenn’s lowest ever.
As you can see in the graphic, the acceptance rate at UPenn has gradually gone down over the last seven years. Almost 93% of applicants got rejected last year. That is huge! So you might be wondering how to get into UPenn when competing against such a tough applicant pool. To help you get a clearer understanding of how to get into UPenn, I’ve outlined more on each of the different UPenn undergraduate schools and programs, what UPenn looks for in students, deadlines and requirements, supplemental essay questions, and overall tips on how you can make sure you stand out as a top notch applicant.
The Different UPenn Schools
UPenn is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Campus life is packed with traditions as the diverse student body learns together and from each other. There is no typical day, and your time at UPenn could be spent studying with friends in the Quadrangle, enjoying one of the many student art performances, cheering on the Quakers, or exploring the City of Brotherly Love.
Before we examine how to get into UPenn and the application process itself, it’s important to know which of the four undergraduate schools within the University of Pennsylvania you want to apply to. When you apply to UPenn through the Common App or Coalition App, you have to choose one of the four schools, instead of applying to UPenn as a whole. Your choice should depend on your academic interests and strengths, as well as your future career goals.
For each of the schools, you are also asked whether you are interested in one of the dual degree programs offered for students with specific interests. If you apply to a program that falls under the umbrella of two different schools within UPenn (for example, Wharton and the College of Arts and Sciences), you must be admitted to both schools in order to ultimately be accepted. This makes the specialized options ultra competitive!
When you apply, you must indicate your first and second choice programs, so it’s important to know the options available to you. The schools within UPenn, along with what they look for in applicants and the dual-degree options available, are:
- College of Arts and Sciences - Like many other top national universities, UPenn offers a liberal arts curriculum in its College of Arts and Sciences. If you’re debating between multiple majors, enjoy courses in both humanities and sciences, and are looking for a collaborative classroom experience, this college is the one for you. Dual-degree, accelerated and specialized program options available are The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, The Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, The Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, The Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, and the Seven Year Bio-Dental Program. Admissions officers are looking for students interested in the multiple disciplines, capable of juggling the rigorous academics, and those who are able to transfer their classroom knowledge into real world applications.
- School of Nursing - This is pretty straightforward - if you want to go into nursing, apply to the School of Nursing! At the School of Nursing, students have access to top ranked hospitals and clinical agencies to help them fulfill UPenn’s three-year clinical requirement. Nursing and Health Care Management is available as a dual degree program. Students wishing to apply must have a commitment to patient care, a curiosity to explore issues and trends in healthcare, and a strong background in the sciences, especially in chemistry. Before applying, understand that this is a career-oriented program, and also one of the most competitive nursing schools in the nation!
- Penn Engineering - If you’re a STEM-minded student with a passion for engineering and hopes of working in technology-based fields in the future, Penn Engineering could be the school for you. Penn Engineering provides students with hands-on experience in technology management through exposure to state-of-the-art research labs and centers. Students can pursue a Bachelor of Science in Engineering if they see themselves being professional engineers or computer scientists, or pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science which offers them more flexibility in combining engineering science and technology with other disciplines.
Dual-degree, accelerated, and special program options are The Fisher Program in Management and Technology, The Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research, Computer & Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence, Digital Media Design Program, and The Singh Program in Networked & Social Systems Engineering. Penn Engineering is looking for applicants who are able to innovate, design, practically apply scientific discoveries, have a strong background in physics and math (especially calculus), and submit a competitive application convincing the admissions officers of their motivation and passion behind wanting to study engineering.
- The Wharton School - If you wish to attend an undergraduate business school and get your dream job right out of college, why not apply to the number one ranked undergraduate business program in the country? Wharton offers students the opportunity to apply classroom concepts into practice by starting their own businesses, combining the business course load with classes from the other UPenn schools, and gaining hands on experience through its entrepreneurship and leadership courses. Specialized programs that include a degree at Wharton are The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, The Fisher Program in Management and Technology, and The Nursing and Healthcare Management program. Admissions officers are looking for students who wish to use business as a tool for positive change in the world’s economic and social wellbeing, demonstrate leadership in their community, and have a strong background in math, particularly calculus.
No matter which school you apply to, if you are admitted, you will be able to take courses at the other schools at UPenn as well.
Liz Culliton, a Former Associate Director of Admissions at UPenn talks more about the different schools, as well as what it takes to get into UPenn, in this interview:
Numbers, Extracurriculars and Personal Statement
When wondering how to get into UPenn, you should brace yourself for the kind of grades, standardized test scores and extracurriculars you need. After all, this is the information admissions officers see in your application to make their decision! The average GPA for UPenn is 3.9 on a scale of 4.0. As you can see, you need to be working very hard all throughout high school to have the grades for UPenn.
If you haven’t taken the SAT or ACT yet, start planning now, because the average standardized scores for UPenn are quite high as well. The median ACT range is 33-35. The median SAT range is 1440-1550. You should aim to score at least 750 in each section of the SAT to stay with the pack.
UPenn recommends that you take the SAT subject tests. Unless you absolutely cannot for some unavoidable circumstances, then you should submit scores from two subject tests. Excelling in them will help you get an edge over the competition, and show the admissions officers your strength in a subject - especially if you apply to the School of Nursing, Penn Engineering, or Wharton. Although there aren’t strict guidelines for which subject tests the schools require, you could take Biology and Chemistry for the School of Nursing, Math II and Physics for Penn Engineering, and Math II for Wharton.
If your numbers line up with what UPenn averages, great! But your application is certainly not a shoo in just yet. Don’t forget that UPenn turned down 41,000 applicants in 2019, and a lot of them were probably academically brilliant. Many of your peers who apply to UPenn are going to be at the top of their class, with the best grades and scores. Your extracurricular activities and experiences can help set you apart.
Start participating in clubs, volunteer work, and internships as early as the 9th grade. Getting an early start helps you climb up the ranks to a leadership position, as well as show admissions officers that you’re committed to what you’re passionate about. Trying out different things at first is okay, but make sure you stick to activities that follow a theme to establish your application persona, highlighting your achievements and goals. Your application persona, for example, could be an aspiring biologist who is passionate about climate change advocacy and enjoys making documentaries on the issue. You could be a promising musician who has performed all over the world and wishes to compose music for film. Or, your application persona could be a future astronaut who has started an organization for kids interested in learning about space and becoming astronauts themselves.
Involvement as a leader and earning tangible achievements in a consistent line of interest that you highlight across your application helps boost your profile. Being the president of a preexisting club that many people participate in, such as debate or Model UN, isn’t enough for an institute such as UPenn. If you’re applying to a specific school it definitely helps to show hands-on experience in the field. If you want to apply to the School of Nursing, volunteering at clinics and working with patients would look good on you application. Being an entrepreneur would be strategic for Wharton. You can form your own club, lead your local community in voluntary drives, and even start own nonprofit. When working on your application, make sure you take full advantage of the small amount of space you have when filling out the Common App Activities and Honors sections!
Your personal statement is a huge part of your application, and should follow your application persona. This is a chance for you to tell the admissions officers your story - emphasizing what makes you unique and what you are passionate about. All other students can have excellent grades and scores, even be involved in similar activities, but the personal statement is the place where you show what makes you different and a must-have applicant. Think of topics to avoid, brainstorm multiple topics before finding the perfect one, and don’t forget to throw in humor to highlight more of your personality. After you’re done, be sure to edit as much as possible and have someone else proofread it and offer feedback.
Your application is an accumulation of the different components, and excelling across the board will help you get into a highly selective school such as UPenn.
If you’ve been thinking about how to get into UPenn, you probably have specific reasons for wanting to apply to UPenn in the first place. That’s great - because now it’s time to take a look at the supplemental essay for UPenn. It is especially important to keep in mind the UPenn school you’re applying to when writing this essay, as you must indicate it right from the start. This is your chance to show admissions officers that you’re not just applying to UPenn because it’s in the Ivy League, but because you are intrigued by the unique aspects of the school of your choice and believe that you would be a good fit. The prompt for 2017-18 and 2018-19 asked:
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).
The key to writing this supplemental essay lies in convincingly conveying the research you’ve done regarding UPenn. Showcase ways that the features you appreciate about the institution - and particularly the college you are applying to - tie in to your interests and goals. Take the time to explore the course offerings and faculty listings at the school of your choice to identify ways your intellectual curiosity can peak if accepted. Go through UPenn social media posts and YouTube videos to learn about aspects of campus life that appeal to you. Browse their website for student organizations to see how you can continue your current activities in college. Going over these can help you find the professors, courses, and activities that speak to you. If you enjoy economics and math, write about how excited you are to major in Mathematical Economics, a perfect blend of your interests. If you’re a fan of musical comedy and have been involved in performance throughout high school, write about how you hope to explore this passion further through the Mask and Wig club at UPenn. Every college brings unique opportunities for students, and UPenn has many distinguishing features that may resonate for you. Taking the time to research and brainstorm can help you find the right ones for you at UPenn, and put them on paper.
Convince admissions officers that you’re not just applying to UPenn for the sake of wanting to go to an Ivy League school. Your research and interest in the school must shine through in your essay. Don’t just re-state their brochures - I’m sure admissions officers who work there already know that it’s great. Reflect on how it stands out to you, and would be great for you and your aspirations.
Requirements and Deadlines
When thinking about how to get into UPenn you must also think about the necessary scores, documents, and other information the school asks for. Deadlines may not feel important to note right now, but they are essential to keep in mind when preparing for the college application process.
The Early Decision deadline for UPenn is November 1, while the Regular Decision deadline is January 5.
Knowing these dates can help you start working on filling out the Common App and writing your essays, take and retake standardized tests, and talk to your counselor and recommenders to allow them enough time to write letters. The material you need to submit for your UPenn undergraduate application, regardless of which school you’re applying to, is outlined below, along with deadlines and additional notes:
|Requirements for UPenn Application||Deadlines and Notes|
|Common App personal statement||The word limit is 650 words|
|UPenn-specific essay||This will appear on the Common App when you add UPenn as a school; word requirement is between 400 and 650 words|
|Official high school transcript||Must be submitted directly from your school|
|School report||Submitted by your counselor to summarize your academic performance, including your official transcript|
|Counselor recommendation||This letter is very important to help you stand out from your peers|
|Two letters of evaluation from teachers||These letters are also crucial, as admissions officers want to know what you are like in the classroom|
|Early Decision agreement (if applicable)||Early Decision (ED) to UPenn is binding, so if you apply ED, you must commit if accepted|
|Mid-year report||If you are deferred from ED, this is due February 15. For Regular Decision (RD), this should be submitted whenever mid-year grades are available|
|SAT or ACT||The last tests students can take for ED are the October ACT and November SAT and the last tests students can take for RD are the December ACT and December SAT|
|SAT subject tests||The last test students can take for ED is the November session and the last test students can take for RD is the December session|
|Interviews (offered based on availability)||Interviews for ED take place from Mid-October to December, interviews for RD take place December to early March|
|Arts supplement (optional)||If you are an excellent artist, designer or a musician, consider submitting a portfolio of your work; guidelines here: https://admissions.upenn.edu/admissions-and-financial-aid/what-penn-looks-for/supplementary-materials|
|Additional recommendation (optional)||If you wish to submit a third letter of recommendation, UPenn prefers that this comes from someone who is not a teacher, such as a coach or an internship supervisor|
|Financial aid documents||U.S. citizens and permanent residents applying for aid must fill out the FAFSA, CSS Profile, Penn Financial Aid Supplement, parents’ and student’s latest federal income tax returns|
Use the table as a checklist to make sure you submit all of the necessary documents and scores. Once you’ve submitted your application, Early Decision applicants are notified in mid-December, while Regular Decision applicants are notified by April 1.
Alongside strong academic and extracurricular performances, here are some other strategies to gain an edge over the tough competition:
- Apply Early Decision if You’re Sure about UPenn - Statistically speaking, applying ED can increase your chances of admission. 7,704 students applied Early Decision for the Class of 2023, which is significantly fewer number of students than the Regular Decision number. 18% of the applicants were accepted. Although this rate is inflated by recruited athletes and legacies, applying ED can still provide an advantage. So, if you know that UPenn is the school for you, and you are ready to go if accepted (remember, it’s binding!), go ahead and apply Early Decision to UPenn. You will be competing against a much smaller pool, and if your application checks all the right boxes, you may get accepted.
- Apply to the Program that is Right For You - Don’t apply to Penn Engineering, Wharton, or the School of Nursing if you aren’t ready to commit yourself to those fields. The College of Arts and Sciences offers different disciplines and allows the chance to explore. Don’t apply to the College of Arts and Sciences thinking it might be easier to get admitted, with the intention of transferring to Wharton though. Transferring programs is hard!
But, if you think you might be interested in business, but aren’t too sure, your essay about Wharton will not sound very convincing. This could expose a dent in your application, that could very much be avoided if you apply to the Colleges of Arts and Sciences. You can always take business classes at Wharton on the side. At the same time, don’t sound entirely unconvinced about your future when applying for the liberal arts school. Have goals, but be open to exploring.
- Talk to Current UPenn Students and Professors - If you have any friends who are currently students at UPenn, talk to them about how you can enhance your application. If you visit campus, see if you can talk with a professor - ideally in a field of your interest - to learn more about the department and courses. This conversation can motivate you to write a stronger supplemental essay, and convince you further that applying to UPenn is the right call for you. Who knows, the professor might even go on to become your advisor in the future!
- Talk to Your College Counselor - It’s important to start building a relationship with your high school college counselor early in your high school career. Not only does your counselor help you figure out whether schools are right for you, but the counselor writes a recommendation letter that is taken into consideration by schools. Plus, if UPenn has any questions about your application, they would turn to your counselor. Getting to know your counselor matters, especially if there are multiple students from your school applying to UPenn. The counselor’s voice is crucial. If they are familiar with your strengths and goals, they can write a strong letter, and advocate to the school on your behalf.
There is no one specific formula regarding how to get into UPenn. Realistically, the odds are already stacked against you because of the sheer number of excellent candidates applying to the school. But, if you have stellar grades, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and essays, then you can make a case for yourself. Your status as a top student will help your recommenders’ job easy. Continue doing well in school, and establish yourself as a leader in your community. Make sure your personal statement tells a unique story, and your supplemental essay captures your interest in UPenn as specifically and true to you as possible. It’s difficult, but not impossible. Good luck!