How to Write the University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Padya Paramita

How to Write the University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

As you sit down to write your University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021, you need to think about how your love for UPenn stands out among the thousands of students applying to this selective school. Are you enthralled by the chance to tie in your major with your volunteering experience as part of Penn’s unique community engagement programs, or did you fall in love with the historical buildings and cobblestone streets of Philadelphia on your campus tour? Either way, if you believe that Penn could be your home for the next four years, it’s time to put your reasons and vision down on paper.

The prompts for the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021 are different this admissions cycle. UPenn has put a lot of thought into the questions, so make sure you give thoughtful answers! Your quest to answer begins with thinking about which college within UPenn you’re applying to. You might want to become a “Philosophy, Politics and Economics” major at the College of Arts at Sciences or concentrate on “Insurance and Risk Management” at the Wharton School. Whatever the path you want to take, let admissions officers know why Penn is essential for your goals. To guide you through the questions for this year, I’ve gone over each of the required and dual-degree prompts, ways you can answer them, and additional tips so that you know the best ways to nail your University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021

Penn-Specific Essays for All Applicants

Regardless of which school or which dual-degree program within Penn you’re applying to, all students have to answer the two required questions. Your answers to both questions should be as specific to Penn as possible. Considering that 93% of applicants got rejected this year, your goal in writing the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021 should be to stand out in demonstrating unprecedented commitment to the home of the Quakers. 

Essay 1

How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)

Although the word limit seems pretty generous, this question has two parts, so you get about 175-200 words each to talk about the discovery of your academic interests, followed by how you will explore them at UPenn. When you apply to UPenn, you will have to pick one of the four colleges as the primary site of undergraduate study: the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and Applied Science (or Penn Engineering) and the Wharton School. When you write this essay, you will have to showcase a strong familiarity with the school of your choice and the features that are available to admitted students. 

The word limit is quite a comfortable amount to go into details about discovering your love for your prospective field, whether it’s engineering, business, or biology. Was there one instance that catalyzed your passion and goals? How have you explored the subject of your interest since then? How has your curiosity about the topic grown? The majority of your essay should be dedicated to tying your interest in with what the specific Penn school has to offer. Admissions officers must have no doubt that you have done thorough research on both the college and what Penn looks for as a whole. 

For example, Penn Engineering values students who are able to apply their distinguished background in physics and math into innovation, design and scientific discoveries. You can talk about some ways that you’re excited to elevate your passion for engineering and entrepreneurship through Penn’s Clarks Scholars Program for leadership in engineering. Or you might dedicate your essay to your plans to advocate for minority representation in engineering through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Undergraduate Research Program.

An easy mistake to make in this essay would be to write about Penn in a broad and general sense when the prompt clearly asks you to write in regards to the specific college you’re applying to. Think about that school, what makes it unique, and how it can help you reach your aspirations. If you could recycle this response for another school’s supplemental essays, it’s time to start a new draft.

Essay 2

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

This second required question for all candidates is much shorter. While you can definitely mention which student organizations you hope to participate in Penn, don’t get tricked by your previous answer to the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021 and solely focus on activities you’re currently involved in. Keep your choices limited to 1-2 of your most meaningful extracurricular experiences, as the primary topic of your short essay must bring forth how the Penn community can help shape your perspective and identity and vice versa. 

Penn looks for highly motivated community leaders with an unquestionable love for their different involvements. This essay is the university’s way of gauging what makes you a unique person and which parts of campus you’ll contribute to the most.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!





Dual-Degree Specific Questions

If you’re applying to one of UPenn’s dual-degree programs, you’ll have to write additional essays. The following four questions ask about why you’ve applied to particular programs. To answer the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021 for each of these highly competitive programs, you have to convey how you’ve pursued the intersection of the respective fields, as well as why you’re choosing Penn’s very specific programs over schools that are already specialized. 

In the case of all of these essays, you have a word limit as long as your personal statement, so utilize that space!

Computer and Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence

Why are you interested in the Computer & Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)

To apply to the Computer & Cognitive Science program, you must show admissions officers that you understand the uniqueness of the degree that will allow you to combine computer science and engineering with courses in linguistics, mathematics, philosophy or psychology, and receive a BSE or BAS degree from Penn Engineering and a BA from the College of Arts and Sciences. Not only should you highlight the ways in which you’ve been involved in an interdisciplinary approach to technology-related academics and extracurriculars, but you should detail how your goals and career will benefit from the Computer and Cognitive Science dual-degree. 

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)

Take the admissions officers on a journey through how you discovered your love for nursing and business. Follow the classic “show, not tell” advice to transport the reader to when you first realized that the intersection between healthcare and management was THE field for you - whether it was watching a documentary or arose from a summer of working at a lab. Then expand on your goals and explain why the combination of the two at Penn is specifically tailored to your interests. Are you more excited about the Nursing Clinical Cluster courses or the Business Concentration Cluster courses? Be as specific as you possibly can. 

These next couple of prompts follow a similar theme to the last four in the sense that they also ask about your interest in the specific dual-degree programs, with the addition of specific questions that the particular departments explicitly want to know regarding your connection to the interdisciplinary fields that make up the course load. 

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)

Portray yourself as a globally-minded individual. Furthermore, think about how you can frame the initiatives you’ve taken thus far and the goals that Huntsman can help you achieve. Admissions officers should be able to connect them with those of an engaged citizen, creative innovator, and ethical leader. Once more, it’s important to display your knowledge about the courses, professors, and features that make the program of your choice unique. Find ways to bring these back to your interests and goals, and how you would thrive under UPenn’s dual degree setting.

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

Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

The prompt for VIPER might seem overwhelming at first. After all, you’re being asked to provide a lot of information. It will definitely help to break down the question into the different points you must address:

  • Your interest in energy science and technology, drawing on previous academic research
  • Your interest in energy science and technology, drawing on extracurricular experiences
  • Your appreciation of scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability
  • Any research projects you have been involved in
  • Experiences that have shaped your research and interests
  • Goals the VIPER program will help you achieve
  • Which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are the most interesting to you at this time.

Don’t panic. Take it one step at a time and answer all of the different sections. If it helps, jot them down in a bulleted list first, then work on creatively interweaving the different segments together. Remember that admissions officers are trying to determine whether you are a fit for the program - so mention any experience that you have relative to energy science and engineering. Think about which aspects of the VIPER program can help you reach your goals. 

Do you have a personal connection to energy research that enables you to make a more compelling case than your peers? The VIPER has taken between 6 and 11 students for recent classes, so you must make yourself extremely memorable in the admissions officers’ eyes. Nothing short of standout results in academics, extracurriculars, and bright ideas about the present and future of energy research and engineering will get you admitted.

If you’ve participated in activities and research related to the science and technology of alternative and efficient methods of production, conversion and use of energy, that’s even better. 

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)

This question might not seem like it, but it has two parts: your interests, plus how you will explore them under the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology program. If you are applying for this, it’s obvious you are interested in business and engineering. Go deeper into the specifics. Show that you’ve done the research when it comes to knowing about the M&T program specifically.

For example, if you want to learn how best to gain hands-on engineering and business leadership experience, you could write about how you hope to take advantage of the M&T Integration Lab. It can be easy to get carried away and only talk about the program, and not how you personally would benefit from obtaining the M&T dual-degree. Don’t fall into that trap!

Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words)

Don’t just name the problem - set up the scene with proper narration, showing the reader exactly what the issues were and why it was a problem to begin with. But the main point of your answer should lie in your solution. How did you step up in a way that others did not? How long did your problem-solving process take? What prompted you to think out of the box?

Remember, the situation needs to be one where you showed both leadership and creativity. Penn appreciates resourcefulness in its students, especially when it comes to thinking out-of-the-box and taking charge when faced with pressure. So, don’t miss out on the chance to show how your leadership and creative skills overlap in the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021

Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

1. 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.

2. List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.

3. What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people?

4. 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.

5. 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.

While these questions have no word limit, you should NOT get carried away and write page after page on every single thing your relatives in the dental field have achieved for example. Look at the keyword for each question (“list,” “explain,” etc.) and write accordingly. 

All of these answers should be short except the second to last question: Why have you decided to go into a career in dentistry? While you definitely shouldn’t state the high income earned by dentists as the main cause, be honest in your response. Was the decision made in a matter of seconds or did it come to you over time? Have you pursued any internships with dentists that solidified your commitment? Your favorite and least favorite aspects about dentistry shouldn’t go on for long either. Going by the “interest” prompts from the other dual-degree programs, stick between 400-650 words.

The third question - activities that highlight your cooperation skills - should be longer than the list-based questions as well, but no more than a page. Keep it to a few relevant activities - the ones that speak to your leadership skills and love for dentistry/sciences the most. As for the shorter questions, they should be as precise as possible. Don’t write unnecessary information or try to be too clever. Work that shows your dexterity should stay limited to activities that affirm that you have a steady hand, such as if you know how to fix a watch. If you’re good at activities that involve steady control over your hands, such as art, model-building or video games, that is also worth mentioning. 

UPenn’s Bio-Dental program is intense, and more importantly, it is extended and time-consuming. Your essays must illustrate you as a committed individual who is passionate about the dental field and has made a well-informed decision. Read up on the program, know exactly why you’re sure that this is the path for you, and use that conviction to sway admissions officers. 

Liz Culliton, a Former Associate Director of Admissions at UPenn, gives her advice for taking advantage of your supplemental essays in this interview:

Additional Tips to answer the University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Here are some final tips to get you on the right track for your University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021.

  • Don’t write about a college different from your main choice - When you’re answering the first required question for the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021, it’s very important that your primary focus is the single college within Penn that you’re applying to. If you’re vying for the College of Arts and Sciences and your answer is all about business, admissions officers will get the sense that you’re applying to a college you might feel is “easier” to get into with plans of later transferring to Wharton. This will not work in your favor at all. If you want to study business, apply to Wharton and write about Wharton.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of your extracurriculars - Admissions officers want to know what makes you tick outside the classroom. Don’t just shrug off this essay and repeat information you’ve already included in your activities list. They want to know about your perspective and identity. Your activities could have shifted your views in a way that you might not have even realized before sitting down to write the essay. And you won’t be able to analyze their impact properly if you don’t look at them from a more nuanced angle. 
  • If you’re pursuing a dual-degree, don’t write about it in the first question - Your first response should only talk about the main school within Penn you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to the Life Sciences and Management program, which falls under both Wharton and the College of Arts and Science, you must pick either Wharton or the College of Arts and Sciences as your main school of choice. You’ll get a chance to elaborate on your interest in the specific program later. Your first essay should concentrate on the growth of your academic interests and goals, with one college within Penn as your singular pick. 

The University of Pennsylvania supplemental essays 2020-2021 are designed to determine whether you would fit into one of the colleges within UPenn by understanding your academic passions, goals, and values. Reading carefully through the Penn website and understanding the unique features of each college will help you write responses that will convince admissions officers they’re making the right call, helping you edge one step closer to calling yourself a Quaker. You got this!

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