How To Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays (2023)

How To Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays (1)

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

So you’ve set your sights on attending the University of Pennsylvania. You’re confident in your GPA and SAT scores, but how should you write the UPenn supplemental essay? Read on to find out!

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the most selective schools in the United States. According to U.S. News, its acceptance rate is 9%. As such, it’s essential that applicants supply the admissions office with a detailed picture of not only who they are as a student, but also as a person.

You must complete all three UPenn supplemental essays, and if you're applying to a specialized program, you may have to complete additional essays. Each essay is short, with a maximum word count ranging from 200 to 250 words.

However, it can be more challenging to fit your answer into that word count; you must be succinct. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on the UPenn application process, take a look at our college guides.

How To Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays

Each supplemental essay is quite short in length. As such, take time to reflect on what you want to say and how you want to say it. It may be helpful to consider the following before deciding on your topic:

Know Yourself

Write essays that give a clear picture of who you are and how you think. Who you are as a student and a person should be illustrated with clear examples in every essay. Make sure the examples you choose are relevant.

Know the School

Just like you, UPenn also has its own identity. The admissions committee is looking for students who relate to this collective identity. Before submitting an application, it’s important to do as much research as possible. Here are a few things to consider:

Reflect on the city setting: UPenn is located in Philadelphia. What is it about this city, or an urban environment, that excites you?

Reflect on the school’s culture and mission: Why do you think you’ll succeed at this school over any other school? The school’s motto is “well done is better than well-said.” Does this mission statement resonate with you? How can you fit that theme into your essay?

Reflect on the school’s history: UPenn was founded by Benjamin Franklin, and his personage has shaped the school’s identity tremendously. What do you know about Franklin? Is he a historical figure that has particular meaning for you?

Know Your Program

Finally, it’s important you have an understanding of the type of study you are pursuing. As you may have realized in high school, not all subjects are taught and evaluated the same way. Some involve labs, while others involve class discussion, group presentations, or independent study and reflection.

Take some time to consider how your personality factors into your choice of academic pursuit.

  • What draws you to want to pursue this field of study?
  • How do classes work in your program of choice? Do they involve labs, lectures or class discussion? How will you make the most of these learning experiences, and what draws you to each specifically?
  • How will your personality and skill sets fuel your ability to thrive in the program of choice?
  • Are there specific instructors at the school you’re hoping to learn from? Who are they, and why do you hope to be in their class?

UPenn advises applicants to be extremely specific when explaining why they’re applying to Penn and why they want to attend their specified undergraduate school. The more you can get into those details in your supplemental essay, the better.

UPenn Supplemental Essays Examples

Below are a few UPenn supplemental essays.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example 1: The ‘Thank You’ Note

Things to consider in your approach. The school is seeking to figure out whether you have a sense of the importance of others in your life, and if you realize the ways that they’ve helped you along the way.

Though many high schoolers have learned the importance of individual hard work and discipline, studying at the university-level often requires teamwork and collaboration. Schools like UPenn want to know that you’re prepared to participate, and that you have a sense of community, which is further explored in the second essay.

But to start, they want to get a sense of whether you know how others have made a difference in your life. This is your chance to show that to them.

Sample Answer

To my brother:

Every day when I come home from school, I am exhausted and kick off my shoes, thinking three steps ahead, about the homework I’ve got to do, or the friend who hasn’t called me in a while. Wrapped in a world of my own.

And yet, every time I head out the door, I find the laces of my shoes have been neatly untied, loosened and ready for me to step into the shoe. Having not taken the simple step of untying them when I get home, I have not set myself up for a quick or efficient trip out the door.

You and I are so different. I live in a world of abstract ideas and mental exploration, you are grounded in practical matters and prefer not to stray from what is right in front of you. I’m not ‘cool’ and have struggled to make connections with other kids, you fit in so easily, without much effort.

Although in the past I wished you would stick up for me more, I know how hard it can be to go against the grain. I know you’re looking out for me, in the way that you know how. You’re helping me find my own way by making the small inconveniences in my life disappear, so I can head out the door and face larger challenges. Although I’ve never witnessed you untying my laces, I know that it’s you. Nobody else is home, but your being there is enough.

Thank you for showing me how to care for someone, and how to give support in a small but impactful way.

What made this essay successful? Each sentence offers a window into the identity of its writer. They reveal a person who is a bit of a dreamer, who loves to explore abstract ideas, and who sometimes has trouble fitting in. It also offers a window into the writer's thought process.

Although they express their love of daydreaming, they are also detail-oriented; noticing small things like shoelaces that have been undone in their absence. The writer shows they're able to appreciate the personality differences between themselves and their brother. They have compassion for their brother despite differences.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example 2: How Will You Explore Community at UPenn?

Things to consider in your approach. As stated before, students who have a sense of community are what Universities are seeking.

In the first example, the writer was able to demonstrate your appreciation for others who have shaped you in the past to who you are now. This second essay is an opportunity to show how you hope to contribute to the experience of those at UPenn- and also how you hope to be transformed by your university experience.

Sample Answer

As a kid, I was always encouraged to sit and listen to the adults around me, as they were having conversations with one another. Not to spy, or to get information I could use for my own advantage, but to observe people. My Dad told me you can tell a lot about a person based on what words they choose to say, and also how they say them.

Because I was a bit of a chatterbox as a kid, at times I thought he was giving me this advice, so I would be quiet and keep to myself a little more. But as I got older, I realized he was trying to help me build a skill; the skill of listening to others, before offering up a response.

Time went by, and I continued to be a chatty goofball. Though my stoic father had tried his best, I still much prefer telling jokes over sitting silently. Luckily, I was able to find the perfect outlet for both of my powers: improv club. I could act out as much as I wanted, but the most hilarious skits we came up with were the result of listening before responding to my teammates.

As I’m hoping to pursue a degree in philosophy, I’m very excited to put these skills to practice in the classroom. I can’t wait to explore the dynamism that comes from discussing complex topics with my professors and other students.

What made this essay successful? The writer sets the stage by explaining how they started to learn more about relating to others. They also showed how they came to learn to work with their nature - wanting to be more active and leading in a conversation, while also working to ensure they are making space for others.

The writer also seems to anticipate the classroom environment they will be in, knowing that University Philosophy classes often involve discourse on the theories students are exploring. The more you’ve armed yourself with an understanding of UPenn’s programs and classrooms, the easier it will be to write about how you will be an excellent addition to the school.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example 3: Explaining Your Undergraduate School Choice

Things to consider in your approach. What do you know about the field of study you’re pursuing? Are your aspirations distinctive, or a little hazy around the edges?

Quite often, many high-achieving students have a very rigid idea of what they want their future to look like. They declare their intention to become a neurosurgeon, or a Supreme Court Justice, but their understanding of these roles is limited.

If you have a specific career path in mind, the school wants to know that you have an understanding of the knowledge you’ll need in order to get there. Not to mention, if you will use the knowledge you obtain at their school to be a contributing member to society.

There is no ‘right’ answer when it comes to your reasoning for pursuing any course of learning. UPenn wants to see evidence that you want more from your education than just bringing home a huge paycheck, or achieving an illustrious degree. UPenn is interested in what matters to you.

University is a place where you nurture your mind, and that can sometimes mean changing it. How will you take advantage of the resources available to you? How will you contribute to the classroom environment? Seek to answer those questions when writing this supplemental essay.

Sample Answer

“Some Pig.” The day I read these words was the day I became a vegetarian.

In around 192 pages, E.B. White changed my entire perspective. My parents suddenly had to grapple with the challenge of feeding a kid who would not eat meat. Luckily, they understood that this wasn't just a phase for me. I started to gain a curiosity about the inner lives of animals, leading me toward an interest in animal psychology.

How much do we really know about what animals are thinking or feeling? Will we ever live in a world where humans are able to communicate with animals? What kind of moral issues would we face should that possibility become a reality? These are questions I used to spend hours researching on the internet.

One day, I stumbled upon a course on UPenn’s website: Animal Cognition and Ethics. I couldn’t believe it. A whole class dedicated to discussions of what I most wanted to know! This was the beginning of my goal of being admitted into UPenn’s Bachelor of Philosophy and Science program.

Knowing that Philosophy required an understanding of how to evaluate ideas and shape arguments for and against them, I joined my school’s debate team. I was able to gain a sense of how to consider a wide variety of opinions, and a respect for those with opposing opinions.

This experience has prepared me to explore ideas with my fellow classmates at UPenn.

What made this essay successful? The writer begins by explaining the beginning of their passion for the topic they hope to study at Penn. They then get into the specific program they hope to be admitted to while mentioning a specific class offered at the school.

In doing this, they are demonstrating not only that they have done some research into the school, but that they are already capable of seeking out resources to take advantage of while studying there.

If you are applying to a particularly infamous program at Penn, it would be advantageous to demonstrate your knowledge of that program and what its classroom environments may be like.

UPenn is looking for students who are open to new experiences and are not necessarily satisfied with the status quo. In this essay example, the writer has sought to demonstrate their understanding of a college classroom dynamic by mentioning their experience with the debate team. In doing this, they’ve shown they can engage with ideas that are different from their own.

UPenn Program-Specific Essay Prompts

Depending on the program you’re applying to, you may also have to write essays tailored to your particular area of study. Many of the program-specific questions resemble the third supplemental essay question; asking the applicant to explain why they are interested in the specific academic path they are pursuing.

Tap into your passion and use these questions to explore the practicalities of the path you’re on. Take a look at these program-specific essay prompts.

DMD: Digital Media Design Program

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

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)”

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

1. “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)”

2. “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)”

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

This program has five prompts:

  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.

*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)”

FAQs: UPenn Supplemental Essays

Looking for some fast answers? Here are our answers to a few common frequently asked questions about how to write the UPenn supplemental essays examples.

1. Does UPenn Require Supplemental Essays?

Yes. You must complete three supplemental essays, which are short in word count.

2. How Do I Write the UPenn Supplemental Essay?

Reflect about what makes you an ideal candidate, and seek to demonstrate how you think and how you will be a good student in your essays. Make sure you keep to the word count, and ensure your grammar and spelling are impeccable.

3. Is There a “Why UPenn” Essay?

Yes. The third and final supplemental essay prompts you to explain why you’ve chosen to apply to UPenn.


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