The University of Pennsylvania writing supplement includes two universal prompts and then one prompt specific to the school in which you are applying. Read for our tips on how best to respond to these prompts.

Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words, only required for first year applicants)

This prompt, especially if you then share it with the person, is a great opportunity to acknowledge an important person in your life. The trick, however, is you only have 200 words to genuinely thank the person while letting the admissions officer know why this person is so important – while not making it seem too formal or boilerplate to the recipient. 

Your essay can contain some vague references to inside jokes (“I’ll never forget that time with the chair…”), but it needs to have enough description to show this person’s importance. If you pick the right person, however, and they’re really meaningful to you, you should be able to do them justice while making the reasons for their importance clear to the reader. And definitely share it with the person; people love to be appreciated!

How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective, and how your experiences and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)

What does community mean to you? What is its importance? What defines a meaningful community to you and how does that match the community of Penn? What does Penn have that will allow you to grow and develop new experiences? Finally, what role have you played in your community and what will that add to Penn? Be specific with Penn-based organizations and opportunities.

The school-specific prompt will now be unique to the school to which a student is applying. Considering the undergraduate school you have selected, please respond to your school-specific prompt below. (For example, all applicants applying to the College of Arts and Sciences will respond to the prompt under the “College of Arts and Sciences” section):

Transfer Essay (required for all transfer applicants): Please explain your reasons for transferring from your current institution and what you hope to gain by transferring to another institution. (4150 characters)

This might be the most honest essay you’ll ever write for a college (not that you’ll ever be dishonest in an essay). It’s a straightforward question and you should give a straightforward answer. Responses typically follow this type of format: I thought school X would be the best fit for me, but then I came to realize it didn’t fit my xyz needs which were more important to me than I originally knew. (Or, the school couldn’t fill those needs the way I expected, and thus, turned out to be the wrong fit.) Then you should describe how Penn can meet your needs because it has xyz and you now realize it’s the best choice or fit for you.

Penn knows you weren’t happy at your current school so there’s no need to hide that. Watch your phrasing,as you don’t want to be overly critical of your current school, but also speak your truth about why you want to leave. Your essay lets Penn know what you want and determine if they can best meet your needs (for example, do they actually have the programs you’re expressing interest in?). Transferring is a big deal and all sides want to make sure you don’t make the wrong decision again!

School of Nursing

Penn Nursing intends to meet the health needs of society in a global and multicultural world by preparing its students to impact healthcare by advancing science and promoting equity. What do you think this means for the future of nursing, and how do you see yourself contributing to our mission of promoting equity in healthcare? (150-200 words)

One part of this question is, essentially, asking why you want to study nursing. But it goes beyond the “helping and caring for people when they’re sick” aspects. What they’re looking for is that you’ve thought about the field of nursing in the macro. What are the health needs of society as a whole and the health world specifically? What are the major problems to solve and how can that (possibly) be done? With this question, Penn Nursing wants to know that you’ve considered the world of medicine in all aspects and what you want your role in it to be.

College of Arts and Sciences

The flexible structure of The College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum is designed to inspire exploration, foster connections, and help you create a path of study through general education courses and a major. What are you curious about and how would you take advantage of opportunities in the arts and sciences? (150-200 words)

This is essentially asking what do you want to study, and why do you want to study those subjects, at Penn. If you know what you want to study, this is your chance to show them you’ve done your research, know what they have to offer, and have thought about why it’s a good fit for you. You can also describe how your own background and experiences have prepared you for this field of study.

If you’re still undecided, it’s your opportunity to tell them the things you’re interested in and how you can explore them at Penn. How will they all tie together? Interdisciplinary, major/minor, double major? These are all things to consider and work into your response where appropriate. Basically, Penn admissions officers want to know that you’ve thought about your academic interests and have reasons why Penn is the right place for you to pursue them.

The Wharton School

Wharton prepares its students to make an impact by applying business methods and economic theory to real-world problems, including economic, political, and social issues.  Please reflect on a current issue of importance to you and share how you hope a Wharton education would help you to explore it.  (150-200 words)

As they attend one of the most competitive and prestigious academic programs and schools in the world, Wharton students typically have well-defined plans for their futures in business. Students will be able to home in a concentration or two within business, but they must be driven and ambitious to be admitted to Wharton. 

In this case, it means you need to be up to date on the business world, you are actively researching, thinking and exploring all aspects of it, and you are also thinking about ways to improve the world in general. This is your chance to show Wharton that you know who you are academically and you are driven to success. Make sure you highlight the ways Penn will allow you to continue your future path, and be sure to provide examples of your own past experiences related to business.

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Penn Engineering prepares its students to become leaders in technology, by combining a strong foundation in the natural sciences and mathematics, exploration in the liberal arts, and depth of study in focused disciplinary majors. Please share how you hope to explore your engineering interests at Penn. (150-200 words)

This essay is fairly straightforward: tell Penn SEAS what you’re interested in, why you’re interested in it, and what it offers to allow you to further explore those interests. The key word there, however, is further. Students at Penn aren’t the type who say: “I can’t wait to start doing ___ when I get to college.” They’re the ones who say: “These are all the things I’ve already done and this is how I can continue to grow at Penn.” What is your background in engineering and applied science? Why is Penn SEAS a perfect fit for you? What will you plan to study there?

About the author
Emily Sheldrake

Emily received a BA from Middlebury College and an M.S.Ed. in higher education from University of Pennsylvania. Emily has more than six years of admissions and advising experience at several institutions, including Swarthmore College, Temple University and Penn, where she evaluated applicants for the Wharton School. Emily manages a caseload of clients as well as a team of AcceptU counselors. Emily is an IECA Associate Member.

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