Last updated March 9, 2023
How to Get into UPenn
Known for its position in the Ivy League and Quaker Consortium, the University of Pennsylvania attracts all kinds of students to the City of Brotherly Love.
If you’ve clicked on this guide, there’s a good chance that you’re one of them.
As with any Ivy League school, you’re far more likely to be denied than admitted. With a 5.9% acceptance rate, on average, about 94 applicants per every 100 are denied.
To get in, you’ll need the credentials. There’s no way around it. But you’ll also need to create an application strategy that speaks the language UPenn admissions officers want to hear. And you’ll need to do it authentically.
In this post, I answer your most commonly-asked questions about getting into the University of Pennsylvania, and I let you in on some of the admissions strategies we use with our own students.
Let’s jump right in.
How to Apply to UPenn
Penn accepts the Common Application or Coalition Application, so you should apply with whichever system makes the mose sense to you. Penn is also a QuestBridge partner, so you might find them that way, too.
However you’re getting your application to UPenn’s admissions doorstep, you’ll be including lots of supporting materials:
- Background and family information
- Extracurricular activities list
- Personal Statement
- High school transcript
- School report
- Letters of recommendation
- Penn supplement, possibly including discipline-specific additional information
Finally, Penn also offers admissions interviews. They’re actually an important part of the admissions process, so you should try to do one if you can.
UPenn Application Options
The University of Pennsylvania offers an Early Decision application option—it’s one of the few Ivy League schools to do so. Applying Early Decision will require you to sign a binding Early Decision Agreement, which obligates you to attend UPenn if you are admitted. That means that you should only apply ED to UPenn if you’re seriously committed. But applying ED might give you a slight bump in your chances of admission. As we showed in our UPenn Common Data Set post, the ED acceptance rate is an astounding 14.85%---a whole 9% higher than the standard acceptance rate.
If you’re not ready to say “I do” to UPenn upon admission, then Regular Decision will be your best bet. RD applications accounted for about 97% of UPenn’s applications, so you’ll be in good company.
UPenn Application Deadlines
Early Decision: November 1
Regular Decision: January 5
How hard is it to get into UPenn?
When it comes to the Ivy League, the University of Pennsylvania’s acceptance rate is one of the higher ones at 5.9%. The only two with higher rates are Dartmouth at 6.1% and Cornell at 8.7%.
Still, as far as college admissions statistics are concerned, 5.9% promises to leave you high and dry—unless you have an effective application strategy. Getting into the University of Pennsylvania is really hard. But for those lucky 5.9%, it’s not impossible.
So how can you be one of them? Let’s start with an overview of what UPenn admissions officers look for in applicants to begin with.
What does UPenn look for in applicants?
As you’ll see in the following sections, successful University of Pennsylvania applicants know their way around a classroom. There’s no way around it: if you want to get into UPenn, you need to have the grades and course rigor. Your academic credentials set the baseline from which UPenn admissions officers evaluate your application.
Since every competitive applicant to the University of Pennsylvania has the necessary grades, scores, and classes, you’ll need even more to set you apart. That’s where your essays and extracurricular activities come in. Together, your academics, activities, and writing all form a cohesive narrative of who you are. We like to call this your “application narrative.”
Now here’s the kicker. Pieces of your application narrative will change for each school you apply to. They’ll still be genuine and authentic to who you are, but how you present your story will vary based on the institution’s offerings and values.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the University of Pennsylvania’s admissions page. They have a whole section on what Penn looks for in applicants. You can read the site in more detail, but I want to extract a few key values right off the bat.
We have: aspiration, developing and refining talents, liberal arts, practical, interdisciplinarity, “service to society,” and community.
Now, as you’re thinking through your application strategy, consider how your own values, academic background, extracurricular activities, and future goals all demonstrate these values.
Perhaps you’re an aspiring journalist who loves to use your interest in science and social studies to write practical features that teach people how to live more sustainably. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur who developed a business at your school that is profitable and serves your local community.
Whatever your story is, your application should emphasize how you live out the values the University of Pennsylvania holds dear.
UPenn GPA requirement
I’ll just come out and say it: you’re probably going to need to be near the top of your class to get into Penn.
As we’ve already covered in our UPenn Common Data Set post, a full 93% of enrolled first-year students who reported class rank were in the top tenth of their high school class.
Believe it or not, 52% had a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA.
If you don’t have a 4.0 (or close to it), it doesn’t mean you’re an auto-reject from Penn. It just means that the other pieces of your application will have to work that much harder to demonstrate your fit for the Ivy League. Even still, you should be realistic about your chances of being admitted.
UPenn SAT Scores
UPenn has extended their test-optional policy, so you’re not technically required to submit them.
But if you’ll turn your attention back to the Common Data Set that I keep mentioning, you’ll see that test scores are “very important” in Penn’s application evaluation process. If you can, you should aim for a good score and submit them.
So what’s a good score? To answer that, we’ll return yet again to the Penn Common Data Set (we told you that CDS data is invaluable!).
There, we can find the middle 50% SAT and ACT ranges. These ranges tell us what scores the average (i.e., the middle half) of students scored. By default, they also tell us that 25% of students scored at or above and at or below these ranges.
Let’s take a look:
SAT Reading: 720-770
SAT Math: 760-800
ACT Composite: 33-35
We have a whole post about test-optional strategy, which gives you more advice about how to decide whether to submit your scores based on these ranges. But in general, strong applicants will be in the middle or upper end of these middle 50% ranges.
Does UPenn superscore?
Yep—the University of Pennsylvania superscores. Because they superscore, they’ll take your highest scores in each section of the SAT or ACT, even if you got those scores during different tests. When test scores are “very important” in the evaluation process, superscoring can do you a huge favor.
What high school course work do I need to get into UPenn?
Like the vast majority of admissions offices, Penn reviews your transcript in the context of your school. That’s why your school report is so important—it tells Penn what, exactly, is offered at your school. Your counselor recommendation will likely also hint at how your academic path stacks up to those of your peers.
Your transcript, school report, and counselor recommendation all give UPenn admissions officers a sense of how much you’ve challenged yourself throughout high school.
That’s important because the University of Pennsylvania looks for students who have taken the most rigorous coursework possible and have still earned strong grades.
When it comes to choosing your coursework, you should aim for as much rigor—like AP, IB, and dual-enrollment courses—-as you can handle.
As far as the distribution of your courses across all subjects, Penn wants to see that you’re loading up on your academic solids, things like English, social studies, science, math, and languages.
The UPenn admissions website also lists some school- and college-specific recommendations, so you should take a gander at those, too.
What extracurriculars do I need to get into UPenn?
So…do you have to be a Stranger Things star to get into the University of Pennsylvania?
Thankfully, no. As far as I know, only 1 out of 2,418 entering Penn students had that honor.
But your extracurriculars do matter. While you don’t have to have starred in a hit Netflix show, cured a disease, or founded your own company, the bigger your achievements are, the more likely you are to stand out.
There’s no secret sauce when it comes to choosing and excelling in extracurriculars. Your activities should be ones you’re genuinely interested in or passionate about. And they don’t just have to be formal extracurriculars, either. Maybe you care for a sibling or do the books for your parents’ restaurant.
Whatever your activities are, what matters most is how you talk about them. Remember when we were talking about “application narrative”? That applies here, too. Your extracurricular activities descriptions and any relevant supplemental essays should all draw out the magnitude and impact of your extracurriculars. How big a deal was your activity? What specifically did you do to make an impact? Who did you impact? Why was your involvement important for you and for those you affected?
Answering these kinds of questions in light of Penn’s values is key to good extracurricular strategy.
Final Takeaways + UPenn Supplemental Essays
Yay! You made it to the end of the guide. By this point, you hopefully have a burgeoning idea of what your application strategy should look like. Remember: your stats need to be there (it’s just the reality), but your narrative is where you can stand out—and get in.
Now it’s time to get started on your essays—the keystone of your college application. (See what I did there? IYKYK, real Pennsylvania fans.) For guidance with your personal statement, hop on over to our college essay writing guide. And when you’re ready, the University of Pennsylvania supplemental essay guide is waiting for you.