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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Use the UPenn Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

As a member of the Ivy League, the University of Pennsylvania is tough to get into. If you want to get in, you'll need the grades, extracurriculars, and essays to match. But the UPenn Common Data Set also reveals the importance of personal character and admissions interviews. You can use that information to get a leg up in your application.

Welcome to our post about the University of Pennsylvania's Common Data Set! As one of the top schools in the country, Penn receives tens of thousands of applications every year. If you're reading this post, you're probably planning to throw your application into the mix.

But you're also probably wondering (perhaps anxiously) how you can differentiate your application from those thousands of others. You might even be wondering if you should apply to Penn at all.

Well, fortunately, that's where the Common Data Set comes in. Penn's CDS tells us a lot of different things about the unique admissions criteria that Penn applies to its applications. Let's dive into them, shall we?

How UPenn Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

One of the most important pieces of data we get from the CDS is a window into how Penn ranks the various elements of an application, ranging from test scores to recommendations and interviews.

So, what does Penn really care about? Like many top schools, the University of Pennsylvania has ranked all of the academic criteria (with the exception of "class rank") as "very important." That tracks, considering Penn's record low acceptance rate and high academic medians. You'll find this to be true at pretty much any Ivy League school.

It's interesting that Penn ranks "class rank" as important rather than highly important. This is good if you have a high GPA but, because you go to a competitive school, you aren't in the top one or two percent of students. What matters more to them is a consistently rigorous academic record coupled with high objective factors like GPA.

Moving down the chart, we see that Penn also considers your application essays and your letters of recommendation to be "very important."

It's typical to see application essays ranked as very important. Most very selective schools have to use essays as a way to discern between a massive pool of highly qualified applicants.

It's a bit less common, however, to see recommendations ranked so highly. Many schools rank recommendations as merely "important." They obviously matter, but lots of admissions offices understand that letters of recommendation are likely to be extremely inconsistent and potentially full of teacher bias. But they matter a lot to Penn.

A final quirk: Penn says their interview is important. That isn't so normal. Interviews are, again, a part of the application that most admissions offices treat as supplemental to the more concrete parts of the application like the academic record or extracurriculars.

We've written about this on Reddit, but admissions officers often don't put stock into interviews because alumni interviewers aren't rigorously trained like admissions officers are. Their feedback can often be inconsistent.

However, interviews matter for Penn -- so you should probably spend time preparing for yours.

Take a look at the rest of the chart for what matters in the University of Pennsylvania admissions process:

Ideally, you can use this data to understand whether you're a good candidate to apply. Are you a great interviewer? Good - you might have a leg up in the Penn application. Think critically about how your application's strengths and weaknesses align with the factors this admissions office cares about.

Does the University of Pennsylvania Track Demonstrated Interest?

Yes, they do. Not every top school pays attention to demonstrated interest, but Penn does. That means that their admissions office has a CRM (customer relationship management) software that takes note if you've attended info sessions, done campus visits, etc.

This is an important piece of information. If you're all about Penn, you might want to read our guide about how to approach demonstrating interest. Come up with a plan and stick to it.

Does Penn care about test scores?

Yes, Penn ranks test scores as being “very important,” including the metric in their section about academics. However, Penn also has a test optional policy. Confused by this? We explain what it means here, in this guide about test optional policies and what they truly mean.

Does Penn care about essays?

Resoundingly, yes! We push all of our students and everyone we talk to to focus on their essays. Why? Well, your essays are one of the only ways to stand out as an applicant. Especially when you're applying to top, top schools. But equally as important - most top schools explicitly say they care a lot about essays. Penn is no exception, rating essays as "very important" in their evaluation process.

When you think about why a school like Penn would rank their essays as "very important," it makes perfect sense. We talk about this extensively here - when Ben breaks down how the top admissions office he used to work for would go through 50k applications in a year. It's a good one, and it explains a lot.

What GPA do I need to get into the University of Pennsylvania?

A high one. OK, for real though. 100% of Penn's admitted students were in the top half of their graduating class. The bar is pretty high.

But it gets worse: 98% of them had a GPA in the top quarter, and 93% had a GPA in the top 10th of the class.

You're reading that right: 93% of all enrolled students were in the top 10% of their class. Here's another "fun" statistic for you: 52% had a 4.0 GPA.

Academic competition like this is common at highly selective schools. But even among top schools, when it comes to academic numbers, Penn is no slouch. You'll need an absurdly high GPA to have a realistic shot at admission.

We're sorry if this comes as bad news, but the importance of academic factors in admissions is well-documented. If you want to know why academics are such an immovable part of the admissions process, check out this article. It's written by a former admissions officer at a school with similarly high academic standards.

The University of Pennsylvania Acceptance Rate

Penn has one of the highest application volumes in the Ivy League. Princeton got 37,000+ applications last year, where Penn got a whopping 56,332.

The acceptance rate for those fifty-six thousand applicants was 5.86%.

That's a tough nut to crack. But remember that not every admissions rate is created equal. A student with an impeccable academic record and impossible extracurriculars, who puts a ton of time into writing great essays, may have a higher likely acceptance rate than a student who applies with a 3.0 and no clear extracurricular track record to speak of.

The University of Pennsylvania Early Decision Acceptance Rate

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the Ivy League schools that offers an Early Decision program. The ED program at Penn gives students much better odds of acceptance.

7,961 students applied ED to Penn in the 21-22 cycle. Of those, 1,183 were admitted for an admissions rate of 14.85%. That's still not great, objectively speaking. We'd love to see it higher. But it's nearly 3x the acceptance rate for students who apply RD.

Part of that is sampling bias. Often students who apply early are the most qualified. But applying ED is a great way to demonstrate interest, which Penn pays attention to. It's no surprise the admission rate for ED students is higher.

What's the right UPenn application option for you?

Looking at how Penn prioritizes their application elements, we see a strong fit for students who are dynamos in the classroom and who have strong interpersonal skills.


Look at the interview and recommendation values. Both are higher than many other elite schools and other Ivies. Penn cares that their students can show up in an interview. They also care about the feedback that a teacher can pass on about their students--another element that benefits from interpersonal skills. (We have advice for great interviews and recommendations if you want to learn more.)

Aside from those metrics, Penn students have uncommonly high academic marks. You need a perfect or near-perfect GPA to get in.

But if you have that, and you're willing to go the extra mile to practice for interviews and demonstrate your interest in the school, you might consider applying to Penn as an Early Decision applicant.

Most Popular Majors at the University of Pennsylvania

Penn is known for a few of its academic programs - but none more so than its business program, Wharton. A whopping 20% of degrees were conferred through Wharton. That was the highest concentration. The second highest is in the social sciences, where 16% of students studied topics like political science, economics, and psychology.

9% and 8% of students received degrees in engineering and computer science, respectively.

These numbers track with Penn's cultural reputation. It's a place where tomorrow's business leaders, economists, and social sciences go to get a world-class education. Compared to some other elite schools (cough, MIT and Stanford), Penn doesn't have the deepest STEM bench. But being an Ivy, it still provides a top-notch education in every discipline.

Take a look at the full chart of where degrees were awarded:

What should you do with all this information?

Penn’s admissions process is fairly unique among its Ivy League peers. In particular, the emphasis on interpersonal skills, through interviews and recommendations, can give savvy candidates a leg up in the admissions process.

Being tactful about how you come across in your application is what application strategy is all about. With the Common Data Set in your back pocket, it’s time to get started on your Penn application strategy. We break it all down for you in our How to Get into UPenn guide. See you there. 👋

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