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Last updated March 22, 2024

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How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

Penn has 3 supplemental prompts, all of which are under 300 words. But each essay factors heavily in the application process. So take your time writing them. We go through approaches for tackling each of the 3 Penn prompts.

When applying to Penn, you’ll have three supplemental essays to write. They’re each pretty short—150 to 200 words—but together they’ll add up.

Let’s jump right in.

University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: 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)

Here’s Penn’s take on a quirky essay prompt. As you might remember from the UPenn Common Data Set, the University of Pennsylvania takes personal character very seriously. It’s one of those more intangible factors that can make or break your application. Think of this thank-you note as a way to communicate something about your character to your Penn admissions officer.

First, think about who the thank-you note should go to: A relative? Friend? Influential figure? It’s probably best not to go meta or try to game this question. In other words, write the note to somebody who’s actually affected you, not “to my future self” or “to all the boys I’ve loved before.”

When you’re writing, don’t be afraid to show some personality—humor, wit, or even vulnerability. Just remember not to get weighed down with any challenging emotions. Your note should ultimately leave the admissions officer with a positive feeling.

Lastly, I’ve seen students take this as an opportunity to backdoor an extracurricular essay by thanking someone like their research member and saying, “Thank you for helping me develop my skills in Python…” The admission office will see right through that, so we recommend a more genuine approach.

If you can, take Penn’s encouragement and share your note. Your admissions officers want to see that you’re willing to put yourself out there and reflect on your experience!

Prompt #2: How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)

Yep, you guessed it. This is a community essay prompt. Remember that Penn admissions officers are trying to find the students who are the best fit for Penn, and they have a lot of people to choose from. This essay does critical work in your application to tap your admissions officer on the shoulder and say, “Hey! I’m the perfect fit for Penn!”

Notice how the prompt gives you a starting point: perspective and identity—both for Penn’s community and for you. Before you start writing, you’ll need to do some research. Do a deep dive into Penn’s institutional perspective and identity, then reflect on your own perspective and identity. Where are there similarities? Highlight them. Where are there differences? Analyze them.

When you’re done with your research, write an essay that draws on both. Remember that this prompt is about reciprocity. It’s not just about how UPenn will shape you. How will you shape UPenn?

Prompt #3: Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, describe how you intend to explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania. (150-200 words)

This prompt is the twin companion to the previous one. Whereas prompt #2 is about community, prompt #3 is about academics. It’s a classic why this school/college/major prompt. You’ll need to do a lot of research to get started. Spend at least half an hour to an hour browsing Penn’s website on the hunt for information related to your academic and intellectual interests. I’d recommend you start with the pages linked in the prompt.

Next, you might look at department pages, faculty profiles, student research projects, internship opportunities, school or departmental “about us” pages. Look for specific points of connection: Did you do a science fair project that lines up with a professor’s lab work? Did your interest in journalism begin when you read an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian? Is there a special internship with your dream company? Whatever the details are, write about them.

You’re ready to get started on your UPenn supplemental essays! If you need more guidance, check out our How to Get into UPenn guide or sign up for the Essay Academy—our comprehensive digital essay course.