The number one rule for writing college supplement essays is to forge a unique connection to the school through your essay. To do so, ask yourself, what draws you to this university? This not only helps you to decide if this school is one you really want to attend and should apply to, but it shows the admissions office that you took the time to form a relationship with their college.
The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) is no exception. Their supplement question, about exploring interests at Penn, speaks directly to the relationship the applicant has with the school. To answer the prompt well, you must show an understanding of both Penn and yourself. While only you can understand and write about the latter, as a student at Penn, I can give you some tips about framing your essay. Keep in mind, that these tips are just guidelines, not concrete rules to writing your Penn essay.
- Read the fine print. While it goes without saying that you need to address the prompt directly in your essay, make sure you also follow the instructions in the fine print. Especially the fine print that reads, "Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying." Applying to Penn, you can choose from four undergraduate schools to apply. This is unique to Penn, as each undergraduate school within the university has slightly different requirements, focuses, and acceptance rates. Choose your school wisely and make sure to forge the connection with your interests and the undergraduate school you chose.
- Penn perks. While writing your essay think of advantages that Penn students have over other students and how they connect to your interests. To help you, think aboutwhat Penn is known for and how they brand themselves. Some things that come to mind, are a focus on research and interdisciplinary studies. When mentioning perks of attending Penn, make sure to be specific. If there is a pioneering professor you want to do research with, mention them by name and connect their studies to your interests. Work hard to find unique Penn perks and how they connect to your passions. Writing about these connections in your essay will help you stand out and demonstrate a unique interest in Penn.
- ED and Special programs. At Penn, applicants can choose to apply early decision (ED). As an ED applicant, students are bound to attend Penn if they are accepted. The admission rate for ED applicants is higher than regular decision applicants, but ED is more competitive and is binding. If Penn is your number one school, you meet Penn's GPA and testing minimums, and you can afford to be contractually bound to attend Penn, by all means apply early decision. ED will increase your chance of admission and demonstrate more interest in the school. Additionally, early decision applicants have the chance to apply to special dual degree programs. Applicants to these programs must write additional supplements but can choose to have their applications considered again for early decision if they are not accepted into the program. This means that your application essays get reviewed multiple times and you have more chances to showcase yourself to the admissions office. If any of the programs interest you, definitely apply. Your application to the program will increase the exposure of your application essay. Just remember, if you are accepted into the program, you are committing to a demanding track at Penn.
While the list could very well go on, these three important tenants will take you a long way. In Penn's supplement, speak clearly and passionately about what Penn can offer to you, and in return, what you can offer to Penn. Be colorful. Be passionate. Be specific. That's the key to a winning supplement.
Penn Only Bothers to Consider 1 of 7 College Essays Submitted by Applicants
Sirens sounded this week for college-bound high-schoolers tinkering away at college application essays. The Common Application Board of Directors announced that students would no longer have the coveted “open-ended” essay option, but instead have to choose from five more “specific” essay topics, including a prompt for “a background or story … central to their identity,” which doesn’t seem that creatively stifling to me. They’d also be limited to 650 words, as opposed to before, when no real enforcement of the suggested 500-word count meant applicants could go on for days.
Basically, the new policy affects no one except fringe smart alecks writing free-verse interpretations of the Twilight series, and six-page stream-of-consciousness accounts of their first time on pot.
Besides, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Furda, the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania says it probably won’t matter anyway.
Recently, Eric J. Furda, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, gave me a refreshingly honest take on the value of essays. Not every single one, he said, played a role in admissions decisions. Perhaps one in seven did, he guessed, or maybe one in eight. In his mind, that didn’t make them any less valuable.
One out of every seven applicants (562 out of the 3,995 students who were offered spots in the Class of 2016 this past year) had essays that actually mattered. The other 3,373, I guess, comprised the army of transcript super-soldiers every kid with Ivy League aspirations must now face.
It might have been a little naïve of me to think that essays—the part of your application where you prove you’re human—would have a major bearing on whether or not someone has the qualities a school islooking for. But on some level, this confirms the worst insecurities every kid has when baring his or her soul to anonymous admissions shadows: Personality doesn’t really matter. Not a great test-taker? Some extenuating family circumstance that may have kept your GPA only slightly above-average? You may formally air that consideration, but don’t expect to be heard.
To see if I was perhaps too offended by this, I called a friend who works in the admissions offices at my alma mater, which admittedly has a much smaller applicant pool than Penn’s. If they’re really not using the essays, I asked, wouldn’t Penn just be better off coding one of those “prove you’re not a robot” letter-number combinations into their applications?
One out of seven surprised her, too. Their application essays are ready pretty carefully at her office, she said, partly because SAT scores aren’t required. But it made sense to her that a university like Penn, with its tens of thousands of applicants, might use other, more quantitative factors as initial benchmarks for consideration. Even if that means emptying a chopping block of numerically insufficient kids into the trash.
It was probably Pollyanna of me to think that Penn was parsing through application piles looking for compelling human interest stories, but that one-out-of-seven statistic also confirms some of my darker stereotypes about the ivory tower aura Penn casts over our fair city. The group of kids retained in their applicant pool by virtue of a 2,100 SAT score and a 3.95 GPA is, likely, a pretty homogenous group. That’s not to say that Penn isn’t proactive, as it should be, about seeking out diversity. But I am absolutely sure that more than one out of seven of those less-than-sterling human statistics has something to say that might make them a great addition to that campus, and to this city.
Moreover, this confirmation that it’s really the numbers that count deepens the insecurity we’ve all started to have with our universities and colleges, such as they are in 2013. Penn and other elite universities, I’m not the first to point out, used to be promising institutions of social mobility. They attracted bright, ambitious kids from all walks of life, exposed them to different cultures and ideas, and honed their ability to think. Today, those same institutions look more like gathering grounds for kids with enough resources to Botox their applications with SAT tutoring, parental hovering, and guidance counselors with the time to write them 800-word recommendation letters.
While we talked, my friend mentioned a provocative op-ed published by the The Harvard Crimsona couple years ago. In it, a student suggested that Harvard switch to a randomized lottery system. His point was that the types of kids who get into Harvard today are going to be fine no matter what. Open up that educational nirvana to people who would never otherwise have the chance, and not only would you have an honest, fair admissions process, butalumni with an even greater loyalty to their school.
For the record, I don’t think a lottery system is a smart choice for Penn. But I do think that a more holistic evaluation of applications might lead to a student body that brings more unique qualities to the university, and takes away more from their time there. And having a smart, diverse group of alumni with fidelity to their campus? That’s a boon to both Penn and to the city around it.