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The Ivy Coach Daily

August 22, 2023

2023-2024 University of Pennsylvania Essay Prompts

Students walk under the arch at the University of Pennsylvania.
UPenn has released its admissions essays for applicants to the Class of 2028 (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

The University of Pennsylvania has released its essay prompts for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. In all, just like last year, applicants to the UPenn Class of 2028 will be asked to answer three required supplemental essays — in addition to The Common Application Personal Statement. In addition, there are additional essay requirements for UPenn’s coordinated dual degree and specialized programs. So what are this year’s UPenn supplemental essays, and how should they be tackled?

2023-2024 UPenn Essay Topics & Questions

Essays for All Applicants

Applicants to UPenn have 150-200 words for each of the three required supplemental admissions essays.

The first two supplemental essay prompts are as follows:

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!)

When responding to this essay prompt, it’s important to note that the letter shouldn’t only be sweet. Even though it’s addressed to someone an applicant would like to acknowledge, it still needs to showcase the student’s intellectual curiosity if they hope to stand out. The person need not be hugely influential in our world — in fact, we’d discourage as much since that would risk rendering an applicant less likable as it would appear they’re trying to impress. But the narrative presented to the person must showcase how a student thinks.

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.

This prompt is a version of a Why College essay. As such, it needs to be filled with specific after specific of how an applicant hopes to contribute to UPenn’s culture — from activities to traditions — all through the prism of a student’s evolving and ideally always malleable perspective.

Unlike in past years, the third essay prompt depends on the school within UPenn to which a student is applying (the College of Arts and Sciences, The Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or the School of Nursing).

School-Specific Essay for All Applicants

The third essay prompt is school-dependent. The school-specific prompts, which must also be answered in 150-200 words, are as follows:

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?

Many applicants will fall through the big trap door for this essay prompt by writing about the classes they hope to take in the College of Arts and Sciences. But classes change, and admissions officers know that students can cut and paste a course from one university and change the name for the next university.

Instead, in this essay, it would behoove applicants to capture the enduring specifics of the curriculum. What’s the school’s secret sauce for how UPenn teaches the major the applicant wishes to study? Is there a weird requirement for the major? Are students required to participate in scientific studies? Will students need to attend a weekly lecture series in a library over tea and crackers? It’s these kind of details that can make all the difference.

The Wharton School Essay Prompt

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.

This prompt is a hybrid: part select an issue that matters to an applicant and part showcase how that issue can be addressed within Wharton. So pick an interesting issue — and students should not pick a topic that everyone will agree with them on. Ethics in business? Who doesn’t believe people should be ethical in business? And when students address the Why Wharton component of the prompt, make sure it’s filled with genuine specifics about the school within the school. And, no, name-dropping professors who may or may not be there next year do not count nor does listing classes that one can cut and paste from one university’s course catalog to the next.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Essay Prompt

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.

This is a straight up the middle Why Penn Engineering question. The answer should be filled with specifics on how a student hopes to leave a mark on the world — through the power of engineering — with the help of the school within a school. Name-dropping professors and classes do not count as genuine specifics and risk rendering an applicant unlikable. Instead, applicants would be wise to select enduring specifics about UPenn’s engineering school to wow UPenn’s admissions officers.

School of Nursing Essay Prompt

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?

This prompt is the equivalent of a Why Major question: Why nursing? It’s a chance to share a unique narrative that inspires admissions officers to want to root for a student. As such, there are better ways to go than writing about how one wants to be a nurse to help people. Clichés have no place in college admissions essays. And while the prompt doesn’t ask applicants to include specifics on UPenn’s School or Nursing, peppering in a few unique aspects of the school within a school will only help an applicant stand out.

Coordinated Dual Degree and Specialized Programs Short Answer Prompts

UPenn’s coordinated dual degree and specialized programs require essays of varying word and character counts. The prompts for each of the programs, along with their corresponding word and character counts are below:

DMD: Digital Media Design Program

Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words / 3575 characters)

This prompt is a Why Program essay. As such, it should be filled with genuine specific after specific that only apply to the program. That means no class names and no professor names. Applicants should instead endeavor to capture the enduring specifics of the program.

Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to contribute to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)

Huntsman applicants should have an interest in international business. As such, students need to articulate — ideally through their experiences and activities — what’s at the core of their interest in global markets. Applicants should not be general but choose one specific area within international business and showcase how they hope to leave an imprint in this area during their lifetime.

LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

The LSM program aims to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the life sciences and their management with an eye to identifying, advancing, and implementing innovations. What issues would you want to address using the understanding gained from such a program? Note that this essay should be distinct from your single degree essay. (400-650 words)

Applicants should pick a topic within the life sciences — ideally, an issue that isn’t addressed all too often — and then outline how they hope to make a difference in this area during their college years and in the years that follow. Dare to choose a topic that’s a little bit controversial — that’s ok! Writing only about safe topics is a surefire way to create a bland application, so applicants should ignore all advice that sets them down that path.

M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)

This prompt is a straight-up-the-middle Why Program essay. It should be filled not only with an applicant’s origin story, as high schoolers, for their interest in the intersection of business and engineering, but peppered throughout should be enduring specifics that apply to the Jerome Fisher program and only to the Jerome Fisher program. That means students should not name-drop professor names and class names since professors leave and classes change (not to mention, name-dropping professors undercuts a student’s likability).

Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words)

An applicant’s choice of a problem they’ve solved need not be grand in scale though it should be interesting. It can be a simple problem. Students have set themselves up for success as long as the issue’s at the intersection of engineering and business (or potentially business in the future, which can be outlined in this essay). Ideally, through detailing the problem, admissions officers might even learn something — not only about the applicant but about the issue. Applicants should always aim to make admissions officers smarter for having read their essays!

NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering

Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words / 3575 characters**)

Make sure to pick a topic everyone, even admissions officers who aren’t necessarily computer scientists, can understand. And don’t pick a topic that appears in the press just about every day. Yes, that means writing about big technology startups controlling too much private user data and not using it responsibly is out.

NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management

Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn’s coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)

This prompt is a hybrid: Why Nursing and Why NHCM. Students should articulate the origin of their interest in nursing (as high schoolers, not as children) and then pepper in many specifics about NHCM that are unique to NHCM. That means if one can cut and paste a line from this essay for another school or program, it should be deleted.

Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

Please list any predental or premedical experience. This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research; etc. Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and a description of your experience. If you do not have any predental or premedical experience, please indicate what you have done or plan to do in order to explore dentistry as a career.

Do write a list. Don’t write an essay. It’s critical to follow the instructions!

Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school? If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended.

This prompt is self-explanatory. No creativity is necessary!

Describe any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.

As long as this essay showcases intellectual curiosity, the answer can be silly, like playdough. But it must showcase intellectual curiosity!

What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work effectively with people?

Tell a story here (or two stories!). The right kind of stories — rather than generic activities that showcase an applicant’s ability to work with others effectively — can inspire admissions officers to root for an applicant.

Please explain your reasons for selecting dentistry. Please include what interests you the most about dentistry as well as what interests you least.

This prompt is a straight-up-the-middle Why Dentistry essay. Applicants should make sure not to write about the origin of their interest in becoming a dentist as a child. It should be as a high schooler to showcase how the applicant thinks.

VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

How do you envision your participation in the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) furthering your interests in energy science and technology? Please include any past experiences (ex. academic, research, or extracurricular) that have led to your interest in the program. Additionally, please indicate why you are interested in pursuing dual degrees in science and engineering and which VIPER majors are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

This prompt is a hybrid: it’s part Why Energy Science and Technology and part Why VIPER. The origin story for the interest in energy science and technology should stem from high school, and peppered throughout the essay should be specifics about VIPER that don’t apply to any other program at any other university.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with University of Pennsylvania Essays

If you’re interested in presenting the most compelling storytelling possible in the UPenn supplemental essays, fill out Ivy Coach‘s consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services that are directly with Ivy Coach’s Jayson Weingarten, a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer.

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