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How to Write the Thank You Note UPenn Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Aja Altenhof in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



The University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) first supplemental short answer prompt asks students to respond to the following: 


“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).”


In this article, we will discuss how to pick who to write about, the proper tone to use, and offer clarity around what the Admissions Committee suggests. For more information on UPenn’s other supplemental short answer prompts and essays and writing dos and don’ts, check out our post on how to write the UPenn supplemental essays


Picking Who to Write About


This thank-you essay is a new prompt for UPenn. The prompt does have some overlap with the Common App prompt number four, where you are asked to write about a moment of gratitude. If you are going to answer that prompt in the common app, try and write about a more abstract experience in this essay so there is no overlap. 


Choosing the person you want to write about and the words you want to say takes a lot of internal reflection. Writing about someone from your personal life either in your academic career or job experience is a great idea. Try and avoid writing about someone famous or anyone who hasn’t directly influenced your life. It’s going to be a lot more personal when it comes time for writing. Of course, if there is a historical figure that played a critical part in your development, that is a path you can go down as well.


How to Express Your Gratitude 


There are a lot of questions about how you should show your thanks in this essay. This essay has a lot of opportunities for back-door bragging because to thank someone, you have to explain the accomplishment you are thanking them for. As long as you stay as genuine as possible, you have room to share your accomplishments. This is what a college application is about anyways. 


Write the essay as if you were writing directly to the person you’ve picked. It’s okay to mention your accomplishments and experience, but if including that information would sound weird in a thank you note, then it might not be best to include it. You want your gratitude to come off as genuine and personal. You don’t actually have to send the thank you note, but write as if that is the goal. If the person who you picked ends up writing your letter of recommendation, you will already have the note ready to go.


The Tone of Your Essay


The tone of your essay should be both personal and well-written. Even if you are close to the person you’re writing this for, it should still be academic and professional. Specificity is your biggest help, so try to avoid using generic explanations. Make sure the essay reflects your specific situation and relationship with this person. You only have 200 words, so there isn’t room to tell the full story of your relationship with this person, but you can summarize it. The essay is supposed to be about how that relationship influenced your academic development and thanking that person for it. 


Remember to stay away from inappropriate topics like romantic or sexual relationships. You don’t know who your reader is, so you want to make sure to avoid things that could be divisive. If you do choose to write about a negative experience that you grew from and thank a person who caused you harm, make sure to focus on your personal growth and path to forgiveness when writing your essay. For example, if you have been through a negative or abusive personal relationship, you could approach this by thanking the person for helping you grow; however, keep in mind that this can be a risky topic that might make your reader uncomfortable, and it can be easy to come off as condescending. You should only go this route if you’re confident that you can pull this off and put the focus on your growth.


What Does the Part in the Parentheses Mean?


When it comes to this essay, a lot of people express some confusion with the portion in parentheses. When UPenn suggests reflecting, they aren’t saying to reflect on the prompt. UPenn is suggesting you share the thank you essay with the person you wrote to and reflect on that conversation. This essay involves a lot of emotions and time to sort through what you would like to say. The part in the parentheses is UPenn sharing their opinion that you should share your kind words with the person.