The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of Pennsylvania

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania claims the distinction of being the first university in the United States to offer both undergraduate and graduate studies. Located in the heart of Philadelphia, Penn has a history of innovation. It is home to the nation’s first medical school, first collegiate business school, and first student union.


Today, Penn continues to offer innovative academic approaches and stellar educational opportunities. It is one of the top research universities in the nation, and in 2015 Penn boasted a research budget of $851 million. It also boasts a top notch faculty, including twenty eight Nobel prize winners. Penn offers four undergraduate and twelve graduate schools, and the school also offers opportunities from “innovative dual degree programs that defy traditional academic boundaries to rigorous grounding in the liberal arts and sciences


Want to learn what University of Pennsylvania will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering University of Pennsylvania needs to know.




It comes as no surprise that Penn is the top choice for many students across the nation. Admissions to this urban Ivy League university are highly competitive; in 2015, 37,268 students applied to Penn. Of those, 3,787, or 10.1%, were admitted. Of those admitted, 47% identified themselves as students of color. 16% of admitted students were legacies, and 12% were first generation college students.


For the Class of 2019, the SAT range for admitted students was 690-780 on critical reading, 710-800 on math, and 700-790 on writing, for an average composite score of 2120-2370 (or 1480-1590 on the redesigned SAT scale). The ACT Composite score range was from 32-35.


For this admissions cycle, the Early Decision deadline is November 1, 2016. Penn’s Early Decision program is binding, meaning that if you are admitted under Early Decision, you must attend. However, if you are deferred in the Early Decision round and later admitted under Regular Decision, you are not bound to accepting your offer of admission from Penn and may choose from among your options. Additionally, if you choose to apply to Penn under Early Decision, you may not apply to any other school early.


For Regular Decision applicants, the deadline is January 5, 2017. The application fee is $75, but may be waived for students who qualify. For more information on fee waivers, check out the CollegeVine guide to waiving application fees.


Penn accepts applications under the Common App, and students are required to send the Common App and the Penn  supplement. We’ll go over the Penn supplement in more detail later on in this post.


In addition, you must submit your official high school transcript, your school report, a counselor recommendation, and two evaluations from academic teachers. Students who are deferred under the Early Decision program, or who are applying under Regular Decision, must submit their mid year reports.


Penn requires that applicants submit either SAT or ACT scores. You may also send both, if you wish to do so. The SAT Subject Tests are optional, but may help strengthen your application.


Penn offers interviews based on availability of alumni volunteer interviewers. In the last admissions cycle, 91% of Penn applicants received interviews. Interviewers generally contact Early Decision applicants between mid-October and late November. QuestBridge Finalists are usually contacted in November. Regular decision applicants are typically contacted in between December and February.


Whether or not you receive an interview has no bearing on the overall strength of your application; applicants are not pre screened for interviews, and alumni volunteer interviewers do not have access to student applications. If you are offered an interview, you are strongly encouraged to take it. Interviews offer an opportunity for you not only to show admissions committees a more personal side to your application, but also to learn more about Penn.


Penn also allows students to submit supplementary materials, with the caveat that they “recommend that you think very carefully before sending in supplementary material. If information is already included somewhere in your application, that information does not need to be submitted again in supplemental form.”


Penn only considers the following types of supplementary materials: an additional letter of recommendation, an art or music sample, or an expanded resume or research abstract. The deadline for an additional letter of recommendation is November 1, 2016 for Early Decision and January 5, 2017 for Regular Decision; the letter should not be from another academic teacher. The deadline for a fine arts supplement is November 10, 2016 for Early Decision and January 15, 2017 for Regular Decision. For more information, check out the CollegeVine guide to submitting supplementary materials.


Early Decision applicants will receive their admissions decision in mid December. Regular Decision applicants will receive their decision by April 1, 2017. All decisions are final, and Penn does not accept appeals. If you would like to reapply, you must wait until the next admissions cycle.


Paying for Penn


For the 2016-2017 academic year, the approximate cost attendance for Penn is $69,340. Penn practices need blind admissions, which means that a student’s ability to pay will not be considered when making admissions decisions. Penn also meets the full demonstrated financial need of students.


Penn offers financial aid plans that include grants and scholarships, work study, and loans. That being said, Penn is also committed to making a debt-free education possible, and as such “enables all dependent undergraduates eligible for aid to receive all-grants aid packages”.


To apply for financial aid, students must submit the Penn Financial Aid Supplement, which is available online, the CSS profile, and the parents’ and student’s federal income tax returns, all schedules, pages and W-2 forms from the previous year. The deadline to submit these documents is November 2, 2016 for Early Decision applicants, and February 1, 2017 for Regular Decision students.


In addition, applicants must submit the parents’ and student’s federal income tax returns, all schedules, pages and W-2 for the current tax year by February 15, 2017 for students admitted under Early Decision and for Regular Decision applicants. All applicants must submit the FAFSA by April 15, 2017.


Applying to Penn

The Penn supplement to the Common App contains a series of questions in additional to supplemental essays. In the first part of the Penn supplement, you are asked to report general information. This includes your start term, for which the only option is Fall 2017; whether you are applying under the Early Decision or Regular Decision program; whether you are a QuestBridge finalist or a Penn Promise Fee Waiver recipient requesting a fee waiver; whether you are pursuing need based financial aid; and whether you are sending supplemental materials.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 10.53.54 PM

In the next section, you are asked select the school or program to which you are applying. The options are: Computer and Cognitive Science/Artificial Intelligence; the Seven Year Bio Dental Program; Digital Media Design; the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business; the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management; the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology; Networked and Social Systems Engineering; Nursing and Health Care Management; Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research; the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Engineering and Applied Science; the School of Nursing; and The Wharton School. Depending on the school or program you have chosen, you may be asked to choose a potential major within that school/program, or to identify an alternate school/program as a second choice.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 10.54.34 PM

Next, you are to respond to questions regarding your prior contacts with the University of Pennsylvania. Namely, you are asked whether you have previously applied to Penn, and how you learned about Penn. You also have the option to give your consent to be contacted by Penn admissions via phone or text.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 11.00.23 PM

The next section focuses on family ties to Penn. You are asked whether any of your siblings are applying to Penn in this admissions cycle; whether any of your relatives have attended Penn; and whether any of your relatives have worked at Penn. If you answer yes to any of those questions, you are then asked to provide further information regarding your relationship to the person in question, as well as their name.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 11.13.12 PM

The final section, titled “Other Information”, asks whether you would like to indicate your preferred gender pronouns or identify with the LGBTQIA+ community on your application. If you answer yes, you then have the opportunity to provide this information.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 11.15.36 PM

Essay Questions


The general Penn supplement contains one essay question:


How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.


Your response to this question should be 400-650 words. Students applying to dual degree programs should respond in accordance to their single degree school choice.


Some schools and programs ask additional essay questions. They are as follows:


Seven Year Bio Dental Program

  • Please list pre-dental or pre-medical 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 description of your experience. If you do not have any predental or premedical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry.
  • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.
  • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people?
  • Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry. Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least.
  • 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.
  • If you wish to submit a resume, please upload it (not required).


Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

  • Discuss a current international issue, which demonstrates how international affairs and business intersect and explain how the Huntsman curriculum might assist to resolve the issue. (max 500 words)


Applicants to the Huntsman Program are also asked to select which of the eleven Huntsman target languages they intend to pursue. The language options are Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish. You are also asked to indicate how much experience you have with your selected language.


Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

  • LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What advantages and opportunities does the combination provide, and what needs does it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. (400-650 words)
  • If you wish to submit a resume, please upload it (not required)


Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

  • Explain how you will use this program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. It is helpful to identify potential engineering and business paths available at Penn. (400-650 words)
  • Please describe a time in which you displayed leadership. (250 words maximum)
  • If you wish to submit a resume, please upload it (not required).


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)
  • If you wish to submit a resume, please upload it (not required).


Nursing and Health Care 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)


Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

  • Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)
  • If you wish to submit a resume, please upload it (not required).


For more information, check out the CollegeVine Guide to writing the 2016-2017 Penn Essays here.


We hope that this guide has helped clear up some of the questions you may have had regarding applying to the University of Pennsylvania. We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck with your application!


Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.