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How to Write the Academic Interest Essay for UPenn

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 requires you to answer three essay prompts. The third UPenn prompt asks: 


Consider the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? (150 – 200 words).


In this article, we will discuss how to think about this prompt and how to approach writing your response. For more tips and advice on how to write the other UPenn essays, consider reading this article: How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays.


Breaking Down the Prompt


This essay is the classic “why major” essay with a little bit of “why UPenn” thrown into it. You want to articulate the reasons why you want to pursue your intended major, and you specifically want to discuss why UPenn is the right place to do so. Keep in mind, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one major if you’re planning on majoring in multiple different areas or if you are undecided.


The University of Pennsylvania values interdisciplinary thinking. They encourage you to branch out and take classes in multiple different fields – even if it doesn’t relate to your major. As a result, you should make sure to highlight your intellectual curiosity in your response.


How to Research for this Essay


Understand the Different Schools


UPenn has four different colleges: Arts & Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing. Even if you are applying to one of those schools, you can still take advantage of some of  the opportunities at the other schools. Students are free to explore any intellectual interests they have. 


UPenn also offers specialized programs where you can get dual degrees. These are programs where you can get degrees at different UPenn schools at the same time. For example, one program allows you to get a degree in business and in engineering even though these degrees take place in different areas of the college.


Find Specific Opportunities


While you do have the freedom to talk about any interests, specificity is key. You want to find and articulate unique approaches that relate to UPenn. The best way to answer this question is by doing your research. You can start with the departmental websites and the classes in each department. By doing your research on the department, classes, and professors, you can talk about your specific interests. This also shows that you’re passionate about your studies and that you’ve taken the time and effort to do background research on the school. 


You also want to keep in mind that there are many ways you can write about your intellectual interests. Your essay doesn’t have to be just about classroom topics; you can also write about your interest in the clubs, community programming, and volunteer work at UPenn. 


Choosing Topics to Write About


Don’t Name-Drop


It’s great to put in the research on Upenn and what they have to offer, but a common mistake in this essay is focusing too much on UPenn at the expense of illustrating your own interest. While research is great, you don’t want to get into name-dropping territory. 


It’s tempting to convey that you’ve done research and are really passionate about what the school has to offer, but this shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay. 


Think in Terms of Your Past and Future


You want to find the balance between the past and the future. The best way to write this essay is to connect your passions to what UPenn has to offer. Write about the intellectual experiences you’ve had and why you now want to study that at UPenn. 


This approach is meant to help you tell the story of the kind of student you are. Once you’ve explained your background in the area you want to major in, then you should begin connecting that interest to the department and classes at UPenn.