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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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3 Strong UPenn Essay Examples


The University of Pennsylvania is a highly-selective Ivy League school, so it’s important to write strong essays to help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll share essays real students have submitted to UPenn. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).


Read our UPenn essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.


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Example 1


Prompt: 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 (650 words).


Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics, said, “caring is the human mode of being.” I have long been inspired by Sister Roach’s Five C’s of Caring: commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence. Penn both embraces and fosters these values through a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum and unmatched access to service and volunteer opportunities.


COMMITMENT. Reading through the activities that Penn Quakers devote their time to (in addition to academics!) felt like drinking from a firehose in the best possible way. As a prospective nursing student with interests outside of my major, I value this level of flexibility. I plan to leverage Penn’s liberal arts curriculum to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges LGBT people face, especially regarding healthcare access. Through courses like “Interactional Processes with LGBT Individuals” and volunteering at the Mazzoni Center for outreach, I hope to learn how to better support the Penn LGBT community as well as my family and friends, including my cousin, who came out as trans last year.


CONSCIENCE. As one of the first people in my family to attend a four-year university, I wanted a school that promoted a sense of moral responsibility among its students. At Penn, professors challenge their students to question and recreate their own set of morals by sparking thought- provoking, open-minded discussions. I can imagine myself advocating for universal healthcare in courses such as “Health Care Reform & Future of American Health System” and debating its merits with my peers. Studying in an environment where students confidently voice their opinions – conservative or liberal – will push me to question and strengthen my value system.


COMPETENCE. Two aspects that drew my attention to Penn’s BSN program were its high-quality research opportunities and hands-on nursing projects. Through its Office of Nursing Research, Penn connects students to faculty members who share similar research interests. As I volunteered at a nursing home in high school, I hope to work with Dr. Carthon to improve the quality of care for senior citizens. Seniors, especially minorities, face serious barriers to healthcare that I want to resolve. Additionally, Penn’s unique use of simulations to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application impressed me. Using computerized manikins that mimic human responses, classes in Penn’s nursing program allow students to apply their emergency medical skills in a mass casualty simulation and monitor their actions afterward through a video system. Participating in this activity will help me identify my strengths and areas for improvement regarding crisis management and medical care in a controlled yet realistic setting. Research opportunities and simulations will develop my skills even before I interact with patients.


COMPASSION. I value giving back through community service, and I have a particular interest in Penn’s Community Champions and Nursing Students For Sexual & Reproductive Health (NSRH). As a four-year volunteer health educator, I hope to continue this work as a Community Champions member. I am excited to collaborate with medical students to teach fourth and fifth graders in the city about cardiology or lead a chair dance class for the elders at the LIFE Center. Furthermore, as a feminist who firmly believes in women’s abortion rights, I’d like to join NSRH in order to advocate for women’s health on campus. At Penn, I can work with like-minded people to make a meaningful difference.


CONFIDENCE. All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence. Each student summarized their experiences at Penn as challenging but fulfilling. Although I expect my coursework to push me, from my conversations with current Quakers I know it will help me to be far more effective in my career.


The Five C’s of Caring are important heuristics for nursing, but they also provide insight into how I want to approach my time in college. I am eager to engage with these principles both as a nurse and as a Penn Quaker, and I can’t wait to start.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay has many positives aspects, but the most impressive one is the structure. Utilizing the Five C’s of Caring to discuss Penn’s offerings was a genius way of tying in this student’s passion for nursing while also making their essay exciting and easy to read. Beginning each paragraph with the respective adjective helped focus the paragraph and allowed the student to demonstrate how they exemplify each quality without explicitly stating it. The student wasn’t afraid to think outside the box and add creativity to their essay structure, which really paid off.


Another positive is how specific and specialized the Penn resources and opportunities the student mentions are. This essay did not fall into the trap of name-dropping professors or programs. In every paragraph, there was a connection to something the student wants to do at Penn to further themselves in the respective characteristic they were describing.


Not only did this student mention a resource at Penn—whether it was a professor, a class, or a club—in every paragraph, but they elaborated on what that resource was and how it would help them achieve their goal of becoming a nurse. The what and how is what sets this essay apart from other supplements that just name-drop resources for the sake of it. The amount of detail this essay went into about some of these resources makes it clear to the admissions officers reading the essay that this student has seriously looked into Penn and has a strong desire to come to campus and use these resources.


What Could Be Improved


One thing this essay could do to make it stronger is improve the first paragraph. The student does a good job of setting up Sister Roach and the Five C’s, but they don’t mention anything about their desire to study or pursue nursing. The first paragraph mentions both Sister Roach and Penn, but left out the student. This could be fixed by simply adding something along the lines of “I can’t wait to embody these values as a nursing student at Penn” to the paragraph.


Example 2


Prompt: How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected (300-450 words).


“This book again?” My mother sighed as she cracked open the punctuation picture book I’d picked out for the fifth time. At the age of four, I had little knowledge of punctuation, so the words “exclamation” and “comma” remained elusive; I grew obsessed with puzzling out its meaning. Growing up in the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library surrounded by the scent of old books, comforting silence, and librarian friends made it easy to forget about the world outside, yet my thirst for answers always pushed me out of literary comfort zones and into the unknown. Even as I moved on from Magic Tree House to Harry Potter, my inquisitive nature and determination to understand the literature around me only evolved. Foreign concepts and obstacles sparked my ambition as I tackled the intimidating Les Misérables sophomore year, Crime and Punishment junior year, and Jane Eyre senior year. I found a relatability in Joy Luck Club characters that I incorporated into my writing and an emotional outlet in the depths of the poetry aisle and writer communities at literary magazines like Polyphony Lit. I can find similar communities at Penn by curating pieces for Penn Review or spending days soaking in knowledge at the Van Pelt Library, poring over Macbeth or the Iliad. Although libraries may provide sanctuaries, they also open infinite worlds and viewpoints. I realized that stories (no matter what form they take) always manage to capture the intrinsic connection between humans that I seek in every interaction I have. 


I’ve learned that life beyond the library teems with complex characters and lessons of its own–especially at Penn, where students are determined to grapple with difficult questions involving cultural differences or the declining value of art in an increasingly STEM-focused world. I am eager to challenge my boundaries as a reader, writer, and human being by applying the relational lessons of a Fiction and Connectivity seminar to real life, reading to younger generations during Children’s Story Hour at Penn Bookstore, and hosting Open Mic Nights with Kelly Writers House. I can see myself initiating change in society by researching the effects of Western society’s harmful misconceptions of Asian and African-American culture in literature with Professor Josephine Park. Penn will not only satisfy some of my curiosities–it will provoke even more daunting and thrilling questions for me to pursue.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay does a really nice job of showing the student’s interest in reading and literature. The language they used to describe their library as “comforting”, and finding an “emotional outlet” in reading creates a clear picture for the reader that this student loves to read. Not only do we learn about this student’s passion, but we learn through them showing us. The essay shows us how the student felt in the library and takes us on a journey as they tackle more and more advanced books, as opposed to telling us they are passionate about reading.


The use of book titles was another positive aspect of this essay. Citing actual books and explaining how they affected the student helps display to the admissions officers reading the essay that literature has impacted this student in a multitude of ways. We see the student grow from being young and curious to tackling challenging concepts, embracing new cultures, and engaging in self-reflection all through reading. 


What Could Be Improved


The main part of this essay that could use improving was the second paragraph that discussed how Penn will allow this student to continue exploring their passion. Although the student did provide some explanation as to how these resources at Penn will help them grow their interest in reading and writing, the elaboration was pretty weak. 


The student mentions they want to grow as “reader, writer, and human being by applying the relational lessons of a Fiction and Connectivity seminar to real life, reading to younger generations during Children’s Story Hour at Penn Bookstore, and hosting Open Mic Nights with Kelly Writers House.” These are all great, but nothing mentioned here is specific to Penn. This student could host an open mic night at any college they go to, so they either need to pick something more unique or provide detailed elaboration on how participating in this will help them in the long run.


If this student had focused more on the research they want to do with the professor, they could have had a stronger response to the second part of the prompt. Sometimes, going into detail about one resource that you have a strong connection to is far more powerful than cramming in a bunch of opportunities that relate to your desired field—which is what the essay is currently doing. For example, discussing how they want to research cultural representation in literature with this professor to understand and reverse harmful misconceptions in their own writing and have more cultural diversity in libraries for future generations to enjoy, would have provided a lot more detail about the student and their goals than saying they want to read to kids when they get to Penn.


Example 3


Prompt: At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community (150-200 words).


I used to face two paths: one flocked with taxis, people, and the smell of pizza, and the other a wet street laced with cicada symphonies and the aroma of beef noodle soup. It always felt easier to walk the streets of Taiwan (where people speak meekly and tiptoe around confrontation) rather than New York (where people argue, think, and exist fearlessly). PBS created a documentary titled Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan (1998), and I believed that I embodied the little potato island, since balancing between two cultures resulted in a “Tug of War” within me. Although I am proud to be Taiwanese, New York has cultivated an unbridled emotion and passion within me, molding me into a bold author, shameless poet, and strong-willed advocate for Asian-American youth. I am excited by the similar passion and confidence of Penn students, and the vibrant conversations I might have at a Campaign for Community event about racial justice or with Professor David Eng about Asian literature influences upon American society. I can support peers struggling with their own “Tug of Wars” by sharing my story through the Penn Taiwanese Society, and learn their stories as a writer for Robinson Press.


What the Essay Did Well


This essay does a great job of establishing this student’s background and the distinction between their two cultures. There is a great use of imagery, especially at the beginning, which displays this student’s strength as a writer and highlights the internal “Tug of War” they experience. It is evident how their past community has shaped their perspective and identity. Knowing how their background shaped these things makes it easy for admissions officers to see what type of student they would be adding to their campus.


While the prompt doesn’t ask the student to reflect on their community, explaining their background helped this student describe how they will shape their Penn community. A big part of what this student hopes to bring to Penn is helping other students who feel a similar “Tug of War”, so understanding how this student has coped with their internal struggle is important to understand what they will bring to Penn. 


What Could Be Improved


Unfortunately, by spending so much space discussing their “Tug of War”, this student didn’t have the strongest answer to the main question in the prompt: how will you explore the community at Penn? This essay should have been far more focused on opportunities and resources at Penn that will shape this student’s identity. The last few sentences mentioned resources the student wants to take advantage of, but there wasn’t a lot of elaboration on how engaging with these resources will influence their identity.


This doesn’t mean the student must completely forgo discussing the internal struggle they feel coming from two separate cultures, but they could have continued with the “Tug of War” idea to discuss how they will pursue opportunities at Penn that allow them to engage both aspects of their culture. Describing how participating in a certain club would allow them to embrace their emboldened New Yorker while working with a professor on their research about Asian literature might spark their interest in writing a novel about Taiwan, for example, would have been an effective way to continue the “Tug of War” metaphor and fully answer the prompt.


One other thing that could improve the essay is splitting it into two paragraphs. Reading one large block of text gets tiring for admissions officers who spend all day reading. Dividing the essay into paragraphs provides clear delineations for where new information is being presented, thus helping admissions officers stay focused on your essay.


More Free Essay Resources


How to Write UPenn Essays: See our in-depth guide of each supplemental essay prompt for UPenn. 


All of Our Essay Guides: Don’t miss our essay guides for all of the top schools.


How to Write the Common App Essays: Learn how to write a strong Common App essay for each of the prompts, with examples.


Free CollegeVine Peer Essay Review: Submit your essay and get feedback from another student. Editing other students’ essays will also help you improve your own writing skills!



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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.