UPenn Supplemental Essay Examples: Breakdown and Analysis

An Ivy League school in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania attracts thousands of qualified applicants each year. With an acceptance rate of 8%, admissions is extremely competitive. Writing strong essays is one of the best ways to stand out, as most applicants will have stellar grades and test scores.

 

UPenn requires two essays for all applicants, as well as an additional essay for those interested in the university’s many dual-degree and specialized programs. 

 

In this post, we’ll go over one of UPenn’s supplemental essay prompts and what admissions officers are looking for. Then, we’ll share an essay from a real applicant, analyzing what they did well, and what they could’ve improved. You’ll also have the opportunity to download another UPenn example essay.

 

Supplemental Prompt for UPenn’s NETS Program

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)

UPenn’s Networked & Social Systems Engineering Program, known as NETS, is UPenn’s future-focused engineering program that addresses networks from technological, sociological and economic perspectives. This program is looking for creative problem-solvers that have an equally large propensity towards interdisciplinary technological solutions. 

 

This prompt is a little bit like a “Why This Major?” essay, which aims to understand your background in the subject and your motivations for pursuing it. The NETS prompt, however, is a bit broader; it wants to hear the way you define technology’s role in society, as well as how your interest in technology developed.

 

While the topic of this essay allows you to think more broadly, you should still ground your essay in your personal experiences. A common pitfall is to write a philosophical essay about technology, without sharing more about yourself. After all, the goal of each college essay is to learn more about you, your thoughts, and your personality.

 

UPenn Essay Example

 

Let’s dissect an example of this prompt together to get a better sense of what kind of content admissions officers are looking for.

In 9th grade, I made my most astonishing work of art.

 

Funnily enough, it wasn’t for any class related to the arts. It was for my statistics class. I created it to answer a simple question: are people happier when they have more friends? To answer that question, my group and I surveyed 240 students. That month, the ink from my printer was running as dry as my body was soaked with sweat from running around the school collecting questionnaires. We compiled all results into a spreadsheet with hundreds of thousands of cells. It was the largest amount of data I had ever handled. I started analyzing it, cell by cell. The method of analysis? A node network graph. It was something new to me at the time and I didn’t know what to expect. The final result was an intensely vivid web of color composed of 240 nodes connected by thousands upon thousands of lines. It was magnificent to behold. It was intensely surreal as I witnessed the abstract concept of friendship manifested in something tangible and visual. This chaotic and hypnotizing mess of dots and lines was a snapshot of the relationships between an entire batch of students! From the graph, I could immediately discern that people aren’t automatically happier if they have more friends. It’s the quality of your friendships that matter. Ever since that project, I have been constantly seeking new ways to make the invisible structures around us visible.

 

Over the years, this interest has driven me to study the effects of the internet in greater depth. This is because the internet, for the past few decades, has been the biggest black box that our society has ever created. It has been credited for both promoting democracy and blamed for destroying it. It has been praised for spreading information, and decried for spreading misinformation. All of the confusion surrounding what the internet actually is stems mostly from the fact that it’s very hard to see the full extent of how it actually works and how it affects people. Media coverage of Google’s use of data or Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, services I use every day, have left me wondering how we can improve the internet and make it more transparent for the people who use it.

 

As a policy-minded thinker and problem solver, I have done a lot of research and contemplation on the current problems and benefits of these platforms and services. I read about how Youtube has served as a platform for populist strongmen. I read about how Facebook enabled the Arab Spring. So far, all that I have learned is that the problem is an incredibly complex and nuanced one, with a lot of different actors and moving parts. It involves multinational companies, governments, and billions of individual users. In order to maximize the potential of these networks and minimize their harms, we have to be tactical in our approach. From figuring out data privacy to figuring out whether these companies are platforms or basic services, almost all aspects of the role of these networks fascinate me. It is also a topic that I have debated competitively in the past. I have participated in motions ranging from “This house would ban Google from retaining search data” to “This house believes news media outlets should use AI for the production and presentation of its news content”. I am highly invested in the role of social networks in today’s society; rather than their complexity pushing me away, it is what draws me in. 

 

The costs of not understanding social networks in this era is incredibly high. This is why I am willing to dedicate myself to studying it and uncovering the ways of how to deal with it. 

Breaking Down The UPenn Essay Example

 

Before we analyze this essay section-by-section, we want to comment on the essay as a whole. As a whole, the essay is strong. It shares the student’s background, is well-written, and thinks about nuanced issues relating to technology.

 

One way the essay could’ve been improved, however, is by breaking up the longer paragraphs. There are many points where a new paragraph would’ve been logical, and flowed better. Because of the long paragraphs, it can be a little difficult to read the essay.

 

Now, let’s get into our detailed analysis.

 

In 9th grade, I made my most astonishing work of art.

 

Funnily enough, it wasn’t for any class related to the arts. It was for my statistics class.

 

This introduction epitomizes the ideal response to this prompt in that it begins with an attention-grabbing statement. It effectively balances an academic tone with a conversational one, making readers feel as though the author is directly talking to them. The way these sentences are written exude a narrative-like quality that you should strive for in order to effectively make your essay immersive. The essay then smoothly transitions into discussing one of the student’s projects.

 

To answer that question, my group and I surveyed 240 students. That month, the ink from my printer was running as dry as my body was soaked with sweat from running around the school collecting questionnaires. We compiled all results into a spreadsheet with hundreds of thousands of cells. It was the largest amount of data I had ever handled. I started analyzing it, cell by cell. The method of analysis? A node network graph. It was something new to me at the time and I didn’t know what to expect. The final result was an intensely vivid web of color composed of 240 nodes connected by thousands upon thousands of lines. It was magnificent to behold. It was intensely surreal as I witnessed the abstract concept of friendship manifested in something tangible and visual. This chaotic and hypnotizing mess of dots and lines was a snapshot of the relationships between an entire batch of students! From the graph, I could immediately discern that people aren’t automatically happier if they have more friends. It’s the quality of your friendships that matter. Ever since that project, I have been constantly seeking new ways to make the invisible structures around us visible.

 

This section details the students’ statistics project in a manner that keeps readers engaged. The student crafts a narrative that exudes the elusive show-not-tell quality that separates good essays from great ones. In order to generate this, the applicant employs varied sentence structure and contextual phrases like “that month.” They also vary their sentence structure and include rhetorical questions to make the reader interact more with their essay content. 

 

Also, the student crafts a clever simile involving their printer ink and sweat. Not only does this demonstrate their writing prowess, but it also adds humor in a subtle and appropriate manner which showcases their personality. Adding your own creative flair throughout your essay will allow admissions officers to gain a better sense of who you are, and make your application more memorable, which strengthens your candidacy.

 

The student goes on to describe their method of analysis, showing how they worked with the data by mentioning specific tools and methods. Their description of their final product is soaked with imagery, allowing readers to visualize it mentally. Your aim with this essay should be to convey your interactions with the subject in a manner that allows readers, who know little or nothing about them, to feel your passion.

 

One area of potential improvement is the student’s data analysis. While they go in-depth with the data visualization, the essay falls short when the applicant mentions their conclusion about quality over quantity of friendships, without walking admissions officers through their thought process. They should elaborate more on how they came to this conclusion, and explain if and how their survey allowed for a causal connection. To avoid comprehension issues like this, have a peer that does not know about your project read over your essay, and then have them summarize it back to you. Based on their interpretation of your writing, you can determine what needs to be added for them to gain the most robust understanding possible. 

 

The last line of this portion effectively summarizes how this project piqued the student’s interest in networks. When writing your essay, make sure to include subtle transitions like this to increase the flow and readability of your essay. 

Over the years, this interest has driven me to study the effects of the internet in greater depth. This is because the internet, for the past few decades, has been the biggest black box that our society has ever created. It has been credited for both promoting democracy and blamed for destroying it. It has been praised for spreading information, and decried for spreading misinformation. All of the confusion surrounding what the internet actually is stems mostly from the fact that it’s very hard to see the full extent of how it actually works and how it affects people. Media coverage of Google’s use of data or Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, services I use every day, have left me wondering how we can improve the internet and make it more transparent for the people who use it.

 

Here, the student makes a more general point about why they want to study this particular subject. They provide a unique perspective of the Internet as a black box and elaborate on this extended metaphor through specific examples. This shows the student’s unique way of thinking that will enrich the diversity of perspectives at UPenn. The student also mentions specific current events that tie into their claims. 

 

When writing this portion of the essay, keep in mind that the NETS program stresses innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. Therefore, it is a good idea to supply your own theories and supplant them with breaking news in this field. This will show admissions officers that you have a unique perspective to offer and are keeping up with current events. Don’t rush this thought process – take the time to craft a well-developed answer, as this will resonate with admissions officers a lot more than a generic response. 

 

As a policy-minded thinker and problem solver, I have done a lot of research and contemplation on the current problems and benefits of these platforms and services. I read about how Youtube has served as a platform for populist strongmen. I read about how Facebook enabled the Arab Spring. So far, all that I have learned is that the problem is an incredibly complex and nuanced one, with a lot of different actors and moving parts. It involves multinational companies, governments, and billions of individual users. In order to maximize the potential of these networks and minimize their harms, we have to be tactical in our approach. From figuring out data privacy to figuring out whether these companies are platforms or basic services, almost all aspects of the role of these networks fascinate me. It is also a topic that I have debated competitively in the past. I have participated in motions ranging from “This house would ban Google from retaining search data” to “This house believes news media outlets should use AI for the production and presentation of its news content”. I am highly invested in the role of social networks in today’s society; rather than their complexity pushing me away, it is what draws me in. 

 

Next, the author delves into how they have personally learned more about networks. They include specific research topics, which speaks volumes to their interest in the subject. The author presents a conflict and relays what they have learned without providing an overt solution, which is completely appropriate. 

 

When writing to this prompt, you may have to research intricate issues with no viable solution in sight. Rather than focusing on coming up with potential solutions, you can strengthen your essay by speaking on these topics in a nuanced manner that demonstrates your interest in and understanding of them. 

 

The author also mentions debating these topics in a structured manner; this shows, rather than tells admissions officers that they have strong research skills and communication abilities. If you have other skills or interests, tying them into your love for technological networks can bolster your essay. You can take any of your passions, whether it’s something like art, marketing, or history, and relay how you’ve explored their intersection with data and networks. By showing how your varied interests combine to produce an interdisciplinary passion, you can make your application unique and memorable to admissions officers.

 

Again, the author mentions specific aspects of their research, which lends their essay an overall sense of genuine interest in the subject. By speaking about past experiences in detail, they are able to establish credibility and demonstrate to admissions officers that they would be a good fit for this program. Make sure to include the specific ways in which you have taken an active role in your education on this subject. This is the key to demonstrating your passion in a way that resonates with the admissions committee.

 

The costs of not understanding social networks in this era is incredibly high. This is why I am willing to dedicate myself to studying it and uncovering the ways of how to deal with it. 

 

The author concludes with a brief but pointed statement that smoothly brings their response to a close. Your conclusion does not need to be lengthy or all-encompassing; rather, it should summarize the main point of your response and expand on how you plan to continue developing your interest in this subject. 

 

Here, the author’s first sentence demonstrates that they understand the gravity of the subject matter at hand. Their second reestablishes their commitment to technological networks and provides a future-facing sentiment that conveys to admissions officers that they are ready for the next step in their journey: the NETS program.

 

Need more tips on how to tackle the UPenn supplemental essays? Check out CollegeVine’s breakdown of how to write to each one

 

More UPenn Essay Examples

 

If you’re looking for more UPenn examples from real students, you can view another essay by entering your email and graduation year below. Then, the link to the PDF will appear on the right side of the box.

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