5 Strong UPenn “Thank You” Essay Examples
- Essay Example 1 – The Power of the Arts
- Essay Example 2 – Turning a Flaw into a Talent
- Essay Example 3 – Girl Dad
- Essay Example 4 – Thank You for the Music
- Essay Example 5 – Middle School English
- Where to Get Feedback on your UPenn Essays
Founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania is one of the eight Ivy League institutions. Its beautiful campus features unique red-and-green-brick buildings, gorgeous tree-lined paths, and lots of tributes to Ben Franklin. In addition to its elite academics, UPenn is also known for its thriving student life–it’s even nicknamed “the social Ivy.” UPenn also enjoys the benefits of being situated in the heart of Philadelphia, just a stone’s throw from myriad museums, gardens, cathedrals, and historic sites, including Independence Hall.
Between its superb academics, vibrant social scene, and prime location, UPenn is one of the most competitive schools in the country. As a result, your essays need to shine, to set you apart from other smart, talented applicants. In this post, we’ll break down five responses to UPenn’s “Thank You” supplemental prompt, which was just added during the 2022-2023 applications cycle. We’ll lay out what each essay did well, and any areas for improvement.
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our UPenn essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
UPenn “Thank You” Prompt
The following essays respond to this prompt:
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)
Since this prompt is a recent addition to UPenn’s list of supplements, and doesn’t fit neatly into one of the classic supplemental essay boxes (like “Why School?” or “Why Major?”, you may not be quite sure where to start. To help you out, we’ve compiled five responses real students wrote to this prompt. You can read the essays below, and get our breakdowns of each one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Essay Example 1 – The Power of the Arts
Dear Mrs. Peterson,
After finishing my drawing of Timothée Chalamet this semester, I was stunned by its beauty—it was one of the first pieces that I was proud of. Because of the debacle with the charcoal drawing of my sister last year, I avoided drawing another human. Yet, you persisted in encouraging me to tackle this challenge; from achieving Timothée’s chiseled cheekbones to highlighting his curls, you always stood by my side—even when I wanted to quit.
Honing my artistic abilities was only a portion of what you taught me. You always encouraged me to be vulnerable, and I am gratified by our insightful conversations. From consoling me through the stress of finals to supporting my aspirations of becoming a lawyer, you never wavered in listening to my stories. You weren’t just my art teacher, but my shoulder.
I am inspired by how you lead your life with compassion and authenticity. Watching you build a community through dialogue furthered my own love of interaction as an instrument to foster connection. Thank you for being my guidepost. You made a home for me in your class, and it saddens me that I will be leaving it soon.
Future Empathetic Lawyer
What the Essay Did Well
A strong hook is an essential part of any essay, to really draw a reader into the story. This writer does an excellent job immediately grabbing our attention by describing a tangible object that represents why they are thankful to their art teacher, which is a far more powerful technique than just saying something general like “You have made me a much better artist.”
The drawing of Timothée Chalamet also serves as an anchor for the traits the writer wants to highlight about themselves, such as risk-taking (taking on the challenge of drawing “his chiseled cheekbones…[and] curls”) and perseverance (“you always stood by my side”). Remember that showing your reader something about yourself, through a tangible example like an art project, makes your points far more convincing than just telling them you are a certain way, as then you’re just leaving them to take your word for it.
The writer also seamlessly transitions from talking about their drawing to talking about how their art teacher has helped them in general, with the line “Honing my artistic abilities was only a portion of what you taught me.” This line provides the perfect jumping-off point for the writer to show us how their teacher has supported them in non-art contexts as well.
Finally, in a big-picture sense, the writer strikes a great balance between highlighting their art teacher’s virtues, and how those virtues have helped them grow and develop their own personality. With this prompt, there’s a risk that you end up talking too much about the person you’re thanking, and not enough about yourself–remember, you’re the one admissions officers are trying to make a decision about! But this writer avoids that pitfall by always connecting the things they admire in their art teacher to qualities they have developed themselves.
What Could Be Improved
There is not much room for improvement in this essay. The author directly connects the values they have learned from their art teacher to tangible experiences, which ensures their essay will stand out even from other essays written about teachers.
The only point in the essay that reads a little strangely is the inclusion of the word “empathetic” in the student’s signature. Although we can read between the lines that they learned empathy from their teacher, that actually isn’t a value they name outright. They do highlight vulnerability, compassion, authenticity, and connection, so to make the end of the essay feel more cohesive, they could either replace “empathetic” with something like “compassionate,” or just make sure they do explicitly include empathy in the body of the essay.
Essay Example 2 – Turning a Flaw into a Talent
Dear Mr. Gonzalez,
I want to take a moment to thank you for the encouragement and support you have given me throughout my high school career. You have been a great teacher and mentor, and I am lucky to have you in my life.
However, I would especially like to thank you for helping me discover my gifts and turning them into abilities. All my life, I have been told that my love of talking with anyone and everyone was an annoyance at best and a flaw at worst. You decided to turn this “flaw” into one of my greatest joys. You taught me how to meticulously craft words and introduced me to rhetoric. Before, I never noticed how perfectly my skill for speaking and writing played into my other skills and talents.
You helped me learn that I grow best when thrust into high-pressure situations. The speeches and the competitions you signed me up for made me incredibly nervous but also incredibly proud.
You taught me that anything you love can be used to bring you happiness, and, more importantly, to help others.
What the Essay Did Well
This student uses this letter to say a touching, genuine thank you to a teacher who has helped them “turn [a] ‘flaw’ into one of [their] greatest joys.” Rather than highlighting a more generic trait like work ethic, the writer chooses a core value that shows they are able to deeply reflect on how they became the person they are, and how this teacher helped them with that development.
The writer’s impressive ability for introspection is also shown by their description of how their loquaciousness has always been a part of them (which we understand from the line “All my life”), but their teacher was the first person to help that quality blossom. Rather than framing the essay around a quality that someone else taught them directly, they show that they understand growth can happen in a variety of ways, which in turn shows that they are a mature, emotionally intelligent person.
What Could Be Improved
The author begins their essay very generically, by thanking their teacher for “encouragement and support” and saying that he is a “great teacher and mentor.” Remember, the point of any college essay is to help distinguish yourself from other applicants, and these lines could have been plucked from just about anybody’s “Thank You” essay.
Especially given the low word count, the student should use each sentence purposefully, rather than wasting space on general pleasantries. They would be better off starting the letter with the line “I would like to thank you for helping me discover my gifts and turning them into abilities.” As noted above, this personal, specific reason they are grateful to their teacher is really the heart of the essay, and thus should be given as much attention as possible.
Along the same lines, cutting the general introductions at the beginning would also give the writer more space to explain how their teacher helped them become more confident in their gifts. Rather than just saying that he “taught [them] how to meticulously craft words and introduced [them] to rhetoric,” the writer should provide us with an anecdote that shows what their teacher did specifically to improve their speaking and writing skills. This might look something like:
“I will never forget breaking down some of history’s most famous speeches with you, from the Gettysburg Address to ‘I Have a Dream,’ and slowly starting to understand how I could use these great orators’ techniques myself.”
Likewise, in the third paragraph, the student should provide context for how they reacted to high-pressure situations before their teacher started signing them up for speeches and competitions. They could include something along the lines of “In the past, I always shied away from the spotlight and never felt confident enough to pursue my passion for public speaking, but your faith in my talents pushed me to break past my mental boundaries.” By telling us what the student was like before meeting Mr. Gonzalez, this line emphasizes the importance of the lesson they learned from him.
Finally, in the last sentence of the letter, the student says that their teacher has taught them “to help others.” However, the essay never discussed helping others, so this lesson comes out of nowhere. Especially in the conclusion, you want to be sure that the points you make are supported by the rest of the essay. In the case of this student, that means they would be better off just sticking with the line “You taught me that anything you love can be used to bring you happiness,” as that is a quality they have discussed in detail.
Essay Example 3 – Girl Dad
I’ll always remember the times you corrected our Arabic-speaking friends when they greeted you with Abu Jack [Jack’s father] instead of Abu Julia [Julia’s father], proudly breaking the patriarchal tradition of referring to parents by the name of their eldest son, even when their first child is a daughter. Despite our disagreements on everything from economics to foreign policy, your simultaneous open-mindedness and commitment to your values remind me to appreciate intellectual plurality grounded in respect.
Thank you for motivating me to constantly learn more with your encyclopedia-like knowledge of the world. For inspiring me to see beauty in language, history, literature, and science. For strengthening my empathy through every late-night dinner debate. For spending hours discussing each book we share, from Sapiens to Sophie’s World.
Please never stop asking me for advice on your poetry to gauge whether your metaphors translate to English. Never lose the softness in your heart that makes you cry while we watch Coco for the third time because it reminds you of your family. Keep reminding me to “demand evidence and think critically,” even though I tease you for buying a sweatshirt plastered with the phrase.
What the Essay Did Well
Although many other applicants are likely to write letters to parents or other family members, this writer ensures her essay will still stand out by structuring her essay around stories and anecdotes that are personal to her relationship with her dad. Her father’s rejection of a “patriarchal tradition,” two specific examples of books they have read together, and her description of one of his favorite sweatshirts all show what makes their connection different from any other between a father and daughter.
More broadly, these personal anecdotes help readers understand this writer’s background as a whole, not just her relationship with her dad. The essays are admissions officers’ number one resource for understanding how you’ll fit into their campus community as a person, not just a student, and this essay gives us a clear sense of the intellect and compassion this writer would contribute to late night conversations with her roommate, interactions with the dining hall staff, and all the other “little moments” that truly define a college experience.
What Could Be Improved
Unfortunately, this essay falls into the trap outlined in our breakdown of Essay Example 1: we learn more about the author’s dad than we do about her. We know he breaks patriarchal tradition, has encyclopedia-like knowledge, loves poetry, and gets emotional when watching the movie Coco, but we don’t learn anything concrete about this student’s values, only that she admires these qualities in him.
To improve this, the author can reframe some of her ideas to be more focused on herself. For example, take the paragraph:
“Thank you for motivating me to constantly learn more with your encyclopedia-like knowledge of the world. For inspiring me to see beauty in language, history, literature, and science. For strengthening my empathy through every late-night dinner debate. For spending hours discussing each book we share, from Sapiens to Sophie’s World.”
Instead of spending most of the space highlighting her father’s virtues, she should rephrase this paragraph to be grounded in actions she has taken as a result of feeling inspired by her father. This could look something like:
“Your encyclopedia-like knowledge of the world has motivated me to linger by paintings in museums for a few seconds longer, to make sure I fully grasp the artist’s intentions, give Moby Dick a second chance even though I couldn’t get past the third chapter on my first attempt, and start self-studying Italian.”
As you can see, fleshing out her ideas in this way will take up space, and right now the essay covers too much ground for her to do this for each point she makes: she touches on Arabic culture, disagreements they have had, films and books they’ve enjoyed together, and general values she has learned from her father like empathy.
Narrowing her focus will give her the space she needs to make the essay more personal, and also communicate in a more cohesive way what her dad has taught her, as right now readers might leave feeling confused about what the most important lesson she has learned from him is. Choosing just one or two things to focus on will make the essay feel more unified.
Essay Example 4 – Thank You for the Music
Dear Mrs. Charles,
Entering your classroom, it was the lively music that drew me in, yet it would be your energetic voice that would hook me into the countless lessons about history for the next nine months. There was no dull moment, only excitement and the curiosity to learn more. You have instilled beyond knowledge, but more importantly, the inquisitive admiration for education and especially America, an impression so deeply indented in an immigrant like me. You looked out for me even when I was too insecure about my residential status to ask for help. With my first ever letter of recommendation, you have since advocated for my academic career. Amidst overwhelming college applications, I sobbed reading your note, “Good Luck My Perfect young woman – You deserve the world!” You continuously believe in my potential, and that faith has emboldened me to be the resilient woman I am today. Thank you, Mrs. Charles, for encouraging me when things seemed impossible, mentoring me when I was lost, and strengthening my confidence when no one was there. It has been an honor to be your student, and I cannot wish for any other teachers to have changed my life this way.
What the Essay Did Well
This student’s genuine gratitude towards her teacher comes across in her strong personal voice, which is reflected in engaging lines like “there was no dull moment” and “the inquisitive admiration for education and especially America, an impression so deeply indented in an immigrant like me.” We can tell that the student’s appreciation for her teacher comes from moments that were truly formative for her, and that authenticity wins us over by pulling at our heartstrings with strong word choices and phrasings.
What Could Be Improved
Although this essay does a great job of expressing the emotional depth of this student’s relationship with her teacher, it lacks the specific details to evidence how this relationship has grown over time. For example, the student writes:
“You have instilled beyond knowledge, but more importantly, the inquisitive admiration for education and especially America, an impression so deeply indented in an immigrant like me. You looked out for me even when I was too insecure about my residential status to ask for help.”
While these lines are compelling, and speak to how the teacher looks out for the writer as an individual, not just a student, we don’t get any details about how she “instilled beyond knowledge” or “looked out for” the student. An anecdote that provides some of those details would give us a clearer sense of why this relationship is so meaningful to this student. That might look something like:
“You went out of your way to meet with me every week as I prepared for my mock debate on the pros and cons of the American public education system, a system that, as an immigrant, I had always admired. I had been too nervous about my residential status to ask you for help understanding the points my peers knew instinctively, and so it meant the world to me when you asked me to join you for a snack at your desk after class one day. This discrete support made me feel simultaneously looked out for and empowered.”
Finally, this essay would look better on the page if it were split into two or even three paragraphs. A huge block of text on the page can be daunting, and you don’t want to turn off your readers before they even start. Plus, breaking up your ideas into smaller paragraphs can also make your essay easier to understand, as your reader can focus on one point at a time, rather than trying to keep everything in mind simultaneously as they’re reading.
Also on a structural level, the writer should have a signature of some kind. If you were writing a note to someone in a non-college essay context, you wouldn’t leave it unsigned. So, while it’s a small detail, to be true to what the prompt is asking, this student should include a signature.
Essay Example 5 – Middle School English
Dear Mrs. King,
Even though it has been five years since I’ve stepped into your English classroom at Harrison Middle, I remember the sound of your enthusiastic voice and genuine smile like it was yesterday.
Your energy was contagious and your quick wittedness unmatched. The way you effortlessly enthralled the entire class with your love for writing is something I will never forget. When you organized a classwide debate based on our argumentative essay topics, you captivated everyone to the point where enthusiastic shouts bounced off the walls of the room.
You made us feel warm and comfortable. As a rigorous teacher and thinker, your lessons impacted me in and out of the classroom. The door to your classroom was always open if I needed advice, helping me navigate everything from friendships to high school applications. In your presence, I felt like a friend instead of a student, because that was just your comforting nature. Thank you for the moments with you in middle school that will stay with me for a lifetime.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay’s greatest strength is the author’s use of vibrant, playful language, which helps readers vicariously feel Mrs. King’s enthusiasm and energy. For example, the “enthusiastic shouts bouncing off walls” and feeling “like a friend instead of a student, because that was just your comforting nature” drop us right into Mrs. King’s classroom, and allow us to vicariously understand why this student respects her so much.
What Could Be Improved
This essay’s biggest issue is that most of the writer’s points are very generic, and could have been written by anyone, about any teacher. The point of this prompt is to highlight certain aspects of your personality by describing values you have learned from someone else, but the details we get about Mrs. King are very surface-level, like the sound of her voice, smile, and love for writing. As a result, we don’t learn much about either the teacher’s personality or how she has impacted the writer.
The author should instead include stories that show us specific values and lessons they have learned from this teacher. For example, the line “As a rigorous teacher and thinker, your lessons impacted me in and out of the classroom,” could be about nearly anything. To make this line more informative, the writer needs to get much more specific about what their point is, along the lines of:
“When you took us on a field trip to see a production of Hamlet which had recast Ophelia as a man, you challenged me to reconsider how societal standards, which I like to think I’m able to transcend, unavoidably impact my interpretation of literature.”
This version both identifies a particular aspect of the writer’s personality (their ability to push back on preconceived ideas) and something specific Mrs. King did to help them develop that aspect. As a result, admissions officers now get what they really care about: information about who this student is, and how they would fit in at their school.
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
Want feedback on your UPenn “Thank You” essay before you submit? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!