How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays - Examples & Tips

June 20, 2024
10 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/20/24

So, you’ve set your sights on attending the University of Pennsylvania. You’re confident in your GPA and SAT scores, but how should you write the UPenn supplemental essay? Read on to find out!

‍The University of Pennsylvania is one of the most selective schools in the United States. According to U.S. News, its acceptance rate is 7%. As such, it’s essential that applicants supply the admissions office with a detailed picture of not only who they are as a student but also as a person. 

Completing the UPenn supplemental essays is a necessary and crucial part of the application process. A well-written essay can give your application a massive boost, but a poorly-written one can affect your other materials significantly. 

In this guide, we’ll cover how to tackle the UPenn essays so that you can maximize your chance of acceptance!

UPenn Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

UPenn requires all applicants to complete three supplemental essays. Each required essay is short, with a maximum word count ranging from 200 to 250 words. 

If you're applying to a specialized program, you may have to complete additional essays. Take a look at our college guides for a step-by-step walkthrough of the UPenn application process. 

The following are the standard UPenn supplemental essay questions that all undergraduate applicants are required to complete. 

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #1

“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)”

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #2

“How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)”  

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #3 - School of Nursing

“Penn Nursing intends to meet the health needs of society in a global and multicultural world by preparing its students to impact healthcare by advancing science and promoting equity. What do you think this means for the future of nursing, and how do you see yourself contributing to our mission of promoting equity in healthcare? (150-200 words)”

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #4 - College of Arts and Sciences

“The flexible structure of The College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum is designed to inspire exploration, foster connections, and help you create a path of study through general education courses and a major. What are you curious about and how would you take advantage of opportunities in the arts and sciences? (150-200 words)”

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #5 - The Wharton School 

“Wharton prepares its students to make an impact by applying business methods and economic theory to real-world problems, including economic, political, and social issues.  Please reflect on a current issue of importance to you and share how you hope a Wharton education would help you to explore it.  (150-200 words)”

UPenn Required Essay Prompt #6 - School of Engineering and Applied Science

“Penn Engineering prepares its students to become leaders in technology, by combining a strong foundation in the natural sciences and mathematics, exploration in the liberal arts, and depth of study in focused disciplinary majors. Please share how you hope to explore your engineering interests at Penn. (150-200 words)”

For the college-specific prompts (#3-6), you will only need to answer the prompt for the school you’re applying to. So, you’re only required to write three essays overall. 

UPenn Program-Specific Prompts

Depending on your desired program, you may also have to write essays tailored to your particular area of study. Many of the program-specific questions resemble the third supplemental essay question, asking the applicant to explain why they are interested in the specific academic path they are pursuing. 

Tap into your passion and use these questions to explore the practicalities of the path you’re on. Take a look at these program-specific essay prompts.

DMD: Digital Media Design Program

“Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)”

Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

“The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally-minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to make a contribution to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)”

LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

“The LSM program aims to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the life sciences and their management with an eye to identifying, advancing and implementing innovations. What issues would you want to address using the understanding gained from such a program? Note that this essay should be distinct from your single degree essay. (400-650 words)”

M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

  1. “Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)”
  2. “Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words)”

NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in 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)”

NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare 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)”

Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

This program has five prompts:

  1. “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 pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry.
  2. List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.
  3. What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

*Please note that there is a 250-word limit for the Bio-Dental Program supplemental essays.”

VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

“How do you envision your participation in the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) furthering your interests in energy science and technology? Please include any past experiences (ex. academic, research, or extracurricular) that have led to your interest in the program. Additionally, please indicate why you are interested in pursuing dual degrees in science and engineering and which VIPER majors are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)”

How To Write Each Essay Prompt for UPenn

Let’s take some time to zero in on the three required essays that you’ll need to write for UPenn. Below, we’ll analyze what each prompt is asking of you and provide some tips to help you approach the essays well! 

How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essay #1 + Analysis and Tips

UPenn prompt #1: “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)”

Analysis of prompt #1: The school is seeking to figure out whether you have a sense of the importance of others in your life and if you realize the ways that they’ve helped you along the way. 

Though many high schoolers have learned the importance of individual hard work and discipline, studying at the university level often requires teamwork and collaboration. Schools like UPenn want to know that you’re prepared to participate and that you have a sense of community, which is further explored in the second essay. 

But to start, they want to get a sense of whether you know how others have made a difference in your life. This is your chance to show that to them. 

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Tip #1: Choose Your Person Wisely: Take some time to consider the person you will choose for this prompt. Make sure to pick someone who has had a significant impact on your life and to whom you are genuinely thankful. Don’t just pick someone that you think will impress the admissions committee. 
  2. Tip #2: Demonstrate Growth: Include reflections on how this person’s actions have changed you. Don’t be superficial; dig deep into why you are thankful to this person and how you are still affected today. 
  3. Tip #3: Be Vulnerable: This prompt asks you to write directly to the person you’re thanking, which encourages you to get personal. Don’t shy away from this! Vulnerability is a mark of humility. However, make sure not to include details that will make your reader uncomfortable. 

How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essay #2 + Analysis and Tips

UPenn prompt #2: “How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)” 

Analysis of prompt #2: Universities are communities. So, they are seeking students who have a sense of community and who want to be a part of one. 

In the first prompt, you are asked to demonstrate your appreciation for others who have shaped you in the past to who you are now. This second essay is an opportunity to show how you hope to contribute to the experience of those at UPenn and also how you hope to be transformed by your university experience.

  1. Tip #1: Reflect on UPenn’s Culture: Take some time at the beginning of your essay to demonstrate your understanding of UPenn’s community values. This shows that you not only fit into the community but that you’ve put effort into researching UPenn’s mission and values.   
  2. Tip #2: Show How You Fit: Now, talk about your own values and how they line up with UPenn’s. What draws you to UPenn outside of academics? How would you align with the school culture? 
  3. Tip #3: The Details Matter: It can be helpful to get really specific and use small details to convey memorable and meaningful ideas. An article by UPenn tells students that “sometimes, the smallest, most tedious things are the places where… we can communicate the most about ourselves as people.”

How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essay #3 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompts #3-6: The third UPenn required essay, although it varies from school to school, is essentially asking all students the same question: “Why us?” 

If you have a specific career path in mind, the school wants to know that you have an understanding of the knowledge you’ll need in order to get there. Not to mention if you will use the knowledge you obtain at their school to be a contributing member of society.

There is no ‘right’ answer when it comes to your reasoning for pursuing any course of learning. UPenn wants to see evidence that you want more from your education than just bringing home a huge paycheck or achieving an illustrious degree. UPenn is interested in what matters to you. 

What do you know about the field of study you’re pursuing? Are your aspirations distinctive or a little hazy around the edges? How will you take advantage of the resources available to you? How will you contribute to the classroom environment? 

Seek to answer those questions when writing. Here are some more tips to help you tackle your third essay for UPenn: 

  1. Tip #1: Know Your Program: UPenn advises applicants to be extremely specific about why they’re applying to their specified undergraduate school. The more you can get into those details in your supplemental essay, the better. You may want to end your essay talking about your future aspirations at UPenn and beyond!
  2. Tip #2: Consider Your Personality: What are the specific factors that draw you to this field of study - class structure, learning opportunities, specific instructors? How will your personality and skill sets fuel your ability to thrive in the program of choice?
  3. Tip #3: Answer the Prompt: It can be easy to get off-track when writing your essays, so be sure that you’re actually answering what’s being asked of you. UPenn has chosen specific prompts in order to learn certain things about you, so stay on topic to improve your chances of acceptance!

Examples of UPenn Supplemental Essays That Worked

Below, you’ll find some UPenn supplemental essays written by real applicants who were admitted to UPenn! Let’s look at each one and discuss what worked about it.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example #1: The Thank-You Note

If you’re still unsure about how to approach this prompt, take a look at this example essay for some inspiration:

To my brother:
Every day when I come home from school, I am exhausted and kick off my shoes, thinking three steps ahead, about the homework I’ve got to do, or the friend who hasn’t called me in a while. Wrapped in a world of my own. 
And yet, every time I head out the door, I find the laces of my shoes have been neatly untied, loosened and ready for me to step into the shoe. Having not taken the simple step of untying them when I get home, I have not set myself up for a quick or efficient trip out the door.
You and I are so different. I live in a world of abstract ideas and mental exploration, you are grounded in practical matters and prefer not to stray from what is right in front of you. I’m not ‘cool’ and have struggled to make connections with other kids, you fit in so easily, without much effort. 
Although in the past I wished you would stick up for me more, I know how hard it can be to go against the grain. I know you’re looking out for me, in the way that you know how. You’re helping me find my own way by making the small inconveniences in my life disappear, so I can head out the door and face larger challenges. Although I’ve never witnessed you untying my laces, I know that it’s you. Nobody else is home, but your being there is enough. 
Thank you for showing me how to care for someone, and how to give support in a small but impactful way.

Why Essay #1 Worked

Each sentence offers a window into the identity of its writer. They reveal a person who is a bit of a dreamer, who loves to explore abstract ideas, and who sometimes has trouble fitting in. It also offers a window into the writer's thought process. 

Although they express their love of daydreaming, they are also detail-oriented, noticing small things like shoelaces that have been undone in their absence. The writer shows they're able to appreciate the personality differences between themselves and their brother. They have compassion for their brother despite their differences.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example 2: How Will You Explore Community at UPenn?

Below is a sample essay responding to the community-focused UPenn essay prompt: 

As a kid, I was always encouraged to sit and listen to the adults around me, as they were having conversations with one another. Not to spy, or to get information I could use for my own advantage, but to observe people. My Dad told me you can tell a lot about a person based on what words they choose to say, and also how they say them.
Because I was a bit of a chatterbox as a kid, at times I thought he was giving me this advice, so I would be quiet and keep to myself a little more. But as I got older, I realized he was trying to help me build a skill; the skill of listening to others, before offering up a response.
Time went by, and I continued to be a chatty goofball. Though my stoic father had tried his best, I still much prefer telling jokes over sitting silently. Luckily, I was able to find the perfect outlet for both of my powers: improv club. I could act out as much as I wanted, but the most hilarious skits we came up with were the result of listening before responding to my teammates. 
As I’m hoping to pursue a degree in philosophy, I’m very excited to put these skills to practice in the classroom. I can’t wait to explore the dynamism that comes from discussing complex topics with my professors and other students. 

Why Essay #2 Worked

The writer sets the stage by explaining how they started to learn more about relating to others. They also showed how they came to learn to work with their nature - wanting to be more active and leading in a conversation while also working to ensure they are making space for others. 

The writer also seems to anticipate the classroom environment they will be in, knowing that University Philosophy classes often involve discourse on the theories students are exploring. The more you’ve armed yourself with an understanding of UPenn’s programs and classrooms, the easier it will be to write about how you will be an excellent addition to the school.

UPenn Supplemental Essay Example 3: Explaining Your Undergraduate School Choice

Here is a great example of an essay that explains the background and particular reasons behind a student’s specific undergraduate choices: 

“Some Pig.” The day I read these words was the day I became a vegetarian.
In around 192 pages, E.B. White changed my entire perspective. My parents suddenly had to grapple with the challenge of feeding a kid who would not eat meat. Luckily, they understood that this wasn't just a phase for me. I started to gain a curiosity about the inner lives of animals, leading me toward an interest in animal psychology.
How much do we really know about what animals are thinking or feeling? Will we ever live in a world where humans are able to communicate with animals? What kind of moral issues would we face should that possibility become a reality? These are questions I used to spend hours researching on the internet. 
One day, I stumbled upon a course on UPenn’s website: Animal Cognition and Ethics. I couldn’t believe it. A whole class dedicated to discussions of what I most wanted to know! This was the beginning of my goal of being admitted into UPenn’s Bachelor of Philosophy and Science program.
Knowing that Philosophy required an understanding of how to evaluate ideas and shape arguments for and against them, I joined my school’s debate team. I was able to gain a sense of how to consider a wide variety of opinions, and a respect for those with opposing opinions. 
This experience has prepared me to explore ideas with my fellow classmates at UPenn.

Why Essay #3 Worked

The writer begins by explaining the beginning of their passion for the topic they hope to study at Penn. They then get into the specific program they hope to be admitted to while mentioning a specific class offered at the school. 

In doing this, they are demonstrating not only that they have done some research into the school but that they are already capable of seeking out resources to take advantage of while studying there. 

UPenn is looking for students who are open to new experiences and are not necessarily satisfied with the status quo. In this essay example, the writer has sought to demonstrate their understanding of a college classroom dynamic by mentioning their experience with the debate team. In doing this, they’ve shown they can engage with ideas that are different from their own. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid 

Writing a supplemental essay can be difficult. You should avoid some common mistakes when writing the UPenn supplemental essays. 

  • Avoid using cliches or tired expressions. Admissions committees go through countless essays, so using fresh, original language is important.
  • Don't choose a broad or common topic. Pick something specific and unique that highlights your personality and interests.
  • Steer clear of inappropriate language or humor. Keep your essay professional and suitable for a college application.
  • Write your own essay. This is your opportunity to express your voice and ideas, so make sure it's your own work.
  • Stick to the prompt. Don't go off-topic or disregard the instructions. Ensure your essay directly addresses what the prompt is asking for.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help you write a compelling and stellar supplemental essay that will catch the admissions office’s attention! 

    Get More Sample Essays Here! 

    Looking at examples of supplemental essays is a great way to find inspiration and discover strategies that work well. Use our extensive college essay database down below to find tons of other sample essays!

    Quad offers successful and detailed support for college essays. Here is a review from a successful college applicant who worked with us on their essay. 

    “I really appreciated how David and the Quad Education team gave feedback on my essays and applications. I felt the advice they gave was timely and geared to me personally. They helped take my applications to the next level by covering the bases of each supplemental essay.” - Claudine 

    FAQs: UPenn Supplemental Essays

    Looking for some fast answers? Here are our answers to a few common frequently asked questions about how to write the UPenn supplemental essays examples.

    1. Does UPenn Require Supplemental Essays?

    Yes. You must complete three supplemental essays, which are short in word count.

    2. How Do I Write the UPenn Supplemental Essay?

    Reflect about what makes you an ideal candidate, and seek to demonstrate how you think and how you will be a good student in your essays. Make sure you keep to the word count, and ensure your grammar and spelling are impeccable.

    3. Is There a “Why UPenn” Essay?

    Yes. The third and final supplemental essay prompts you to explain why you’ve chosen to apply to UPenn, although the specific prompt varies depending on the undergraduate college you’re applying to. 

    Final Thoughts

    Writing UPenn’s Supplemental essays is an exciting opportunity to give the school more information about the person you are behind your grades. The essays are concise and are, therefore, not highly daunting to complete. However, their short length requires applicants to be succinct. 

    Taking time to reflect on the program you’ve chosen at UPenn, what the school’s identity is, and how that fits into your self-concept will be advantageous for approaching each question and providing detailed examples.

    Access 190+ sample college essays here

    Access 190+ sample college essays here

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter
    Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
    Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

    Get A Free Consultation

    Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
    Schedule a Call

    You May Also Like

    Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
    The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

    The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

    The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.