May 4, 2014

Penn announces 2014-15 essay prompt

University of Pennsylvania

In his admissions blog, Page 217 (a play on a recently-retired Penn essay prompt), University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Eric Furda quietly announced Penn’s  prompt for the 2014-15 Common Application Writing Supplement.

And drumroll please…it’s exactly the same as last year with the very minor deletion of two unimportant words:

The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals. (400-650 words)

In his commentary, Dean Furda explains how the question builds on “the academic narratives that unfold in the information-rich Common Application” and allows admissions readers to understand the essence of each applicant’s “fit” for the University of Pennsylvania.

“With this question, we are enlisting applicants’ help in envisioning their academic journey through a specific undergraduate school and their possible paths forward,” added Furda.  “This essay will always drive conversation in the committee room.”

But with the Class of 2018, Penn dropped to an acceptance rate of 9.9 percent for an applicant pool that grew by 14.7 percent to 35,868 prospective students.  No matter how you approach the essay question or how carefully you craft the contents of your Common Application, the odds of being admitted to the University of Pennsylvania are definitely stacked against most applicants.

Nevertheless, for students determined to buck the odds, Furda offers sound advice, some of which has applicability beyond Penn admissions:

  • Answer the question.  
  • Discuss what the university values—in this case, interdisciplinary learning.
  • If you’re interested in a specialized program, be sure to articulate your “fit” with that program.
  • Make connections between your interests and opportunities offered by the university.
  • If you are undecided about majors, don’t just leave it at that—think  about possible options.
  • Use the essay to take academic risks by exploring majors, concentrations, and programs.

And although he doesn't specifically say it, do your homework.  Examine Penn's website for hints about what the university cares about, take notes during campus visits, ask questions, and carefully reflect on your personal fit with the culture, programs, and priorities of the University of Pennsylvania.  

Look for other colleges and universities to begin posting essay prompts in advance of the August 1 start date for the Common Application.

Disclosure:  Nancy Griesemer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the last century and really doesn't think she'd be admitted today!

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