Case Studies

Know How To Gain Admission in University of Pennsylvania

Miguel Marfori

How to get admission in University of Pennsylvania

When you check the list of elite colleges, you'll likely see UPenn. It's a weird name to know because it sounds like some new brand for a pen you can use in writing. But UPenn stands for the University of Pennsylvania. Also referred to as Penn, UPenn is the university that holds itself steady among the elite. You may think that just putting a hint of the state they're in is just for show, but beyond their gates, you'll see that they're no slouches. They're able to give the students it accepts a way of living their academic lives with balance and prosperity. 

You can ask Julia, a student, who wrote about her experiences here. She feels gratitude for being part of Upenn. As she said by the end: "When I'm having a bad day, at which school am I going to look up and think, 'Wow look at where I am. I'm so lucky to be a part of this place." Wonderful! But it does make you wonder: Can you get into this renowned university and have a great journey? Yes, you can. That's why we've got an excellent guide for you that will show you the tips, tricks and ways in getting admissions into UPenn. It's going to be a challenge, but it never hurts to try. So get started and find out below what you need to do! 

1. Examine yourself thoroughly and determine if you got what UPenn is looking for

Before you get all hyped up to gather the application requirements, you need to sift through yourself and find out if you got the stuff UPenn is looking for in a student. They've described several things they want to see in potential students. But thankfully, they don't list a lot of descriptions about things like Harvard and Stanford right away. You can simply see their full explanation of what they're looking for here, but for convenience, you can check it out below:

“We want our campus to reflect the world around us, so we enrol students who come from all corners of the world and a wide range of backgrounds. We look for students who aspire to develop and refine their talents and abilities within Penn's liberal arts-based, practical, and interdisciplinary learning environment. Our ideal candidates are inspired to emulate our founder Benjamin Franklin by applying their knowledge in "service to society" to our community, the city of Philadelphia, and the full world. To best understand prospective students' paths through Penn, we approach applications holistically and with great care.”

When you’ve read what they want in a student above and see for yourself that you got what they need, then you’re armed and ready! 

2. Be vigilant and embody Benjamin Franklin’s ideal to the max with some spike

While the description above is elegant and straightforward, you have to be very alert and integrate Benjamin Franklin's ideal well. But there's a reason it's mentioned: His wish for people to be of service to society is something UPenn holds to their core, so it pays to know that you do that. 

So how can you do that? Here are a few things you can do: 

  • Read about Benjamin Franklin’s ideal and how it came to be

It's a good idea to be more familiar with Benjamin Franklin's ideal by reading about it and knowing why he came up with it. It is, after all, one of the things UPenn looks for in a student so by genuinely embodying the ideal, they'll look at you with more respect. You can get more details about Franklin's vision about service from Britannica here.

  • Live and practice the ideal

When you're finally familiar with the ideal, the next thing to do is to live and practice it. Yep, it can seem tedious even to do this, but it's a great way to let you understand why UPenn wants this in a student. So how do you do this? You can start being more helpful with neighbours, offering your services to the seniors, be active with your community, getting involved in events that will surely get the impact you need. In short, it's all about being the person everybody sees as the greatness to society. 

  • Nurture the spike

Of course, you can't be spread too much in other areas, or you might be too well-rounded, the kind of person who's just involved in too many things. So you got to have the spike and nurture it. But what’s a spike? As PrepScholar says here: “A spike is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way.” The spike encourages you to be the best of the best, which means you got to be a Michael Jordan in your area and show them who's the boss. So while you’re living the Franklin ideal, let your spike grow. 

When you've done all that you need to live the ideal truly, then you're pretty much up and ready with what UPenn has looked for with a nice little boost to your overall character and growth. 

3. Have a good look at the more profound things UPenn look for

You'd think that with just a simplistic description to what they look for, they'll accept you? But you'd be wrong to think that because on the page that shows the summary of what they’re looking for if you look carefully in the "What Penn Looks For" section a little down below, you can see there's more than meets the eye. It's a mix of the requirements they need while also letting potential applicants what they want. It's quite a long list so here are a few of what they're looking for without saying it all in one page:

  • Holistic Review

This part of their factors is an evaluation of the applicant and truly see if they have what they're looking for thoroughly which is where you have to show it to the admissions officers you're the right person to be part of UPenn. It's also your chance to exhibit your experience of being able to live and practice Franklin's ideal. 

  • High School Preparation

This factor is where UPenn will have a good look at the high school you'll be coming from which is also where they make suggestions on the classes you should be taking because when you're applying with them, you'll choose one of four schools (more details later). They also describe what they want students to be when picking the particular courses that are available. 

  • Extracurricular Activities

Yes, they appreciate the extracurricular activities too. Apart from living the Franklin ideal, they'd like to see how you spend a bit of your time. They'll even make suggestions on how you'll describe your activities so that it becomes friendly and excellent with your application.

You can get more details on their page, but the gist of it all is UPenn is giving hints of what they look for while also letting you know about the requirements you'll need to submit. It doesn't say much, but if they're willing to give some tips of their own, that can be a great way. 

4. Develop the spike within yourself while maintaining excellence in other areas you’re good with

As shown above, one of the things UPenn looks for in a student applying for them is extracurricular activities. But it's tricky even to get this one right because there is a tendency you may spread too thin to a point you’re not so good with the areas you’re in. That’s why when it comes down it, you need to nurture the spike in at least one area while you’re maintaining your excellence with other areas you’re good at. 

Developing the spike is no easy feat because you need to attain the status of being spectacular on the area you're working on. It's the part where you have to develop your skills in one area and indeed be above and beyond with them. Need some motivation? Have a look at Taylor Swift. Just a mention of her name and she already makes Twitter want to collapse with the tweets that keep coming. She may not be useful in other areas, but she can sing and make the world smile, right? 

So make sure to choose one area you can make the spike go up to the skies. As for the excellence that you need to maintain in other areas, choose a few that you can prioritize which means choosing just as a few a 2-3 areas and keeping them spick and span while making your one area is getting the spike that will get it going. 

5. Pick one of the courses UPenn has available

Unlike other universities, UPenn has four different sections that offer the courses they have available for applicants. Here they are:

  • School of Nursing
  • Penn Engineering
  • The Wharton School
  • College of Arts And Sciences

Take note of the courses offered in one of them an also decide if you’ll go for the specialized degree programs they have too which you can read more about here.

6. Take note of the requirements that are listed

Once you’ve picked out the school you’ll go to in UPenn along with the course you’re interested in, you’re next step is knowing the requirements that’ll be needed before you get serious in submitting your application. They give a general idea of it right here, but if you’re not too keen to read it all in one go, here’s a list of what they need from you: 

  • Finished Coalition or Common Application
  • Transcript of high school records
  • Letters of recommendation from your teachers
  • School report (info about your high school) 
  • Midyear report
  • Final grade report
  • SAT or ACT score results
  • Counselor’s report and letter of recommendation
  • Two academic teacher evaluations (preferably from junior or senior years in high school)

Aside from what’s listed above, you can also send in your responses to the essay prompts from UPenn’s specialized degree programs if you plan to apply for them. But what if you’re strapped for cash and need a bit of financial aid? UPenn’s got you covered because you can replace the complete application above with the completed QuestBridge Application instead. 

7. Check out the scores UPenn wants to see

As part of the requirements, the SAT and ACT scores are vital to your success in getting admitted to UPenn. Sure, they can say they're just looking to see you live the Franklin ideal, but the scores still matter a lot. Why? Let Magoosh say it with the figures they had back in 2018 here:

UPenn Scores
Credit: Magoosh

The data pretty much shows: Your ACT score must be above 35 and SAT score must be above 1550. You can’t just stay within the range seen there because being above and beyond can give UPenn another reason to see you that you’re not the typical student to apply. 

But of course, getting scores like these isn't going to be given to you quickly. You can't expect to walk in the test place and magically score higher than ever. You need to work hard for it.  

8. Score significantly on the required tests

So now that you have knowledge of the ACT and SAT scores UPenn will gladly want to see on your application even to give you notice, your next strategy is knowing how you can get them. So how exactly can you acquire them in time for application submission? You'll need to ace these tests and tackle them like any obstacle in life. Yes, it'll take a lot of time even to get there but don't worry, we have some tips for you to remember when you're prepping yourself up:

  • Practice the tests 

You'll need to practice the tests until you're comfortable with them. Don't expect to get the actual questions, so just get comfortable with whatever is shown to you.

  • Prep up with the apps

Prepping for the ACT and SAT tests back then was a ton of work, especially when it required you to carry a boatload of books giving you all the things you need to prepare. But today, you can use an app to make without cluttering. Once you've got the practices aced, get yourself tested with the apps.

Back then, trying to prep for SAT and ACT tests was a bit of a drag. Now? You can prep up with the app versions where you can apply what you've learned in your practices and be good with the app versions. 

  • Expand and evolve with your intellect

You don't just learn by reading all the time. In the case of the taking tests like these, it pays to expand and evolve with your intellect. To do this, you can get into the habit of reading challenging books, watching documentaries that evoke insight, and do other things that'll help you feel more knowledge kicking in. 

  • Go to class

Doing this alone will not get you going, so it pays to be part of a class that'll teach you the ways of the ACT and SAT where you'll also learn how the people who took the tests did their thing to get the scores they got that ultimately boosted their applications with gusto. 

9. Be aware of UPenn’s acceptance rate 

UPenn can be quite the college for many applicants to apply for, but only a few get in much like the other elite colleges. Curious about the acceptance rate? TopTier Admissions got some data and showed a big picture here: 

UPenn Acceptance rates
Credit: TopTier Admissions

As the data shows, acceptance rates from 2013 were high at 17.71%. Also, as the years went by, the rate went down steadily until 2020, when it got to 9.41%. It’s even projected that by 2024, it can go as low as 8.07%. Compared to other colleges, these acceptance rates are higher. 

But before you go clapping thinking there's no need to worry, you still have to remember that the rates are within the 10% range which means that many applicants apply quite a lot, but a few are accepted. Again, this is an excellent way to see that you can make yourself different from others and make your application so awesome that UPenn will have to consider you. 

10. Give your application a boost of the phenomenal and the spectacular

With awareness of what's going on in the world of UPenn and preparation of requirements all wrapped up, it's time to get yourself to create your application. But you won't just send in the form that's ordinary and average: You want to send in the one that'll make UPenn see you're living the Franklin ideal while having an aura of audacity. So what can you do to make yourself the top student among other applicants? Here are a few things to do:

  • Master the essential essays

One of the requirements you’ll need when applying for UPenn is sending a finished Coalition or Common Application. Whichever you choose, you’ll be required to write a personal essay and a UPenn-specific essay. For the personal essay, this is where you’ll need to truly excel in telling your story because you’ll tell UPenn all about yourself and give them a sense of who you are. You’ll also let UPenn know who you are not just as a student but also as a friend, family member, and other roles in life. To sum it up, they want to see a well-rounded person with a bit of charm who lives the Franklin ideal. As for the other essay, they're questions that will have you explain a bit on how you'll do your thing in UPenn. For example, they'll have you answer a question that may have you describe your way in perusing your academic interest. There is also another question that will ask you why you're pursuing your chosen course. In these cases, this is where you can take a few your strengths and use bits of what you've answered in your personal essay to add up the ante. 

  • Showcase your strengths with glee

While you're glittering your profile up, it pays to be confident with the strengths. Just as you've learned above, you'll write a personal essay that will give UPenn an idea on who you are. That's why you can boost that up by giving UPenn a showcase of your strengths. Yes, you'll boast up a bit for this part, but it'll provide them with wonder. Add to that the things you did to live Franklin's ideal, and they'll see you may just be a Benjamin Franklin in mind and spirit. 

  • Have a chat with the experts

When ready to submit everything, you can have some chitchat sessions with the experts. Let them have a look at your application and see if there are some things you missed. This way, all will be perfect when you're ready to get it going and finally submit them. 

11. Learn more of UPenn’s way with processing applications

When it comes to processing applications, UPenn's method can be a surprisingly adaptive one because much of what you need to do and submit can be done online. After all, you'll log in and answer all that you need to answer right on the internet. Since adopting this method, UPenn has seen increases in applications over the years.

The way things change with applications had fascinated Eric J. Furda, the dean of admissions in UPenn, in an interview back in 2010 when he said, “By the time this goes to print, we will have received over 26,800 applications. So, the way we can contact students, the way students can learn about us, all that has changed significantly. With the most recent changes in technology, we are seeing a revolutionary change in human interaction, and this is something that will provide us with new opportunities in recruitment and evaluation. As this technology becomes more accessible to everyone and as costs go down and more and more people have access to these resources, why shouldn’t every student have, for example, the opportunity to have some type of one-on-one interaction with us? Of course, we can’t just jump on everything that comes along. We have to think about the cost, and be aware of how the institution will be positioned.” 

Then add to the fact that they have financial aid which many don't know much but is a draw for them. As Eric put it: "I think we still need to get that story out more broadly. In non-applicant surveys, we are still seeing that some students are not applying because they feel they can't afford a Penn education. But, I think we wouldn't be in a good position that we are in today if we weren't able to say that we are committing $120 million in need-based financial aid and that students can graduate debt-free, which will free up greater opportunities for them career-wise and graduate school-wise. It's a powerful message that we continue to promote.”

12. Submit everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best

When you've done all that you can and got everything under wraps, that's when it's time to get going and submit everything which means you hope for the best. Now, it's not a guarantee you'll have it right away. Even likely applicants are rejected too. But once you've got it all in, you're going to have to have faith it'll all work out in the end.

Not Accepted? 

So you did what you did to get your application in (and even lived the Franklin ideal), but after all the stuff you put in, UPenn says no and rejects your application. So does it mean you’re no longer able to get in anymore? There’s an alternative option to give a shot if you’re still determined to get into UPenn. It’s not a standard option, but if you’re not going to give up for another chance at being able to part of this place, here it is:

Alternative Option: Attend a different college and transfer to UPenn later

You can always go for another college and then transfer to UPenn midway. Unlike other colleges like Stanford, the transfer rate is quite high. How high? Compared to the 1.15% rate from Stanford, UPenn's rate back in 2018 was 8.14%. Yes, it's quite similar to the acceptance rates you learned about above, so you still got a bit of a chance here! But take note it's riskier to go with this because it's going to be tough even to convince UPenn you're still the right student after rejecting you already. So be ready for this one. 


UPenn has a thing of its own. With the balance of life and studies, all put into a college that'll encourage students to see as a beautiful journey, and it's no wonder many seek to get into this elite university. Yes, it's not going to be easy to be accepted here since the acceptance rates may be higher than most colleges but can still within a range that says many can apply, but few are taken. But don't be down about it: Instead, let this be a way to show you that you can give it a try and know that when you lived the Franklin ideal while doing all other things great, UPenn can see you're the student who lives and thrives in serving society with confidence. 



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