How to Get Into UPenn

Three Parts:Laying the FoundationsCompleting Preliminary StepsCompleting Your Application

The University of Pennsylvania, also referred to as UPenn or Penn, is an Ivy League institution located in Philadelphia that attracts students from around the globe. Admission to UPenn is highly competitive, with undergraduate acceptance rates hovering around 10%.[1] For this reason, getting into UPenn requires extensive planning and academic preparation. Students who take a disciplined approach to achieving high grades, excelling in standardized exams, and gaining extracurricular experience have a greater chance of being admitted.

Part 1
Laying the Foundations

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    Excel academically.[2] UPenn is academically rigorous, and your high school curriculum and performance will be considered very closely by the university’s admissions. You should aim to earn perfect or near-perfect grades throughout high school. You should also take the most challenging curriculum your school offers—honors courses, advanced placement, etc. UPenn values strong foundations in the liberal arts and sciences, so make sure to take classes in:
    • English
    • Social studies (history, government, sociology, etc.)
    • Mathematics
    • Science
    • Foreign language
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    Get involved in extracurriculars.[3] Since UPenn looks to admit students who are passionate citizens, your record of extracurricular involvement will be considered. Your activities outside of the classroom will give the UPenn admissions committee a sense of your interests, abilities, and causes you care about.
    • Successful applicants to UPenn may be either well-rounded (involved in several extracurricular activities), or focused more selectively on deep involvement in one or two. Either way, it is important to show that you are committed to each activity.
    • Extracurricular activities can include part-time work, school clubs, community involvement, etc.
    • Seek leadership roles in any extracurricular activities you are involved in.
    • Keep records of your activities, and your role in them. Your application to UPenn will request descriptions of your extracurricular activities, and the more detailed they are, the better.
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    Form relationships with teachers and counselors.[4] For your application to UPenn, you will need letters of recommendation from teachers, and a school report from a counselor or headmaster. Start thinking early about who you might ask to write your letters, and let them know about your interests and plans.
    • If you are already interested in a specific academic area, it is a good idea to get a letter from a teacher in that area.
    • You will need at least two and no more than three letters of recommendation for your application, and it is best if they are not from teachers in the same subject.
    • Think about asking for letters from teachers who best know your skills, abilities, and interests, not just the ones who give you the highest grades.
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    Learn about financial aid. Financing your education is important and requires advanced planning. UPenn offers generous financial support to all qualified students who are admitted. Financial aid at UPenn utilizes all-grant approach that includes scholarships and work-study programs, without any loans.[5][6] That way, students can graduate debt-free.
    • UPenn admissions is need-blind. Decisions are made regardless of an applicant's financial situation.[7]
    • All financial aid at UPenn is need-based rather than merit-based.
    • UPenn is committed to supplying grants and work-study opportunities that meet the full demonstrated financial need for each accepted student, for up to eight academic semesters.
    • The average financial aid package for incoming freshman in 2013 was over $44,000.
    • Loans are available to students that desire them for certain reasons, such as to substitute for work-study programs.[8]
    • Financial need can be reassessed as needed (such as if a student's parent loses a job).
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    Prepare for standardized tests. Like most colleges and universities, UPenn requires the submission of standardized test scores.[9] These include the SAT or ACT (both, if desired), and the TOEFL, for students who are non-native English speakers and who did not attend a school where the language of instruction is English. Studying for these tests beforehand can help you score well. There are self-study guides, private courses, and tutoring options available to help you prepare for any standardized test(s) you need to take.
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    Seek more information, if needed. You can find out more about UPenn by visiting its admissions webpage, and possibly by attending college fairs in your area. If you have questions about admission to UPenn, you can also contact a regional representative for your area of the country or world.[10]

Part 2
Completing Preliminary Steps

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    Take standardized tests. You should register for and take standardized tests well in advance of the UPenn application deadline. UPenn recommends that you take the SAT by November (for Early Decision) or January (for Regular Decision), and/or the ACT by October (for Early Decision) or December (for Regular Decision) at the latest.[11]
    • UPenn recommends that students take two SAT Subject Tests, but these are not required.
    • Make sure that your scores are sent directly to UPenn if you are taking standardized tests at a late date. This ensures that your scores will arrive on time.
    • UPenn considers only the highest score on any standardized test, if an applicant takes the test multiple times.
    • If you take a standardized test early, you will have more time to take it again if you want to improve your score.
    • The middle 50% SAT scores of recent applicants to UPenn are: 690-780 (Reading), 710-800 (Math), 700-790 (Writing).[12]
    • The ACT composite score range of the middle 50% of recent applicants to UPenn is 32-35.[13]
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    Decide which school you want to enter. When applying to UPenn, you must declare which of its four undergraduate schools you want to enter.[14] There are some dual degree and specialized programs at UPenn, but you still must apply to one school.[15][16] While students at UPenn can take courses in any of the four schools, it is not always easy to transfer from one to the other. The four schools are:
    • The College of Arts and Sciences[17]
    • The School of Engineering and Applied Science.[18]
    • The School of Nursing[19]
    • The Wharton School of Business[20]
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    Decide if you want to seek early decision or regular decision admissions. There are two types of admission to UPenn.[21] When you submit your application, you will declare which admissions plan you desire. Each entails certain types of commitments and obligations.
    • The Early Decision Plan is for students who are certain that UPenn is their top choice. If you select this plan, you agree to withdraw all applications to other schools if you are admitted to UPenn.
    • The Regular Decision Plan allows more flexibility when choosing schools. However, if you have made an early decision agreement with another school and you are accepted there, you must withdraw your Regular Decision Plan application at UPenn.
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    Plan ahead to meet the application deadline. All application components (with the exception of any supplementary materials, if applicable) must be submitted by the deadline in order for your application to be considered complete. The exact deadline may vary from year to year, but it is generally the beginning of November (for Early Decision Plan applicants) or early January (for Regular Decision Plan applicants).[22]

Part 3
Completing Your Application

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    Create an application account.[23] UPenn, like many colleges and universities, utilizes the Common Application, a web-based application system that features many standardized elements.[24] To begin the process of applying for UPenn, create a Common Application account.[25] You will then be able to submit any UPenn-specific application components.[26]
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    Write the application essays. The Common Application includes a general essay (250-650 words) portion, for which you will select a prompt and write a response.[27] You must also write an essay that is specific to UPenn, as well as one for any coordinated degree program you want to enter (if applicable).
    • Prompts include things like “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story” and “Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”
    • UPenn requires a supplementary essay (400-650 words) in response to this prompt: “How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.”
    • If you are applying to one of the coordinated degree programs at UPenn, you will have to write an additional essay. Check with the UPenn Admission’s page on essay requirements for the most current details.
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    Ask for letters of recommendation.[28] When you are completing your application, those writing letters of recommendation for you will be prompted by the Common Application to upload their letters. These must be received by UPenn in order for your application to be considered complete.
    • You are required to submit two letters of recommendation from academic teachers.
    • Make sure to ask your letter writers before listing them as a recommender on your application.
    • Allow your letter writers plenty of time to finish and submit their letters ahead of the deadline.
    • Give your letter writers a copy of your current resume when you make the request. This will help them write the strongest letters possible.
    • You can request a third letter of recommendation, one from someone who is not a teacher (such as a coach, research supervisor, boss, or clergy member). The author of the third letter, if you choose to have one, must know you personally and be able to speak to your readiness for admission at UPenn.
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    Request a school report. Submitted as part of the Common Application, the school report describes your school’s curriculum, academic profile, and other pertinent information.[29] This helps the UPenn admissions committee see how well you performed and how rigorous of a curriculum you took in high school, compared to your peers. Typically, a counselor, headmaster, or similar administrator submits the school report.
    • Make sure to request a your school report from this person well in advance of the application deadline so that he or she has time to complete it.
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    Request transcripts. Your Common Application will include transcripts from all high schools you have intended.[30] You must request that your school submits your most current transcript by the application deadline.
    • If you are deferred, you must submit a Mid-Year Report that may include an updated transcript.
    • If you admitted, you must submit a Final Report that includes your final high school transcript.
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    Include supplementary materials, if desired or necessary. Most students do not have to submit supplementary materials with their application to UPenn.[31] In fact, submitting excess materials may detract from your application. Occasionally, however, additional materials may support your application, as long as they are submitted in accordance with UPenn’s guidelines. For example:
    • If you have talent in an area like art or music, you may want to submit a portfolio of sample works/performances.
    • If you have significant experience in a non-academic area (such as community service, work, research, etc.), you may submit a supplementary third letter of recommendation.
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    Submit your application. Once you have completed and submitted the Common Application and any supplementary materials, your application is considered complete.[32] Remember to submit your application by the deadline, at the latest, and to pay the $75 application fee.[33]
    • If you have financial difficulties or special circumstances, you can request a fee waiver through the Common Application.[34]
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    Hold an interview. Many applicants to UPenn, but not all of them, are interviewed by alumni volunteers during the admissions decision process.[35] You cannot request an interview, but will be contacted by an alumni volunteer to set one up. Because of scheduling conflicts and other issues, not every applicant is offered an interview. If you do not receive a request for an interview, it will not held against you when your application is evaluated.
    • Interviews are held October-December (Early Decision Plan) and December-March (Regular Decision Plan).[36]
    • Interviews may be held in person, or virtually by phone or video chat, depending upon availability.
    • During the interview, you will be asked about your academic and personal interests, reasons for wanting to attend UPenn, etc. In addition, you will have the opportunity to ask the alumni interviewer about life at UPenn and afterwards.
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    Wait for your admissions decision.[37] Early Decision Plan applicants are notified in mid-December each year and must confirm in early January. Regular Decision Plan applicants are notified by April and must confirm by May.
    • Each year, some applicants are initially deferred, and then later admitted.[38] UPenn will contact you about deferral details, if applicable.


  • Admissions requirements are different for transfer applicants. Check UPenn’s admissions webpage for transfer applicants for the most recent information.[39]
  • Graduate admissions requirements are specific to each program. For more details, check with UPenn’s Graduate Admissions webpage, as well as with the department/program you want to enter.[40]

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Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education