College essays are hard to write, especially when they’re for competitive Ivy League colleges like the University of Pennsylvania.
Here’s the deal:
College essays are 100 times easier to write when you have examples of what is both good and bad.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how to approach the question, “Why Penn?” in your application. We’ll walk you through exactly what makes this admissions essay effective and what could have been better.
Let’s start with why this essay works.
Why this admissions essay works:
1. The student opens with a succinct and clear direction of where the essay is heading. He gets straight to the point and dives right into the meat of the essay.
2. The second paragraph demonstrates to an admissions counselor that this student has done his research on the school—in turn showing the counselor that this student is a serious applicant. Demonstrated interest is crucial in today’s competitive admissions scene to stand out from the rest of the pack.
3. The student breaks down his key message into three subsections: academics, extracurriculars, and student life. By doing so, the student stays true to the first paragraph in providing a clear direction throughout the entire essay.
3. Paragraphs 4-5 are particularly effective because they epitomize demonstrated interest; in this case the student draws on his own experiences visiting the school campus.
4. In paragraph 5, the student starts explaining to the admissions counselor how he can fit into the Penn community; as important as it is to convey to the counselor that you’ve done your research, arguably the most important part of “Why X?” supplements is helping the reader understand where you fit into the school community. The student answers this question by talking about his previous world experiences.
5. The student concludes with a short and sweet ending and draws on a cultural food item of Philadelphia, where Penn is located. What this essay demonstrates well is the fact that while introductions and conclusions are important, the main content of the essay is the most important component of all. Students often get bogged down trying to think of attention grabbers and clever ways to open and close their essays; as a result they end up not developing the meat of their essay well enough to demonstrate to the reader that they have done their research and can fit a specific niche within the school’s community.
How this Why Penn essay could have been better:
The student did a great job demonstrating to the reader that he had done his research; however, the essay itself could have been more creative in its approach. The introduction and conclusion are succinct and effective; however, a more unique introduction would have drawn the reader in faster. The student made up for this with the quality of the content of the essay.
Since first setting foot on campus two years ago, I have found that Penn has always stood out in my search for the perfect university. Every aspect, from the flexible academics to its urban environment, to the diversity of the student body seems to readily match the setting in which I hope to immerse myself over the next four years.
Academically, I hope to continue pursuing my interests in economics and business, international studies, and French. Unlike many other schools, Penn openly encourages such breadth of study, believing the skill sets developed through different subjects to be universally interdependent and pragmatic in the real world. Through Penn’s one-university system, I would work towards my B.S. in Economics through Wharton while simultaneously taking courses in international studies in the College, and even have the opportunity to hone my accent in France for a semester. In 2012, I would graduate from Penn knowing my education over the past four years helped build my foundation as a better critical thinker who can apply core business and teamwork skills in any field.
All the while, I would be actively building on my high school extracurricular experience at Penn. I plan to continue my studies in economics outside of the classroom through Penn’s Undergraduate Economics Society both to continue improving my leadership skills and to join the club’s campaign to stimulate interest in economics on campus, an objective of mine at my high school since my junior year. I would also like to take part in editing and writing in the club’s unique International Undergraduate Journal of Economics. To stay active, I hope to join the Men’s Club Tennis at Penn, and I look forward to building on my experience with elementary-age children through the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.
But perhaps above all, it is the student community at Penn that has attracted me the most. My first time strolling down Locust Walk with my family seeing all the club representatives left and right trying to convince students to join their causes was just amazing. There was an air of perpetual excitement and community, a feeling that Penn’s student body is extremely tightly knit. In October, I was even lucky enough to shadow two Huntsman Program freshmen on my third visit to campus. Staying overnight with a student from Morocco concentrating in French, but who was studying Spanish, as well as a student from Oregon targeting German, I found that I felt very comfortable living and learning in the diverse environment at Penn.
Sitting in on several classes, I also discovered Wharton’s unique MGMT 100 course to be perhaps the ideal class to tie together my experience in teamwork, interest in community service, and enthusiasm to immerse myself in a real-world business environment. Armed with an open mind and experiences from my travels to a multitude of countries across Asia, North America, and Europe, as well as my volunteer work at events such as the International Children’s Festival and the East African Center’s Evening for Africa, I believe I will bring a very unique and worldly perspective to campus, an outlook I hope to share and broaden working with some of the brightest students from around the globe at Penn.
With so many new doors to open, I know a college experience at Penn will prove challenging, yet undoubtedly rewarding. I look forward to a fulfilling four years of hard work, fun, and cheese steaks.
Photo by Haque, Abul, Photographer (NARA record: 8467822) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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Of all the supplemental college essays out there, the “Why Us?” essay is the most difficult to master, especially when you have to write one for each school on your college list. So, how do you convince admissions officers at each college you belong there, while staying true to yourself?
With AdmitSee’s database of successful application files we will show you essay examples that address key elements every “Why Us” supplemental essay should include.
1. Example with a UMich Essay Excerpt
It’s essential to talk about the school you’re applying to. After all, you are answering the question “Why Us”? What makes this specific school you’re applying to stand out from others?
- Talk about your academic interests and how the school you’re applying can help you explore that
- Be specific about the academic programs at the university
- Are these academic programs unique? Are they the best? If there’s other schools have this program, why theirs?
“Throughout high school, I discovered that I enjoy a variety of subjects; therefore, I am entering Michigan with an undeclared major. However, I am not exactly undecided; rather, I am multi-interested. I love the areas of mathematics and statistics, yet the economy and government fascinates me as well. Still, the field of art history beckons me, and luckily the University of Michigan has enough museums to pursue endless hours of thorough art appreciation. Thankfully, LSA allows me to explore a plethora of majors found in the various colleges of the University of Michigan. With forty top ten programs, no matter what major I ultimately chose, I can feel assured that I will be working with the most talented and experienced faculty. In addition, University of Michigan’s research program, one of the best in the United States, will allow me to make discoveries and contributions as an undergraduate student. The University of Michigan is the ideal school for me, and has been my number one since I first saw the maize and blue uniforms take Michigan Stadium by storm.” – MichiganMath, ‘19
In this excerpt, the author starts by talking her interests in a number of fields, thereby leading her to show off her knowledge about UMich’s academic programs. She is concise about how each of her interest can be furthered by the opportunities that University of Michigan can offer her if she’s accepted. In a paragraph, she demonstrated how her interests and resources at UMich are an ideal match without simply regurgitating informative facts about UMich.
2. Example with a Barnard Essay Excerpt
Don’t forget this is a part of your college application! Every supplement you send in should provide another perspective of who you are.
- This is another opportunity for you to highlight something about yourself that you weren’t able to in our common app personal statement
- What other information about yourself will help paint a full picture of who you are in your application?
“Not only is NYC an incredibly diverse place, but Barnard is as well. The unique backgrounds of its community members create a compelling dynamic in and out of the classroom. I grew up in a half French and half Chinese household, which gave me a very different perspective than a lot of my peers. My father grew up in France, then immigrated to San Francisco after living in the Congo. My mother grew up in China, then immigrated to Wisconsin after living in Nigeria. Throughout my childhood, I was lucky enough to be able to learn multiple points of views from my parents because of their unique backgrounds, leading to a fascinating upbringing which I believe Barnard students possess as well.” –ccg32, ‘19
The author of this excerpt draws a parallel between the diverse background of NYC and her own. She uses this opportunity to share how incredibly diverse her family background is and what that has done for her. In fact, she’s able to share this intimate detail to connect to the community of Barnard students, again pointing out she’s an ideal prospective student.
3. Examples with NYU Excerpt
Finally, think about this supplemental essay as a way to express how compatible you are with the college you are applying to.
- You can talk about university programs in relation to your interests, but you can also connect it to something about you.
- This is how you connect point 1 + 2
“Never have I encountered an atmosphere so invigorating and so impassioned as I found during my visit to NYU. It is this passion that unites the urban campus and forms a profound sense of unity within its diversity. I could want nothing more than to one day call myself a part of this motivational community, building relationships with people who share my passion for helping others and who will both value my talents as well as challenge me to grow. As a student at NYU, I could continue my tutoring and mentoring work through the university’s America Reads program or explore my love for travelling while providing invaluable aid as a part of the unique option for alternative breaks. Regardless of what path I find myself taking as NYU opens my eyes to growth and change, I know that an education and an experience spent in such a special community is one that has the potential to change my life and make an everlasting impact.” – Katiedolci ‘19
Here you see the author use the university’s programs and unique offerings to demonstrate the author’s own interests and passion. She explicitly mentions programs that NYU offers to highlight the extracurriculars she’s been involved with. By doing so, she has also subtly emphasized her compassionate nature and desire to help others not only in the area she studies, but in her free time as well.
Want to see more successful examples? AdmitSee has the largest database of successful college application files to help you through the admission season. View full college essays in the context of the rest of their application to better understand how to craft the best version of yours.
About Frances Wong
A math major turned growth hacker, Frances has worked in PR and marketing in Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco. AdmitSee is her third edtech startup, coming from Course Hero and Purpella. Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. Fun Fact: Frances was a certified and licensed EMT during her time at Georgetown.
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