Essays

As a part of the Common Application, applicants must complete a personal essay. Additionally, Penn applicants must complete the Penn Writing Supplement.  

We carefully read each essay you submit, as they can help us get to know you much better than your transcripts and test scores. While essays are a good indication of how well you write, they are also windows into how you think, what you value, and how you see the world. Your numbers tell us what kind of student you are. Your essays tell us what sort of person you are—and provide a glimpse into the intangibles you might bring to our community. 

Be sure to answer the question or questions that are being asked of you. We understand that you may be writing essays for different schools and you may be looking to reuse material, but read through your essay to make sure your essay is relevant to the essay prompt.  Essay topics are chosen because the Admissions Committee wants to know these specific things about you. If you do not address the question directly, the Admissions Committee is left with having to make decisions regarding your application with incomplete information. 

Students applying to Penn must submit their application for admission to one of our four undergraduate schools. In the Penn Writing Supplement, be sure to specifically address both why you are applying to Penn and why you are applying to that specific undergraduate school. Students who are applying to one of our coordinated dual-degree programs will have additional essays they need to complete, but the Penn essay should address the single-degree or single-school choice.

Common Application Essay Prompts for 2016 - 2017 (250-650 words)

1.  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.
2.  The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.