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October 10, 2019

University Of Pennsylvania Essay 2

Essay 2

At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)

For students applying to the other coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.

Strong cases here tend to be grounded in prior experience. Walk through an example or two when you “learned and grew” outside of the classroom at your current school. If nothing else, this exercise will reveal how to structure your answer when looking ahead to your time at Penn. However, more often than not, it’ll also lead you to either (a) find killer insights from one of those experiences that you can use to “shape your community” at Penn, or (b) discover a hidden learning/growth moment that might not have been at the tip of your tongue, but will serve you well right around now.

What is growth? It’s always some kind of change FROM some state TO another, caused by some kind of external force/pressure. One interesting way to grapple with this is to imagine several doppelganger versions of you, all of whom grew up in vastly different environments. Imagine how they might have turned out differently. Think about it. Study it. And you’ll start to develop an awareness of what YOUR COMMUNITY/ENVIRONMENT was like such that you turned out the way you did.

In order for these growth tales to count for anything, we need to understand the starting point (the stuff that “was” BEFORE the community influences had their evil way), and then the ending point (a very different version compared to that starting point). And then, we need to see you walk us through the precise ways in which the community exerted the pressures that caused that delta.

This isn’t easy. And it’s not easy to do succinctly. But that’s the task at hand–we’ve got 200 words. It’s possible, just not easy.

Next, you need to suggest that you’re looking forward to a similar KIND of lesson/growth from a different community, specifically the one you’ll find at UPenn. Now, in order to do this properly, you’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of what makes the UPenn community distinct from another Ivy (for example), and also make the case that your immersion in this community will result both in your learning from, and contributing TO… it. Easy as pie! Just kidding!

Yeah, in 200 words, you need to do a lot of work. Here’s an outline to help that first draft:

  • First, give us a taste of when you’ve grown in the past at the hands of a community. Do this quickly, revealing how the change happened, and also why this turns out to have meaning for you. Why was it a good/positive thing? Do this inside 75 words.
  • Next, make an argument, using that previous example as your launching pad, about how you’re hoping to change and grow but in a different way, because something about the UPenn community presents a new and different opportunity for you. In order to do this, you’ll need to identify some aspect of the UPenn community that is new to you, and enticing. Figure another 75 words or so.

Finally, give us a taste of what it is that you might have to offer on campus. In other words, flip the script, and now imagine what it’s like to be a part of the community, influencing another individual. What is it that YOU have that might help someone else to grow? Walk us through how that might look. 50 words.

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October 10, 2019

Essay 1

How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)

Let’s focus in on that word “discover.” In order to truly discover something, there must be some aspect of it that was unexpected, unplanned, surprising, etc. And there also has to be a “first”-ness aspect to it. You can’t forget that you hid a $100 bill deep into your sock drawer and then “discover” it a few years later, when you were cleaning it out and were “surprised” by it. That’s not quite a discovery, and not what we’re after here. Here’s another example of what DOESN’T qualify: imagine that classic overbearing parent who pushes his kid into… whatever, baseball, football, science, you name it. Suppose the kid really takes to it, and becomes amazing (Andre Agassi talks about this in his autobiography). It’s still not a discovery if it was forced upon you! If it never caught, it would have been forgotten. If it does catch, it still reeks of inevitability.

The coolest versions of discovery are the ones where you’re deliberately heading in one direction, toward a specific thing, and then something HAPPENS along the way to divert you, and an interest is BORN. Suppose you’re a young kid, in music class, and you love the idea of playing a musical instrument. If you honestly give a fair shake to a few different instruments and detect a real affinity for one of ‘em, and that becomes “your thing” over time, sure, that qualifies, because you were at least as likely to have fallen in love with one of the other instruments you attempted. It wasn’t pre-ordained.

A more exaggerated example (but not necessarily the ONLY way forward here): Your dad tells you, “Good news, sonny boy! This Saturday, you’re gonna help me clean the gutters!” This means you’re going to miss Brian’s birthday party, and a whole bunch of other fun stuff. You kick and scream and try like hell to do anything OTHER THAN help your dad clean the gutters, ‘cuz who on Earth wants to do that job. But, you do it. And you realize it wasn’t so bad. Maybe the next time your dad asks, you aren’t so hesitant. Something clicks, and all of a sudden you “discover” an interest in … geology. Or construction. Or nature. Or . . . human psychology. The point is, you went in with your fists up, aiming to “get through this treacherously boring and unglamorous task,” and you emerged being SURPRISED by something else along the way. That’s the “diversion” that took you off course. Those are amazing “discovery” stories because they truly caught you by surprise. We know they’re genuine.

So once you’ve given this some thought and brought us to the origin of your top interests, your next task is to talk about how you’re going to “explore” them at UPenn. Who were the famous “explorers” back in the day? Guys like Magellan, Columbus, etc. What did they have in common in terms of their “interests?” They’re always fascinated by the “stuff they don’t know… and want to know more about.” Right?

So, putting it all together, we want to hear about the surprises, the unexpected, including the breakthroughs and disappointments, that have led you to decide to devote your life to the study of… XYZ. =

Presumably you’ve pushed to the edges of your interest given what’s available to you in high school. And now you have this amazing “sea” of opportunity at UPenn to set sail into uncharted territory. What are you hoping to learn and discover? How? By doing what? What’s your plan? What classes are you going to take? What clubs are you going to join? Why is your chosen school at Penn uniquely suited to your specific interest?

When linking your academic interest to your chosen school, it’s important to demonstrate that you know what makes that school unique. If you say “I’m interested in physics, and I’m really excited about Penn’s ‘Intro to Physics’ class,” you’re not responding to the prompt. Every university has an introductory physics course—that’s not an exploration that’s unique or interesting. Instead, say something like “I’m interested in working with Professor Smith on XYZ project” (related to your specific interest in physics). THAT is a reason to pick your chosen Penn school over any other university.

Here’s a suggestion for nailing a first draft:

  1. Identify the “how you discovered” your interests piece up front. Sell us on the fact that this is a genuine passion. [150 words]
  2. Now get more specific about the stuff you DON’T KNOW that you want to know more about. What are the gaps that are causing you to lean forward with curiosity? [75-100 words]
  3. Now, explain where at Penn you’re hoping to find the answers, and how you’re gonna go about it. [175 words]
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