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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Essay Tips from Andrew K. Strickler, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid
Over the years, students who tell me they absolutely love to write have said they struggle with the application essay. So if you’ve been biting your nails or tearing your hair out even a little, you’re not alone.
The good news is, I can help. I’ve been in the admission business long enough to have gleaned a few tips that I think are worth passing along. I also want to recommend you take a look at our Essays that Worked: real essays submitted by real students who have since matriculated at Connecticut College. These essays are terrific, and you can find them listed on the right side of this page.
Now for my tips.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to write the essay. Do not wait until the last minute. I know this sounds absurdly simple, but it really does make a difference to be as relaxed as possible when you sit down to write.
- Choose the prompt that comes closest to something you’d like to write about. The purpose of the prompt is to help you reflect on something that matters to you. Your application will be full of information that illuminates dimensions of you and your abilities, but only the essay gives you a vehicle to speak, in your own voice, about something personally significant. Choose something you care about and it will flow more naturally.
(a) Fallacy: If you haven’t experienced a life-changing event, you have nothing to write about. Wrong. You care about things now. Write about one of them and show us why it matters to you.
(b) Fallacy: If you haven’t had a major international service experience, you’re sunk. Wrong again. If you’ve had such an experience and you feel it says something important about you, great. If you haven’t, just choose something that says something important about you. That’s all.
- When you’ve written a first draft, let it sit. Then go back to it another day. Ask people you trust for their feedback, but don’t let anyone else tell you how you should write it. This is your story, or some small but significant part of it, as told or reflected upon by you.
- When you’ve revised it to your heart’s content, proofread with care. Spellcheck isn’t always the most reliable friend, as I have learned on occasion with a quickly typed email that gets sent before it was proofread!
- Submit it, and treat yourself to something nice — like your favorite film, a run, quality time with your dog or whatever it is that you enjoy.
That’s it for tips. Now you should read the Essays that Worked, and be inspired by their example!