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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Sample the Best Essays
Sometimes we just need someone to show us how it’s done. You’ll find access to more than 25 killer essays, but here’s the caution: these are samples. They’re famous—don’t even think about a copy-and-paste strategy. Drink deep of the creativity, the excellence, and the fun of doing things right, then sit down at the laptop and show the world that you’ve got the goods, too!
1. If You’re Going For Humor, Do It Right
“Rarely—and we mean rarely—have we seen students with this kind of writing ability. Did we say rarely yet? Because we do mean rarely. And it’s quite funny.” (ivycoach.com)
2. How To Break The Rules
The admissions officer at Cornell call this “Most compelling essay ever submitted . . . I was confused, disoriented, and a little disturbed by what I had just read, but I just had to keep reading to learn what the heck was going on in this scene.” (mentorverse.us)
3. It’s About My Mom (or is it?)
Look at the high praise this essay received from the admissions team: “She manages to impress the reader with her travel experience, volunteer and community experience, and commitment to learning without ever sounding boastful or full of herself.” (quintcareers.com)
4. You Be the Judge, Part One
Sure, this is an example of a great essay, but better than simply reading an excellent sample essay, you can read expert commentary just below it. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
5. You Be the Judge, Part Two
That last entry was helpful, wasn’t it? Here’s another killer essay, along with a critique that tells you why is so good. Class is in session—watch and learn. (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)
6. Three-Play: Gathered at a Single Site, 3 Winners
Sure, like all the other samples we’re sharing, these three are great, but with a difference: check out the unique points of view offered by international students, who must undergo the same process as domestic students. (internationalstudent.com)
7. An Essay Worth Sharing:
When an experienced admissions counselor asks your permission to share your essay with 20 other schools, you know it’s a winner. (businessinsider.com)
8. Ten-pack of Brilliant Essays
Scan down the list of ten great opening lines, and when you find an essay that matches your style, click through to read it all. (admissionsessays.com)
9. What’s Your Passion?
Discover college admission essays listed by category. What’s your pleasure? Politics? Business? Health? Or you can view 18 essays all on one page. [NOTE: the samples are great, but we DO NOTE recommend purchasing an essay. Why throw away your future?] (custom-essays.org)
10. Pure Inspiration From Someone Who’s Been There
A college students lands acceptance at his dream school and then shares how he did it, and unlike the previous website, we love the fact that this one signs off with, “Good luck writing your own!” (nextstepu.com)
11. Samples That Teach
You’ll find links to winning essays for Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford, along with tips on the how-to side of the ledger. (quintcareers.com)
12. What Does It All Mean?
Don’t be like the guy who saw the double-rainbow a few years back. Dr. Kat Cohen explains the significance of great essays: the why, the how, and the samples. (noodle.com)