How to get into the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees
The University of Penn, or “UPenn” or simply “Penn,” is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. The university takes pride in its founder’s spirit of innovation, its “interdisciplinarity,” and its service to society.
UPenn’s distinguished alumni lists 36 Nobel laureates, 14 heads of state, and 64 billionaires, and its global rankings include 12th and 15th in THE’s and QS’ World University Rankings 2020, respectively, and 16th in US News’ Best Global University Rankings 2020.
Penn offers over 91 majors from its four undergraduate schools: the College of Arts and Sciences; School of Engineering and Applied Science; School of Nursing; and Wharton School. Each of the schools has a separate curriculum, mission and philosophy, besides research activities, majors, and minors.
There are 6,311 undergraduate students at the College, 1,748 UG students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, 587 students at UPenn Nursing, and 1,771 at Wharton.
The faculty strength is 4,722, and the student-faculty ratio is 6-1. There are 10,890 students in graduate and professional programs. More than 5,000 international students are enrolled in UPenn.
UPenn’s undergraduate programs range from accounting; behavioral economics; biology; business analytics; computer science; data analytics and social sciences; to mechanical engineering and applied mechanics; music; real estate; science, technology, and society; theater arts; and urban studies, to name a few.
Undergraduate students can earn two bachelor’s degree by completing the requirements of two of the four UG schools. Students have no prescribed course of study. Coordinated dual degree programs allow students to study as per an integrated curriculum jointly offered by two schools.
Interdisciplinary minors combine coursework from the four UG schools, and coordinated submatriculation programs provide students an opportunity to begin a graduate program while completing an undergraduate degree.
Penn schools lay a foundation of arts and sciences on which students build on their ideas and interests. They may start their education at one of the four schools but can pursue courses from a range of 4,200, including 40 language courses.
UPenn admits bright students from a range of backgrounds and life experiences. They need to show intellectual curiosity, an interdisciplinary mindset, and a desire to contribute to the world. UPenn looks for scholars who can energize their society and turn their ideas and interests into reality with their talents and experiences.
The College of Arts and Sciences looks for deep interest in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences; an ability to use theoretical knowledge to find practical solutions; and strong preparation in a balanced and advanced college preparatory curriculum. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences prefers candidates who have the ability to innovate and design and apply scientific discoveries; can express the reasons for pursuing an engineering education; and have strong preparation in physics and mathematics, particularly calculus.
The Wharton School likes to see a commitment to fueling positive changes in business to take forward the world’s economic and social welfare, besides demonstrated leadership skills and excellent preparation in mathematics, particularly calculus. The School of Nursing seeks from applicants a commitment to patient care, keen interest in exploring healthcare issues; and good training in sciences, particularly chemistry. One school or program functions as the student’s “home base.”
Statistics for the admitted class of 2023 are a further indication of what Penn looks for. The total number of applicants was 44,961; total admitted 3,446; percentage 7.7. Early decision application admit rate: 18 percent; regular decision admit rate: 5.7 percent.
In the admitted class of 2023, students from 101 nations are enrolled in UG programs; 15 percent identify as students of color, and 16 percent as international students. Women comprise 53 percent.
As UPenn itself states, performance in high school is the single most important factor in student selection. The most competitive applicants pursued a rigorous academic curriculum and achieved top grades in school. International students are expected to have high marks in their tenth standard examination, too.
In tests, the middle 50 percent of admitted students scored 1460-1550 in SAT and 33-35 in ACT. TOEFL/IELTS testing is not required if the applicant is a native speaker of English or if the medium of instruction in school was that language. Two SAT subjects are recommended (recommended subject tests are listed on the Penn website; here). UPenn does not require the writing portion of ACT or the essay portion of SAT.
Beyond academic record, your non-scholarly interests, community service, extracurriculars, other passions, hobbies, leadership skills, and potential impact on the campus are evaluated.
How to apply to UPenn
UPenn accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application with no preference for either. Applicants can choose either of these two modes or the Questbridge Application. The application fee is $75.
Other application requirements include high-school transcript submitted directly from your school, school report, counsellor recommendation; two teacher recommendations, ideally from instructors from your junior or senior year in major academic subjects; mid-year report; final year report; early decision agreement if applicable; and SAT subject tests. The deadlines for early/regular decision applications and submission of supplementary materials are available on the Penn website as also the deadlines for decisions and enrollment confirmation and acceptance (link).
UPenn may offer alumni interviews, in person or virtually, to 90 percent of applications based on availability, but not having had an interview does not affect your application.
The early decision (which is binding; applicants are obligated to join Penn) deadline is usually November 1, and applicants receive a decision by mid-December (dates as of 2019). The regular decision deadline is usually January 5 and applicants receive a decision by April 1. Regular-decision applicants and those deferred from early decision to regular decision can accept the offer of admission until May 1.
Cost of attendance
The cost of attendance at UPenn depends on whether you live on campus with a meal plan, or outside, in a building not affiliated with the university. The UG tuition for the academic year 2019-2020 was $51,156 and fees $6,614 (for both on-campus and off-campus categories), housing $10,600 (on campus) and $9,632 (off-campus), dining $5,590 and $4,774, transportation $922 and $964, books and supplies $1,358 (both), and personal expenses $1,946 (both), adding up to $78,186 and $76,444.
Only applicants who are citizens and permanent residents of the US, Canada, or Mexico get the benefit of need-blind aid—that is, the degree of need will not affect admission decisions. International applicants must apply for aid when they apply for admission (“need-aware admission”). Aid applicants who cannot be granted aid will not be admitted. Those who are not admitted with financial aid are not eligible for aid for the rest of their program. Those with anticipated need at any time during the program should give this information at the time of application.
International students may receive need-based aid / demonstrated need for four years or eight semesters, and they can graduate without debt with the help of a grant-based package. Work-study jobs are available both on campus and outside. UPenn provides $10 million for aid to international students, but aid applicants are in competition for very limited funds. In recent years, the university has provided an average of 45 aid awards.
UPenn offers a range of 120 master’s, PhD, and professional programs from its graduate schools: the Annenberg School for Communication; School of Dental Medicine; School of Design; Graduate School of Education; Law School; College of Liberal and Professional Studies; Perelman School of Medicine; School of Nursing; School of Arts and Sciences; School of Engineering and Applied Science; School of Social Policy and Practice; School of Veterinary Medicine; and Wharton School.
The programs include communication; dental medicine; architecture; education; law; applied geosciences; medicine; nursing; economics; computer and information science; nonprofit leadership; veterinary medicine; and business administration, to name a few. Besides, interdisciplinary programs provide research and scholarship access through all graduate schools.
How to apply
Each graduate program has a separate admission process, and applicants apply directly to their programs of interest. Applications are available online for most programs.
Most PhD programs require GRE, with different mandatory requirements and recommended qualifications for each program. For example, the doctoral program in accounting requires GRE/GMAT. But work experience is an advantage, not a requirement. Similarly, strong UG preparation in mathematics and microeconomics and UG/graduate training in accounting/finance is an advantage, not a requirement.
Another example: for the MS program in Nonprofit Leadership, a competitive GPA, GRE (or GMAT or LSE) score, and three years’ experience in a nonprofit organization is required. Application essay and alumni interview are also required.
Details of admission requirements and recommended qualifications for various programs are available on the respective websites of the Penn departments.
International applicants who are not native speakers of English may be required to provide TOEFL, PTE Academic, or IELTS scores.
Cost of attendance
UPenn’s graduate tuition varies by school. For calculating master’s degree tuition, Penn counts each course as one course unit and charges a fee according to the number of courses registered. A minimum of three course units is required for full-time status, and the maximum allowed is four courses a semester. International students must register for at least three course units each fall and spring semester.
The cost of single course unit (2019-2020) is $7,310, including tuition, technology, and general fees; for two course units $14,620; for three $22,454; and four $29,240. On-campus graduate accommodation depends on the type and can be between $1,008 and $1,793 monthly. A majority of graduate students live off-campus.
The nine-month and 12-month estimated living expenses budget include housing $9,351 (nine-month) and $12,468 (12-month); food $4,635 and $6,180; books and supplies $1,318 (both); personal expenses $1,890 and $2,520; transportation $936 and $1,248; health insurance (if required) $3,446 (both); total $21,576 and $27,180.
Some loans may be awarded based on need and as part of a student’s financial package. PhD students generally receive multi-year financial packages based on need, but they need to teach or conduct research for two years. Professional schools provide limited aid based on need, and some award merit-based scholarships or provide support in return for service. International students may receive a private loan but with a US citizen or permanent resident as a co-signor.
Tips to make it to UPenn
- Try to earn perfect or near-perfect grades in high school
- Excel in English, social studies, mathematics, science, and foreign language
- Focus on one or two extracurriculars, cultivate leadership skills
- Consider part-time work, school clubs, community involvement
- Develop a rapport with teachers and school counsellors to earn good recommendations
- Prepare for and take standardized tests
- Decide on which of Penn’s school/program to choose
- Take a call on early-decision or regular-decision application
- Give yourself time to complete your application
- You may be interviewed in person or online, so be ready for it
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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30