How to Get into UPenn

Matt Larriva
Sep 13, 2020

By Lauren Thompson and Matt Larriva

Is the University of Pennsylvania your dream school?  Do you stay up nights dreaming of what it will be like to stroll down Locust Walk as the cherry blossoms are coming into color around May? Do you have a Benjamin Franklin tattoo? We hope not. But if you’re interested in admissions into UPenn, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re not quite at this stage of the conversation and you’d like to know how to get into the Ivy League in general, start with our article on that.

Like all Ivy League schools, getting into UPenn is difficult, but it’s even more difficult if you don’t know the difference between UPenn and, say, Penn State.  This article will go into what sets UPenn apart from the rest of The Ivies and will offer advice on how to gain an edge in your application.

History and Identity

The history of UPenn is tied closely to its identity.  Originally founded in 1740 as a charity school, it later became an academy in 1751, largely through the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, who also became the president of the first board of trustees.  It is one of the oldest universities in America, and in 1765, with the establishment of the School of Medicine, it became the first medical school in colonial America.

Even in the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin’s vision for UPenn was multidisciplinary education that focused on combining traditional teaching and theory with practical experience and community involvement.  As such, UPenn now calls itself “the Ivy League without the ivory tower.”

Currently UPenn has four undergraduate schools: School of Arts and Sciences (The College), The School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), The School of Nursing, and The Wharton School (of business education).  These school also offer graduate and professional programs, and the university similarly has graduate schools of law, medicine, veterinary medicine, dental medicine, education, communication, fine arts, and social work.  Two noteworthy institutes of the University include the Mahoney Institute of Neurological Sciences (est. 1953) and the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies (est. 1983) which is part of the Wharton School.  The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (est. 1887) is also a noted teaching and research organization.

UPenn as many notable alumni, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Owen Josephus Roberts; suffragist Alice Paul; football coach John Heisman; linguist and activist Noam Chomsky; poets Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams; fashion designer Tory Burch; singer-songwriter John Legend; 45th president Donald Trump; and engineer and entrepreneur Elon Musk.

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Seven Fun Facts about UPenn

  1. It is a myth that crossing the compass that is embedded into the center of Locust Walk will cause freshmen to fail their midterms. The story goes that a fraternity came up with the myth as a conversation starter with freshmen girls.
  2. From 1756 to 1898, UPenn’s motto was “Sine Moribus Vanae,” until when someone pointed out that it could be translated as “loose women without morals.” Now, the motto is “Leges sine moribus vanae,” or “laws without morals are in vain.”
  3. During home football games, when the line “here’s a toast to dear old Penn” is sung during the fight sone, students throw toast onto the field, littering the field with 20,000 to 30,000 pieces of toast per game. The toast tradition dates to prohibition when students used it to protest the school banning alcohol.
  4. The first general-purpose electronic computer (ENIAC) was born in 1946 at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.
  5. The Penn Relays hosted every year were started in 1895 and are the largest and oldest track and field event in the United States.
  6. Ever since the 1960’s, students have ripped the goal posts out of Franklin Field and tossed them into the Schuylkill River whenever the school won a home game. In 1983, after winning three Ivy League titles in a row, the tradition was amended so that the goal posts were only tossed into the river when the school won the Ivy League championship.  However, the goalposts have stayed in place since 2003.  Modern goalposts made of steel and aluminum with concrete footings are harder to rip up, and the Penn police have taken extra precautions to discourage students from attempting to continue the tradition.  However, students do not consider the tradition abandoned, just on hold until the right opportunity.
  7. The Penn-Princeton rivalry is the third oldest consecutively played rivalry in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The rivalry is so intense that a large scoreboard in the home basketball court is dedicated to keeping track of the school’s all-time record against Princeton.

What kind of student is UPenn looking for?

In the university’s own words, they are looking for students who “are inspired to emulate [the school’s] founder Benjamin Franklin by applying their knowledge in ‘service to society’ to our community, the city of Philadelphia, and the wider world.”  UPenn students “possess a curiosity about the world in which they live – locally, regionally, and globally, and they also share a passion for learning and want to make a difference in the world.”

Most students do this through one of the university’s most popular majors: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Social Sciences; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Engineering; or Health Professions and Related Programs.  Furthermore, students who value and actively seek out practical experience and research opportunities will be an excellent fit for UPenn.  Not only do 75% of students partake in direct research experience by the time they graduate, UPenn also offers non-traditional practical experience through its study abroad programs such as Penn-in-Cannes, partnership with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the famous Kelly Writers’ House.

The majority of UPenn’s undergraduate class is White (41%) and Asian-American/Pacific Islander (21%).  Students who identify as African American, American Indian, or Latino may have a demographic advantage, especially Hispanics and Latinos whom the university has been trying to recruit more of since 1992.  Both first-generation students and legacies may also have a statistic advantage.  Each makes up about 15% of the incoming class.

Is UPenn the right fit for me?

Current UPenn students describe their peers as ambitious, hardworking and intelligent.  While that is not surprising for an Ivy League school, UPenn students were also describes as friendly, fun-loving, and supportive of their classmates.

Most of UPenn’s undergraduate class come from either the northeast, especially Pennsylvania, or the US’ more populous states such as California, Florida, and Texas.  However, every state and many foreign nations send at least one student.

The class sizes are generally small.  A little less than half of classes have 10 to 20 students, and about a third have 2 to 9 students.  That said, class sizes for freshman are going to be larger, especially for the introductory courses.  Some of the most popular class, or classes recommended for popular majors, can have hundreds of students.  For example, Introduction to Experimental Psychology registers 400 students.

The school sits in a bustling city, which means students have access to all that Philadelphia has to offer, such as great food and a piece of history around every corner.  However, they will also want to be more vigilant of their surroundings.  The overall campus crime rate is about 22 reported incidents per thousand students.  For Philadelphia as a whole, the crime rate is 40 per thousand residents, the majority of which are related to property but a fourth of which are violent.  That said, on-campus crime is generally less severe than off-campus or campus adjacent crime.  More than 90 percent of on-campus crime is disciplinary action for possession of contraband.

Applicant Demographics

The class of 2023 had 44961 total applicants, of which 3446 were admitted.  7109 students applied Early Decision, of which 1280 were admitted, and 37852 students applied Regular Decision.  2166 students were admitted from that regular decision pool as well as from deferred early decision applicants.