How to Get into UPenn

Matt Larriva
Sep 13, 2020

Is getting into UPenn a dream of yours? 

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 getting into UPenn, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re not quite at this stage of the conversation or you just want to know how to get into the Ivy Leagues in general, start with our article How To Get Into The Ivy League for an overview of what it takes.

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.

RELATED: How To Get Into Harvard

History and Identity of UPenn

UPenn ties it’s history 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:

These schools 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.

Notable Alumni

UPenn has many notable alumni, including:

  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Owen Josephus Roberts
  • Alice Paul; suffragist
  • John Heisman; football coach
  • Noam Chomsky; linguist and activist
  • Ezra Pound; poet
  • William Carlos Williams; poet
  • Tory Burch; fashion designer
  • John Legend; singer-songwriter
  • 45th President Donald Trump
  • Elon Musk; engineer and entrepreneur

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 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 are hosted every year. They 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 goalposts 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 goalposts 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 very intense. In fact, 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?

upenn students

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 inservice 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.

Applicant Demographics

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.

What Test Scores You Need To Get Into UPenn

UPenn does not list the average GPA of students accepted on their webpage. 

However, they do list the average accepted SAT and ACT scores for accepted students.  Most UPenn students scored between a 1460 and a 1550 on the SAT or between a 33 and a 35 on the ACT.

The likely reason UPenn does not list an average GPA is because that metric is increasingly harder to compare across students (international students versus home-schooled students, versus high-schoolers whose schools didn’t offer APs, etc). You should know that most Ivy Leagues will expect a student to have taken the most rigorous coursework available and to have performed very well on that curriculum (maybe one B per year).

Given that nearly all of the applicants to Ivy League schools will have near-perfect GPAs, UPenn focuses on SAT and ACT scores. These allow the school to more easily compare the academic prowess of students.  In the era of COVID-19 where practically every university is going testing-optional, SAT and ACT scores still have an impact on admissions.

college student writing essay

Your Best Options To To Get Into UPenn

The academic requirements to get into UPenn are comparable to the requirements to get into the other Ivy League schools.  We have an entire article about how to get into the Ivy’s here and a detailed look at how to get into Harvard if you’d like to compare with what it takes to get into UPenn.

For UPenn specifically, admission suggestions for each of the four undergraduate colleges is slightly different. 

The College of Arts and Sciences wants to see a balanced and advanced college prep curriculum. 

Both UPenn Engineering and the Wharton School expect particularly strong preparation in mathematics, with coursework in calculus of possible.  

The School of Nursing likes to see strong science prep, particularly in chemistry.

Furthermore, students looking to get into the School of Nursing should take and submit scores for the Biology and Chemistry SAT Subject tests. 

For Penn Engineering, students should submit scores for the Math II and Physics tests. 

For Wharton, students should submit a Math II score as well as one other Subject Test that they score high in.

RELATED READING: Which Schools Require the SAT Subject Tests?

WATCH: Navigating the UPenn College Admissions Process

Supplemental Essays Are An Important

However, what truly sets an application apart is the two or more UPenn specific supplemental essays that a student must submit. 

Expect UPenn to ask the following question:

“How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania (given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying)?”

The key to a successful essay is showcasing a student’s long-term goals and interest relate to UPenn specifically. Students should name programs, professors, and/or work done by those professors. Prospective UPenn students should relate these things to their personal academic pursuits and social involvement. 

Successful essays also highlight the interesting ways the student has combined their disparate areas of interest. Remember that Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on “intersection of practical and traditional learning” are fundamental to UPenn’s identity.

How to Get an Edge When Applying To UPenn

Considering applying to UPenn?

Apply early decision if possible. 

The number of students accepted through early decision is staggeringly high (~18%) compared to those who only applied through regular decision (~5%). 

University of Pennsylvania Acceptance Rate

university of Pennsylvania acceptance rates

UPenn’s acceptance rate for 2020 was 7%. That figure combines those who applied through regular decision with those who were deferred from early decision.  However, early decision may not be the best choice of action for students who need the fall semester of their senior year to improve test scores, GPA, or activities profile.

The class of 2023 had:

  • 44961 total applicants of which 3446 were admitted
  • 7109 students applied Early Decision, of which 1280 were admitted
  • 37,852 students applied Regular Decision of which 2166 students were admitted from that regular decision pool as well as from deferred early decision applicants.

Which UPenn School Has the Highest Acceptance Rate?

Another edge in admissions is to apply to one of the schools within UPenn with a higher acceptance rate with the intent to transfer into one of the more challenging schools. For example, Nursing School or School of Arts and Sciences have a higher acceptance rate than UPenn’s Engineering and Wharton schools.

Transferring within schools is possible but should be done with care. 

While all the different undergraduate schools are competitive, some are more so than others.  Wharton (9% acceptance rate) is the most competitive school, while the School of Nursing (25% acceptance rate) is the least competitive of the four. Also, Students in UPenn Nursing School skew female. So males applying would have much-improved odds.

So long as a student keeps their application competitive and targeted to the school they apply to, he or she has a better chance of being accepted by applying to a less competitive program and transferring later.  After all, over half of the students who indicate an intended major when they apply end up majoring in a different subject once they are studying at Penn.

Get Expert Admissions Guidance

act test prep student and tutor

The University of Pennsylvania is a titan of educational prestige. Applicants need to be ready for a challenge when they apply.

If you feel that Penn is right for you, and you can see yourself thriving in a campus in the city with a practical and professional bent, then use our admissions tips to gain an ethical edge in the process. Remember a near-perfect GPA and very strong test scores are a prerequisite for most of these schools.

We’ve helped numerous students get into the ivy league school of their dreams, including UPenn. Our one-on-one approach is tailored to each student’s learning style and is a proven path to scoring higher on the ACT/SAT and boosting GPAs.

See how we do it here:

And remember, what you do beyond achieving perfect scores, such as in your essay and extracurriculars, can really set you apart.

We hope to see you around Locust Walk—good luck!

AuthorsMatt Larriva and Lauren Thompson


Additional sources:

UPenn History & Trivia

What kind of student gets accepted to UPenn?

How to get an edge and get into UPenn

What is UPenn like