University of Pennsylvania Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to UPenn’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Mascot: Quaker

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 24,800 (10,000 undergrads)

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About University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, PA in 1740. Its coat of arms was originally that of Franklin’s family. The first school of medicine in North America, the first collegiate business school (the highly prestigious Wharton School), and the first student union were all founded at Penn. The school is home to the Philomathean Society, the United States’ oldest continuously existing collegiate literary society.

Photo Credit: University of Pennsylania

Penn Statistics

Year Founded: 1740

4 Year Graduation Rate: 87%

Gender Distribution: 53% female, 47% male

Acceptance Rate: 9%

Residency: 24% in state, 55% out of state, 21% international 

Location Type: Urban

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 6:1

Average Class Size: 10-19

Demographics: 43% Caucasian, 15% Asian, 8% Hispanic, 6% Black, 4% Other

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #1 Business Programs
  • #6 National Universities
  • #15 Best Value Schools
  • #27 Most Innovative Schools
  • #44 Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects

Independent Rankings:

  • #6 Best Colleges for International Relations in America per Niche
  • #6 Research University per Forbes
  • #9 Best Colleges in America per Niche
  • #9 Best Career Placement per The Princeton Review
  • #17 World Reputation Ranking per World University Rankings

Penn Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 5th
  • Transfer Deadline: March 15th

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: March 26th
  • Transfer: May

Acceptance Rates:

  • ED: 19%
  • RD: 6% 
  • Transfer: 8%

Average Applicant Pool: 39,000

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 3,700

Average Number Enrolled: 2,450

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 3.9 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th% – 1450, 75th% – 1560

ACT Scores: 25th% – 33, 75th% – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections are not required.

Demonstrated Interest:

Penn does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies:

Penn recommends two letters from academic teachers. Only one additional letter can be submitted through the application. It is highly recommended to come from someone other than a teacher who personally knows the student.

Penn Essay Prompts:

  • Personal statement required. (650 words)
  • How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)
  • At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)
  • For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay.
  • DMD: Digital Media Design Program 
    • Why are you interested in the Digital Media Design (DMD) program at the University of Pennsylvania? (400-650 words)
  • Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business 
    • The Huntsman Program supports the development of globally-minded scholars who become engaged citizens, creative innovators, and ethical leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in the United States and internationally. What draws you to a dual-degree program in business and international studies, and how would you use what you learn to make a contribution to a global issue where business and international affairs intersect? (400-650 words)
  • LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management 
    • LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What advantages and opportunities does the combination provide, and what issues could it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. It is important that you share your thoughts written in your own words because that is what we are interested in reading. (400-650 words)
  • M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology 
    • Explain how you will use the M&T program to explore your interest in business, engineering, and the intersection of the two. (400-650 words)
    • Describe a problem that you solved that showed leadership and creativity. (250 words)
  • NETS: The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering 
    • Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words) 
  • NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management 
    • Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn’s coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)    
  • Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program 
    • Please list pre-dental or pre-medical experience. This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research, etc. Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and description of your experience. If you do not have any pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry.
    • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.
    • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people?
    • Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry. Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least.
    • Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school? If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended.
  • VIPER: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research 
    • Describe your interests in energy science and technology drawing on your previous academic, research, and extracurricular experiences that allow you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, describe your research project (outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions). Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and identify how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. Also, please indicate which VIPER majors in both science and engineering are most interesting to you at this time. (400-650 words)

Special Notes:

QuestBridge is a National College Match program for high achieving students with significant needs.


  • The Common App or Coalition App is required, as are two letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores from within the past 5 years.
  • At least one year of academic coursework is required; more than two years completed will not be accepted.
  • Transfer Credit information.

Penn Admission Strategy

Admissions Criteria:

The factors Penn considers very important are: course rigor, GPA, standardized test scores, application essay, recommendations, and character. Other important factors are: class rank, interview, extracurriculars, and talent.

An index rating of 1-9 is assigned for two criteria, GPA and standardized test scores. GPA is turned into an unweighted 4-point scale for ease of comparison. This scale includes pluses and minuses, and grades from all classes in 4 years of high school. Penn superscores SAT and ACT scores, and has no preference between the two.

Letters of recommendation are used to sort students with perfect scores who are not intellectually vibrant from those who are curious and contribute positively to the classroom. While interviews are not mandatory, the vast majority of applicants are granted one, and they can influence the decision.

What is Penn Looking For?

What Penn is looking for most is students who will fit into their cultural climate, and be able to succeed and thrive on their campus. That means first that they want students who are academically prepared for the academic work the school will expect them to do, and second students who will fit into the high-energy and academically curious student body.

Applications to each of the schools at Penn are treated separately, and the schools are looking for different things in the students they admit. Students should make sure they are applying to the school they are best suited and prepared for.

For Wharton, students should demonstrate a deep passion for and interest in business, along with displaying leadership qualities. These should be reflected in their extracurriculars. They are expected to have a high degree of math preparation, including calculus. 

The School of Engineering focuses on the applied and practical side of sciences, while the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is more theoretical in its approach. Students should determine which of these approaches they are best suited for when applying. Engineering further expects a high level of preparation in both math and science courses, and signs the student has involved themselves in the practical side of the sciences.

The School of Nursing is looking most of all for students who are truly passionate about helping others, and the field of nursing itself. Students with no clear idea why they are interested in nursing or what the school is about are discouraged from applying.

The dual-degree programs are even more competitive, and require the highest degree of preparation. Students need to show that they would be able to succeed at two of Penn’s schools simultaneously, and that they have the drive and background to back up that claim. Penn looks for evidence of a student’s drive and ability to work in a self-directed manner. 

UPenn Strategy:

Assuming a student is highly qualified, the best way to boost admissions chances for Penn is to apply Early Decision. The overall pool is smaller, and the school likes to see the level of enthusiasm and commitment required for students to apply ED.

The supplemental essays are another important place for students to talk about how they would fit in with Penn specifically. The more concrete and specific students can be about how they would be able to succeed at Penn due to the resources, courses, or peculiarities of the school, the more convincing their essays will be.

The dean of admissions’s blog suggests students talk about the specific school they are applying to, and that they use the explore interests tool to find the school and program which suits them best. Talk of academics should be balanced with discussion of how the student will fit with Penn outside the classroom, and the various clubs and opportunities they will explore. Exploring specific courses and research opportunities in your essay will let Penn know you’ve considered this decision thoroughly.

If students have a great desire to study business, but none of their activities support this, then Wharton is not the best business school to apply to. The School of Nursing has a far higher acceptance rate, but many of the students who are turned down are the ones who only apply due to its higher acceptance rate. Transferring between schools at Penn is hard, so students should determine which school they have the best chance of getting into at Penn, and whether or not they would thrive at that school before applying.

Students who apply to a dual degree program should consider which of the two participating schools they are most qualified for, and put that as their second choice. Students who are not admitted into the dual-degree program will then be considered for their second-choice school, as these programs often admit only a handful of students each year.

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Penn Academics


Core Requirements:

Courses of Study: 

  • Minors
  • Course Catalog
  • Transfering between majors within a school is fairly simple, transferring between schools is more difficult, and may only be done once by a student.

AP Credit Policies:

  • AP credits are given for scores of 5 for some classes and can be used in place of a prerequisite.
  • AP Exam Credit
Photo Credit: University of Pennsylania

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • Benjamin Franklin Scholars (BFS) is a track for exceptional students in the Wharton school to explore higher levels of learning.
  • University Scholars ask students to commit to independent study and research.
  • Graduation Honors can be awarded based on GPA in three tiers. 
  • Dean’s list honors students by department and is awarded annually, with a GPA threshold determined by the college.
  • Presidential Prizes look at student’s civic engagement and innovation.

Research Availability:

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

  • Wharton Industry Exploration Program allows you to study specific business sectors throughout the U.S.
  • Submatriculation programs allow students to obtain a Masters and/or a Doctorate at an accelerated pace.
  • Wharton school has both BS and BA degree opportunities: concentrations are available in a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to: Legal Studies & Business Ethics, Real Estate & Global Analysis.

Pre-Med Options:

The school is well known for its rigorous pre-med program. Undergraduate students who apply to a medical school have a 76% acceptance rate.

Pre-Law Options:

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

Programs for High Schoolers:

Photo Credit: University of Pennsylania

Student Life at UPenn

School Motto: Laws without morals are useless

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: to strengthen the quality of education, and to produce innovative research and models of healthcare delivery by fostering a vibrant inclusive environment and fully embracing diversity
  • Values: tradition, teamwork and collaboration, professionalism, excellence, integrity, and diversity
  • Student Testimonials: (Student Blog, Niche, Students Review)

Residential Housing System:

College houses are a major part of the campus community at UPenn. Each has four members of the faculty associated with it. Some of these dorms are set aside from freshmen, but students from all of the undergraduate schools intermingle within them. There are additional subgroups within housing for students with specific shared interests.

Housing Statistics:

  • 100% of Freshmen live on-campus
  • 51% of undergrads live on campus overall

Campus & Surrounding Area:  

  • Philadelphia has 67 national historic landmarks and many can be seen at Independence National Historical Park.
  • 8,000 non-profit organizations allow students to engage in the local community.
  • Although Penn resides in the 5th largest city in the country, its campus has so much green space it was awarded the title of arboretum in 2017.
  • Locust Walk Penn’s central corridor that has you connect with other students.
  • Penn Park is a 24 acre park, recreational space, and activity center.
  • Chinatown, First Friday gallery open houses, Italian Market and much more leaves UPenn with a blend between nature and city life.
  • Virtual Tour
  • Safety Information

Virtual Tour, Virtual Events



  • For 104 years Hey Day has celebrated the day juniors officially become seniors. 
  • Spring Fling is an annual festival for the students at the end of each spring semester, and is considered the largest college party on the East Coast.
  • The Red and the Blue is the student’s school anthem, but shouldn’t be confused with the official alma mater of the university.
  • The Feb Club is a tradition where seniors attend a party and/or other special event every day for the entire month of February. If they succeed, their name goes onto a Plaque in Smokey Joe’s bar.

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life: 

  • UPenn has above average Ivy university participation with 30% of the student body participating in Greek Life. Fraternity and Sorority life is an important part of the campus culture.


  • Your first week as a student will be accompanied by many invitations to Frat Parties. 
  • Considered the most robust party school of the Ivies it doesn’t alter the success rate of its graduates. 
  • Smokey Joe’s bar and Blarney Stone (athletes hang out) are frequented by UPenn students.
  • Other than the greek scene you can also participate in the performing arts events, dance, acapella and or The Mask and Wig Club for student run comedy shows.
  • Darties are day parties and are attended by many upperclassmen.

Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $71,715
  • Tuition: $53,166
  • Fees: $6876
  • Room & Board: $16,784
  • Books: $1,3580
  • Personal Expenses: $0,000

Financial Aid:

Financial Aid is determined by need and UPenn gives grants that are intended to have students leave with no student debt. Although this is the goal it is understood that this isn’t always possible and therefore, students can apply for loans.


Ivy League schools don’t award merit-based or athletic scholarships. Financial assistance is based on a formula that takes into account the families income to assess the level of assistance. Penn financial aid packages include grants and work-study jobs. Approximately, 48% of freshmen receive some form of aid. 

While UPenn doesn’t offer scholarships they do guide their students toward outside Scholarships.

Fun Facts

  • Toast-Throwing Tradition. To bring toast to all home football games. The tradition dates back to prohibition. When the spirit song says, “unleash the bread”, they do just that!
  • Donald Trump, Tory Burch, Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky, John Legend, and the current president of Harvard are all Penn alumni.
  • Goal Post Tossing: Whenever Penn Quakers win the Ivy League Championship, fans celebrate by ripping out the goal posts and tossing them into the Schuylkill River. We’ll see if they can do it with the new reinforced concrete posts.
  • Scream team happens at midnight on the eve of the first Microeconomics midterm exam, hundreds of freshmen come together on Junior Balcony of the Lower Quadrangle of the campus to. . . scream!
  • UPenn has more billionaire alumni than any other Ivy,
  • Penn changed their founding date in records several times, in order to be considered older than Columbia University.
  • For a time in the 20th century student riots, known as rowbottoms, were a semi-common occurrence, featuring smashed automobiles, arson, and panty raids.
  • From 1756 to 1898 Penn’s motto was Sine Moribus Vanae; this was changed when it was pointed out that this could be translated as “Women with loose morals”. 
  • The first athletic team at Penn was the cricket team
Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

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