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How to Get Into Penn: All You Need to Know

Thursday, August 31, 2023

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IvyWise On-Demand: A Look Inside UPenn with Former Admissions Directors

Join IvyWise college admissions counselors Danielle and Kim, both former admissions directors at UPenn, for an inside look at the University of Pennsylvania. Whether you are beginning the college search process or finalizing your list, this is a great opportunity to learn all about UPenn from those who used to recruit and admit students to the university.

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The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League university located in Philadelphia. “Penn,” as its colloquially known, was the first university established in the U.S. Originally founded in 1740 as a charity school and church, Benjamin Franklin proposed in 1749 to turn it into an institution of higher education after publishing his famous essay, Proposal Relating to the Education of Youth. The university has come a long way since then, becoming one of the most prestigious universities in the country.  

With that prestige, of course, comes high selectivity and competition for admission. Students interested in attending Penn are typically among the strongest students at their high schools and perform at a very high level. But it’s not all about academics — prospective Penn students should demonstrate deep and meaningful involvement beyond the classroom.

So, how do you build a Penn-worthy applicant profile? Read on to learn more and for tips on how to get into Penn.

How to Get Into Penn: Table of Contents

  1. When to Apply to Penn
  2. How Hard Is It to Get Into Penn: Early Prep
  3. How Do You Actually Get Into Penn: The Application
  4. Class Profile
  5. What Makes Penn Unique?

When to Apply to Penn 

Students seriously considering applying to Penn should start planning as early as possible in their high school careers. That said, the undergraduate admission application deadlines are in the fall and winter of a student’s senior year of high school. Penn offers two kinds of applications with two different application deadlines: Early Decision and Regular Decision

Penn Deadlines 

Students wanting to apply to Penn during the Early Decision round must apply by November 1. Those looking to be considered for Regular Decision should apply by the regular application deadline of January 5.

Early, Rolling, and Regular Decision 

Again, Penn offers two kinds of applications: Early Decision and Regular Decision. Penn does not offer Early Decision II or Early Action application options. Early Decision gives students the option to commit to Penn early and, if deferred, to be reconsidered in the Regular Decision pool.

You might be wondering what the difference is between Early Decision and Regular Decision. Early Decision is a binding early application. Students who apply Early Decision enter into a binding agreement that they will attend Penn if they are admitted. Students may only enter into this kind of binding agreement with one school. If you are admitted to Penn through Early Decision, your binding agreement means that you agree to withdraw any other withstanding college applications you may have submitted. Students are typically notified of their Early Decision admission decision by mid-December.

Students who are not admitted Early Decision may be deferred, meaning their application will be reconsidered for Regular Decision with the larger application pool. Other Early Decision applicants, however, may be denied admission outright, meaning their application process is complete.

Regular Decision is a standard, non-binding college application. Students may apply to as many colleges as their high school will allow. Students who apply to Penn Regular Decision receive their admissions decisions by April.

Waitlisted Applications 

Students who are considered in the Regular Decision pool may receive one of three different admission decisions: an offer of admission, an admission denial, or an admission waitlist. Students who are waitlisted must decide whether they want to accept a spot on the waitlist. If you choose to accept your spot on Penn’s waitlist, you must remember to notify them and send any additional materials by the respective deadline. You may receive an admission offer in the late spring or summer before you’re set to start college.

That said, all students who accept a spot on any waitlist should still enroll in another top-choice college to which they were admitted. It is increasingly rare for colleges to offer admission to waitlisted students, so it is best to not get your hopes up and happily commit to another school.


Students who apply to Penn through Early Decision may receive a deferral notification rather than an admission or a denial. A deferred application gets pushed from the Early Decision applicant pool to the general Regular Decision applicant pool. This means the admissions office would like to make a final decision on your application after receiving more academic information. For example, a deferred student must submit mid-year senior grades to their application materials so they can be considered in the Regular Decision round.

Though a deferral may seem like a kind of rejection, it is often a second chance. Deferred students have the opportunity to submit additional academic credentials in order to be reconsidered for admissions in the Regular Decision round.

Learn what to do if you have been deferred.

How Hard Is It to Get Into Penn: Early Prep 

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the most competitive universities in the country. While the acceptance rate at Penn fluctuates each year depending on the number of applicants, it has been around 6% in recent years. The Early Decision admission rate was approximately 14.8% for the Class of 2027, and Regular Decision was approximately 4.47% for an overall admission rate of 5.8%.

This is why anyone seriously considering Penn should prepare themselves for their selectivity. Even some of the most qualified applicants aren’t offered admissions — not because they are not suited to Penn but because there simply are not enough spots to accommodate them in the class.

Build Your Profile 

The admissions committee at the University of Pennsylvania must make some tough decisions, wading through tens of thousands of applications in order to offer just a few thousand spots. So, what does Penn look for? Penn prioritizes admitting a class of students with diverse backgrounds from all over the world and conducts a comprehensive review of each application that includes high school preparation, testing, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, interviews, and supplementary materials.

Visit the Campus and a Class 

One of the most productive and informative things a prospective student can do is visit the colleges they are interested in. Students seriously interested in Penn should consider visiting, not only to get to know the vibrant campus, but also to try to picture Philadelphia as a potential home.

Penn’s in-person campus visit includes a live discussion with a member of the admissions staff followed by a campus tour led by a current student. Penn also offers students the option to take a self-guided campus tour at their own pace.

Some students may not necessarily have the option to visit campus in person. Luckily, Penn also offers virtual information sessions, student-led virtual tours, and virtual information sessions for each of Penn’s four individual undergraduate schools.

Connect With a Student 

Connecting with a student is another excellent way of finding out if a school is right for you. You can connect with your student tour guides on campus tours, student speakers at information sessions, or even other students you may meet while you’re visiting campus. Talking to a current student is really one of the best ways to get to know a college. If you don’t have the chance to visit in person, you can ask the admissions office to connect you with a student.

Learn About Any Student Experiences

When participating in any in-person or virtual admissions offerings, remember to pay close attention to student experiences and anecdotes. Any interaction with current students may give you a clearer sense of whether you can see yourself at any particular school. When learning about student experiences at Penn, be sure to ask questions about what it’s like to go to college at Penn and live in Philadelphia.

Prospective students can also learn more about student experiences by perusing Penn’s website and online publications, which provide many opportunities to learn about the kinds of academic and extracurricular experiences Penn students are having.

Social media can also give you a good gauge of what campus culture is like — especially for schools that have student-run accounts. Many universities enlist their students to do “A Day In My Life” videos on their Instagram stories, so prospective students can get a feel for what life is like in a particular major, dorm living, and more. Penn, in particular, posts plenty of pictures and videos of campus life and often includes question boxes in their Instagram stories.

How Do You Actually Get Into Penn: The Application 

Students applying to Penn for Early Decision or Regular Decision must apply either through the Common Application or the Coalition Application. In addition, they are required to write at least three Penn-specific supplemental essays. Students must also submit supporting academic materials including their complete official high school transcript(s), a school report, and letters of recommendation. Students may submit standardized test scores, though they weren’t required for the 2023-24 admissions cycle.

GPA Requirements 

Though Penn doesn’t list any official GPA requirements, it’s important to consider their admitted student landscape: 54% of the Penn Class of 2026 had a 4.0 high school GPA, while 36% had between a 3.75 and a 3.99 high school GPA. This means that 88% of students enrolled in the fall of 2022 had a 3.75 or above. The average high school GPA of the Penn Class of 2026 was 3.9.

SAT and ACT Scores 

Penn currently holds a test-optional policy, though it’s important to monitor changes leading up to your admission cycle. Off all the enrolled students in the Class of 2026, 48% submitted SAT scores and 23% submitted ACT scores when applying. The middle 50% score range for the Class of 2026 is as follows:

  • SAT: 730 to 770 for Evidence-Based Reading+Writing and 770 to 800 for Math.
  • ACT Composite: 34 to 35; Math: 33 to 36; English: 35 to 36; Science: 33 to 35; Reading: 34 to 36.


Though students shouldn’t take these numbers as minimums in any way, they are helpful in understanding the academic and testing landscape at Penn. Students should consider where their scores fall against these numbers when considering whether or not to submit their scores to Penn.

Personal Statement 

Students will submit their Common Application personal statement or their Coalition Application essay as part of their Penn application. The personal statement is a very important qualitative or “soft” factor of the application. Because there are so many academically qualified applicants to schools like Penn, admissions officers lean on qualitative factors to get to know students beyond the numbers. A killer personal statement can set a student apart from the pack.


Penn requires that all students submit three short answer essays, regardless of which individual undergraduate school they are applying to. While the essay prompts may change from year to year, these prompts for the 2023-24 admissions cycle will give you some idea of what to expect.

1) Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words, only required for first year applicants)

2) How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)

3) Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, describe how you intend to explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania. (150-200 words)

Students applying to certain programs have additional essay requirements.

Letters of Recommendation 

Students are required to submit one counselor recommendation, one teacher recommendation, and one other recommendation. The other recommendation can be a second teacher recommendation or a non-academic recommendation. Penn does not prefer one option over the other.

Admission Interviews 

Penn offers — but does not require — interviews, which they call Alumni Conversations. Interviewers are volunteer members of Penn’s alumni community. Most first-year applicants are offered an interview, but this depends on volunteer availability. If you receive an interview invitation, you are strongly encouraged to accept. These interviews will be virtual for the 2023-24 application cycle.

Contribution to the Penn Community 

When visiting Penn or interacting with Penn students or admissions, it’s worth reflecting on how you might contribute to the Penn community as a student. One of the required essays will ask you to make this reflection, so giving this some thought in advance will help you strengthen your thesis for why and how you could make valuable contributions to the Penn community and campus culture.

Class Profile  

The University of Pennsylvania reported the highest number of applications in its history for admission to the Class of 2027. So, how many people apply to Penn? The school received more than 59,000 applications overall during the 2022-23 admissions cycle and ultimately admitted a diverse class from around the U.S. and the world.

Acceptance rate 5.8%
Class size 2,420
Undergraduate majors 90+

What Makes Penn Unique? 

One of Penn’s greatest strengths is its commitment to arts and culture. The university hosts more than 12 different cultural institutions, from the University Library, founded by Benjamin Franklin, to the unparalleled Institute of Contemporary Art.

Penn offers a traditional, “closed” college campus, including a picturesque college quad, within the hustle and bustle of a major American city. Penn also boasts many time-honored college traditions, including throwing toast on the field after the third quarter of every home football game when “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn” is performed as part of their fight song.

In addition to its top-notch academic offerings, Penn offers a staggering amount of student activities. The university hosts more than 450 different student-run organizations, including those in intellectual, artistic, cultural, and social spheres. Finally, Penn athletes also participate in NCAA Division I sports within the NCAA Ivy League conference.

When asking yourself if Penn is right for you, consider if you are enthusiastic about what makes Penn unique. Then, think about whether you would be considered competitive within Penn’s particularly selective admissions process. If the answer to both questions is yes, you have your answer.

Admissions Consulting 

To gain admission to a top university like Penn, most students could benefit from additional guidance. A private admissions counselor is an invaluable resource for students looking to apply to highly selective colleges and universities. Counselors can guide students throughout the entire process, from building a competitive applicant strategy, to building a balanced college list, to brainstorming strong essays and supplements. College admissions counselors that are accredited, experienced, and knowledgeable in the field will provide key advice to set applicants up for success.

Getting into Penn is no easy task. It’s an Ivy League university with a very low admission rate. That’s why IvyWise’s admissions experts are here to help you have the best chance at admission. Take the first step towards getting into your dream school and set an Initial Consultation.


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