Penn Application Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

University of Pennsylvania's red and white brick building.

Penn Application Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

For students who are interested in applying to some of the most competitive schools in the United States, there is little question that the odds are stacked up against them. Even for the most accomplished students, getting into a school like University of Pennsylvania is going to prove to be a stiff challenge.

Because it is already so hard to get into the school, students need to be sure that they are well aware of the Penn application mistakes that they should avoid at all costs.

Remember, the entire application that any high school student sends into colleges and universities is not just a compilation of information regarding your years in high school. The application itself is a reflection on you, the student, and you need to make sure that you are taking that into mind every step of the way.

View of the old academic building of the  University of Pennsylvania at sunset.

At AdmissionSight, our college admissions consultants are well aware of the importance that the college application holds, and we pass on the information of the kinds of mistakes to avoid to all of the fantastic high school students that we work with.

But we do not think that only the students that we work closely with deserve to know this information! Truthfully, we want every high schooler to succeed and make their college admissions dreams a reality.

That is why we have taken the time to break down the crucial tips and tools to keep in mind when you look to avoid making a crucial mistake on Penn application.

So, without further delay, let’s get started on breaking down the most important Penn application mistakes that you should keep in mind so that you can avoid them and send in the perfect application that will give you the best odds to get into the school!

Major application mistakes to avoid

Mistake No. 1 – Not researching Penn early on

Depending on where you are on your journey to actually applying to the University of Pennsylvania or other Ivy League schools, the concrete information that you have on the school may be quite small.

After all, there are tons of students across the world that fall in love with the idea of attending one school lor another before they really take the time to familiarize themselves with the reality of the school!

Three students are using a laptop.

Sure, you likely already know that Penn is one of the most prestigious, selective and historic schools in the United States, but do you know the types of things that will truly matter to you and your experience there as a student?

Are you familiar with the school’s most popular majors and programs? Do you know about the average graduating class size at Penn? What about the culture, campus, opportunities out of the classroom, and so much more?

Not getting crucial information on these types of things is not only potentially harmful because you could end up going to a school that isn’t as good of a fit as you thought. Your lack of knowledge could also very easily come through on your application itself.

What to do instead:

Instead of simply relying on what you may think about a school like Penn, make sure that you are doing the necessary work to learn real facts about the school.

The best ways to do this are to conduct your own research from the comfort of your own home, schedule an official or unofficial visit to Penn where you can tour the campus, speak to current students, and see if you can really sense a future there for you.

The final thing that you can (and should) do to learn even more about Penn is sign up to take part in an interview with an alumni volunteer.

These interviews do not play an official role in your application, but they do serve as “an opportunity for Penn to learn a little more about you, and for you to learn a little more about Penn.”

Here are the types of questions that students can expect to get during their interview:

  • Can you tell me a little about yourself?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are your current academic and/or extracurricular interests?
  • What led you to apply to Penn?
  • What classes, programs, and activities on Penn’s campus are exciting to you?
  • What plans do you have for your future?

And here are the common questions that students ask their interviewer:

  • Can you tell me about the most influential parts of your Penn experience?
  • What is one of your favorite Penn traditions?
  • In what ways are you still connected to campus and your Penn peers?
  • What are the advantages of the Penn alumni network?

Mistake No. 2 – Seeking to blend in and become what you think Penn is looking for

There is no question that the college application process can be incredibly stressful and difficult for even the most accomplished and well-prepared students.

After all, the students that really do have just one or two “dream schools” that they desperately want to attend are putting a lot of pressure on themselves! And don’t get us wrong, we are not saying it is wrong for students to have dream schools that they hope to attend.

After all, having lofty goals is often what leads to the accomplishing of great things. However, there are some major issues with how some students decide to handle and deal with that pressure.

In fact, one of the main things that we remind all of the students that we work with to be wary of is the feeling that they should be trying to blend in and present themselves as the kind of student that they think a school like Penn is looking for.

This is perhaps one of the harder Penn application mistakes to be fully aware of, and that is what makes it so important!

What to do instead:

In the United States, the most common form of admissions process these days is known as the “holistic” admissions process.

This means that every single aspect of a student’s application is taken into account and given value. What that means is that, for the vast majority of students, it actually pays to try to stand out and be as unique as possible!

When filling out your application, discussing your extracurricular activities and experiences, getting your letters of recommendation and – especially – when writing your personal essays, make sure to let your personality and unique qualities shine through!

Schools like Penn are always looking for students that will have a strong and positive impact on their campus.

They want leaders that are not afraid to stand out of the crowd. Proving that you are just that in your application is a major advantage to you and not doing so would definitely be a mistake on Penn application.

Mistake No. 3 – Deciding not to apply via Early Decision

This is primarily for students who are most passionate and determined to get into Penn. After all, if Penn is not at the very top of your list when it comes to the schools that you truly dream of attending, then you should spend the time that you have filling out your early admissions applications to the schools that are at the top of your list.

It would also be a mistake to not familiarize yourself with the rules and benefits of applying via Early Decision at Penn. So what is Early Decision and why can it be such a valuable application tool?  Here are some things to know.

Essentially, Early Decision, or Early Action as it is known at some schools, is a way in which students can send their applications in early to given schools.

Statistically, this can have a major benefit on the student’s chances of getting into the school. It also acts as a significant signal to the school itself that it is at the top of your list in terms of schools that you want to attend.

For the graduating class of 2025 – or students that applied to Penn in 2021 – approximately 50 percent of the total class was made up of students that applied via Early Decision.

That should already prove just how impactful this tool can be. If that is not enough, take a look at the table below, and make sure to take note of the difference of acceptance rates between Regular Decision and Early Decision.

Table with information of different universities.Wow! So while the Regular Decision acceptance rate at Penn was just 6.8 percent, the Early Decision acceptance rate was a whopping 22.0 percent! A massive difference.

What to do instead:

So, now that you know how effective of a tool applying to a school like Penn via Early Decision can be, you are likely looking into what you have to do. There are two main things that you have to keep in mind when it comes to applying via Early Decision to Penn. They are:

  • Applying Early Decision requires that you have your entire application and the connected documents, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essays and anything else prepared and ready to send out. In fact, Early Decision applications are due on November 1st, quite a bit earlier than Regular Decision applications.
  • The second thing to keep in mind is that the Early Decision option at Penn is binding. That means that if you succeed and are accepted, you will have to accept the offer and withdraw all of your other applications to other schools. For this reason, you want to be sure that Penn really is at the top of your list of schools if you opt to apply in this way!

Mistake No. 4 – Not acing your personal essays

These days, one of the most important aspects of any high school student’s attempt to get into a top school like Penn is the personal essay section of the exam.

Over the years, the importance of these personal essays have steadily increased more and more. Now, they are considered the second-most important aspect of a student’s application at a lot of different schools. In fact, the only thing that is clearly considered more is a student’s high school GPA.

A person wearing a red shirt is writing on a notebook.

And essays have only become more fundamental to a high school student’s success ever since standardized tests have been made optional at a large number of schools all around the country, including Penn.

Some of the major Penn application mistakes that students make on the essay section of their application include:

  • Settling on unoriginal and uninspired essay topics
  • Including risky or potentially unbecoming content in their essays
  • Coming off as arrogant or entitled in your essay
  • Relying too strongly on the dictionary and thesaurus to use fancy words
  • Not giving yourself enough time to write the best essay possible and edit for improvements, errors, and grammatical mistakes

Remember, more so than on any other part of the college application, the essay section will give the admissions officers at Penn a real chance to try to get to know who you are beyond just your test scores, grades and extracurriculars.

The admissions officers want to learn about who you are as a person, not just as a student. Making any of the previously mentioned mistakes could seriously impede their ability to do so and could strongly work against you and your chances of getting into Penn.

What to do instead:

Whether you are a student who is very comfortable in your writing abilities, or a student who does not really consider your writing to be a strong suit, there are some key things that you can do to improve the quality of your essays overall.

Here are some of the major things to keep in mind to make sure that you are writing the best essays that you possibly can:

  • Give yourself the time you need to truly understand what each prompt is asking so that you can come up with the best answer and topic possible
  • Write from the heart and prioritize writing in your own voice over trying to impress the reader with fancy words that you would otherwise not use
  • Make sure that your unique point of view on the world shines through in all your responses
  • Have a teacher, parent, peer, or admissions consultant review your essays so that they can offer insight, look for errors, and help you improve the overall quality of the essays

To help offer an even better understanding of what the challenges and opportunities that students are presented with when filling out the personal essay section, AdmissionSight has included the official Penn Supplemental Essays that applicants were asked to answer as part of the 2021 Penn application.

  1. Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at The University of Pennsylvania? (300-450 words / 2295 characters**)
  2. At Penn, learning and growth happens 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 / 1020 characters**)

Mistake No. 5 – Sending generic letters of recommendation

At Penn, students have one of two options when it comes to the letters of recommendation.

Either students can send in one letter from their high school counselor and two from teachers, or they can send in one from their counselor, one from a teacher and one from someone else such as a community leader, boss, etc.

A hand holding a pen and starting to write.

Students may feel as though these letters are just formalities, but they are actually quite important. Sending in generic letters of recommendation can be a major detriment to the overall quality of your Penn application.

What to do instead:

You will want to make sure that you are asking people to write these letters only if you enjoy a real relationship with them.

If you are asking two teachers, make sure that you have taken a lot of classes with them and performed well in those classes.

If you want to ask just one teacher and someone else, make sure that the person you ask has a similarly deep knowledge of who you are, what your passions are, what your goals are and more.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help decide whether someone is a good option to write a letter of recommendation:

  • Will he or she remember me?
  • Did I manage to establish a meaningful relationship with this person?
  • Do I think he or she is capable of writing a quality letter that will impress the admissions officers at Penn?
  • Do I have memorable moments with this person that they will be able to call upon when writing the letter?

Get more Penn admissions advice

Applying to a school like the University of Pennsylvania can be incredibly difficult. However, high school students these days do not have to do it alone.

At AdmissionSight, we make it our number one goal to help the students that we work with get into their dream schools. That’s why we are so proud of the fact that 75 percent of the students that we work with get into Ivy League schools or top-10 schools elsewhere in the country.

If you are curious about how we can help you with your admissions goals, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


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