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Get Admitted to your Dream University – UPenn


Established in 1740, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and among the highest ranked universities in the world. The motto of the university Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, means “Laws without morals are useless (in vain)”.


UPenn Mission

UPenn’s academics are boosted by its inherent culture and ecosystem of innovation. You name it, if it’s cutting-edge, the University’s faculty—and students—have their hands in it. Grounded in the liberal arts and sciences and enriched by the integrated resources of four undergraduate and twelve graduate schools, UPenn offers students an unparalleled education informed by inclusivity, intellectual rigor, research, and the impetus to create new knowledge to the benefit of individuals and communities around the world.


Important Factors in Admission Decision

University of Pennsylvania considers the following “very important” factors in admission decisions

  • Course rigor
  • GPA
  • Class Rank
  • Test scores
  • Essay
  • Recommendation letters
  • Character/ personal qualities

How to Improve your Chances of Getting into Pennsylvania

1. Achieve a high GPA while taking the most challenging classes available

It’s extremely important for UPenn applicants to not only possess outstanding grades but for those grades to come in challenging courses. International students accepted to a top 10 school like UPenn typically complete between 5 to 8 advanced courses in high school.

Another reason why UPenn applicants need great grades is that selective schools use a tool called the ‘Academic Index’ to filter out their enormous number of applicants. At its most basic, the Academic Index is a distillation of a student’s academic performance (grades and test scores) into a single number. This is a single score that represents the strength of your GPA, test scores, and class rank (if your school ranks). Highly selective universities use this (or a similar) metric to filter out students that don’t meet their academic standards.

2. Aim for a 1570 SAT or a 35+ ACT

The middle 50% of UPenn class of 2025 earned SAT scores of 1480-1570 and ACT scores of 33-35+. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the higher the score, the better your odds of admission.

In general, students who submit high standardized test scores for SAT or ACT have an edge over students who don’t submit scores. All other things being equal, a student who submits a 1570 SAT score and/or 35+ ACT will have an advantage over a student that does not submit the scores.

3. Explore your favorite subjects via Research Papers:

One common factor that we have noted in the resumes of students admitted to the Ivy Leagues and other top colleges is the prevalence of research work while still in high school. In this article we explain how and why exposure to research helps students and the key steps in planning and writing high quality research papers.

There are three main reasons, as to why Research Papers help students stand out. A high-quality research paper shows that you have the energy and the initiative to go beyond what is taught in the class and apply it to real life problems. It shows that your interest in the subject extends beyond the questions provided at the end of the chapter. Secondly, you learn the discipline of not rushing intuitively to the likely answer, instead using a deliberate process in which you are guided by the data. Lastly, in working with a skilled professor or mentor you learn how to organize your thoughts better, ask the right questions and try to answer those questions in the best way possible subject to the constraints. A good work product provides an insight into your mind, thought process and way of working.

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4. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “niche”)

For selective institutions like UPenn, extracurricular activities can play a larger role in admission decisions. Up to 25% of an admissions decision can be determined by a student’s activities outside of the classroom. While it’s true that there is no such thing as a bad extracurricular activity, some extracurricular activities are more impressive than others.

Admissions officers evaluate extracurriculars with one being the most exceptional and four being the most common. For example:

  • Tier 1 activities are rare and demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership at a national or international level. Some examples are, 1) Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a national prize awarded to top 20 pre-collegiate musicians, 2) Regeneron Science Talent Award, one of the most prestigious opportunities for high school students to present original scientific research in the USA, 3) World Robot Olympiad, a global competition where youngsters (13 to 19 years age) from different countries participate, 4) International Mathematical Olympiad, a math competition for pre- university students, 5) International Science Olympiads in various areas of the formal sciences, natural sciences and social sciences.
  • Tier 2 extracurriculars show high levels of achievement and leadership but aren’t quite as rare as activities found in Tier 1 (they’re more of state-level achievements). These include making an all-state selection in athletics, serving as student body president, or being selected for a prestigious state-wide summer program like governor’s school.
  • Tier 3 extracurricular activities are great for showing an applicant’s interest outside of the classroom but don’t have the cachet of higher-tiered extracurriculars. These activities are smaller leadership roles and achievements that often appear on applications. These include being captain of a sports team or holding a lesser officer position in a club.
  • Tier 4 extracurriculars are the least impressive and most common activities seen by admissions officers. These activities include playing a sport or instrument, participating in a club but not holding a leadership position, and volunteering.

5. Write engaging essays

Essays are the best way to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Upenn requires all applicants to submit one essay and three question prompts as part of its application. Research the university and the faculty of the department you are planning to join. Explain in your essay how your values tie with the expectations of the university and how you expect to utilize the knowledge to make the world a better place.

Also research the extra-curricular activities and the clubs at UPenn and how you will spend your time outside the classroom. Some of the popular clubs here are:

  • Penn Electric Racing: Penn Electric Racing (PER) is the University of Pennsylvania’s Formula Electric SAE Team. The club’s mission is to involve members in large-scale engineering from start to finish, with the payoff of bringing and showcasing our work at in-person competition in the summer. PER hopes to bring together students from all kinds of backgrounds, grow our technical and leadership skills, and nurture a supportive professional and social community.
  • Wharton Undergraduate Data Analytics Club (WUDAC): The Wharton Undergraduate Data Analytics Club enables Penn undergraduates to develop a passion for analytics and gives these analytically inclined students a community of like-minded individuals.
  • Penn Spark: Spark is a student community of designers and developers at Penn who work together on teams to build both passion and client projects. The members work on web development, mobile apps, UI/UX design, and a variety of other creative initiatives.
  • Asian Media & Entertainment (AME): Asian Media and Entertainment is a media and entertainment student club at the University of Pennsylvania covering numerous industries focusing on Asia including music (K/C/J-Pop), video games and esports, and film and television (K-dramas, anime).
  • Social Deduction Club: A student group at the University of Pennsylvania created primarily to let students play mafia weekly, create and administer escape rooms, movie nights, murder mystery parties and most importantly, have fun.
  • Penn Aerospace Club: PAC offers students a hands-on project oriented experience and guides them towards aerospace technology innovation. The club is divided into five sub-teams: Rocket, Balloon, Aircraft, Jet Propulsion, and Operations. Each team strives to achieve excellence in its technical projects, collaborative work, and community events.

There are different extracurricular activities and clubs present in the campus. There is something for everyone. And best of all everyone is invited. Students could take up different activities or join a sorority. Joining a sport or activity helps students meet other like-minded people who share common interests with them. It is a good way to make friends.

6. Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation (LoR) help paint a complete picture of who you are in front of the admission officers. Like any good painter, you want to be in control of your whole application. It is important to ensure that you are approaching teachers, mentors etc. that know you well. The LoR provide an insight into your personality, behaviors and work ethic and are crucial to your application. UPenn requires you to send recommendations from

  • Teacher – Required 1, Optional 1
  • High School Counsellor – Required
  • Other – Required 2 (Example: Art teacher, Clergy, Coach, College Access Counselor, Employer, Family Member, Peer etc.)

You should approach your high school teachers several months in advance. Requesting a letter of recommendation from a teacher is a big ask—they’re busy and don’t get paid to write recommendations. Make it easy for your recommenders by giving them plenty of time, providing them with as much relevant information as possible.

7. Apply Early Action/Early Decision

UPenn’s Early Decision program is binding, meaning that if you are admitted, you are obligated to accept their offer of admission.

If you’re a Regular Decision applicant to the University of Pennsylvania and are accepted by another school under a binding Early Decision program, you must inform the Office of Admissions and withdraw your UPenn application.

The primary criterion for admission to UPenn is academic excellence. UPenn values students who are committed, dedicated, passionate, have potential to succeed and those students with a genuine interest in expanding their intellectual horizon. Following the guidelines above will help you present your best self to University of Pennsylvania and maximize your admission chances.


About the Author: 

Shubhi Joshi is an Editor at Scholarly. She has a B.A. in English and a M.A. from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. She has an interest in history and current affairs. An avid blogger, Shubhi loves to write about higher education and self-improvement.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop and present their best version to their dream university. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources and career plans. We provide test preparation classes from the best teachers to help improve scores and thus the prospects for admission. We also assist students with their visa and loan applications to reduce the anxiety associated with international education.

For additional questions about international education, choice of majors, university selection or admission strategies please visit the Questions section of our website.

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