The number one rule for writing college supplement essays is to forge a unique connection to the school through your essay. To do so, ask yourself, what draws you to this university? This not only helps you to decide if this school is one you really want to attend and should apply to, but it shows the admissions office that you took the time to form a relationship with their college.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) is no exception. Their supplement question, about exploring interests at Penn, speaks directly to the relationship the applicant has with the school. To answer the prompt well, you must show an understanding of both Penn and yourself. While only you can understand and write about the latter, as a student at Penn, I can give you some tips about framing your essay. Keep in mind, that these tips are just guidelines, not concrete rules to writing your Penn essay.

  1. Read the fine print. While it goes without saying that you need to address the prompt directly in your essay, make sure you also follow the instructions in the fine print. Especially the fine print that reads, "Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying." Applying to Penn, you can choose from four undergraduate schools to apply. This is unique to Penn, as each undergraduate school within the university has slightly different requirements, focuses, and acceptance rates. Choose your school wisely and make sure to forge the connection with your interests and the undergraduate school you chose.
  2. Penn perks. While writing your essay think of advantages that Penn students have over other students and how they connect to your interests. To help you, think about what Penn is known for and how they brand themselves. Some things that come to mind, are a focus on research and interdisciplinary studies. When mentioning perks of attending Penn, make sure to be specific. If there is a pioneering professor you want to do research with, mention them by name and connect their studies to your interests. Work hard to find unique Penn perks and how they connect to your passions. Writing about these connections in your essay will help you stand out and demonstrate a unique interest in Penn.
  3. ED and Special programs. At Penn, applicants can choose to apply early decision (ED). As an ED applicant, students are bound to attend Penn if they are accepted. The admission rate for ED applicants is higher than regular decision applicants, but ED is more competitive and is binding. If Penn is your number one school, you meet Penn's GPA and testing minimums, and you can afford to be contractually bound to attend Penn, by all means apply early decision. ED will increase your chance of admission and demonstrate more interest in the school. Additionally, early decision applicants have the chance to apply to special dual degree programs. Applicants to these programs must write additional supplements but can choose to have their applications considered again for early decision if they are not accepted into the program. This means that your application essays get reviewed multiple times and you have more chances to showcase yourself to the admissions office. If any of the programs interest you, definitely apply. Your application to the program will increase the exposure of your application essay. Just remember, if you are accepted into the program, you are committing to a demanding track at Penn.

While the list could very well go on, these three important tenants will take you a long way. In Penn's supplement, speak clearly and passionately about what Penn can offer to you, and in return, what you can offer to Penn. Be colorful. Be passionate. Be specific. That's the key to a winning supplement.