Why School (UPenn) + Analysis

Sample Essay #2

University of Pennsylvania (Theme: Making a Difference)

Intended Major: Biology 

Essay Prompt: How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words) 

Student Response

When I was reading this essay prompt and thinking about the reasons I adore Penn, the first thing that came to mind was neither the school’s reputation nor the fact that Elon Musk graduated from there. Instead, I reminisced on a scene from my campus tour. While the tour guides were talking to the visitors, I noticed a bunch of plastic utensils sticking out of the ground next to a building. The tour guide told me that this “structure” was designed by members of the Environmental Studies Club to raise public awareness of plastic waste. Looking at the plastic forks and knives “growing” upward from the soil, I realized that Penn is the perfect place for people with innovative ideas who wish to positively impact their community. 

As I rumbled through my high school years to uncover my true passions, I realized that my interests lie between neuroscience and philosophy. This drive brought me to an internship opportunity at Harvard Medical School, where I researched the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. As I studied the degradation of the brain’s memory function, I started to wonder how the first homo sapiens began to have thoughts and what their purposes were. While I would like to know how we think as human beings, I also want to know why we think. Modern science will give me the ultimate answers concerning the thinking processes, but only through philosophy, human experience, and cultural knowledge can I uncover why we even think. Therefore, I would never imagine renouncing exploration of the humanities just because I plan to embark on a career in the sciences, ideally in the field of cognitive science. 

Besides being home to one of the nation’s top Biology programs, the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management as well as the BBB & Health Services Management Minor at Penn also enthralled me. During an internship at a pharmaceutical company, where I worked with both the Product Development Department and the Securities Management Department, I came to understand that the mission of most pharmaceutical companies in China focuses on the development of generic drugs for profit. I wish to contribute to change in the biological sciences not only at the molecular level, but also at the industrial level. My goals include lowering the costs of new drug development in order to encourage more scientists to innovate and create more affordable generics. 

Beyond academics, I was also captivated by another scene during my campus tour – the Love Statue beneath the cherry trees on one of the lawns. This statue, which is only showcased on six other American college campuses, says a lot about the school in the City of Brotherly Love. I could feel the spirit of inclusiveness from the smiling faces of the people who were posing under the statue for pictures. 

Innovative, inclusive, and offering an excellent education, Penn is without a doubt the academic institution I have always longed for. 

Essay Analysis 

In this essay, the student expresses intentions of wanting to merge their love for science and the humanities in order to make a difference in the world by benefiting the well-being of others. The student’s introductory paragraph surprises the reader by saying that instead of adoring Penn for common reasons such as its prestigious reputation or the fact that Elon Musk was a graduate, they were impressed by a scene visualized on the campus tour. This serves as a great hook to indicate to the reader that the writer has an out-of-the-box perspective. The scene of the Environmental Studies Club’s installation of growing plastic forks and knives from the soil affirmed to the student that a place as innovative as Penn would also make way for them to positively make a difference within their community through creative means. 

The first body paragraph describes how the writer had sought out previous and impressive research experiences, specifically at Harvard Medical School, where they had the opportunity to study the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease. Through reflection, the writer reveals how modern science can only guide humans’ thought processes but a well-rounded approach to interdisciplinary studies such as philosophy, human experience, and culture could further reveal how and why thinking even happens in the first place. This demonstrates the writer’s profound sense of reflection and intensity of wanting to obtain a vast and holistic education in college. 

The second body paragraph shows that the writer specifically researched the university’s Biology Department by discussing its various programs, while also revealing another internship experience. This internship at a pharmaceutical company in China inspired the student to want to not only understand the function of medicine but also how to make it more accessible and affordable to the general public through innovative scientific discoveries of generic drugs. Once again, the writer reveals that they are interested in academic growth and discovery for the sake of the greater good. 

The last paragraph and the conclusion bring the campus tour experience full circle—yet this time, with a reference to the “Love Statue” and how the writer feels that the university’s location in the city of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia) relates to their interest of becoming an innovator of the future who possesses a good-doer spirit. 

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