Hi everyone! My name is Heidi, and I’m working at SupertutorTV this summer.
This post and video will be about what I did in high school and how I got into the University of Pennsylvania!
A couple things first:
I’m currently a rising sophomore, so I’ve been at UPenn for one year so far. I should mention that I’m in the school of nursing, and I know that the admissions process for each college at Penn is a bit different, but here’s how it went for me:
My high school is a pretty normal public high school that’s slightly competitive. For reference, we rank in the 60’s for California and around 400th in all of the US according to the US News and World Report.
I was born and raised in California, and I actually wasn’t planning on going to the east coast for college; I only applied to 2 schools in that area. To be honest, my two east coast schools were reaches in my eyes and I was applying mostly for fun. The main reason that I ended up applying to Penn is because they are the only Ivy that has undergraduate nursing.
My grades were definitely not the best. I had a total of 7 B’s by the end of junior year with an unweighted GPA of 3.84 and a weighted GPA of 4.60. Our school doesn’t do class rankings; instead, we have a cutoff “index” GPA to be valedictorian. Anyone can go above the cutoff, so we had around 30 valedictorians at graduation (a lot, I know) and as you might be able to guess with the number of B’s I had, I wasn’t one of them. So, I wouldn’t say that GPA was a strong point in my application.
My school offers 24 AP classes, which is quite a lot, and an additional 15 Honors level classes.
Despite the fact that I got into Penn without perfect grades, I want to note that I’m not sure if I could have gotten in with any other major, and you’ll see why at the end.
Penn requires you to send all your SAT® and ACT® test scores! I’ll start off with my SAT® scores. From the summer of 10th to 11th grade, I went to a local group tutoring place (think 20-30 kids). I took the SAT® once in October and again in January of my junior year. I got a 2120 my first time and a 2150 on my second time, with a superscore of 2180. Broken down, my scores were 680R, 770M, 670W and 720R, 740M, 690W, respectively. In my eyes, these test scores weren’t great, and I thought getting into some UC’s would be difficult, especially considering my GPA.
So, I studied some more and decided to take some practice ACT® tests. I could go in depth on how I changed my study habits for the ACT®, but the most important thing was that timing was a large problem for me. I took the ACT® in September of senior year (while writing my essays, which I don’t recommend) and I was hoping for maybe a 33. Well, I got my scores the next month and I had a mini freakout because I got 35 composite on the test and I couldn’t believe it. Broken down, it was 35E, 35M, 34R, 35S. It was a good time. My writing score was a 29— but that’s not included in your composite, so it was okay.
According to Penn’s released scores, my SAT® scores were on the lower end. For reading I was around the 25th percentile and for writing, I was below the 25th percentile. Math was okay—I was around the 50-75th percentile. For ACT®, though, I was at 75th percentile.
And as I mentioned, you’re required to send all of your test scores in, so along went all 3 of my scores.
As for SAT® Subject Test scores, they weren’t amazing either. I got a 730 in Chemistry and a 700 for Math II. I want to note that I researched and on Penn’s website, they said that the nursing school’s recommended subject test was “Science, preferably Chemistry.”
For AP scores, 4 is my favorite number. I got a 4 in European History, Chemistry, English Language, Biology, English Literature, and Microeconomics. I got 5’s in Chinese and US History (yay!).
I actually took the classes for a couple more AP’s, such as AP Calculus AB, but ended up not taking the tests.
I’m sure some of you may be wondering why I didn’t take all the AP tests, but I’ll get to that later!
As for activities, I did a LOT. In school, my main extracurriculars were Journalism, Orchestra, and Science Olympiad. I was involved in these 3 activities for all 4 years of high school. In Journalism, I ended up as managing editor my senior year, and for Science Olympiad, I was Vice President for both junior and senior year (co-vice for junior year). We competed at regional and state level all 4 years I was on the team. There were some other small clubs and activities I did, but I don’t think any of them added much to my application.
For outside activities, my main one was a free clinic where I had volunteered since end of 7th grade. For the UC App, I wrote an essay on this, and for the Common App, I put that essay in the “Additional Information” section. For the free clinic, the volunteers would greet their assigned patients and do a medical interview with them. We’d also take their temperature, pulse, respiration, and medical history. After the doctor was ready, we’d take the patient in and tell the doctor all the information the patient told us. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I loved it so much. Everything at the clinic was free, and you could only come if you didn’t have health insurance (or very minimal coverage), so we had a lot of interaction with low-income families and people with completely different backgrounds from my own. I also became a student manager my senior year. For other volunteering experiences, I volunteered at a senior center starting in the middle of 10th grade where I played music and talked to the residents. I did some other minor things that I don’t think were very important in my college application, but my community service hours totaled to over 700 or so.
Sports wise, I did Taekwondo and got my black belt in 10th grade, and I played lacrosse at my high school my freshman year. However, I didn’t put lacrosse on my application because I wasn’t particularly passionate about it and didn’t think it would add to my application.
As for cello, I also played in a local private university’s symphony since 7th grade. I never did all state orchestras or played in fancy music halls though.
I enjoyed doing everything I’ve mentioned. I did these activities because I looked forward to it and had fun doing them, and that was apparent by the long term commitment I had to a lot of the activities.
Awards wise, I got some medals in Science Olympiad and placed well in a couple events. I also got 3 community service awards, all which stemmed from the free clinic. One was from my city, another was from my entire county, and the last one was from the clinic itself.
My journalism teacher was also my 9th grade English teacher, and she wrote one of my recommendation letters. She knew my work ethic and personality extremely well. As for my other letter, my APUSH (AP U.S. History) teacher wrote it. I did think about how two humanities teachers were writing my letters of rec when I as applying only as science-y degrees, but it turned out okay! My APUSH teacher didn’t know me as well but I really enjoyed the class and she had agreed to write it. I had an additional outside letter of rec that I added for the Penn part of the application. This was from a director at the free clinic where I volunteered who had known me since 7th grade. So overall, I think my recommendation letters were pretty good and made a positive impact on my application.
Something I haven’t mentioned yet that I think was an extremely unique experience and definitely helped set me apart from other applicants is a class that I took my senior year of high school: Advanced Anatomy. Advanced Anatomy at my school wasn’t just anatomy. We had the incredible opportunity to have 5 cadavers allotted to my class of 28 students. To enter the class, we had to apply, write essays, get recommendation letters, interview, everything, so for my Common App essay (and my other UC essay), I wrote about this experience. Specifically, I wrote about the first time I made an incision in a cadaver and some of my experiences that had led up to that point.
As for my Penn supplemental essay, I wrote very specifically about why I became interested in nursing and how I believed that my goals were aligned with Penn’s vision for their nurses. I mentioned specific courses and professors because I knew that I was particularly interested in end of life care, a certain field of nursing. The essay I put in the “Additional Information” section was about how you could see my growth and development from a nervous 7th grader to a student manager at the free clinic.
Overall, I think my main essay and my essay on the clinic really showed my interest in medicine, how I’ve placed myself in environments where I can learn as much as possible, and why I wanted to be a nursing student at Penn. I probably had over 10 completely different drafts of each essay by the time I got to my final version.
A couple final things:
I don’t have any demographic hooks—I’m not a low income or first generation student and I come from a nice suburban middle sized city in Southern California. I also didn’t apply EA (Early Action) or ED (Early Decision) anywhere, and I didn’t have legacy anywhere. I also never paid for any college counselor, but I did research a lot and asked older friends and family members for advice.
As I promised to explain above, I ended up not taking many AP tests my senior year. This is because I received an email on March 1st of my senior year telling me I had “good news” and to check my Penn portal, which led me to a letter saying that I was likely to be accepted to Penn when official decisions came out. That day and I just ran around hugging people. After looking at the AP scores that Penn accepts, I immediately asked for a refund of my AP Calculus and AP Gov tests (that’s $200!).
Lastly, I just want to put a little notice for everyone:
Out of the 9 schools I applied to (UCLA, UCSD, UCI, UC Davis, CalPoly SLO, SDSU, USC, JHU, and UPenn), I was accepted into SLO and SDSU before March. After the likely letter, I withdrew my application from UC Davis, JHU, and USC because I knew I wouldn’t choose any of those schools over Penn. I kept 3 schools— UCSD, UCLA, and UCI— just in case and I wanted to talk to my parents about financial costs.
I didn’t apply to nursing at UCLA (because I thought I’d have a better chance as a normal college major, which I regret a little), but I was waitlisted at UCLA and UCSD, and I was accepted into UCI. Ultimately, I decided not to take those waitlist spots since I was basically committed to Penn. At that point, I had already gotten my official acceptance letter from Penn and I didn’t really have to make much of a decision (mostly since I didn’t have many other options). All in all, although I was accepted to Penn with a likely letter, I definitely wasn’t the type of candidate that was accepted everywhere I applied.
Feel free to ask any questions about anything below! I love my college experience so far and if you haven’t thought about applying to Penn, I encourage you to look into it. I hope this was helpful for you guys and be sure to check out the other resources here on supertutortv.com!