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Be Penn-wise

All you need to know for applying to the University of Pennsylvania.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) opened its doors to students in 1751, under the leadership of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. It has remained a hallowed institution ever since and, as a member of the Ivy League, one of the most prestigious universities of higher education in the world.

Integral to Penn’s community are its international students, who come from more than 100 countries around the globe. Every year, the university admits 300 to 350 international students, with Indian applicants often being the second largest group.

Here are excerpts from an interview with the university’s Dean of Admissions Eric J. Furda and Senior Associate Director of Admissions John T. McLaughlin.


What does Penn look for in an international student’s application?
As with all of our candidates, we expect a high level of achievement in whatever curriculum is available to the student. We understand there are many curriculums available around the world and within nations. We do not discriminate in favor or against one curriculum or another. However, we do expect the student to be engaged in a challenging program and excel.

We see how the student has taken advantage of the opportunities available in secondary school. The opportunities at Penn are infinite and we wish to understand how they’ll take advantage of the limitless possibilities. We gain insight on this through the application components, including recommendations, extracurricular reports and essays.


How can prospective students make their applications stand out?
The vast majority of our applicant pool has the academic talent and ability to succeed and thrive at Penn. Often, the qualitative elements of the applications serve to distinguish individuals from the wider pool.

We urge students to think carefully about how they respond to our application questions, especially when describing their interest and fit with the university. Applicants have more control over the essay than any other part of the process. A little extra time and effort can go far in helping to make the case for the connection with Penn.


What is the timeline for international student applications?
The application timeline varies based on whether the student applies via the Early Decision Plan or the Regular Decision Plan. Early Decision (ED) is designed for students whose first choice is Penn. It is a binding program and we expect students admitted under ED to enroll at the university.

If Penn is the top choice, then we encourage students to consider the ED route. The ED application deadline is November 1. Results are made available in mid-December.

If Penn is one of the many options to consider, then we recommend the Regular Decision (RD) route. The RD application deadline is January 5. RD is non-binding and the more conventional route. Results are made available in late March or early April.

What are the financial aid options for Indian students planning to attend Penn?
We do not offer merit or athletic scholarships; all of our financial aid is based on need. Penn is need-blind for citizens and permanent residents of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

For citizens of other nations, including India, we are need-aware in our evaluation process. In other words, the admissions process for these aid applicants may be more competitive, but we continue to augment our financial aid resources for international applicants. Furthermore, we have a commitment to funding every admitted student, regardless of nationality, with an all-grant package that mitigates the need for any loans. We do this to provide all admitted students, including Indian citizens, with the opportunity to graduate from Penn debt-free. 


What message would you like to give to prospective students?
We have developed a free online course through Coursera that details the process of applying to U.S. universities as an international student. It’s a great resource and reference for students.

Prospective students should also explore the Penn Global website. Penn Global details some of the logistical considerations around studying at Penn as an international student. It can assist with details on visa applications, opening bank accounts, etc.

Beyond Penn, international students can benefit from the information provided by the U.S. Department of State at EducationUSA. Indian students, in particular, might check out the U.S.-India Educational Foundation. These organizations can provide guidance and support on application deadlines, logistics and other details.

Admissions is a matching process. When we evaluate candidates, we consider them as individuals and in terms of how they’ll contribute to the composition of the class. Our entering class consists of 2,420 unique stories. But collectively, it’s much greater and more powerful. We seek students who can take full advantage of what we offer, and we aim to understand how Penn can help them meet their goals in ways that no other university can.

Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.