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In this year’s undergraduate admissions cycle, Penn received 31,219 applications, just one more than last year’s total of 31,218.

This is the third straight year that Penn’s applicant pool has remained above 31,000, after a 39 percent increase from 2009 to 2011.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that the figure is within the range of what he expected, and that any change in application numbers he would credit to Penn’s institution of a new required essay in the Penn Supplement portion of the Common Application.

The question asks, “Ben Franklin once said, ‘All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.’ Which are you?”

Furda brought up the point that “if we put this essay question down,” it could change some students’ consideration of Penn in the application process.

“But we’re willing to take that chance to really see … if we’re gaining some other insight into some candidates,” he said.

Jeffrey Barg, a senior at Horace Mann School in New York who was admitted to Penn’s M&T program early decision, said the essay question didn’t affect his decision to apply.

“Personally, I thought that the additional question allowed me to distinguish myself and present a more complete case for my admission,” Barg said. “The Ben Franklin essay ended up being the easiest essay for me to write because the prompt was open-ended enough for me to just talk about my experiences throughout high school.”

He also noted that among the 30 or so students from his school who applied to Penn, most said that “the Ben Franklin question was almost always their favorite essay to write.”

Rising app numbers

“I’d say if you take a look at Penn’s applicant pool, we are right in the middle of where our peers are,” Furda said.

Out of Penn’s peer institutions that have released this year’s application numbers so far, applicants to Columbia and Stanford Universities have gone up 5 to 6 percent, while Dartmouth has reported a 3 percent decrease.

In a recent interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Furda mentioned that he suspected dropping one of the required essays could have brought Penn more applications.

However, Boston College, which, like Penn, included an additional required essay in this year’s application, saw a 26 percent drop in their applicant pool.

Other national universities, specifically public ones, who did not add an additional essay saw greater increases in the applicant pool. For example, UCLA received a record 8.8 percent increase in applicants since last year.

Chronicle Senior Writer Eric Hoover, however, is unfazed by Penn’s lack of relative growth of applications.

“When you’re comparing schools in that crowd, I don’t know if on a year-to-year basis you can draw any meaning whatsoever from one school’s five percent increase to another school’s one percent drop,” Hoover said. “I don’t think it’s terrible or great news for Penn; I just think it’s hard to know why application numbers jump one year and not the next.”

Though the Office of Admissions is still compiling the applicant data, Furda notes that an initial read into the pool indicates an increase in the quality of applicants.

Additionally, while about 10 percent of the data has not yet been analyzed, Furda says with relative certainty that certain factors such as average SAT scores and GPAs have increased.**

Working for diversity

Furda also said that there is broad diversity in this year’s applicant pool — geographically, racially and socioeconomically.

He credits this partially to the ongoing Penn — Knowledge is Power Program partnership, a program in its first year that works to identify and recruit students from underserved areas.

Already, eight students have been admitted to Penn’s Class of 2017 through the KIPP partnership, which operates mostly in the Texas area.

KIPP is a network of charter schools across the country that recruits minority students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. It has partnerships with 20 colleges and universities across the country, including Duke, Tulane and several historically black colleges like Spelman and Morehouse.

“To get a partnership with KIPP, the university must agree to an aspirational target [number of] students. Penn’s was between 10 and 15,” KIPP’s Director of Public Affairs Steve Mancini said.

These “aspirational targets” are nonbinding and are not quotas, according to Mancini. Beyond this, the partnership expects the university to have “a real commitment to help these kids persist to and through college” and that it also helps admitted KIPP students financially, whether it be through work study programs or scholarships.

KIPP’s relationship with Penn reaches to more than just the Office of Admissions. Three of KIPP’s 125 charter schools — in Houston, Boston and Baltimore — were founded by Penn graduates.

Mancini said, “Lots of schools talk the talk on diversity, but Penn walks the walk.”

Editor’s note:
Since the time that this article has been published, the number of applications received in total has increased to 31,250. These are applications that may have been mailed in or delivered late and were not yet counted at press time.

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