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Penn Admissions also changed the essay portion of the 2019-2020 application. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn received 6,088 early decision applications for the Class of 2024 — a more than 14% decline from last year's number of applications.

The sharp decrease comes after Penn's ED applicant pool of 7,109 hit a slight plateau for the Class of 2023 after it had been steadily growing since 2011. In 2017 — the year prior — Penn saw a record-breaking 15% increase in applications to the University.

This year, Penn Admissions extended the Nov. 1 deadline for applicants in areas affected by crises and made slight changes to the application's essay portion.

The statistics for this year are still subject to change, however, once data is finalized and released from QuestBridge, an organization that connects low-income students with top colleges. 

"Conversations that I've had with colleagues is that, in general, we're seeing early decision and some early action pools down, in terms of applications," Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said.

Credit: Nathan Adler

Furda said the reason for the significant increase in applications until a few years ago could be what he referred to as the “SAT bump.” He said the office saw an increase in applications after the redesign of the SAT in 2017. In 2018, Furda said he believed students saw themselves as more competitive applicants after the redesigned SAT scores went up "along certain areas of distribution."

Various areas in the United States that endured any major catastrophes or extenuating circumstances received a Nov. 10 deadline extension this year, Furda said. Students in California, which experienced forest fires and repeated power outages, as well as in Chicago, where public school teachers went on an extended strike, received the extension. Similar deadline changes were applied in the past for natural disasters, including one for Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

"We're pretty open and forgiving as it relates to individual circumstances," Furda said. "At some point, really, the message is: Take care of your lives."

Penn Admissions reached out to high school seniors from affected areas that expressed any level of interest in Penn — from attending a Penn conference to actually starting a Common Application — but did not make a formal statement on the extension.

Penn Admissions also changed the essay portion of the 2019-2020 application after receiving feedback from academic partners across campus who argued that the original prompt was too broad. Previously, the University required applicants to write a single essay explaining the academic and personal interests they wanted to pursue at Penn in 400 to 650 words. 

This year, Penn required two separate essays. The first essay asked about the applicant's academic interests at Penn, with a maximum response of 450 words. The second essay asked about the applicant's interests outside of academic life on Penn's campus, with a maximum response of 200 words. 

Furda said the new essay structure is helpful for admissions counselors who are reading thousands of responses.

"There has been much more of a focus in terms of what we're asking, knowing what was needed while we're sitting in the committee room," he said. "Personally, I liked reading the two essay questions because you can kind of get into the one and then you take that mental break for, like, half a second, and then you start reading the other one."

Penn Admissions has not yet determined a specific date to release early decision results, Furda said, but they will be available in December.