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Penn Commons on Aug. 16, 2022. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Penn has changed its supplemental essay prompts for the 2022–2023 application cycle to now include a third prompt encouraging students on putting words to feelings of gratitude.

The new prompt, intended to be a “feel-good exercise” for applicants, was announced by Penn Admissions on Aug. 1. The prompt reads: “Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.” Penn Admissions also encourages students to share their notes with the person they choose to write about, if possible. 

In a written statement to the Daily Pennsylvanian, Vice Provost and Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule wrote that the goal of the new prompt was to allow applicants to think about how they are shaped by those around them.

“We wanted to create space in the application for a student to show themselves in relation to others, especially because most of the application directs students to tell us about themselves, and their accomplishments, their aspirations, their ideas,” Soule wrote. 

By offering this prompt, Penn Admissions hopes to get “a little bit of insight into how the student experiences the positive influence of others, which is so essential for the community at Penn,” Soule added. 

In research conducted at Penn in 2005, subjects who expressed their gratitude to others experienced “lastingly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms” compared to those who just wrote about it. This research motivated Penn Admissions to offer the chance to express gratitude in an admissions process that can often be “fraught with expectation and precision,” according to a blog post.

College senior Brittany Darrow, the president of the Kite and Key Society and a copy staffer at the DP, said she believes that this is a positive change for the admissions process. 

“The admissions process can be isolating in that you can be largely focused just on yourself, and this essay is refreshing in that it allows students to reflect on other people and how they have impacted or shaped them,” Darrow said. 

The new supplemental essay prompt is one of many changes the application has undergone during Soule’s first year and a half as dean of admissions. For the 2021–2022 admissions cycle, Penn Admissions kept several notable policy changes that were originally made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as making SAT and ACT scores optional, which began with the Class of 2025. The test-optional policy will continue through the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. 

The 2021–2022 application cycle was the first where applicants could choose to submit a recommendation from someone other than a teacher. The change was part of an effort to better suit students' non-traditional high school experiences amid the pandemic. Penn previously required students to submit two letters of recommendation, both written by teachers. The other letter of recommendation can now come from anyone who can comment on the student's character, according to Penn Admissions. 

Soule emphasized that she wants students to know that there is no wrong way to respond to the new prompt, and that Penn Admissions does not want students to overthink their responses.

“We want them to enjoy writing the thank-you, and we will enjoy reading it,” Soule wrote.