How to Get Into Penn/Wharton – Admissions Data & Strategies
The University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 as a member of the now-revered Ivy League; yet, it took roughly 250 years for it to become the uber-elite, highly-selective institution that it is today. If your parent, grandparent, or older neighbor went to Penn, they faced an entirely different admissions landscape than encountered by applicants in the 2020s. For example, in 1980, the acceptance rate at Penn was over 40%; the average SAT score was around a 1240. In contrast, the Class of 2023 faced a 7.4% acceptance rate and the mid-50% SAT range was 1460-1550. Apples…say hello to oranges.
As hellish as the admissions process is for applicants to the general university, getting into Wharton—the world’s premier business school—involves descending a few additional levels into the inferno. The intention of this article is to provide you:
1) An understanding of what you are up against.
2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.
3) Advice for how to get your application to Penn to stand out, even against other well-credentialed applicants.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- Penn’s Class of 2024 early decision acceptance rate
- Penn’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
- SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Penn applicants
- Wharton undergraduate acceptance rate
- Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
- How Penn admissions officers evaluate applicants
- A look at the demographics of Penn undergraduates
- The percent of accepted students that attend the university (yield rate)
- Tips for applying to Penn
- Tips for applying to Wharton
- How to assess whether applying to Penn is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
Penn: Early Decision Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
Out of the 6,453 early decision applications received for a spot in the Class of 2024, Penn accepted 1,269, an encouraging 19.7% acceptance rate. The early applicant pool was actually smaller than last year’s which saw 7,109 hopefuls apply to the university. The acceptance rate for the Class of 2023 was actually lower at 18%. A sizable 24% of those admitted early in the 2019-20 cycle were legacy students. Approximately 53% of the freshman class was filled in the ED round.
Penn Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023
A whopping 44,960 applications were received by Penn, the largest applicant pool to date; only 3,345 individuals were accepted. Working out to 7.4% acceptance rate, this was the most selective year in the university’s lengthy history. Applicants for the Classes of 2016 and 2017 saw admit rates in excess of 12%; the Class of 2018 is when the school’s admit rate first dipped below 10%. The two years prior to the Class of 2023 cycle, 8.4% and 9.1% were accepted.
Penn Admissions – SAT, GPA, and Class Rank
According to the most recent official statistics available (Class of 2023), the mid-50% SAT range for admitted freshman was 1460-1550; the ACT the range was 33-35. The median reading score was 740 and the median math score was 780. Ninety-six percent of students admitted for fall 2019 came from the top decile of their high school class. Looking at the Class of 2022, an astounding 85% had GPAs above a 3.75 and the average GPA was 3.9. That year, 91% of incoming freshman scored above a 30 on the ACT and 90% had above a 700 on the math portion of the SAT.
Wharton – Undergraduate Acceptance Rate
Recent statistics for Wharton-specific undergraduate acceptance rates have not been made available. In 2017, when the overall Penn acceptance rate was 9.2%, the Wharton acceptance rate was only 7.1%. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that getting into Wharton is likely still a degree (or two) more difficult than getting into another undergraduate school within the university.
Only 43% of Wharton students in the Class of 2023 were female, much lower than the percentage of women in the Class of 2023 at large. Almost one-quarter were international students and just shy of half were students of color. While first-generation students accounted for 15% of the total Class of 2023, only 10% of Wharton undergrads from the same cohort were the first in their family to attend college.
Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2023)
- The number of ED applications to Penn dropped 14% between the 2018 and 2019 admissions cycles.
- Penn admitted students from all 50 U.S. States and 100 countries.
- 51% of admitted students identified as members of a minority group; this figure was 53% the previous year.
- 15% are the first in their family to attend college.
- 13% were direct relatives (child or grandchild) of Penn alumni.
- 169 admits into the Class of 2023 were residents of Philadelphia.
How Penn Evaluates Applicants
Six factors are rated as being “most important” in admissions decisions at the University of Pennsylvania: Rigor of coursework in high school, GPA, standardized test scores, application essay, recommendations, and character/personal qualities. The next tier of “important” factors includes class rank, interview, extracurricular activities, and talent/ability.
In terms of extracurricular activities, it is critically important to have some type of “hook” when applying to Penn. For example, there are over 1,000 NCAA Division I athletes competing for the Quakers. Some of those individuals were recruited by a Penn coach, giving them a serious edge in the admissions process. Yet, sports are only one of a multitude of areas where one’s talents can knock down the doors to any Ivy League institution like the University of Pennsylvania. In the words of the admissions office, “Penn looks for students with the ability to turn their ideas and interests into action, people whose talents and experiences will energize our community.” Your talents and accomplishments in the laboratory, on the stage, in the orchestra, at work, or in a volunteer setting can all be just as impactful as those on the playing field.
Who Actually Gets Into Penn?
Let’s look at the demographics of current Penn undergrads:
Geographically, the undergraduate student body is comprised of the greatest number of students from the following states:
- Pennsylvania: 18%
- New York: 16%
- New Jersey: 12%
- California: 10%
- Florida: 6%
- Massachusetts: 5%
If you reside in the Deep South or a less-populated state like Montana or Idaho, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances than if you live in Pennsylvania or New York. Colleges like Penn love to say that each freshman class includes a member or each U.S. state which is why being from a remote locale can help your chances.
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown was as follows (percentages do not add up to 100% as applicants can list multiple races):
- White: 44%
- Asian American: 19%
- Hispanic: 10%
- African American: 7%
- International: 13%
- Unknown: 7%
The gender breakdown of current undergraduates is as follows:
- Men: 48%%
- Women: 52%
Penn’s Yield Rate
Penn’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 70% in 2019. This eclipsed the previous high of 67.8%. The takeaway is that an exceptionally high number of those admitted to Penn ultimately choose to attend the university. Part of the explanation for this is that the majority of the class was brought aboard via binding early decision. For comparison, elite schools such as Duke, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Claremont McKenna all have yield rates under 60%.
Tips for Applying to Penn
The almost 45,000 Penn applicants should all be aware of the following:
- An interview is not a mandatory part of the admissions process, but 90% of applicants are typically offered one with alumni interviewer. Interviews are primarily informational in nature (although the are part of the admissions process) and can be conducted in-person or on Skype.
- For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask visit our blog—College Interview Tips.
- Unlike many Ivies, Penn does consider “demonstrated interest” so be sure to make contact with the university throughout the process. This can include a campus visit, an email to admissions officer, connecting with the school via social media, or attending a Penn event in your area.
- Do everything you can to “bring your application to life.” This means seeking out recommenders who can speak to your passion and help your unique personality and attributes pop off the page. Essays will also be key…
- Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essays and short answers required by Penn. In the 2019-20 cycle, they are as follows:
- How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)
- At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classroom, too. How will you explore the community at Penn? Consider how this community will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape this community. (150-200 words)
Tips for applying to Wharton
As the University explains: “There is no typical Wharton student, but they are all ambitious, passionate, and well-rounded people who thrive in team environments and excel as leaders. We have class presidents, musicians, newspaper and yearbook editors, valedictorians, artists, star athletes, debate champions, pageant queens, and entrepreneurs who are all using their skills at Wharton, Penn, and beyond.” Clearly, there are many paths to Wharton but all of them involve fantastic academic credentials, a history of demonstrated leadership, and a clearly expressed passion for the world of business—the first supplemental essay (above) and the Activities Section of the Common App both need to stand out in this regard.
Should I Apply to Penn?
If you are at the top of your high school class and boast exceptional standardized test scores, it is definitely worth adding Penn to your college list. Yet, unless you are a star athletic recruit of the progeny of a U.S. President, it’s hard to give many applicants better than 50/50 chance at earning a place in the Penn freshman class. For more information on constructing a properly balanced list of prospective colleges, consult our blog—How to Create the Perfect College List.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).