Part 1: Introduction

If you’re interested in attending the oldest medical school and the home of the first teaching hospital in the United States, look no further than the Perelman School of Medicine. Part of the University of Pennsylvania, UPenn Medical School is renowned for its research and leadership in the medical community. UPenn has maintained its Ivy League status through graduates who have made immense progress for the medical community at large. UPenn ranks as #3 for its research#4 for STEM schools for women and #4 in the world for innovative universities.

As one of the top-ranked medical schools in the United States, it’s not easy to get into the Perelman School of Medicine. While grades and test scores do matter, your secondary application essays and personal qualities will seal the deal if you are accepted into UPenn. 

But don’t let the challenge scare you away! This article is designed to help you if you want to study medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. Because, while it is hard to get in, it’s not impossible. So, we’ve created this complete guide to help walk you through the process of applying to Perelman. 

Part 2: Medical Programs at the Perelman School of Medicine

UPenn Medical School offers four different ways to earn your MD. 

  • Traditional MD program
  • MD/JD
  • MD/Master’s degrees (options range from Public Health, to Law, business degrees and more)
  • MD/PhD

MD Program

The MD program is structured with six modules covering three aspects of medicine, described by UPenn as:

  • The science of medicine
  • The technology and practice of medicine
  • Professionalism and humanism

These modules take four years to complete and are operated in small-group settings with an individualized focus. The modules are designed to encourage students to never stop learning. An integral part of the Perelman experience takes place at the Henry A. Jordan Medical Education Center, the first of its kind to combine research facilities for both clinical and research medicine. 

MD students have access to 150 different electives, allowing for plenty of exploration and experimentation in the medical field. Students can expand beyond the traditional four years to eight different master’s degrees and 10 certifications across 12 different Penn-affiliated programs. 

Here’s an overview of how you’ll spend your time as a student at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Modules 1-3

  • Developmental and Molecular Biology, Cell Physiology, and Metabolism
    Genetics, Embryology, Physiology, Biochemistry, Cell Biology
  • Human Body Structure and Function
    Histology, Clinical Anatomy
  • Host Defenses and Host Responses
    Immunology, Microbiology, Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Modules 4-5

  • Technology and Practice of Medicine
    Communication Skills, LEAPP, Learning Teams, ICM

Module 6

  • Professionalism and Humanism
    Doctoring, Cultural Competency

All classes are graded with a pass/fail criteria. 

MD/JD (Juris Doctor) Program

If you’re interested in law and medicine, Perelman School of Medicine has an MD/JD Program that might be perfect for you. It takes an average of six years to graduate with your MD/JD degree. Here’s how it’s broken down:

  • Years 1 & 2: Perelman School of Medicine
  • Years 3 & 4: Penn Law
  • Year 5: Fall Semester in Penn Law, Spring Semester in Perelman
  • Year 6: Finish at Perelman and Graduate

Students who are enrolled in the MD/JD program don’t need to worry about the Scholarly Pursuit requirement. Your Juris doctorate covers this requirement. However, you are responsible for the Frontiers and Bioethics requirements.

MD/Master’s degree programs

This program is meant for students at Perelman School of Medicine who want to expand their careers to include management, finance and technology. Students are responsible to complete all requirements for Perelman School of Medicine and Wharton. 

Options for Master’s degrees include:

  • Master of Bioethics
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master in Law
  • Master of Public Health
  • Master of Science in Clinical Epidemiology
  • Master of Science in Health Policy Research
  • Master of Science in Medical Ethics
  • Master of Science in Translational Research

UPenn’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP)/ MD/PhD Program

Perelman School of Medicine’s MSTP program combines research and medicine. These graduates will use an investigative eye with their patients to look beyond basic medicine and find new treatments for various health conditions. 

Most students begin the MD/PhD program by taking their first-year medical courses through the Perelman School of Medicine while also being enrolled in graduate-level courses and doing lab work. Later on, their focus shifts to grad studies and physician-scientist-type work. Through the Clinical Connections program run by the MD/PhD program, students are prepared for post-grad life as doctors. 

Tuition Costs for UPenn Medical School

Tuition alone costs $32,748.50 per semester or $65,497 per year. UPenn Medical School recommends that students budget up to $100,000 per year. 

While this seems very expensive, remember that UPenn Medical School is an elite university. It costs money to get a stellar education! However, there are scholarships and loans available to students who aren’t able to manage all their expenses on their own. Every year, thirty students are granted scholarships from the Twenty First Century Scholars Program, in addition to the other scholarships and loans that are available. 

Part 3: It’s Hard To Get In: Stats for UPenn Medical School

At 4.4 percent, the acceptance rate is pretty standard for an Ivy League school. UPenn Medical School receives over 6,000 applications per year. For the class of 2024, 155 new students were accepted. 

Scholastic Requirements for UPenn Medical School

UPenn Medical School is strict

  • Mean undergraduate GPA: 3.91
  • Mean MCAT score: 521.7

UPenn Medical School expects students to take the MCAT within three years of the time they plan to apply. If you’re an international student, you’ll need to take 24 science credits before you submit your application. 

Timeline for Submitting Your Applications

There are two applications to submit for medical school. The first application is the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is due by November 1. This application is known as your primary application. 

Your secondary application is the one you’ll submit to Perelman School of Medicine. The deadline for this application is December 1. 

While the deadlines aren’t until November and December, we highly recommend that you submit your application as soon as the application opens. This means preparing your application and your essay responses before the applications open. That way, you’re ready to go in the summer. Most students who are anxious to get in apply in June.

UPenn Medical School has an Early Decision Program for competitive applicants. Be sure to contact the admissions office before June 1 if you want to be considered for the Early Decision Program. Your AMCAS application is due by August 1, and all essays and other supplemental materials are due by August 15. 

When it comes to medical school, most applicants are qualified. This makes for a very stressful application process for prospective students who are anxious to prove themselves and score an interview. It’s also difficult for the admissions committee. They are dedicated to admitting the very best of all their applicants, and narrowing down the list of prospective students can be challenging.

If you want a shot at an interview with UPenn Medical School, you’ll need to:

  • Show strong leadership skills paired with empathy
  • Have a desire to learn and show passion for a specific field of study

And while this isn’t required for their criteria, they have students who have been through difficult experiences and thus add to the diversity of the student population. Your essays are the perfect opportunity to prove yourself in all these areas. There are no less than 10 questions for the MD program, providing you with plenty of space to do just that. 

Part 4: Secondary Application Essays (with samples) for UPenn Medical School

Here are the questions you’ll be asked for UPenn Medical School’s application. 

Question #1 Did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you academically or personally in ways you’d like the committee to know about? (500 characters)

UPenn Medical School is doing something they’ve never done before. They’ve never asked how a global pandemic has affected you because there hasn’t been one since UPenn has existed. But, they understand that COVID-19 may very well have affected you, and they want to consider this as they review your application. 

This prompt is completely optional, regardless of whether COVID-19 has affected you. If you don’t want the admissions committee to consider COVID-19 with respect to your application, skip this step. If you choose to answer the question, keep it to topics like unemployment making it difficult for you to pay for your education or being unable to take the MCAT because no nearby testing centers were open. Tailor your reasons to UPenn Medical School and why your application is still very strong.

Question #2 Many undergraduate universities have allowed students to choose between normal letter grades and pass/fail grades in light of the pandemic. If you switched from letter grades to the pass/fail option, please explain why. (500 characters)

This question might feel like you’re being put on the spot, but again, UPenn Medical School is giving you the opportunity to stand tall in spite of the pandemic. We advise against complaining that a grade was lowered from an A to a B, so you chose the pass/fail option. Only include reasons that significantly impacted your grades. Personal reasons like a close family member being hospitalized would also be appropriate here.

Question #3 Have you been enrolled in any online courses (unrelated to COVID-19)?

These simple questions can almost seem like trick questions, even though they’re not. They just want to know if you have experience with online courses. If you don’t, say no. If you do, say yes, and state what courses you took.

Question #4 Have you been recommended for or given an award at a state, regional, or national level?

If you have, congrats! List all awards here. Include what the award was called, what it was for and who gave it to you.

Question #5 Describe any time you have or will take off between completing your undergraduate studies and beginning medical school. (500 characters)

If you’re planning to go straight from your undergrad studies to medical school, you can skip this question. But if you’re taking any time off, here’s where you should account for it. Be sure that your account explains how this time has helped prepare you for UPenn Medical School. 

Question #6 Have you taken part in any international activities before submitting your AMCAS application? (1000 characters)

This is your chance to talk about overseas experiences! Maybe you went out of the country for an internship, a study abroad trip or a job opportunity. One word of caution–don’t plagiarize yourself! It’s okay to include information that’s listed elsewhere on your application. Just be sure to include new information. The copy and paste keys are not your friends here. 

If you’re looking at this guide far enough in advance and you feel like you lack the kind of hands-on experience you want to include here, check out our internship opportunities. We have opportunities to study medicine all over the world, including East Africa, Haiti and South America. Check out our website for more information. We’re happy to answer any questions you might have.

Question #7 Have you faced any specific challenges not already discussed that you want the admissions committee to be aware of? (1000 characters)

Ahh, the classic diversity essay. Shemmassian Consulting has a great article on this topic. 

Question #8 Please describe any economic hardships your family has faced. (1000 characters)

This question is asked because UPenn Medical School wants to know how you handle challenging situations. They’re not going to compare you to all other applicants and choose the student who has dealt with the most adversity in their life. Rather, they want a peek at how you have handled it in your life. Remember to only share hardships related to COVID-19 in the first question. Find another hardship to discuss here.

Here’s an example:

My dad lost his job when I was 15 years old. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school, and no one saw it coming. It was very stressful for our entire family to deal with. Everyone made sacrifices. All summer camps that hadn’t been fully paid for in advance were canceled, and I got a job to help get our family through. 

Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t able to find a replacement job for several years, so we sold our house and downgraded to an apartment. My two sisters and I shared a room for the duration of my high school years. The apartment complex wasn’t in the same area as our house was, so I had to transfer to a different high school. This was really hard for me because I had made friends and was playing the flute in band. There weren’t any open positions for flute at my new high school, so I had to learn the piccolo instead. 

It was hard sharing a room with my two sisters and seeing my brother be the one to have his own room, even though he was only 12 years old! Here I was, a sophomore in high school, sharing a room with a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old. 

But even though these challenges were an unexpected part of my high school years, they brought my family together. We shared a smaller space, but we also shared some great memories. My sisters and I bonded over board games and girl talk as we all got older. By the time I was a senior, I was besties with my youngest sister, Grace. To this day, Luke teases me about having his own room for his whole childhood, but I honestly think I got the better end of the deal.

This diversity essay might seem normal. But the fact is, everyone’s life is “normal.” There’s nothing wrong with facing normal challenges. By writing about it, you’re admitting that you’re human and that an unexpected change interrupted your plans for your summer and the rest of your high school years! High school is an important time in a teenager’s life and seeing how you endured through these difficulties and became closer as a family shows that you can handle obstacles as they arise–something doctors deal with on a daily basis. 

Question #9 Have you worked at the UPenn Health System or the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania? If so, did you work with a Penn faculty mentor? Please state their name, the department they work(ed) in, their phone number and how long they mentored you for, with specific dates.

We recommend answering in this format:

I worked at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.
Penn Faculty mentor: David Boyer
Department: Pediatric surgery
Phone Number: 111 222 1234
Duration: July 2019-November 2019

This format is clear and succinct and allows the admissions committee to use the provided information without having to find it in a dense paragraph format. While this might seem simple, it’s effective and sufficient.

Question #10 Why are you applying to UPenn Medical School? (1000 characters)
This one’s a doozy! Well, kind of. This question might feel like it will make or break your chance to get in. While it’s not that serious, it is important to answer it well. We recommend taking more time to make sure you’re happy with your response.

Here’s a sample essay:
It has been my dream to attend Perelman School of Medicine since I was a pre-teen. I decided I wanted to become a doctor when I learned about how cancer metastasizes in the human body. The concept of how cells work and how a disease can spread through the body fascinated me. I wanted to be part of the cure, or, at the very least, be part of the ongoing process to find the cure. 

My fascination with Biology continued throughout high school. I was enrolled in all Advanced Placement classes. I was a Biology major at my local community college where I earned my Associate’s degree and at the University of North Texas, where I transferred as a junior in college. Spending four years studying everything related to cell biology only furthered my passion. 

I want to continue to study cells, how cancer metastasizes in them and how we can fight back and save more lives. I believe that continuing my education at UPenn Medical School will give me the training and skills I need to become an oncologist and help find a cure for cancer.

Essay Questions Specific to the MD-PhD Program

Question #1 Please explain your research interests as carefully and technically as possible. Separate words with commas, not with tabs or the enter key. (500 characters)

Be honest here. Only state what you are truly interested in researching. Don’t feel like you have to take up all 500 characters.

Here’s an example:
Oncology, hematology, immunology, molecular formations, pathogen receptors

Question #2 In chronological order, briefly state your research experience. Please provide dates and hours for your experience. (For example, if you did lab work for a full year but had fluctuating hours, please clearly state what hours you worked and when you worked said hours. ” I worked full time (40 hours per week) from late April to late August and part-time (20 hours per week) for the duration of the 2019-2020 academic year.” Keep in mind that working at the same lab two different times (meaning a break in employment, not reduced hours) should be counted separately from each other. 

For each separate time spent researching in the lab, state whether your mentor will give you a letter of recommendation. It is highly encouraged to send at least three letters of recommendation to back up your experience. You want your mentors to elaborate on your experience and what you contributed to the lab. This will be an example to the admissions committee of what they can expect from you at UPenn Medical School. 

Reasons must be given if letters of recommendation are absent.

The MD-PhD program at UPenn Medical School is research- and mentorship-heavy. Because of this, UPenn wants to see an established background in their applicants to ensure that they will succeed in the program. 

Here is an example of how to respond to this prompt appropriately. List each role you had with this format.

April to September 2018: I was part of a lab focusing on DNA binding and gene regulation. I was there 40 hours a week through the entire experience. My mentor, Jill Metley, will be writing a letter for me detailing my commitment and contributions.

Question #3 If your research has been published, please provide citations for your work here. Otherwise, just let us know that you haven’t been published yet. (8000 characters)

If you’re accomplished and have been published numerous times, you might have to cut some citations out. For this reason, we recommend beginning with the publications you are most proud of, followed by publications of less importance. 

On the other hand, don’t worry if you don’t have enough citations to fill all 8000 characters, or if you don’t have any to list.

Question #4 Why are you applying to UPenn Medical School? (1000 characters)
Question #10 on the application for the MD program applies here as well. We don’t recommend copying and pasting that answer here, but the guidelines and sample essays we provided are applicable.

Part 5: Interviewing at Perelman School of Medicine

If you’re reading this part of the guide, there’s a good chance that you’ve been selected to interview at UPenn Medical School. If so, congratulations! This is a high honor. Making it to this point shows how impressive your credentials are to the admissions committee. They want to meet you and see if you’re as good in person as you are on paper.  

UPenn Medical School does not use the MMI interview format, which means that they will ask you all the standard questions that many other Ivy League schools ask. Examples include, “What makes you a good fit for our university?” “Why Perelman?” And so forth. 

To prepare for this interview, we highly recommend visiting the “Interview Feedback” on Perelman’s Student Doctor Network page. More exact questions will be provided there. You can practice answering these questions with a friend, family member or mentor to prepare for your interview day. 

On your interview day, there will be no need to travel. COVID-19 has caused all interviews to be held in an online format for the safety of UPenn and its prospective students. 

One final tip–since your secondary essays don’t allow for this, make sure to mention any connections that you have to Perelman during your in-person interviews. You want to exude passion for the school and having a personal connection will help demonstrate this.

Conclusion

You might be overwhelmed after reading through this entire guide. That’s to be expected! We recommend reading over it a few times to acquaint yourself with Perelman’s expectations and what you’ll need to have prepared to submit your secondary application. 

Here at International Medical Aid, we’re here to help you prepare for your applications–both your AMCAS and your secondary applications. Please visit our website to see what we offer and how we can be of assistance to you. We want to help you prepare the very best application to have the greatest possible chance of an interview. 

And more than anything, we want to see you with an acceptance letter in hand to UPenn Medical School!