This student was not only accepted to his top choice school – the University of Pennsylvania – but was also accepted to Brown, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon, Washington University, UT Austin, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara, and with scholarship offers from University of California San Diego, William and Mary, and Brandeis.
I opened the door to reveal a scruffy 6’2” millennial wearing bright thrifted clothes and a contagious smile. Was this the man who was supposed to teach me Beethoven? It turns out he wasn’t. Jerred was a jazz pianist and anything but a traditional music teacher.
After four years of classical piano lessons, my technique had improved but I found my interest in a steady decrescendo. Although Mozart’s sweeping requiems and Chopin’s delicate etudes bring my mother to tears, my apple fell farther from the tree. By my freshman year, I knew I desired freedom of expression. What I didn’t know was that the fast-talking, bike-commuting, anime-watching jazz pianist standing awkwardly in my doorway would rekindle my passion for music.
Despite having little in common, I grew fond of Jerred’s quirks and looked forward to our lessons. From Joseph Kosma’s “Autumn Leaves” to Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” we spent our weeks reviewing the jazz classics as I steadily grew familiar with the genre. I began to transition my skills from sight-reading to chord building and from repetition to improvisation. The more I learned, the more liberating music became. Rather than being confined to the sheet music of celebrated composers, I had become a composer myself.
With a newfound passion for music, I tried my hand at singing—emphasis on tried. My first musical breakthrough occurred in eighth-grade history class when I rapped about the Founding Fathers for extra credit. To my surprise, the class erupted in laughter and even the teacher applauded my wordplay. While a Jewish private school student is by no means the most conventional rapper, I found I had a surprising talent for Presidential rhymes.
Armed with yet another musical perspective, I spent countless hours composing, and before long, teamed up with my best friend and guitarist Daniel. We spent the better half of Summer ‘17 producing original rap music for our first album: Downpour.
We lost track of time as we fiddled with our instruments and experimented with new sounds. Despite many nights spent laughing away at the YouTube Recommended tab, we managed to release Downpour in August. Soon enough, the line “bring your umbrella fella, ‘cause it’s gonna be a downpour” became the anthem of our school’s hallways.
We settled on the band name Subpar at Best to show that—at the very least—we recognized our amateur status. In hindsight, the name was a pretty accurate description of our first album. It wasn’t terrible, but it surely wasn’t winning any Grammys. From the grainy production to the mediocre lyrics, I was disappointed in the end result. Although our classmates were enthusiastic, I felt then as if we had wasted our precious summer.
Despite my initial hesitancy, Daniel and I returned to make music the following summer. We upgraded equipment and even lined the walls of an old closet with egg-crate foam to craft a makeshift recording studio. We managed to refine our sound by better layering our tracks and recruiting talented vocalists. I also challenged myself to establish characters through thoughtful lyrics and cohesive narratives. Ultimately, I was much happier with our second album.
Even still, we improve with every new release. We continue to develop our music and ourselves by seeking out and exploring new genres to fuse with our ever-evolving sound. Much like my transition from classical to jazz piano, our music has shifted from rap to indie rock. No matter the genre, I’m fortunate to be writing lyrics and arranging chords, and that Jerred imparted me with the skills to make music of my own. Producing music has taught me that even when stagnancy settles on the keys, it’s always possible to branch out and try a new approach. I’ve learned to never settle for subpar at best.
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. This morning, I read from right to left in an ancient script devoid of vowels and punctuation. The Talmud is an Aramaic collection of arguments concerning Jewish law, which I’ve studied in school since seventh grade. Rather than dogmatically memorize the laws of Judaism, my class parses through the Talmud’s challenging text to strengthen our reasoning skills. I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of the Talmud’s sages. It spoke directly to my innate passion for logical reasoning and philosophical inquiry.
To nurture my blossoming interest, I took a philosophy elective as a junior. We spent much of the year dwelling on the enigma of consciousness, pondering fascinating thought experiments, and considering viewpoints from Kant to Descartes. I often left class feeling less sure of the truth than when I entered, though my teacher assured me that Plato would be proud.
As much as I loved probing the depths of reason, I came to realize that thoughts, however profound, are merely thoughts. Whether through court verdicts or government legislation, philosophy needs real-world application to impact meaningful change. With this in mind, I joined my school’s Model United Nations team. My experience negotiating, drafting, and passing resolutions, in conjunction with my philosophical foundation, helped me engage in effective discourse.
Such discourse is disappearing at an alarming rate. In today’s political climate, I look around and notice significant polarization. Our inability to compromise is threatening our nation’s democracy. When we can’t pass new legislation, we lose the ability to bring ideas into the real world. This past summer, I spoke with Penn Professor Sophia Rosenfeld about her book Democracy and Truth. As we discussed approaches to minimize polarization, she emphasized that the responsibility falls on my generation to take part in an open dialogue. Our democracy depends on it.
Taking her advice to heart, I’m eager to work toward my goal of depolarization at Penn with philosophy as my engine. I plan to take courses like Public Philosophy, where I’ll learn to discern philosophy’s role in civic life and democratic society. I will join clubs like the Penn Political Coalition, which promotes civil discourse across the political spectrum. I also hope to conduct research under Professor Matthew Levendusky, who studies partisan media influence on mass polarization.
Penn is the ideal environment to pursue my interests in philosophy and politics. Rather than confine me to my major, the College of Arts and Sciences offers a unique interdisciplinary education. As such, I will be able to explore my interests across far-ranging and seemingly unrelated fields, from moral philosophy to astrophysics. I take comfort in knowing that my future career could lay in any building along Locust Walk, just waiting for me to find it.
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)
Descending the stairs of Van Pelt Library after a productive afternoon of studying for the summer courses I was taking at Penn, I froze in my tracks. I suddenly recognized Oscar Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are” echoing across campus. As my favorite jazz song accompanied the picturesque sunset, I realized that Penn was the perfect instrument to play out my musical ambitions.
Along with taking advantage of the rigorous academic opportunities that Penn offers, I am eager to join the Penn Jazz Ensemble as a pianist. Surrounded by varied and talented musicians, I’ll hone my craft, train to collaborate on stage, and engage with a wide array of musical styles. With my experience in both classical music and hip-hop, I offer a unique stylistic perspective that will further diversify the Jazz Ensemble.
I also plan to join the Penn Hillel where I’ll attend Jewish events, and club basketball where I’ll work to improve my game. Coming from a tight-knit Jewish community and basketball team, my experience will lend itself to a cohesive environment both on and off the court.
From gliding across the keys to dribbling a basketball, Penn will bring my wildest dreams to my fingertips.
University of Pennsylvania Office of Undergraduate Admissions,
I hope you had a pleasant holiday season and that you took some much deserved rest over winter break. I am eager to tell you how my own life has been since we last spoke in November.
I’ve spent the past few months excelling academically while maintaining my hobbies and extracurricular activities. With the basketball season in full swing, I’m spending upwards of ten hours a week–excluding travel time for away games–playing with my team as we mount our school’s best varsity season in years. We’re currently sitting at a 13-1 record, undefeated in our district and revving for a deep playoff run. As my team’s starting power forward, I’ve been training hard to increase my stamina and improve my free-throw percentage.
I’ve also recently stumbled across YouTube creators William Osman and Michael Reeves, electrical and software engineers respectively, while browsing my Recommended page. Although I had never previously realized the extent of my interest in any technical field, I was soon compelled to learn basic computer science as its ubiquity and versatility became increasingly evident with each video I watched. Winter break offered the perfect opportunity to expand my technological skill set. I finished Codecademy’s Code Foundations course and, after much deliberation over which language I should learn, I settled on Python 3. By coding programs like receipt generators and physics calculators, I used Codecademy’s exercises to practice defining and implementing functions. I’m currently learning control flow and boolean expressions, which computers utilize to make decisions based on a programmer’s criteria. I’ve realized that my acquisition of coding knowledge is an extension of my long-standing fascination with logic as evinced throughout my application.
Over the last few months, I’ve continued composing music while keeping up with my AP classes and extracurriculars. It brings me pleasure knowing that I can both manage a substantial workload and continue to make time for my passion. This delicate balance I have fostered has left me feeling confident in my ability to continue producing music in college.
Alongside my busy schedule, I have also balanced several college applications. After having researched dozens of top-tier colleges across the nation for the regular decision round, I can now proclaim even more confidently that Penn is the perfect fit for me. Penn’s emphasis on a personalized, well-rounded education cultivates the ideal environment to carry out my academic endeavors. My interests span a wide array of topics and would greatly benefit from a school that values excellence across the academic spectrum.
Beyond the prestigious academic environment at Penn, honestly, I’m drawn to Penn’s people. Every time I’ve visited campus, I’ve felt entirely welcomed. Home even. From the kind student who removed her earbuds to give my family directions when she noticed we were lost to the astrophysics grad student who captivated me with her charismatic teaching style, I haven’t found another school that comes anywhere close to Penn.
I hope you find me as good a fit for Penn as I find Penn for myself.