Write Page 217 Of Your Autobiography Essays

Page 217 essay no longer on Penn admissions application

Ellie Levitt

September 22, 2010

Page 217 has been ripped out.

For the first time in decades, Penn removed its famous essay prompt — “write page 217 of your 300 page autobiography” — from its supplemental application

The only essay question that remains asks students to elaborate on what paths they see themselves exploring in their undergraduate school or program at Penn.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Eric Furda said there were three reasons why the Admissions Office discontinued the question.

First, Penn’s use of the Common Application — which has an open-ended essay as an option — made the prompt “repetitive and no longer necessary.” Additionally, students felt that the essay was required even though the instructions said it was optional. Finally, since the number of undergraduate applications reached almost 27,000 last year, Penn’s admissions officers could not realistically read three essays per candidate, or four in the case of applicants to Penn’s Coordinated Dual Degree programs.

“The Common Application still provides an opportunity for students to [supply] additional information if a student feels they need to further explain something about their candidacy,” Furda wrote in an e-mail.

When Bev Taylor, founder and director of Ivy Coach, noticed the prompt’s absence, she thought there had been a clerical error.

“It’s been on there for at least the 20 years since I’ve been in the business,” Taylor recalled. Confident it would appear again, she even encouraged her advisees to write the essay in advance this summer.

Taylor said she thinks Penn removed the prompt to increase the number of applications they receive. “The more applications they get, the fewer students they ultimately accept out of the applicant pool.”

The lower Penn’s acceptance rate is, the higher the University’s placement in the annual U.S. News and World Report ranking, she added.

Other schools have recently made similar alterations to their applications. Cornell University’s supplemental essays decreased from three to one a few years ago, and Columbia University is using the Common Application for the first time this year.

Taylor “loved” the prompt because it encouraged students to be creative.

College sophomore Louis Stokum, for example, began his essay mid-sentence, as if it were the actual page in a book.

“My story started something like ‘woke up again covered in filth after another night in the dumpster,'” Stokum explained. From there, he traced his dismal adulthood back to the day when he received an “ominously thin envelope” from Penn declaring his rejection.

“I liked the essay because it wasn’t so formal,” Stokum said.

College freshman Sam Brodey agreed, adding that “it was one of my favorite essay questions.”
He wrote about being exonerated from a federal penitentiary after being framed. The essay explored deep depression stemming from newfound freedom and described his ultimate decision to enter a political race.

While both Stokum and Brodey wrote about the future, as if their autobiography covered the span of their lives, others often chose to write about previous life experiences as if page 300 was the present.

“My two older brothers were both presidents of Model UN, and they both went to Harvard,” College sophomore Alex Zimmer said. He wrote about forging his own path in high school.
“It’s sad the prompt is gone because I did really enjoy it,” Zimmer said.

It moved timidly at first, its gears slowly churning as it felt the spark of life flow through its wires. Slowly, it turned, rotating on its treads, as it scanned the arena for any signs of movement. Its light sensors on the alert, it sensed that something was near. It nudged forward as it felt its touch sensor activated. Immediately, like the Nordic god Thor wielding his hammer, it released its plastic Lego hammer of doom with the force of two robust motors behind it. Yet, in that time, without a warning, another robot crashed into it, sending it flailing in confusion. The true robotics battle had begun. As robots thrashed each other to pieces, many were catapulted out of the arena, with their wheels ripped off, and their motors strewn across the floor. My robot engaged in its last battle, as it struggled to stay inside the boundaries, but it was mercilessly pushed out by a more vigorous, bull-dozer robot.

Bearing witness to the raw force of technology applied and mechanized, I was astonished. Simple commands could transform an inanimate machine into a humanoid full of life. I loved that I could build a structure with Legos, attach some sort of a controller, write a few lines of code, and have my own robot that would follow my exact instructions.

Taking everything I learned from this small in-class Lego Mindstorms robotics competition, I enthusiastically joined the school's Botball robotics team. The objective was to build an autonomous robot that could carry out a range of tasks including sorting, gathering, and moving objects. I was surrounded by a group of highly motivated students, who all shared the utmost goal of building a sensational robot. Every idea was taken into account, dissected, and analyzed for its validity. The robot had to compete against others so our goal was not only to maximize our points, but to inhibit the other robot from completing its task.

Every day after school, our robotics workstation (a messy garage) became our haven as we labored to find the best design for our robot. Scattered across the floor were sheets of engineering design, details of mathematical formulas, and heaps of extra pieces as we tried to determine the best heuristic algorithm and design for our robot.

Somewhere between keeping detailed reports of our work and trying to reconcile programming with engineering, I realized how much I had come to adore robotics. In creating retractable arms, and forklifts, we were essentially trying to replicate things that were so natural to us. Even though we had a physical model– the human body – by which to base our plans on, it was exceedingly intricate to think of muscles and neurons in terms of wires and Legos.

Yet in this challenge I found the incentive to keep trying to create a model of humanity. Just as Victor Frankenstein labored to find the secret to life, I too wanted to make sense of our elaborate construction. Even the simplest things like teaching a robot to raise its mechanical arms took hours of tweaking lines and lines of code and experimenting with unusual Lego orientations. This fascination with trying to emulate our most primitive features kept me creating that new programmable formula or improving the robot's "eyes."

After two and a half months our garage only got messier, existing in a state of perpetual frenzy. As the deadline approached, we worked faster, perfecting our designs, running test trials, and celebrating with soda when appropriate. At the Southern California competition, we received first place in double-elimination and documentation, and 3rdoverall.

I hadn't yet realized the reverberations of this event, that the seeds of my future occupation had been cast and the faculties of my mind committed. Could my interest in robotics turn into a fervent enthusiasm about the simulation of a human brain in a robot? As time would tell, the ideas were already frothing, and the machinations of my wildest imaginations were set into motion. I never imagined that the brainchild of these playful explorations in engineering would ultimately lead to the development of the world's first completely autonomous robotics company, one that changed the face of mankind…

Jones, Fred. "UPenn Supplement - Autobiography (Robotics)" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 22 Sep. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/upenn/upenn-supplement-autobiography-robotics/>.

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