Page 217

Posted on by Dean Furda

Page 217. It’s an essay prompt that was a hallmark of Penn’s application for probably 20 years: “You have just written your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.” Ben Franklin started his own autobiography at the age of 65 (he lived to 84). So let’s ask 18 year olds about their lives. How could I take it off the application?

Well, times do change and things should not stay the same because “that’s how it has always been.” And, there is an open ended essay on The Common Application, which can be a page out of your life or a creative, open prompt that a student can send to all their schools. And of course we have a supplement where we feel compelled to ask “Why our school?” so, do we need to ask applicants to write a third essay for Penn and will our admissions officers have time to read a third essay? I felt like we were asking too much of everyone and I let page 217 go.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t. But either way, page 217 deserves to live on through a different medium. So here it is, an ode of sorts and also a forward-looking beginning. Maybe this one should be page 218?

As a 1987 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, I am coming up on my 25th reunion. I have worked in a university setting all of those years, 21 of those in admissions and 13 of them as a director or dean. All that means is I have been around for awhile, and have my opinions and some perspective.

But that is why some people may actually pay (don’t worry, the advice is free) attention to what I have to say; I have a platform. A platform that I deeply respect and don’t take for granted. You see, I believe and I instruct my staff that we are educators and counselors. People who have attended sessions that I conduct, whether general college search sessions or Penn specific programs, I have a responsibility to help students make sound decisions. And that is the most I can give since Penn is “highly selective”. Putting that bluntly, my name is on thousands of “I regret to inform you…” letters a year.

Up until now though, the audience has primarily been limited to a school auditorium, as a college seminar speaker or a Penn specific information session. There have been other outlets as well: Jacques Steinberg’s blog, The Choice; a Forbes interview here; and a Bloomberg interview there. But Page 217 is going to be (hopefully) two things: broader in content and more two-way, with questions from interested students, parents, counselors, and educators.

Page 217 is framed around the broader topics of the education landscape; the admissions landscape; student self-assessment; identifying what a student wants from their college experience; a lens to evaluate colleges; and a question rarely asked: what do I do now that I have been admitted?

When I find that I have something to say that is a bit more pressing, I will Tweet my ideas from @deanfurda.

But this page 217 will continue only if it remains true to my original purpose. I want to help students and families to enjoy the opportunity of the college admissions process and make informed, if not enlightened, decisions about this next page in their lives. If this rendition of page 217 is no longer relevant (meaning my ideas aren’t), then I will pull the plug on this one. Maybe I will be right. Maybe I won’t.

Eric J. Furda C’87
Dean of Admissions


*PAGE 217
refers to the always legendary and occasionally dreaded essay which was once a mainstay of the University of Pennsylvania application. The question read as follows: “You have just finished your three hundred page autobiography. Please submit page 217.”

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