The University of Pennsylvania is one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions, widely recognized for its remarkable breadth of schools, programs, and experiences.

As the gateway to the Penn experience, the Office of Admissions shares the many paths a Penn student might take, whether they are drawn to cutting-edge research, entrepreneurial endeavors, creative expression, or community service. A testament to the diverse appeal of a Penn education, its pool of undergraduate applicants has grown immensely in recent years, with Penn receiving more Early Decision applicants than any other school in the United States.

However, in emphasizing the breadth and variety of a Penn education, the Office of Admissions was missing the unified “Penn story” to tie it all together. Adding to this challenge was the need to appeal to each of Penn’s very distinct target audiences: prospective students, parents, and guidance counselors.

In order to help the University attract the most diverse and accomplished students possible—in the extraordinarily competitive top-tier of U.S. higher education—we partnered with Penn to define and articulate its unique identity and impact on the world.


We began the process by arming ourselves with data and insights. We reviewed reams of Penn research and materials; performed a competitive analysis of its peers; and engaged in conversations with students and deans from across the University.

A series of collaborative, dialogue-based work sessions with University faculty and staff guided our process each step of the way, and soon we began to uncover and distill what makes Penn “Penn”: how its student body is driven yet collaborative, and the campus courses with the civic-minded, good-humored ethos of its founder, Ben Franklin. Whether they study engineering or nursing, business or literature, Penn students and faculty possess a unique combination of friendliness and determination.

Building on these distinct values, we built a story and strategy to position Penn as an irresistibly community- and impact-driven place, where students “arrive with passion, learn as citizens, and leave with the tools to build a better world.”

Our final set of recommendations included guidelines for bringing the Penn experience to life through admissions materials, on-site tours and presentations, social media strategy, and digital content.


One of the most significant outcomes of the project began to unfold over the course of our process itself: unifying faculty and staff from across the University around common values, rather than the individual identities of Penn’s many schools and programs.

Our one-year process concluded in May of 2016, and the Penn Admissions team was eager to implement the new strategy across channels. They will be rolling it out as the next admissions cycle kicks off this fall, so we expect exciting changes and implications from our project to roll out throughout the next school year.