• Nora Sun

Tags: UPenn

Institution: University of Pennsylvania

Study: Major in economics and biology

High School Experience

I went to a very small, highly ranked college prep school in the Bay Area, California. All throughout high school, I was most interested in science classes, specifically biology and chemistry. I was also fairly good at math and english, although they weren’t my favorite subjects.

Course choices

Again, I was mainly interested in sciences and took nearly every science course available at my school. I also chose to pursue the most rigorous science and math courses, having completed multivariable calculus by graduation. My school was very small and therefore had pretty limited course selections. Most students usually choose to specialize in STEM, humanities, or languages and I chose STEM.


My school didn’t offer AP classes but I self studied for 2. I got a 5 on AP Spanish Language and a 4 on AP Calculus BC. I took both at the end of my junior year.


My GPA at the end of my junior year was about a 3.97. My school weights GPAs differently than most but for reference I had 2 B+s, a B, and several A-s.

Standardized Testing

SAT: 1570

SAT Math 2: 780

SAT Chemistry: 750


I started playing the violin when I was 5 years old and spent a lot of time during high school on it. I placed in many regional and national competitions and was also a leader within my youth orchestra. During my freshman year I performed at a winners recital in Carnegie Hall. I also led the Asian Culture Club at my school for three years and co-founded a community service club during my junior year. I was a part of student government during my senior year and was the community service lead of my grade. I was also a member of the debate team, volleyball team, and pre-med club but didn’t hold leadership roles in either. Outside of school, I have been working 10-15 hours/week at a local boba shop since my junior year. I also did numerous things over the summers during high school, including internships at UCSF Oncology and Kleiner Perkins (venture capital firm, I worked in their Shanghai office).


I was pretty close with the two teachers who wrote my recommendations and both had taught me for two years. We weren’t like best friends or anything but I definitely thought I was closer with them than I was with most teachers. Nobody called schools for me and I didn’t submit any other letters of recommendation besides the teacher and counselor ones.


There wasn’t a “narrative theme” to my essays. My personal statement was about an experience I had in Shanghai the summer before senior year while I was interning that centered around confronting my privilege and using it to better the lives of others. My UPenn specific essays focused more on my career objectives and how the school would help me achieve them.


I think my extracurricular activities and essays were the biggest strength of my application. Although they don’t seem super cohesive at first, I used my school specific essays to tie them together, using an interest in community service and public health as the common denominator. I also completed two internships at institutions with great name recognition within their respective fields which I think helped a lot as well. I definitely didn’t have the most perfect grades but I had a strong upward trend and was received straight As during my junior year, which I think demonstrated that I was ready for college level academics.


My biggest advice regarding the college application process is to be very disciplined about your time management. Start drafting your personal statement over the summer and have a schedule for completing supplemental essays. Don’t try to cram all of them into the few weeks before applications are due because you’ll be stressed and your writing won’t reflect your true abilities. For advice about high school in general, try not to compare yourself to others. I suffered from this a lot at the beginning of high school and it caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and unhappiness. Instead, try your best to focus on yourself— your own goals, aspirations, and plans to achieve them.



I loved the urban location, vibrant social scene, research opportunities in areas I’m interested in, and vast alumni network. I also wanted to be far, far away from California.


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