How a Staten Island environmentalist got into UPenn

“I just did whatever I was interested in, and that naturally shaped my extracurriculars and my resume. I definitely conveyed that in my activities section. It naturally pieced together that I was an environmentalist, someone who was really, really passionate about sustainability. And I think that honestly that’s probably what got me in,” says Justin Shnayder, UPenn admit from Staten Island, New York.

In this week’s interview:

  • How Justin’s most significant extracurriculars got him into Penn
  • His winning personal statement and supplement topics
  • What Justin regrets most about his Penn application

Decision day

That day I woke up, and I had this sense of dread. I didn’t really want to do anything. I didn’t want to go to school, but I ended up going. Because I go to a specialized high school, everyone applied to a lot of the top universities, so there was this looming shadow darkness on everyone. Everyone was in the same boat, so we helped each other out throughout the day. As the day ended around 3pm, my friends and I just decided to go get food. That’s how we passed time till about 5pm. As I got home, I just took a nap. I didn’t want to think about anything. About 20 minutes before, I took a shower to refresh myself. Once 7pm came around, I filmed my reaction. In that moment, I didn’t know what to expect; I really thought it could go either way. But when I did find out, I felt so happy. I think, honestly, I was just as happy to get in as I was to not have to write any more essays.

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What got Justin into Penn

I think it was the fact that I just did what I was interested in. I feel like even if I didn’t have a supplement essay to back it up, the admissions officers could tell easily what I’m interested in. A few kids through my school applied to Penn, some to Wharton. And a lot of the kids that applied to Wharton were discussing after they got deferred that they felt like they didn’t have enough of a compelling narrative to demonstrate interest in business. A lot of times they said that they weren’t necessarily interested in business in high school, so they couldn’t really build that up. But I just did whatever I was interested in, and that naturally shaped my extracurriculars and my resume. I definitely conveyed that in my activities section. It naturally pieced together that I was an environmentalist, someone who was really, really passionate about sustainability. And I think that honestly that’s probably what got me in.

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Justin’s significant extracurriculars

In sixth grade, I was taking the state standardized test. One of the passages was about e-waste and how problematic it was; how it severely impacts local ecosystems, waterways, and things like that. After reading that, I did my own research because I was curious about it, and I found out that especially in my local community, Staten Island, there aren’t that many resources available for e-waste recycling.

So what I decided to do was to focus my efforts on educating others about the dangers of improperly disposing of e-waste, teaching people how to properly dispose of the waste, and then afterwards providing opportunities for people to recycle e-waste through e-waste drives. What these e-waste drives are is that we partner with the Department of Sanitation of New York, and we host these one-day collection events in local communities. A lot of times we find that parks are very convenient locations, and people come together and they bring all their e-waste. It’s packaged and cleaned up by the Department of Sanitation and sent to their e-waste recycling facility. That alleviates a lot of the difficulties associated with recycling e-waste: the commute, bringing the actual devices into the car and things like that, because we find that coming straight to people instead of having people come to the e-waste recycling facility just makes it a lot more convenient for everyone.

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Common App personal statement topic

My essay focused on playing board games with my parents and how I had a very shallow perspective of what it meant to win. I would always lose in those games, but I would refuse to do anything about it, because I assumed that my strategy would always work out.

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