How to Write the University of Pittsburgh Application Essays 2016-2017
About the University of Pittsburgh
Formerly known as The Pittsburgh Academy, the University of Pittsburgh began as just a small log cabin in 1787. At this time, the young academy was surrounded by miles of wild Pennsylvanian frontier. Over its nearly 250 years of history, the university has endured incredible change and, today, it lies at the center of a bustling, urban city.
The University of Pittsburgh occupies over 130 acres of land — a far cry from its log cabin beginnings — and boasts nearly 30,000 students. These students are lucky to call the university home, as it ranks in the top 10 among all public universities, earning the university great respect as an institution of higher learning.
Over the years, the University of Pittsburgh has racked up a long list of famed alumni. Maybe you’ve heard of the following people: businessman Mark Cuban (think basketball), economist Andrew Mellon (Does Carnegie Mellon ring a bell?), film actor Joe Manganiello (among his films is Spiderman), and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (recall the presidential race).
The success of the University of Pittsburgh’s alumni, along with its stellar academics, have drawn thousands of applicants to the university each year. With an acceptance rate of just 56%, interested students can expect a fairly competitive application cycle. It is ever more important to present your college profile in the best light possible, and part of that can be accomplished with a well-written essay response.
University of Pittsburgh Application Essay Prompts
We here at CollegeVine will walk you through how to craft the 2016–2017 essays in a way that will maximize your shot at getting accepted. Without further ado, the following are this year’s University of Pittsburgh prompts and supporting paragraph.
“The Admissions Committee reviews responses for quality rather than length. However, the most effective responses typically range from 250-500 words in total for all three questions. Responses that are longer or shorter are acceptable. If you decide to submit short answers, please answer all three questions:
How have you overcome failure and what did you learn from it?
How have you exhibited outstanding leadership
Why is Pitt a good choice for you?
Now, it’s time to tackle each essay prompt!
How have you overcome failure…
STEP 1: writing the first prompt
It’s best to split this question into two parts, the first being how you’ve overcome failure and the second about what you’ve learned from it. We’ll begin by dealing with the first part of the question. The wording of this prompt is fairly vague, yet still requires a great deal of detail in its response. For this reason, multiple approaches can be taken to answer this question. Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm your approach to this segment of the essay question:
- You may choose to provide a single example of a time during your life in which you overcame failure.
- You may choose to brainstorm multiple ideas about instances when you overcame failure and find a common theme between all these experiences. Then, you may concentrate your essay on this particular theme.
- You may choose to write an anecdote or metaphorical story that reveals the ways in which you’ve overcome failure; this would require a bit of creativity. For example, let’s suppose that your primary problem was that you were a kid who never seemed to fit in with the others. Perhaps you want to portray yourself as a metaphor of the ugly duckling. Maybe you tried to join the other kids at school in activities, but there was something different or “ugly” about you (in their eyes) that made them shun you. Then, maybe later, you can portray yourself as a metaphor of the beautiful swan after you discuss how you learned how to use your unique differences or “beauty” to be social and happy.
- Many other ideas that were not mentioned here.
Perhaps you would like to write about something that was not covered here. In that case, just make sure that the idea relates to the prompt enough so that admissions readers aren’t forced to make a vague connection. (The prompt is general for a reason, but you should not abuse that power!)
Next, it’s time to brainstorm different instances in which you overcame failure. Search your mind for experiences related to school, your hobbies, interactions with others, etc. in which you faced failure in some way. The possibilities are endless, and you may need to give yourself some time to come up with concrete ideas (which is why it’s important to start early).
If you seem to get stuck somewhere along the way, set your brainstorming list aside and come back to it later. You may even come up with something good for your list randomly throughout the day. Aim for at least five or so items for your list, as this will allow you to have sufficient examples for ideas, theme, and creativity.
With your brainstorming list finished, you may now consider the second part of the question: “What did you learn from it [overcoming failure]?” For each item on your list, try to answer this question in as detailed a way as possible. What did you gain from overcoming a failure in one single instance? Through all the different failures in your life, did you finally realize the core problem you had and solve it — and gain wisdom in the process? Did overcoming failure change you in a major way? These are just some questions to get you started when answering the second part of the question.
Now, think of various connections you can make between the items on your list and the different approaches you are considering for your essay (from Step 1). It may help to create two separate columns — one titled “brainstorming ideas” and the other titled “approaches” — on a sheet of paper. You may choose to draw lines across columns to represent connections between items.
Another way to visualize these connections is to write a possible approach beside each item from your brainstorming list. Regardless of your preferred method for relating and connecting, you should try to be as specific as possible in naming different approaches for each item you could potentially discuss in your essay.
Now it’s time to finalize the idea and approach that you’ll be using when you craft your essay! Eliminate items and ideas on your list based on criteria such as the following:
- Amount of detail it may provide
- How interesting it will be to readers
- How much the theme/experience meant to you
Now that you have your ideas finalized, it’s time to get cracking on that essay! Remember to apply your creativity and ensure that your tone, diction, and content coalesce into a clear voice.
Begin with a statement that will catch readers’ attention. There are so many ways to do this, including but not limited to the following: plunge readers into the action, write about something seemingly random that then relates to the rest of your essay, or start off with a relevant quotation. Then, craft the body of your essay with what you brainstormed.
Once you’ve done that, tie up your essay and end in a way that is satisfying, memorable, and satisfying. You may choose to do this in the following ways: set your essay into a larger context, reference something you discussed in your first paragraph (your attention-grabber is ideal for this), write a pithy and short final sentence, etc.
As you can see, there are countless ways you can approach the beginning and the end! You may come up with even more ways on your own. Once you are done with your first essay draft, read through it multiple times by yourself for edits. Have teachers, parents, and mentors aid you in your essay editing as well.
How have you exhibited outstanding leadership?
STEP 1: writing the second prompt
The keyword in this essay prompt is “leadership.” Before you even begin brainstorming, it’s best to have a clear idea of what the word means: “leadership” is often defined as the action and ability to lead a group of people or an organization. It is also important to consider the connotations and common associations of the word: guidance, management, passion, power, etc. Try generating your own list of associations that you know with the word “leadership.” What does “leadership” mean in the many ways you’ve heard it or seen it used?
Now that you have an idea of what “leadership” means and encompasses, it’s time to begin brainstorming! Think of the following questions when writing out ideas: During what specific instances in your life have you demonstrated leadership? Do you exhibit leadership very often, maybe even in everyday life? Are you always the first to step up and lead, or does taking a leadership role require you to step out of your comfort zone? When does the leader in you come out strongest or most frequently?
It’s now time to narrow down your brainstormed list and finalize what idea(s) you would like to write about. Eliminate items and ideas on your list based on criteria such as the following:
- Amount of detail it may provide
- How interesting it will be to readers
- How much the leadership experience meant to you
Keep this in mind: Like the last essay prompt, this prompt is a bit vague. It does not ask for a specific instance in which you demonstrated leadership but rather how you’ve demonstrated leadership in a general sense. This vague question opens up a lot of doors for how you may approach your essay, but make sure that there is an unquestionable connection between your response and the original question.
Now that you have your ideas finalized, you may begin writing your essay! See step 6 of question 1 for tips on how to do this, including ways to begin and end your essay.
Why is Pitt a good choice for you?
OVERVIEW: This is your typical “Why this school?” essay. Basically, what you’ll be doing for this prompt is answering why you think the University of Pittsburgh is the school for you. Remember to be as specific as possible throughout the process of crafting this essay.
STEP 1: writing the third prompt
Brainstorming is key for this essay! Why do you hope to attend the University of Pittsburgh? Why is it a good fit for you? Be honest and jot down all the contributing reasons for your interest in the school. Maybe it’s a certain extracurricular activity that compels you to submit your application; maybe it’s a few specific classes that really catch your interest; maybe it’s a renowned professor you’ve been dying to meet and learn from.
Regardless of your reason(s), be as thorough and honest as you can. We advise that you refrain from adding blunt or distasteful reasons for why you want to attend this school (e.g., “I don’t want to attend this college, but my parents are making me apply.”) We recommend that you save your creativity and imagination mostly for the other essays; this is a very standard “Why this school?” essay that typically doesn’t shed as much light on the applicant’s personality as the other two. The answers you brainstorm for this question should be very specific.
Keep in mind that thousands and thousands of applicants will be submitting very similar reasons for wanting to attend this school, so you need to a) stand out and b) seem genuinely interested and knowledgeable about the school.
It is highly recommended that you conduct some research on the school for a very thorough and personal list of reasons for wanting to attend. If you do choose to incorporate research, as most of you likely will, be sure not to sound like a robot reciting researched facts! Be as genuine as possible, and simply use relevant facts to lightly support your reasons for liking the University of Pittsburgh in the first place.
Consider every point you jotted down on the list. By now, you should have a clear idea of the reasons you will incorporate and the clear writing style you will use when writing this essay. You may choose to narrow down and finalize your reasons based on criteria similar to the following:
- How much detail you can provide
- How important the reason is to you personally
- How related the reason is to the rest of the reasons you want to write about
You may also realize at this point that no matter what, some ideas may be hard to weave into your essay due to how common or unspecific they are to the University of Pittsburgh. For example, thousands of students applying to the University of Pittsburgh may say that they are interested in the school for its location in bustling Pittsburgh. Unless you have a compelling personal need to present this interest of yours, you should try to choose a more personal and less common reason to write about.
Once you’ve finalized your reasons, begin writing your essay! Remember to make sure that you project a clear voice with your diction and tone. Generally, try to steer clear of long anecdotes and metaphors in this particular essay; this prompt was not meant to showcase of your writing skills or creativity (save that for the first two essay prompts)!
Even though this essay is relatively straightforward, you may still choose to start with an interesting grabber. This can be done in many ways, including the following: plunge readers into just a bit of action, write about something seemingly random that then relates to the rest of your essay, or begin with a rhetorical question.
Then fill in the body of your essay with what you brainstormed earlier. Once you’ve done this, tie up the ends of your essay and end on a satisfying, final, and memorable note. There are many ways to do this, including the following: speculate about the contents of your essay on a broader scale, reiterate something you discussed in your first paragraph (your introductory statement would be wonderful for this), or write a thought-provoking statement composed of pithy and short words.
There’s countless ways to imagine your beginning and end! Do some more brainstorming to find your own ways to begin or end. Once you are done writing, read through your first essay draft multiple times for edits. Then, have teachers, parents, and mentors aid you in your essay editing for a more complete round of edits.
Now that you have a general idea of how to respond to the University of Pittsburgh’s prompts, it’s time to conduct some research and write. We highly recommend that you don’t procrastinate, even though this seems like a lot of work! Every word and idea counts, and we hope that our guide will help you reach an essay in which each of these simply shines.
In the meantime, you may consider visiting the campus of the University of Pittsburgh to check out the campus and get some inspiration. Good luck on your essay!