How to Write the Pitzer College Essays 2019-2020

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Pitzer College, located in Claremont, California, is a member of the Claremont Consortium. As a member of this five-college network, Pitzer offers both intimacy–it has just 1,106 students–and the resources of a larger school. Pitzer tied for 35th in US News’ National Liberal Arts Colleges 2020 rankings

 

Pitzer’s resources and ranking make its application process competitive. In 2019, Pitzer only accepted 13% of applicants. Pitzer’s admissions process stands out from that of other schools because they have a “test-optional” SAT/ACT policy; this means that applicants can choose whether or not to submit the SAT or ACT.

 

Pitzer requires all applicants to write one 650-word supplemental essay. For this essay, applicants can choose between three prompts that invite applicants to reflect on “five core values” that distinguish Pitzer from other schools. 

 

All applicants to Pitzer’s Joint Medical Program are also required to write an additional 650-word essay.

 

How to Write the Pitzer College Supplemental Essays

 

At Pitzer, five core values distinguish our approach to education: social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, student engagement and environmental sustainability. As agents of change, our students utilize these values to create solutions to our world’s challenges. Please answer only ONE of the following prompts in 650 words.

 

What is Pitzer looking for in applicants’ responses to this prompt?

 

Before diving into the three prompts, let’s consider the bigger-picture objectives (both for you and for the admission committee!) of this prompt. The framing of this essay questions alerts you to the fact that Pitzer wants students who share their values; they see their core values as what really sets them apart from other schools. And, since an institution’s values are ultimately shaped by the community of people who are part of that institution, Pitzer’s admissions committee wants to get a sense for whether you will fit in with and promote these values.

 

If you want to get a better sense of what these values mean, you can review Pitzer’s explanation of these core values

 

Option A: Reflecting on your involvement throughout high school or within the community, how have you engaged with one of Pitzer’s core values? (650 words)

Understanding the Prompt 

 

This prompt is a great choice for applicants who are particularly excited about one of Pitzer’s core values. 

 

The phrasing of this prompt leaves open the possibility of writing about a whole period of your life or general community involvement. However, the strongest answers to this prompt will focus in on particular “moments” or “experiences” to show: 

 

  1. That you have thought deeply about the core value in question, and 
  2. That you actually live out or engage with this value in your daily life. 

 

Though it might be tempting to try to show how you live out this value in many different parts of your life, over the whole course of your high school career, a more focused essay will be more compelling. Avoid writing an essay that is essentially a survey of your high school career. Four years cannot fit into 650 words! 

 

Selecting a Topic

 

Remember that this essay is ultimately about you and your engagement with one of Pitzer’s values. This means that clubs or activities that you were only involved in as a member or sometimes-participant might not be the best choice. Though essays about teamwork or group activities can absolutely be strong, your own voice and role should be clear and impressive.

 

For example, if you want to write about environmental sustainability, you might be choosing between writing about your membership in your school’s sustainability club and a project that you started at your grandmother’s nursing home to reduce food waste. Here, the project you initiated at your grandmother’s nursing home would be a better choice; it shows your own vision and motivation, and will likely be far more compelling than an essay about being a member (even an active member) of a school club. 

 

Finally, remember to avoid the temptation to fit all the times you’ve engaged with Pitzer’s values into one essay. Below are examples of strong topics that stay focused on one particular way that the writer has engaged with one of Pitzer’s core values. 

 

Example 1

Value: Social responsibility

Essay Topic: Overhauling a baseball team to make it greener and more beneficial to the broader community.

 

The essay could begin with a paragraph describing how the writer noticed that their baseball team’s games reduced community access to a public field and often left large amounts of trash in the field’s bin. After describing these observations, the author could explain that he realized that his team had a negative impact on the community–and that he wanted the team to be a beneficial part of the community.

 

The rest of the essay could describe changes that the writer implemented to change his team’s impact on their community. First, the writer could describe how he got the school to provide reusable bottles to the team, as well as a water cooler. In addition, the writer could describe the team moved their match times to allow a senior softball team to play on weekends and fundraised to support local little league teams. 

 

Strengths of this essay: 

 

  • This essay has strong potential because it focuses on a particular “before and after” situation; the writer could clearly show their ability to reflect on their responsibilities to those around them. 

 

  • This essay also will likely be quite focused–the writer can build the essay around specific, vivid descriptions of observations and actions. 

 

Example 2

Value: Interdisciplinary Learning

Topic: A group science fair project that examined how music helps mice learn.

 

This essay would focus not only on the project itself, but on the reason for the writer’s interest in an interdisciplinary project. The writer could begin by describing a discussion she had with a musician friend about the psychological and physiological benefits of music. 

 

The writer could describe how she shared this discussion with her lab group and that, together, they decided to try to do their own research into the link between music and learning. The essay would not focus on specific experimental methodology (which is not so relevant to the question), but rather on the experience of interdisciplinary work.

 

Strengths of this topic: 

 

  • This essay clearly is interdisciplinary–the science fair project combines elements of psychology, biology, and music, at a minimum. 

 

  • This essay shows the writer’s curiosity, motivation, and ability to initiate and complete a challenging project. 

 

  • This essay is focused on a particular experience, and so will likely have depth and detail, providing insight into who the writer is and how the writer thinks and approaches problems. 

 

Writing Your Essay

 

As you begin to write your response to this prompt, keep the following pointers in mind:

 

Be sure that your essay is clearly focused on one of Pitzer’s values. Though it might be tempting to try to fit in other values, stay focused. It’s fine to hint at other values (for instance, Example 1 above clearly has links to “environmental sustainability” as well as “social responsibility”), but be sure that the admissions committee gets a clear, compelling understanding of what one value means to you. 

 

Though your top priority should be making sure that the value you’ve chosen is clear, avoid repetitive or generic language. In particular, many applicants are likely to re-use the language of the prompt (“I have engaged with the core value of social responsibility by…”). Instead, use your own words and link these terms to your own experience (“As I looked at the trash around the field, I realize that my team did not play a responsible role in our community or society”). 

 

As noted above, avoid broad, high-level summary of your life or high school career. Focus in on specific moments to show the reader how you have engaged with these values, rather than telling a general story about what you have done. 

 

Option B: Describe what you are looking for from your college experience and why Pitzer would be a good fit for you. (650 words)

Understanding the Prompt

 

This prompt is a great choice for applicants who are really excited for a liberal arts college experience. Broadly speaking, liberal arts colleges pride themselves on producing well-rounded graduates who have the tools to understand and analyze qualitative and quantitative events around them. Pitzer specifically prides itself on educating “engaged, socially responsible citizens of the world.” If you see college as a place to grow and become a positively-contributing member of society, then this essay is just the place for you to express that vision. 

 

Of course, the strongest responses to this essay will do more than just repeat the language that Pitzer has on its website. These general ideas–about engagement, citizenship, and contributing to society–will manifest themselves differently in every person’s life. 

 

Your goal, in this essay, should be to show who specifically you hope to become through your college education. This can mean a number of things–from mapping out the skills or knowledge you hope to gain to describing the social bonds you’d like to form to stating the specific career path you’d like to pursue. Below, we’ll dig into ways to personalize your response this very broad question. 

Selecting a Topic

 

In general, brainstorming for this essay will have two parts: you’ll need to think about what you want from your college experience, and then you’ll need to research and decide on which of PItzer’s resources best support that goal. We’ll go through both these phases below! 

 

Phase 1: Thinking about what you want from your college experience. 

 

As you begin to think about what you’re looking for from your college experience, it’s a good idea to organize the results of your brainstorming. One way to do this is to categorize the benefits you’re looking for from your college education. Below we’ve listed five types of goals that you could have for your college education. 

 

  • Academic knowledge and skills
  • Social experiences and connections
  • Self-knowledge
  • Career advancement

 

There are, of course, other goals you might have, too–but using these categories can help you organize your essay. A focused, strong response to this prompt will likely:

 

  1. Focus on just one or two–and at most three–of the areas listed above. 
  2. Home in on your specific interests within each category. 
  3. Link your various college goals to create a compelling, holistic picture of who you are

 

Phase 2: Thinking about Pitzer’s resources. 

 

Once you’ve decided on your goals for college, you should research which of Pitzer’s features will create the college experience you want. As you do this research, keep these pointers in mind:

 

Go beyond what you’ll find with one or two clicks on Pitzer’s website. Though it’s fine to write about easily-findable resources, be sure to do a deeper research dive, too. Link details about these resources to what you’re looking for from college. 

 

For example: If you want to gain research experience in college, a natural choice might be to write about a biology research opportunity. However, don’t just write “I’m excited about Pitzer’s biology research opportunities.” Instead, explain what lab resources, faculty mentors, or particular topics you want to investigate or questions you’d like to answer. You could even give examples of current ongoing research that links to you interests. Then be sure to explain what specific skills or insights you’ll gain from research at Pitzer.

 

Avoid writing about common college resources in general terms; if you are writing about an opportunity or resource that most colleges and universities schools offer, be sure to explain why this resource is distinct and especially exciting at Pitzer. 

 

For example: Almost all liberal arts colleges have an English major. If you’re excited to pursue an English major, be sure to highlight what makes their program stand out–and how it will help you achieve your specific goals. The specific resources you mention could be anything from creative writing workshops to faculty members to student groups affiliated with the department. 

 

Some college applicants have clear academic or professional goals; other students want to explore new areas in college in order to decide on an academic or professional path. Regardless of whether you have concrete long-term goals or not, this prompt could work well for you. However, you will need to find a way to make even more speculative or vague goals feel personal and compelling. Here are two examples of responses that can work for students with less clear goals (example 1) and with more clear goals (example 2). 

 

Example 1: This writer doesn’t have a clear idea of what subject he wants to study or what career he wants to pursue. However, he does know that he loves art and cares a lot about the climate crisis. This applicant writes about how he wants to explore academically and be inspired and challenged by his peers so that he can discover how to deploy his skills to help fight climate change. In his body paragraphs, the writer could describe specific, interdisciplinary courses and research opportunities he wants to pursue at Pitzer, explaining how these courses will support his goals. Then, in another paragraph, he could write about classroom and extracurricular experiences that will allow him to engage with his peers. 

 

Example 2: This student knows that she wants to become a doctor. Her goal as an undergraduate is to get a well-rounded liberal arts education so that she can understand the social and political dynamics that affect health; she also wants to get the pre-med education necessary to gain admission to medical school. Because this student has very clear, career-oriented goals, she could focus one paragraph on Pitzer’s academic resources, which will give her a broad understanding of social and economic conditions; in another paragraph, she could focus on Pitzer’s pre-medical resources, and in a final paragraph she could write about volunteer opportunities that will allow her to use both her sociological insights and medical interests to help others. 

 

Writing your Essay 

 

Here are a few tips to make your final product as strong as possible: 

 

Link the things that draw you to Pitzer to your broader goals. It’s easy to list off features of Pitzer that excite you with explaining why those resources are such a good fit for you and your goal. Take the time to connect the things you love about Pitzer to your essay’s larger theme (what you want from your college experience).

 

Stay focused. You might find yourself tempted to list off all the wonderful things you’ve learned about Pitzer; however, you should aim for quality, not quantity. An essay that offers an in-depth explanation of how you would use just one or two Pitzer resources would be far stronger than an essay that lists many resources but offers only minimal thoughtful, personal analysis of why those aspects of the school appeal to you. 

 

Avoid name-dropping. It’s easy to cram your essay with the names of distinguished faculty or prominent research programs. Resist this temptation! Instead, take the time to make sure your reader understands why you are excited about a particular resource.

 

For example

 

  • “Name dropping”: “In particular, I’m excited to work with faculty members like Professor Smith.” 

 

  • Not “name dropping”: “Forensic anthropology is a small field, and I’ve found very few professors working in my area of interest; at Pitzer, I’d have the unique opportunity to work with Professor Smith on…” (Note that no such professor exists at Pitzer. This is just an example!)

 

Option C: Pitzer is known for our students’ intellectual and creative activism. If you could work on a cause that is meaningful to you through a project, artistic, academic, or otherwise, what would you do? (650 words)

Understanding the Prompt

 

Pitzer wants to hear what you care about, what changes you want to create in the world, and what your theory of change is. If you’re an activist, artist, creative problem-solver, or eager change-maker, this might be the perfect prompt for you. 

 

Strong responses to this prompt will not only describe compelling projects, but will connect with your personal story. That is, you should strive to show not only what project you would want to do, but why you care about this particular project or creating this kind of change. 

 

Furthermore, don’t lose sight of Pitzer’s core values, which are the broader backdrop for this question (regardless of which of the three prompt options you pick). Your goal here should be to (either implicitly or explicitly) link the issues you care about and project you’d want to work on to one or more of Pitzer’s core values. 

 

You might also note that the prompt also uses the word “activism.” “Activism” typically refers to political or social campaigns that use strong (and sometimes confrontational) tactics to push for change. The fact that the admissions committee uses this word in their prompt should empower you to write about bolder actions that you hope to take. However, keep in mind that Pitzer still values respect, dialogue, and a diversity of perspectives–so be sure that your response does not come off as aggressively ideological or close-minded. 

 

This prompt is excitingly open-ended–which poses certain risks. Remember to keep your project focused, personal, and detailed. Don’t try to solve all the world’s problems in one 650-word essay. Remember, the admissions committee will be more impressed by thoughtful, pragmatic project ideas than vague, general descriptions. 

 

Picking a Cause and Project

 

The first step in your writing process for this prompt will be to brainstorm what “meaningful project” you would want to create. 

 

As you consider what cause to write about, ask yourself these questions:

 

  1. What causes am I already knowledgeable about or invested in?
  2. What causes could I most efficaciously impact? 
  3. What are the obvious responses to this prompt?
  4. What are less-obvious, more personal causes that I could write about? 
  5. What causes connect well with Pitzer’s core values? 

 

A few notes on picking a cause:

 

  • Don’t be afraid of going “too small.” Many, many applicants will write on big-scale issues like climate change or global hunger. Though it’s very possible to write an original, personal essay on these topics, excellent essays can also focus on a more “humble” or local cause (for example, preserving a local estuary or addressing your region’s lack of accessible medical care). In fact, a more locally-focused essay could really stand out–and show that you’re attentive to your immediate community, not just to hot-button news issues. 

 

  • If you’re already engaged in advocating for a cause, you should strongly consider proposing a project related to that cause. This is because you’ll be able to show your knowledge of and commitment to that cause–and colleges like to see follow-through and deep, demonstrated passion from their applicants. 

 

  • There is one exception–if you’ve already written other essays on a cause that you’re involved in, you should avoid repeating content in this essay. That doesn’t mean that you have to steer clear of anything you’ve already written about (this could be a great opportunity to add depth to, or reinforce your interest, in a given area!). However, be sure to approach this cause from a new angle. At the same time, don’t assume that your reader will have read your other essays on this topic (provide necessary background). 

 

Once you’ve picked a cause, you’ll need to consider what project you’d work on to advocate for that cause. Ask yourself:

 

  1. What skills, knowledge, or expertise do I have that could be useful?
  2. What kinds of projects have I already worked on? 
  3. What kind of project would most effectively promote the cause that I’ve chosen? 

 

As you design your project, keep these points in mind:

 

Research current Pitzer student projects. You can use these efforts as inspiration, but be sure not to copy or even too closely imitate existing projects; showing your creative problem-solving abilities is a crucial part of this prompt! 

 

Be sure to link your project to your cause. An open-ended prompt like this can invite you to dream up all sorts of amazing project ideas–but, no matter how great your ideas are, they need to clearly promote the cause that you’ve chosen to write about. If you want to organize an art project about mass incarceration, for example, be sure to explain what this will actually do to impact the problem (For example, will it raise awareness? Allow wrongfully imprisoned people to express themselves? Raise funds for legal defense? Put pressure on legislatures?).

 

Don’t be afraid to get into the nitty-gritty. Weaker responses to a prompt like this will remain relatively vague; they’ll talk about big ideas like “change,” “art,” or “protest” without ever really spelling out what this will look like for this particular project. Let your imagination go here; explain the particular phases of your project with as much detail as possible! 

 

What would a good essay topic look like? Here are some examples!

 

Example 1

An art project that uses photo montage to juxtapose food waste and the problem of hunger in the writer’s hometown, motivated by the writer’s experiences volunteering at a food pantry. The project aims to encourage restaurants to reduce waste and donate leftovers.  

 

Strengths: 

  • This is a local and personal take on a global issue.
  • This topic clearly resonates with Pitzer’s core values of social responsibility and environmental sustainability (reducing waste).
  • This project has a clear, strategic impact. 

 

Example 2

An applicant who is from an immigrant background and who is a spoken word poet and non-fiction writer could propose a community storytelling circle that aims to help new immigrants and refugees integrate; the applicant envisions that this model will be scalable, and ultimately brought to cities around the US and the world. 

 

Strengths:

  • This idea uses the applicant’s own experience (writing and spoken word) to address a broader problem. 
  • This topic is clearly personal; the writer will have the chance to draw on her family’s own experience in explaining why this project is meaningful to her.
  • This project is ambitious, but also realistic; it is something that could start on a small scale and then ripple out to have a broader impact. 
  • This project addresses a cause that will only become more relevant as refugee numbers continue to rise around the world. 

 

Example 3

A student who is passionate about geological and climate science could plan an app that crowdsources information from locals in natural disaster hotspots. This app would use advanced algorithms to turn people’s everyday, on-the-ground experiences into predictions that could help communities prepare for disasters like earthquakes, tornados, volcanic eruptions, and other extreme weather events. 

 

Strengths: 

  • This essay gives the writer a chance to show her ability to write in clear, non-technical language about scientific challenges, which is an essential–and challenging!–skill for scientists.
  • The project has clear potential for widespread impact and addresses an important global challenge.

Writing your Essay 

 

As you write your essay, keep these tips in mind:

 

  • Avoid technical or impersonal descriptions of the cause you want to work on. Remember, this essay’s purpose is ultimately to show the admissions committee what you care about. Try to introduce the reader to your cause in personal terms: Why do you care about it? What draws you to it? How did you learn about it? 

 

  • Be sure that your essay’s central ideas flow smoothly. The cause you pick should clearly link to the project you propose; make sure that your reasoning and strategy are clear!

 

For Applicants to the Joint Medical Program

 

Please discuss your interest in osteopathic medicine and what personal characteristics and experiences make you a good match for the program. (650 words)

Understanding the Prompt

 

Pitzer’s Joint Medical Program is highly selective, offering a maximum of six students per year admission to both Pitzer College and Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP). Students admitted to this program will spend three years at Pitzer, completing their undergraduate education, and then will continue on to COMP pursue their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (D.O.). This program structure has many of the pros and cons of other BS/MD or BA/MD programs. Notably, it requires high schoolers to commit to a long-term career path–at a particular school. 

 

Because of the selectivity of this program and because of its intensity, the admission committee wants to make sure that applicants are well-suited for the program. Put bluntly: The admissions committee wants to admit students who will flourish in and complete the program–not students who will struggle or drop out. This essay gives you the chance to convince the admissions committee that you’re excited to make the most of this opportunity.

 

You’ll also note that this prompt asks about why you are interested in osteopathic medicine specifically. Broadly speaking, osteopathic doctors have the same training as conventional (allopathic) doctors, but have a focus on the ‘whole person’. Because this approach differs somewhat from the approach taught at many medical schools, the admissions committee wants to hear what draws you to this unique, and somewhat unconventional, approach to medicine. Strong responses to this part of the prompt, will demonstrate that you’ve done your research into osteopathic medicine and that you have a meaningful reason to want to study it (which could be a personal experience, or something more abstract, like your values or beliefs). 

 

Selecting Personal Characteristics and Experiences

 

The personal traits and experiences you choose to depict–and how you link them to your interest in the Joint Medical Program–will make or break this essay. There are two key steps to effectively convince the admissions committee that you’re truly a great fit for this program:

 

  1. Pick two to four key characteristics or experiences to convey.
  2. Then, pick vivid examples that truly show how these experiences or characteristics make you a good fit for the program. 

 

Brainstorming characteristics and experiences. As a first step, consider these questions:

 

  • What characteristics are necessary for someone to be a good doctor?
  • What character traits might draw someone to osteopathic medicine specifically?
  • What qualities does someone need to make it through medical school?
  • What experiences prepare a young person for medical school?
  • What experiences could make a high schooler certain of their career goals? 

 

Once you’ve come up with some answers to these questions, consider which of these characteristics or experiences best fits you and your experiences. Once you’ve chosen a few characteristics or experiences to focus on, you can move on to stage 2: Picking specific examples to demonstrate these characteristics or experiences.

 

A few points to keep in mind:

 

  • Most BS/MD and BA/MD programs require or put a high premium on previous practical, medicine-related experience (shadowing, volunteer work, research, etc). This is because the admission committee wants to see that you truly know what you’re getting yourself into. For this reason, you should definitely include any of these experiences you’ve had in this essay. 

 

  • Don’t shy away from personal experiences. If you’ve had your own medical experiences, or have witnessed family members’ medical crises, feel free to include those stories in this essay. However, be sure that these anecdotes don’t come off as “sob stories”–your focus should be on showing how an experience motivated you to pursue medicine or taught you something about yourself (and/or medicine). 

 

Here are some examples of how you can specifically show the characteristics, understanding of medicine, and experiences that make you well-suited to Pitzer’s Joint Medical Program:

 

Example 1

A student who has Type 1 Diabetes and has had lifelong interactions with doctors could write an essay that centers around a few specific moments when her own doctors made her see the impact of medical professionals and the importance of empathy, listening skills, and communication to medicine. Then, this writer could transition to talking about how she has already tried to develop these same skills by working as a volunteer EMT and by shadowing at a local hospital.

 

Example 2

A student who has always been fascinated by biology and physiology could write about how, for a long time, he was interested in doing medical research, not practicing medicine. Then he could write about how a service trip to a hurricane-impacted city showed him that the science he loved also has the potential to help others. He could describe how this recognition led him to shadow an osteopathic doctor, which helped him see that osteopathic medicine best fit his goal of solving public health issues as a doctor. 

 

Writing your Essay 

 

Once you’ve chosen the experiences and characteristics you want to highlight, you’ll need to make sure that you address the rest of the prompt–specifically, how these experiences make you a good match for the program. How would this look in our two examples?

 

Example 1 continued

Next, the student could then describe how her experiences as an EMT have shown her the importance of treating the “whole person”–which is why she wants to study osteopathic medicine. She could wrap up the essay by describing specific features of COMP’s program that will allow her to develop the skills necessary to treat the “whole person.” 

 

Example 2 continued

After describing his experience shadowing an osteopathic doctor, this student could give specific examples of how a Pitzer undergraduate education would enable him to understand the social issues that underpin public health crises, while still giving him opportunities to develop his passion for the science behind medicine. The essay could conclude by focusing on how a joint medical program would allow the student to focus on his education (not medical school applications) and maximize hands-on experience.

 

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