How to Write the University of Pittsburgh Application Essays 2018-2019

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The University of Pittsburgh (colloquially known as Pitt) is a large research university established in 1787. Located in the industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pitt is home to 17 schools and over 19,000 undergraduate students.

 

With an acceptance rate of 60%, Pitt was ranked 26th out of all public universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report in 2018. The university has a thriving academic community, over 350 student clubs and organizations, and is known for its positive campus atmosphere; in 2010, it was rated as having one of the top 10 happiest student bodies in the country.

 

The University of Pittsburgh strongly encourages applicants to write three short essays, granting potential students a great opportunity to showcase multiple facets of their personality, experiences, and interests. Read on for tips to help you master these essays and boost your chances of acceptance into one of the happiest and highest-ranking public schools in the country!

Essay #1

How have you made an impact at your high school? Choose one example and tell us about it. (Responses preferred in 200-300 words)

This prompt provides you the space to demonstrate your passionsinitiative, and desire to help others. Whether the impact you have made is large or small, the essay should show how you possess each of these qualities.

 

Some good example topics for this essay:

 

  • You have always been passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health (be sure to give some brief background as to what stimulated this passion). You also noticed that a lot of students at school are always anxious about school work or seem to be struggling with depression. You decide to create an app that allows peers to share mental health resources, ask for advice from other students, or share memes/art/poetry/etc. that cover issues of mental health. You found that the majority of the student body downloaded the app and many have come to you saying how much it has helped them feel less alone and has given them the courage to seek help for their struggles.

 

  • A new student who began attending your school was bullied by some kids in your grade. Even some of your own friends were mean to him or would make fun of him. He would sit alone at lunch and, one day, you decided to sit down next to him, introduce yourself, and start a conversation with him. You realize you have many of the same interests and end up becoming good friends with him. You stand up to the bullies and they stop bothering him. The student tells you that he dreaded coming to school every day until you started hanging out with him. Later in the year, he makes a similar impact on you by being there for you during a rough time.

 

While the first example is on a “macro” scale, the second, more “micro” example can be equally as powerful if told well. If you decide to go with a smaller-scale impact, make sure it is written as a story; use descriptive details that really make the reader feel as though they were also there.

 

While you should be descriptive and show instead of tell no matter what you are writing about (see guide to the prompt below for more details on showing vs. telling), it is especially important when writing about an experience that could seem trivial if it is not well-described. Be sure to also illustrate the impact; for instance, for the second example above, the writer could incorporate dialogue between herself and the student when he expresses his gratitude for her reaching out to him.

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Essay #2

What makes you stand out from the crowd? What experiences have you had, good or bad, that make you unique? (Responses preferred in 200-300 words)

As briefly discussed in our guide How to Write the Common Application Essays 2018-2019, the best response to this question should demonstrate how the intersection of your personality, interests, skills, and analytical-thinking abilities creates a distinctive combination — one that would allow you to contribute in an idiosyncratic way to the college to which you are applying.

 

Taking it one step farther, UPitt is also looking for your ability to reflect. What evidence do you have of your uniqueness? What experiences can you point to that showcase your individuality? You will likely be doing some storytelling here, so it’s extremely important to show and not tell. Here’s an example of the difference between the two:

 

  • Telling — I am unique because I want to combine my lifelong love of riding horses and my philanthropic aspirations to open an equestrian therapy academy.

 

  • Showing — The feeling I get when riding is incomparable: the gentle leaps of the horse, the clicks of its hooves against the dirt, the briskness of the wind against my face; it gives me an overwhelming sense of freedom and power and tranquility. It’s this feeling that has helped me through all of the inevitable blemishes of adolescence, and it is my dream to help those who are struggling experience the uplifting sensation of riding.

 

Note that the “showing” example also avoids using any overused adages or clichés, as such sayings can diminish the strength of the experience or emotion you are trying to convey. For example, when explaining the difficulties that come with growing up, writing “the inevitable blemishes of adolescence” is more distinct and illustrative than saying something like “the rollercoaster that is high school.”

 

For some of you, this essay will be easy to start – maybe you’ve got an odd family tradition, an uncommon identity, a niche hobby, or even a peculiar birthmark that you could write about. In that case, be sure to point to specific experiences; you could focus on just one moment and tell the story with rich detail, or skillfully connect a few experiences together into one cohesive narrative. The key is to demonstrate your uniqueness through real-life examples and show how this uniqueness will translate into helping you excel at UPitt.

 

But what if you don’t have some extraordinarily special aspect of life to point to? Don’t worry – most of the world doesn’t. The key is to remember that you are still unique! Your specific life experiences, background, personality, interests, and a million other things form a special combination that really cannot be found in anyone else. Try writing out all of your interests, skills, and passions, and then lift out a few from the list.

 

Next, think about how these things come together and make you special. Are there any experiences that show how you, having your distinctive mixture of these separate identities or interests or abilities, were able to meet a challenge, relate to a stranger, help a peer, or learn something new about yourself? Really dig deeply into what you believe is truly unique about you, weave a story that features an experience or two demonstrating that uniqueness, and then show how this will help you contribute something distinctive to UPitt that nobody else can.

Essay #3

If you could create a new product, process, business, or organization, what would this entity look like? (Responses preferred in 200-300 words)

With this prompt, UPitt wants to see your creativity and problem-solving skills. In other words, you should show the admissions office how you think. The key is to think small when answering this question: what’s a problem you see, and how would you fix it?

 

We suggest you stay away from big national or global issues like “zero hunger” or “world poverty.” However, you may be able to concentrate on smaller, more specific issues within these broad zones, and most likely, the problem you’re interested in solving will be somehow related to family or interests or specific life experiences. (Bonus points if you can combine multiple areas of specialty together, drawing on your skills and experiences from two or more different academic or extracurricular areas!)

 

Some examples:

 

  • You edit for your high school newspaper, and you’re passionate about educational inequities in your city. You want to form a new publication with editors from other schools that highlights specific student experiences, with the hope of eventually attracting the attention of city officials.

 

  • You’re a dedicated ballerina who also loves biochemistry. You and your friends often suffer from painful calluses on the balls of your feet, and you have an idea for a home-made, inexpensive balm that would be more effective than usual drugstore remedies.

 

  • You regularly volunteer at the local soup kitchen, and you have just a tiny change you’d like to make to the process of forming and organizing lines on weekend mornings, specifically. You think that your proposal will really speed up the distribution process without dramatically affecting current procedures.

 

The key takeaway here is that this prompt does not require a well-tested research project that’s been presented at multiple conferences — just pick any problem you see in your daily life and come up with a creative solution for it!

 

As a word of caution, the only constraint is the word limit. While you have 750 words, the UPitt admissions office likely prefers the 200 to 300 range that they’ve suggested. In your answer, you should aim to have a brief background of what inspired your idea, an explanation of your idea, and the potential impact you’d like to see it cause. If you present something that requires a great deal of highly technical explanations, try your best to simplify it down so that any person walking down the street can understand your proposal. And worse comes to worst, pick something else!

 

Remember: your actual product, process, business, or organization doesn’t matter so much as your inspiration and process – the story of your creativity, problem-solving, and compassion.

General Reminders:

 

  • Be sure to highlight distinct, separate aspects in each of these three essays, but also make sure each essay topic fits into the overall theme of your application.

 

  • Don’t worry too much about the word limit when writing the first draft. It’s better to just get all of your ideas out on the page from the get-go and cut down during the editing process.

 

Good luck!

 

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