How to Write the University of Pittsburgh Essays 2020-2021

The University of Pittsburgh, or Pitt, is a public research university just a few miles east of downtown Pittsburgh. With a campus encompassing 132 acres, Pitt enrolls almost 20,000 undergraduates, and is composed of 17 different undergraduate and graduate schools. 

 

Pitt has an acceptance rate of 59%, and the college is consistently ranked as one of the top public universities in the country. The most popular departments at Pitt are business, engineering, health, and the social sciences. 

 

All applicants to Pitt may choose up to two out of four optional short response prompts, and Pitt recommends about 200-300 words for the two that you choose. We highly recommend completing these supplemental essays, as they show the admissions committee a more personal portrait of yourself, and can reveal character strengths that the rest of the application cannot. Honors applicants must also write a separate essay.

 

In this post, we’ll break down how to write these essays to improve your chances of acceptance. Want to know your chances at Pitt? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what Pitt will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Pitt needs to know.

 

Pitt Supplemental Essay Prompts

All Applicants (Optional)

 

Complete two of the four following short answer questions (200-300 words).

 

Option A: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are integral to the Pitt community. Please identify and describe one element of your personal identity, and explain how that element would positively impact and/or progress Pitt’s community.

 

Option B: Resumes and lists of activities provide the Admissions Committee with an overview of your accomplishments. Please use this opportunity to provide more information by identifying one of your accomplishments and explaining how it has prepared you for a transition into collegiate life.

 

Option C: If you could create a new product, process, business, or organization, what would it be? Please describe its purpose and how it would function. (We especially encourage applicants interested in the College of Business Administration or the Swanson School of Engineering to respond to this question.)  

 

Option D: With thousands of colleges and universities in the United States alone, discuss why the University of Pittsburgh is a good fit for you.

 

Honors Applicants

 

If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?  Explain why and how you would change it. (no word count given)

Prompt 1, Option A (Optional)

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are integral to the Pitt community. Please identify and describe one element of your personal identity, and explain how that element would positively impact and/or progress Pitt’s community. (200-300 words)

Because there’s so many ways to think about identity, you should first brainstorm the most important lenses through which you view the world. Common lenses are race, ethnicity, hometown, class, gender, sexuality, and ability, but there are so many more (such as hobbies, languages, opinions). Think about how this identity has shaped your upbringing and influenced your personal growth. Brainstorm specific memories in which your identity has been a source of strength or a source of difficulty you’ve had to overcome. 

 

Then, you want to think about how you would fit into Pitt’s large and diverse undergraduate community, which includes over 400 student organizations. For example, an applicant writing about a cultural identity might find a cultural group at Pitt, like AQUARIUS or Fikaklubb, and write about how they plan to contribute to it. Another applicant’s personal identity might heavily emphasize community service, so they could talk about a service organization they’d love to take part in, such as Cords for a Cause or Aldercare. 

 

In addition to school clubs, you could discuss the ways your identity could impact others in your freshman dorm hall, in the cafeterias, and for prospective students touring the school. You could also think about ways in which you want to learn from others at Pitt. You can mention how you too want to be exposed to people of different identities and backgrounds, and believe that Pitt is a great place to do so. 

 

Here are a few examples to think about:

 

  • Maybe the most important identity you hold is your Latinx identity, specifically being the child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. You could talk about how you want to join Pitt’s Latinx Student Association, and learn from others who have shared the same experiences and struggles that you have. You could mention how you want to break stereotypes about Dominicans and Latinxs, and how you’ve dealt with the different types of discrimination you’ve felt while growing up. 

 

  • Maybe a prominent aspect of your identity is where you were raised, which for you is in rural Colorado. Being raised near beautiful national parks, you’ve always been keen on outdoors activities, like skiing, hiking, and camping. As a result, you want to join Pitt’s Outdoors club, and experience nature in Pennsylvania, such as the Allegheny National Forest. 

 

  • Maybe you’ve grown up with Crohn’s disease, which has deeply impacted the way you see yourself in the world, and led you to want to become a nurse. You could talk about how people suffering from chronic disease are often misunderstood, or simply invisible in the public eye. You could talk about how you want to join HOSA, or the Future Health Professionals club at Pitt, where you have ideas to start different awareness programs for people suffering chronic illness. 

Prompt 1, Option B (Optional)

Resumes and lists of activities provide the Admissions Committee with an overview of your accomplishments. Please use this opportunity to provide more information by identifying one of your accomplishments and explaining how it has prepared you for a transition into collegiate life. (200-300 words)

This essay prompt is relatively straightforward, and gives you a chance to add a personal touch to an achievement you’ve listed. Ideally, you’d want to talk about one of the activities or accomplishments you’ve worked on the most throughout high school, something that has developed and matured you as a person. The key is to pepper this essay with specific anecdotes that go beyond just describing achievements, and use anecdotes to demonstrate character growth. Maybe you grew in your leadership skills, or your passion for community service, or your skill in performing scientific research.

 

Something you don’t want to do is approach the essay with too much overconfidence and arrogance. Because the last part of the prompt asks you “how it has prepared you for a transition into college life,” you want to talk about how you have more room to grow, and that you’re ready to be challenged and pushed more at Pitt. 

 

Here are a few examples to think about:

 

  • Maybe your primary extracurricular activity was in speech and debate. You could begin by recounting an anecdote that illustrates the biggest competition of your junior year. Maybe you didn’t do as well at this tournament as you had hoped, but then you were able to reflect more deeply on your loss and climb back up. Moreover, you were able to celebrate the team’s success, not only your own, and enjoy debate as a learning process instead of a simple tournament result. Thus, you feel like debate has prepared you for the inevitable failures you will face in college, but has also prepared you to be grateful for the people you surround yourself with, as well as for the things you learn as you fail. 

 

  • Maybe your biggest accomplishment was coming out first in your division for volleyball. You could chart the journey of your sports career, from how you were cut from the team your freshman year, trained hard and made the JV team your sophomore year, and eventually made it to varsity by your junior year. You could talk about how you eventually became captain, and had to learn to sacrifice some of your own leisure to set a winning culture among your team. Your time playing volleyball has taught you that maybe during your freshman year of college, you won’t get everything you wanted out of a “college experience,” but you know that eventually, by the time you graduate, you will have worked hard for everything you’ve earned. 

Prompt 1, Option C (Optional)

If you could create a new product, process, business, or organization, what would it be? Please describe its purpose and how it would function. (We especially encourage applicants interested in the College of Business Administration or the Swanson School of Engineering to respond to this question.) (200-300 words)

With this prompt, Pitt 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. 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.

Prompt 1, Option D (Optional)

With thousands of colleges and universities in the United States alone, discuss why the University of Pittsburgh is a good fit for you. (200-300 words)

In this essay prompt, you want to demonstrate that you know the ins and outs of Pitt’s academic and social environment, and then show how you would contribute to these environments. Because the prompt begins by saying, “With thousands of colleges and universities in the United States alone,” you want to make sure that the essay you write couldn’t be written for any other college. 

 

If you have direct experience or relations with Pitt, such as having spent time on campus, having family members who went, or having done research with Pitt professors, you should go ahead and note that in the essay. If you don’t, you want to begin by researching Pitt’s academic offerings, extracurricular programs, campus traditions, and culture. You want to show that you see a distinct place for yourself once you step foot onto Pitt’s campus. 

 

  • Maybe you want to go to Pitt because of their philosophy program. You could talk about how you began researching the philosophy of language at a humanities summer camp, fell in love with the subject, and want to take your studies to the next level by studying with the esteemed philosophy of language professor Robert Brandom, whose books you’ve read. 

 

  • Maybe one of your goals in college is to join the marching band, specifically in the drumline. You could talk about how you went to Pitt football games as a kid, and was in awe of the way the marching band would take the field at halftime. In high school, you joined your school’s drumline, and eventually became a snare drum section leader, and even made it into several honors groups. You know that Pitt’s drumline, known as the “Crew,” is a tight-knit group, and you want to be part of a community that helps drive up school spirit.

 

  • Maybe you want to be a doctor, and are particularly drawn in to Pitt Medicine’s Summer Premedical Academic Enrichment Program, which offers accelerated pre-med advancement for those in underprivileged backgrounds. You could talk about your own low-income background, and how you are the first in your family to attend college, and how the resources this program offers would allow you to carry out your dream of going back to your hometown and practicing as a pediatrician. 

Honors Applicants

If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?  Explain why and how you would change it. (no word count given)

There’s so many ways you can go about this essay, and the key is to begin by brainstorming what it is you’re passionate about, and why you’re passionate about it. Pitt Honors College is specifically looking for students who “want to advance research, better the community, and leave a global footprint.” They’re asking you to think big, and think altruistically — so don’t be afraid to write about lofty dreams. Just be sincere and specific. Although there is no word count, you don’t need to go into a multi-page plan detailing your exact steps to solve this problem. The key here is to show your character and passions more than anything. 

 

It would be even better if you have past experiences working towards implementing changes, which would give you more credibility and grounding. Even if it’s as small as being a member of a community service club, or volunteering, you could use these experiences as a jumping off point for your future goals. Also, if there’s a personal reason why you’ve chosen your topic, you should definitely talk about it, as it could lead to strong anecdotes that would make your essay come alive. 

 

At the end of the essay, you could even go into how you see Pitt Honors College fitting into your trajectory towards changing this proposed problem. You could talk about a Pitt Honors first year seminar, like “Power and Resistance,” mention how you would love to engage in meaningful conversations by living in Honors housing, and list a honors pod you would want to join, like the community engagement pod or the health sciences pod. 

 

Here are some examples to think about:

 

  • Maybe you want to study education, and in particular, you want to make a dent in reforming public education. You can acknowledge that this is a huge, structural problem probably unsolvable by a single person, but that you nevertheless want to give it your best try. You want to start by participating in Pitt’s Combined Accelerated Studies in Education, granting you a bachelor’s and a master’s in five years. You could discuss how you want to start as a student teacher, then manage your own classroom to learn how best to help children learn. Maybe after a while, you can go into education policy, and specifically work on creating less segregated public schools, and bringing more funding into underserved areas. 

 

  • Maybe your intended major is computer science, and the problem you’d like to address is a lack of rural connectivity to the internet, even in America. You want to take the normal slate of computer science classes, but also many classes in public policy, to know how the government plays a role in broadband access. After graduating, you’d want to both work as a programmer, but also advocate on behalf of rural communities, especially through granting local and state funding to develop better internet service in rural areas. 

 

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