2 Great University of Pittsburgh Essay Examples
The University of Pittsburgh, or Pitt, is a public research university just a few miles east of downtown Pittsburgh. Pitt enrolls almost 20,000 undergraduates, offers 17 different undergraduate and graduate schools, and has several alumni currently playing in the NFL, most notably three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
That combination of academic variety and athletic notoriety makes Pitt one of the most popular public universities in the country, which means you want to make sure your essays will help you stand out from the crowd. In this post, we’ll break down two essays submitted by real students to Pitt, so that you can get a sense for what admissions officers are looking for.
Read our University of Pittsburgh essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Example 1 – Personal Statement for Pitt
Submission of either the optional personal statement or Common App personal essay is required for scholarship review, if applying without SAT or ACT scores, and may increase the likelihood that you are considered for guaranteed admission programs or given special consideration due to extenuating circumstances.
The personal statement is your opportunity to communicate directly with the Admissions Committee. Applicants are welcome to submit anything that helps tell their story, being mindful and thoughtful about the quantity and quality of information shared. Share information not included elsewhere in your application. (750 words)
I’ve always wanted to know more about the human body. One day, while out walking, my dad explained to me the science behind his diabetes. He detailed the function of the pancreas, and how without it functioning properly, his blood sugar needs to be well managed in order for him to be healthy. I went home and researched the pancreas, and the more I knew about this one organ, the more I wanted to know about the rest of them. Then I was visiting my uncle in the hospital. His kidney had failed, and he was about to go through surgery. Through listening to the doctor explain my uncle’s ailment, I learned more about the function of the kidney and why it’s possible to live with only one of them.
Both these experiences opened my eyes to the field of medicine, and ever since, I’ve been drawn to the science behind it. From reading textbooks about anatomy and microbiology to participating in summer programs in neuroscience and genetics, I’ve strived to immerse myself in many different fields of science to gain a wide range of knowledge.
While I enjoy science in general, I know that I want to specifically become a physician because of what being a doctor means. With their vast knowledge, they have the ability to solve almost any medical problem and can do so in almost the blink of an eye. Having the knowledge to consider a patient’s symptoms and quickly make a diagnosis that could be the difference between life and death draws me into this career path. I want the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives, and a hospital is one of the most critical places where I can make an impact on others.
When looking at the opportunities Pitt provides for students looking into the medical field, I stumbled upon AMSA, a student organization for pre-medical students. This organization provides opportunities for students to shadow medical professionals, be paired with mentors who are also on the pre-med path, and partake in cutting-edge research labs. At Pitt, I would join the AMSA in order to pursue as many opportunities as I can to be a successful pre-med student.
Further, I am interested in many of the Biology elective courses provided at Pitt. The Cell and Molecular Biology of Disease class piqued my interest as I am interested in the diseases that affect the structure and function of our body. From my learning in AP Biology and Anatomy to my internship in Genetics, I have been open to learning more about how the human body works in face of threats such as pathogens and other illnesses. At Pitt, I would take this Biology class in order to further my understanding of science and prepare myself for a future in medicine.
My dream is to become a physician, and I believe I can most successfully reach this goal at the University of Pittsburgh.
What the Essay Did Well
The author has chosen to use this space to provide more context about the major they hope to pursue in college, making this essentially a “Why Major?” essay. They do a great job of including the details you hope to see in that kind of essay, including how they first became interested in medicine and how they envision Pitt helping them realize their dream of becoming a physician.
Additionally, the student uses their interest in medicine to highlight aspects of their personality that will make them an asset not only to a hospital, but also to Pitt’s campus community. For example, in the third paragraph, they say they want to be a physician because of the potential to be the difference between “life and death” for a patient. This explanation shows that the student is mature, altruistic, and unafraid of responsibility, all qualities that admissions officers value highly in applicants.
As noted above, the student also does a great job of explaining how they see Pitt specifically helping them on their journey towards becoming a doctor. Pretty much every school has resources for pre-med students, but by highlighting the student organization AMSA, as well as several specific courses they would like to take, the student shows admissions officers that they see Pitt, not just any old school, playing an essential role in helping them realize their medical dreams.
What Could Be Improved
Technically speaking, this essay does do what the prompt asks, by “shar[ing] information not included elsewhere in your application,” as Pitt does not have a “Why Major?” prompt. However, when given the opportunity to write a personal statement, your primary goal should be addressing the following four core questions:
- “Who Am I?”
- “Why Am I Here?”
- “What is Unique About Me?”
- “What Matters to Me?”
These questions are not answered by this essay. Admissions officers are looking for a narrative which shares the author’s personality, feelings, and perspective, and unfortunately a “Why Major?” essay isn’t the best way of doing that.
Including details about their interest in medicine isn’t a bad idea by any means, but the essay would be more informative if their overall topic was, say, their passion for “mak[ing] an impact on people’s lives.” Then, they could describe several examples that showcase their selfless nature–for example, helping their elderly neighbor with groceries during the pandemic–with their intended career being one of them.
On a more technical level, although this essay is well-organized and has all the components of a “Why Major” essay, it would benefit from more showing, not telling. While we get a clear sense of how this student’s interest in medicine developed through conversations with his family, and then independently through textbooks and summer programs, that development would be more engaging if we felt like we were going on this journey with the student, rather than just getting a play-by-play.
For example, say the line “With their vast knowledge, they have the ability to solve almost any medical problem and can do so in almost the blink of an eye” was replaced with with something like:
“While volunteering at a local hospital, I never ceased to be amazed by the doctors’ ability to rifle through towering stacks of charts and tests, the numbers making my own head spin vicariously, and instantaneously synthesize the complicated, often contradictory information.”
This version makes the same point in a much more engaging way, by placing us directly in the scene, and also includes information about how the student reacted to the hospital environment, which gives us a clearer sense of how their interest in medicine has shaped their personality more broadly.
Finally, one of the basic rules of college essay writing is to use as much of the space given to you as possible. College applications are limiting by nature, so you don’t want to voluntarily limit yourself even further by leaving words on the table.
This student has used less than 500 of 750 possible words, which means they’re missing out on an opportunity to share more details of their personality with admissions officers. While you obviously don’t want to pad your essay with unnecessary information just to add words, 250 words is more than enough to say something substantive about yourself, and that extra information could be just the thing that convinces admissions officers to accept you.
Example 2 – Adapting to a New Environment
Black hole! Atom bomb! Brain functioning! Want to be a doctor!? Engineer!? Scientist!?
Here’s a ball. When you toss it upwards, there comes a point where it stops, reaches terminal velocity, and moves its way back to its starting point. That’s free fall and part of the one-dimensional motion.
Here is someone flying kites, wondering about their velocity, judging their height, and the length of the shadow, and tracing their motion. It is no longer just formulas, theorems, derivations, integration and differentiation, determinants, and determining permutations-combinations.
The transition from grade 10 to grade 11 class is definitely hard, crucial, and perplexing. Apart from the inner struggle, confusion, and dilemma of choosing the right stream that will determine one’s career path, a student faces pressure from external factors as well. Be it from parents, relatives, friends, or teachers, every student receives a plethora of advice, building the ongoing confusion in their mind. My mind was constantly juggling between the pros and cons of every field I was considering or was recommended to consider. My mind was in a state of confusion about whether I should prefer a high-paying job and go with the “popular subjects” despite having little interest in them, or if I should follow my heart and study the subjects that I love.
I finally decided to choose a stream that many would not. I heard many voices say, “Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology are not the ideal subject choices”. Hearing these words made me determined to prove my choices right and I soldiered on with my selection.
One of the major challenges was handling the rich curriculum of grade 11 and balancing the course curriculum with preparations for competitive exams. I was struggling to maintain my grades and hit the equilibrium that I needed to succeed in both of these concurrent responsibilities. I kept trying and refused to give up. My parents supported me constantly and conferred encouraging words upon me, motivating me more than the dopamine increase that coffee could ever give me.
With mere two months from my high school graduation, I can proudly say that I persisted!
I have attained stability and equilibrium within my studies. I have also picked up on how to give proportionate time to every subject, along with steady participation in extracurricular activities, competitive exam preparation, and focus on my mental peace. J. Peterson remarks that “Experience is the best teacher”.
Indeed, I fathomed that I would walk my own path, however long it would take me to see it through. If I want to have a good life with a successful career and emotional satisfaction I have to work hard and I am prepared to do so. The results of my own decisions and actions will always mean much more than what has been bestowed upon me. I would risk it all again because I know that I can only enjoy what I have earned and what I have not earned is neither for me to claim nor find fulfillment in. Breaking away from the risk-averse crowd that holds an exaggerated fear of what can be lost and blazing my own path has been thoroughly refreshing, to say the least. I trust myself to defy the odds to achieve an unimaginable level of happiness and satisfaction that follows.
Please note that this essay was written by a non-native English speaker, so grammatical and phrasing issues will not be discussed in this analysis. While these issues would be problematic for a native speaker, admissions officers understand that non-native speakers face additional challenges in writing their essays, so they won’t judge minor linguistic mistakes.
What the Essay Did Well
Wow! This essay starts off with a whirlwind that immediately sucks us into the student’s train of thought (ironically, just like a black hole), and concludes with an emphatic statement about their chosen area of study. Writing a strong hook is difficult, but this student has done a fantastic job of making the essay engaging from the first word.
Furthermore, they maintain an honest, open tone throughout the essay. That candidness is crucial to any college essay, as it proves to admissions officers that the way the student is presenting themselves is genuine. Lines like “My mind was constantly juggling between the pros and cons of every field” and “Hearing these words made me determined to prove my choices right and I soldiered on with my selection” present their thoughts and feelings in a way that is personal, but that readers can still relate to.
Most importantly, the last paragraph includes several bigger picture lessons the student learned from their “new environment” of 11th grade. While the prompt doesn’t explicitly ask them to include takeaways, when reading any college essay admissions officers want to know why this story is relevant to what you would bring to their campus community, and this student’s last paragraph lays out a whole host of ways this experience will impact their mindset moving forward.
What Could Be Improved
While, as outlined above, the experience the writer discusses was clearly formative for them, writing about academic challenges is a cliche essay topic, and thus one we recommend avoiding. Just about every student struggles to some extent with the transition from 10th to 11th grade, which means making that topic feel truly personal is incredibly difficult. Remember, the point of the college essay is to help yourself stand out. So, while you want to pick a topic that is genuinely meaningful to you, you also want to pick one that will help distinguish you from other applicants.
Additionally, the student writes “I finally decided to choose a stream that many would not. I heard many voices say, ‘Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology are not the ideal subject choices.’” While these sentiments may have been ones the student often heard, STEM subjects are actually more commonly selected as intended majors than subjects like English, history, or a foreign language, which makes the line about “choos[ing] a stream that many would not” feel somewhat contrived.
As a general rule, you want to avoid making broad statements of any kind in your college essay, and instead keep a narrow focus on your experience. For example, this student could replace these lines with something like:
“My friends found peering down a microscope all day to be good for nothing other than developing a bad neck cramp, so choosing to focus my grade 11 studies on biology meant I wouldn’t know most of the people in my classes. But I decided to take the plunge anyways: I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see, with my very own eyes, the cellular interactions that form the basis of all life.”
This version doesn’t make any big picture claims about the popularity of various subjects, and instead keeps the story grounded in the student’s story, and the particular obstacles they faced in choosing an academic path. Additionally, we get more details about what exactly drew them to STEM subjects, as right now their interest in those subjects seems to be largely grounded just in the fact that nobody else thought they should study them.
Finally, while this prompt doesn’t have a hard word count, this essay is over double the suggested length. As frustrating as word counts can be to navigate, they exist for a reason, as admissions officers have thousands of applications to evaluate and thus don’t have the time to read a novel for every student. Plus, overshooting the word count so substantially may suggest to admissions officers you have trouble following directions, which generally isn’t a quality they look favorably upon.
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
Want feedback on your Pitt essays before you submit? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!