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!
University of Pittsburgh 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations
The Requirements: Up to 3 essays of 200-300 words each
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball, Community
We’ve always believed the word “optional” to be a trap: why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to stand out from the pack? Well, on the University of Pittsburgh supplement, it’s doubly treacherous. The instructions start off by saying the essays are “optional,” but DON’T STOP THERE. These babies are “strongly encouraged” (read: not optional) for U.S. applicants and downright required for international hopefuls. In short: write them. That said, Pittsburgh seems a little wishy washy in its commitment to these prompts, so take this as a prime opportunity to recycle some of your best essays from other supplements (or the Common App!) if the shoe fits. Just remember to change the school name and any other institution-specific details! If you’re feeling super pressed for time, we give you permission to zero in on a single prompt and write just one essay as long as you promise to make it #flawless.
In lieu of an essay or personal statement, we ask interested applicants to answer a series of short answer questions. Answering the following questions is optional, but strongly encouraged for U.S. applicants and required for international applicants. The most effective responses typically range from 200-300 words per question.
You may choose to answer any or all of the following questions below:
Describe a challenge that you think you will face in college and how you anticipate handling the challenge.
This is perhaps the most unique prompt of the three, and the one you’ll most likely need to write from scratch. Admissions wants to know that you not only have foresight, but the ability to be proactive. In a (hyphenated) word, they’re looking for self-awareness. Do you know yourself well enough to anticipate the challenges of independent life and challenging academic coursework? History is the greatest teacher, so before flinging yourself into the dark void of your future, consider taking a walk down memory lane. What sorts of experiences have challenged you in the past? When have you struggled with a transition? What are the defining interpersonal conflicts of your childhood and how did you resolve them? How might these past challenges shed light on a personal weakness or challenge you might struggle with in college? You may even want to start with an anecdote to ground your essay in reality and provide some evidence to support your hypothetical speculation. Wherever your narrative starts, make sure that it ends with a solution. Show admissions that you’re ready to grow!
How have you made an impact at your high school? Choose one example and tell us about it.
Although the scale of this prompt may seem relatively limited (your high school), the scope is quite broad! Your impact may have affected a single individual, the whole school, students, teachers, staff, even the building itself. As with any other Community essay, you get to define your community. Although you may be tempted to tout your greatest achievement, keep in mind that admissions wants to learn something new. Some of the most unique stories come from the smallest interactions and contributions. Did you take it upon yourself to start watering your teacher’s plants one day? How did this affect the classroom vibe? Your relationship to your teacher? Or your class’ relationship to the earth? Keep in mind that Community prompts are incredibly common across supplements. You may already be sitting on a stellar essay that fits the bill!
Pitt receives nearly 30,000 applications each year. What makes you unique?
Why you? What do you have that 29,999 other people don’t? Although it doesn’t say it in so many words, this prompt reminds us of the Common App’s first prompt, which asks students to discuss a “background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.” They’re both broad, catch-all prompts that give you the opportunity to describe what sets you apart, but you might look to the Common App’s list for inspiration. Does your uncanny talent for doing impressions amuse your friends and fuel your obsession with languages and accents? Or has your background as an army brat formed your worldview? The sky is the limit! But this question is also so broad that you could probably slot in any number of other essays you’ve already perfected for other schools about your special skills, life philosophy, or personal strengths. Heck, you might even be able to recycle a slimmed down version of your Common App personal statement depending on how you choose to apply to Pittsburgh (through the Coalition or Pittsburgh’s own freshman application).