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The Requirements: Up to 3 essays of 200-300 words each
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.
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!
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!
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).