This prompt reminds us of the classic job interview question: “What is your biggest weakness?” When answering questions like these, it’s important to demonstrate honesty and self-awareness, but it’s even more important to showcase your strengths through the discussion of your “weaknesses” or anticipated challenges.
A possible route you could take for this essay could be briefly describing something you have struggled with previously (e.g., social anxiety when around a lot of new people) and explain ways in which you’ve overcome this in the past and how it has positively affected you (for example, by putting yourself out there and joining the chess club, which is now one of your favorite hobbies and greatest skills).
This type of response not only shows strength through your willingness to be somewhat vulnerable, but also illustrates your growth, problem-solving skills, and ability to deal with tough situations.
Keep in mind, though, that you should definitely spend more time detailing how you’ve overcome a problem than talking about the problem itself. It won’t give the admissions team much confidence in your ability to deal with the inevitably stressful situations of college if you spend 150 out of 200 words talking about how much of a burden your crippling social anxiety has been for you. Avoid writing a sob story; instead, reflect on your growth and maturity.
Remember: You are trying to demonstrate how you’ve grown from challenges and learned to face your fears, not just describe how your fears have negatively affected you.
Another route you could take is to talk about an anticipated challenge you have not previously faced, but how your strengths and other experiences you’ve had will help you with them. For example, perhaps you come from a small private school with a graduating class of 60 people. Or maybe you live in a rural town in Oklahoma and have never been to a city on the East Coast. Both of these backgrounds would potentially make attending Pitt overwhelming and nerve-wracking for you at first.
For this kind of response, it is still important to focus more on how you will handle the challenge than the actual challenge itself. If, like mentioned in the example above, you are coming from an extremely small high school, you could talk about how your strengths (e.g., outgoing or adventurous personality) or past experiences (for example, doing a summer study-abroad program) will help you deal with the challenge.
We received nearly 28,000 applications for approximately 4,000 places in the fall 2017 freshmen class.
We operate on a rolling admission policy for these places in our class. This means there is no specific deadline to apply for admission, but it is to your advantage to plan ahead and apply early. This is because some of our graduate school guaranteed admission programs either have deadlines or fill up quickly.
With this in mind, here are a few things you can do to stay competitive as you prepare to apply to the University of Pittsburgh:
Preparing to Apply
- Honors, AP, International Baccalaureate (IB), and College in High School classes. It’s good to take a number of such classes, but don’t take so many you can’t do reasonably well in them.
- Advanced level classes. The Committee is looking for a well-rounded curriculum from all applicants. Whenever possible, go beyond the minimum requirements. Four years of French and/or math, for example, looks better on a transcript than three.
- Taking the SAT or ACT more than once. We recommend that you test once in the junior year and once early in the senior year. We will superscore your SAT Critical Reading or Evidence Based Reading and Writing subscore and your math subscore. We will use the highest of the SAT superscore or the ACT composite score in reviewing your application for admission. You are not required to submit SAT Essay or ACT Writing test scores.
- Retaking a class with a lower-than ‘C’ grade. If you earn less than a ‘C’ grade in a key class, think about retaking the class in the summer.
- A rigorous senior year curriculum. We recommend a solid curriculum even in your senior year. It is to your benefit in the admissions review. Also, you’ll make an easier transition to college-level work during your freshman year.
Your application is considered complete for review and will be sent to the admissions committee when we have received:
- Completed online application for admission.
- $45 application fee.
- High school academic information using the Self-Reported Academic Record (SRAR) or submitting an official high school transcript. We encourage you to complete the SRAR rather than sending a transcript to improve application processing time. Please note that we will compare your SRAR to your official high school transcript if you enroll at Pitt. Accuracy in completing the SRAR is very important. Discrepancies and misrepresentations could result in the Admissions Committee revoking your admissions decision.
- Official SAT or ACT test results (SAT Essay and ACT Writing Test scores not required). Please arrange for all of your test results to be forwarded directly to Pitt from the testing agency.
Short Answer Questions
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. If you would like to be considered for University academic scholarships, you must submit a response to at least one of the Short Answer Questions. Your answers may increase the likelihood that you are considered for guaranteed admission to graduate or professional school or given special consideration due to extenuating circumstances. The Admissions Committee reviews responses for quality rather than length. However, the most effective responses typically range from 200-300 words per question. Responses that are longer or shorter are acceptable. You may choose to answer any or all of the following questions:
- Describe a challenge that you think you will face in college and how you anticipate handling the challenge.
- How have you made an impact at your high school? Choose one example and tell us about it.
- Pitt receives nearly 30,000 applications each year. What makes you unique?
In order to submit your responses to the Short Answer Questions, you must first complete University of Pittsburgh application. If you have already completed the application, you may complete the Short Answer Questions online.
Submitting a completed application for admission will have you automatically reviewed for University Honors College eligibility, Graduate/Professional School Guaranteed Admissions Programs, and merit-based scholarships.
Letters of Recommendation
While we appreciate your teachers, counselors, and other mentors taking the time to write recommendation letters on your behalf, we find letters are beneficial in very limited circumstances (for example: providing context for variance in your overall academic performance). We recommend that you submit responses to the Short Answer Questions and use that space to explain or clarify what most recommenders would cover in a letter.
Questions about your application materials? Contact the appropriate admissions processor.