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How to Write the Pitt Honors College Application Essays

UPDATE: The Pitt Honors College application essays have been updated for 2020-21.  Learn all about the changes!

To win admittance to the University of Pittsburgh Honors College, you'll have to respond to two short answer questions. Like the other Pitt essays (check out our guide here) the Pitt Honors essays are to the point, with a recommended length of 200-300 words. The prompts give you the perfect opportunity to display two traits that are essential for any Pitt Honors College student: contribution to the public good, and intellectual curiosity.

Let's start by looking at the Pitt Honors College application essay prompts!

In lieu of an essay or personal statement, we ask interested applicants to answer short answer questions. 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.

  • An important emphasis of PittHonors is working for the public good. Please describe how you have worked for the public good in the past and how you expect to continue to do so as a student at the University of Pittsburgh and after graduation.
  • A hallmark of students in PittHonors is intellectual curiosity. Please describe how you have demonstrated intellectual curiosity in the past and how you expect to manifest that intellectual curiosity as a student at the University of Pittsburgh.


Step One: Past Evidence

The key to both of the Pitt Honors application essay prompts is that phrase "in the past." This tells you that Pitt wants you to describe specific incidents from your life when you have demonstrated these key qualities. That is, don't just tell them you like to give back, and that you are passionate about learning, give them the evidence!

Try a brainstorming exercise to come up with ideas. Open up a new document, or grab a notebook, and write down as many answers as you can think of to the following questions.

Public Good: What's an issue that you care about? What have you done to raise awareness of that issue? Can you think of a time where you made one or more people’s lives better? What communities are you a part of (school, neighborhood, church, clubs, etc.)? How would they be different if you weren't there? What is something you frequently do that others in your community will miss when you are in college? What in your world wouldn't exist without you, or wouldn't be the same without you?

Intellectual Curiosity: What is a subject or topic you learn just for the fun of it? Describe a time you found yourself immersed in a topic. What did you learn? How did it change how you think about the world, yourself, or others? What was your favorite school project, and how did it inspire you or affect your plans for the future?How do you seek out additional learning outside school, whether it's through programs or independent learning? Are there any barriers you have overcome to gain knowledge? How did you overcome them?


Step Two: Future Plans

Both Pitt Honor essay prompts also ask you to look to the future. This is a perfect opportunity to connect your goals to specific resources at Pitt. This time, start with research. Browse the University of Pittsburgh website (paying particular attention to the Honors College section) and use it to help answer the following questions.

Public Good: What's the problem in the world that you would most like to solve? How would a degree from Pitt (especially a BPhil from the Honors College) equip you to solve it? What classes (especially honors classes) or academic resources would you use to prepare yourself? How would you utilize PittServes? Are there any community service or advocacy organizations at Pitt that you want to join? How do they connect to work you've done in the past, or work you hope to do in the future?

Intellectual Curiosity: What are some specific classes or honors classes, inside or outside your major, that relate to the topic or project you want to discuss in your essay? If you were to apply for an Honors undergraduate fellowship, what project would you use it to fund? Are there any intriguing centers or institutes at Pitt that relate to the topic you want to discuss? Are there any specific professors that interest you, or Pitt grads working in the field you are passionate about?

Remember, these essays should work together! They can complement each other, or even cover the same passion, but you don't want to repeat your specific evidence between essays. Let's take a look at an example student's brainstorming list.

Public Good

  • Past evidence
    • Volunteering to teach self-expression through art at a camp for children dealing with grief.
  • Future plans
    • Advocate for art therapy in schools
    • Seminar in Composition: Service Learning
    • Community research project with a local outreach group for refugees


Intellectual Curiosity

  • Past evidence
    • Art history project- drawing a portrait of mom in ten different historical styles
  • Future plans
    • Honors research fellowship in art history
    • Internship with Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh consortium
    • Studio Arts option in History of Art and Architecture major

As you can see, both brainstorming lists cover the student's interest in art, but mention different resources at Pitt and tell different stories from the student's life.


Step Three: Put it all Together

When you sit down to write the Pitt Honors essays, keep the structure simple and straightforward. You don't have time to set the scene! Instead, begin by summarizing the biggest, most important takeaway from the story you are telling. For example:

  • "When I decided to create a Monet-style picture of my mom for her birthday, I had no idea it would lead to a year-long, ten-painting project that would cover the entire history of European art."

Aim to spend two thirds of each essay on "past evidence" (that is, a story about something you've done that shows your contribution or intellectual curiosity) and one third on "future plans" (specific resources at Pitt that connect to your interests and motivations).

Remember, the most important part of writing the Pitt Honors application essays is finding the right topics, so don't skimp on the brainstorming and research. (If you need more help figuring out what to write about, sign up for a Prompt account to get access to our free brainstorming tools.) Happy writing!


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