In this blog post, we’re going to cover the dos and don’ts of writing the “Why this College” essay.
The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate through specific details and examples why you know that you match up well with a particular school. The “Why Us” prompt is one of the most popular supplemental essay questions asked to prospective students; it is important.
Here are a few schools that require, or recently required, this prompt:
- Bowdoin College
- Brown University
- Colorado College
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Duke University
- New York University (NYU)
- Northwestern University
- Oberlin College
- Swarthmore College
- Tufts University
- University of Michigan
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Southern California
Let’s start with the things that you should avoid doing.
Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s weather, size, location, ranking, or reputation.
You don’t want to blend in; you want to stand out. Many, many applicants will write about these attributes. Some schools even specifically tailor their “Why Us” prompt to let applicants know that they don’t want you to write about the weather. We’re not saying that those aren’t valid reasons to love a school. We’re saying that the people in the admissions office are tired of reading about them.
Mistake #2: Using simple emotional language to demonstrate fit.
Telling a school that when you visited campus, “it just felt right” is not going to be enough. For one, a lot of people will say that. Second, that doesn’t help the reader understand why you’re a good fit for that school. Selling and distinguishing yourself is the goal.
Mistake #3: Misstating the school’s colors, mascot, stadium or named locations on campus.
Errors like these are the quickest way to show a school that you either did sloppy research or copied and pasted your answer from that of another school. Neither is good.
Mistake #4: Describing the traditions that a school is known for.
Search the school traditions and purposefully avoid touching on them. Everybody and their cousin have already tried that.
Mistake #5: Using the brochure for inspiration.
Avoid using the language that you found on the school’s website or brochure. While it does show that you did your research, it is more than a little lazy, and there’s a chance that the person reading your essay wrote some of the material that you’re drawing on and will consider your writing plagiarism.
Mistake #6: Thinking that this isn’t more than a “Why Us” essay.
Think of this as a “Why We are a Perfect Match” essay. If you were on a date, and were asked, “Why did you ask me out?” it would behoove you not to answer, “Because you’re female.” You need an answer that shows you know the person and connect to her values, what she likes to do, and what she cares about. The sooner you learn that lesson, the better. Think of the “Why Us” prompt, not just as a “why this school,” but a “why me and this school.”
Now you know what not to do. Let’s switch gears and talk about what you do want to do with three important steps.
Step #1: Do your research.
Take a deep dive into the school’s website for things like course catalogs, specific programs, extracurricular activities, and other opportunities that set this college apart from others. Talk about a specific major or course of study that interests you.
Beware: do not copy and paste from another “Why” essay. Make sure what you talk about is accurate for this school.
Read student reviews. Students are going to say some things that experts and websites aren’t going to touch on. Niche.com and Unigo.com have real student reviews. Read more than just a handful so that you can get a sense of the vibe on campus. Reviews that are skewed in one direction won’t give you an accurate perspective.
Take real and virtual tours. It’s tough to get to know a campus without walking it. If you can visit, you should. If you cannot, find a virtual tour.
Get in touch with a current student. If you don’t know someone who’s already attending, try reaching out to your social media network. If someone can put you in touch with someone from a specific university, reach out to them. Try to come up with some open-ended questions before you contact them, and if those answers stand out to you, you’ll have some awesome material to include in your essay.
Step #2: Research the academic opportunities that stand out to you.
If you know what major you’re leaning towards, try to find some of the courses, programs, and opportunities that connect to what you want to study.
Find a syllabus. If you can mention a syllabus you found, and why it intrigues you, you’ll turn some heads. Not only are you likely to be one of a few that are doing this, you’ll also be showing off your research skills.
Step #3: Convince and sell why you belong at the school
Think of this supplemental essay as an opportunity to stand out. Be genuine and, if it fits your personality, use humor. Communicate your values, your skills, your interests, and your personality. If you can craft an essay that makes a great case for why you and this college belong together, you’ll be in great shape.
Now get writing!
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