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The “Why This College” essay question and its variations are a popular supplemental essay prompt in college admissions. How should you approach this question? When asking “Why This College”, colleges want to know why you, specifically, are a great fit for their school. Read this blog post to learn how the “Why This College” essay prompt fits into the broader application, how to avoid a generic “Why This College” essay, and how to structure and write your essay. You’ll come away knowing exactly how to write an essay that stands out to admissions officers!
To successfully answer the “Why This College?” supplemental essay, you must first understand the purpose of this question. You see, going to college is like entering a committed, long-term, and potentially expensive relationship. For your part, you have to decide where to live and work for the next 4 years. And the college has to decide whether you deserve a precious spot on campus. A spot that thousands of others are fighting for, too.
In the “Why This College” supplemental essay question, colleges want to know why you, specifically, are a great fit for this particular college.
This question seems straightforward at first glance. But despite its directness, it can be difficult to answer. Lots of answers are overdone, and many students miss the point entirely. In this blog post, we’ll show you a foolproof process for defining and conveying why a college is the *perfect *place for you.
Keep reading to find out how you can create an amazing “Why This College” essay!
Going back to the relationship analogy: Imagine your partner asks you “Why do you like me?” You wouldn’t make them feel special if you answered, “Because you’re famous” or, “Because you live near the beach.” You’d make them feel special if you talked about how your unique personalities combine to form the ultimate dream team.
In the “Why This College” or “Why Us” prompt, colleges are looking to see that you know (1) what the school offers and (2) how it aligns with your interests, passions, and values. Your goal with this essay is to sincerely, authentically, and excitedly tell admissions committees:
Think of this essay as a bridge between you and the college. It’s your chance to express why you're drawn to it.
The prompts for the “Why This College” essay might differ from school to school. Here are a few examples of different prompts you might encounter.
Some schools, like Yale and Columbia, keep their prompts brief and open ended, often with a short word count. While the limited space can be a challenge, it also gives you an opportunity to focus on the most important reasons why you want to attend the school.
Other schools like NYU give a bit more detail in their prompts, helping to identify the categories they would like you to discuss: a specific campus, school, area of study, or academic and extracurricular programs. Because you have an expanded word count, make sure to discuss each of the points they ask for in as much detail as possible.
UChicago’s prompt is unique in that it has an open word count. While this may give you the freedom to talk about many topics, your essay should still be concise, cohesive, and well organized to maximize its effectiveness. Notice that this prompt also specifically asks you to focus on your own desires and goals. The admissions officers want to know how attending UChicago will help you achieve these goals — not just what you find interesting about UChicago.
Admissions officers use a holistic approach when evaluating applicants. This means they don’t make decisions based on just one factor. Instead, they consider multiple aspects of your application: academic performance, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities.
The "Why This College?" essay plays a unique role in this process. While grades and test scores provide valuable quantitative data, this essay serves as qualitative information that can't be distilled into numbers. It's your chance to breathe life into your application by showcasing your personality, ambitions, and potential contributions to the college community.
Think of this essay as the human touch, where you can share your narrative and explain why you're not just another student — you’re a valuable addition to their campus.
To truly master the art of writing the "Why This College?" essay, put yourself in the shoes of the admissions committee. These dedicated professionals aren't just sifting through a stack of papers. They're curating a diverse and vibrant class for their college. They’re looking for students who will not only thrive academically but also contribute to the campus culture
This perspective shift reminds you that this essay isn't just about what you can gain from the college; it's also about what you can give back. Imagine you're sitting at the table with the admissions committee, and your goal is to convince them that you’re an excellent fit for their institution.
If you take away only one thing from this article, let it be this: This essay answer isn’t meant to be a song of praise about the school OR an additional list of your achievements. Rather, it’s meant to show how aspects of you complement aspects of the school in mutually beneficial ways.
Your Values and Goals + This College’s Offerings = a Successful “Why This College” Essay
Sorry to say this, but admissions officers can spot a generic essay from a mile away. ChatGPT can’t write it for you. And nothing signals disinterest more than vague, recycled information.
To craft a compelling essay, you must immerse yourself in the college's culture, values, and offerings.
But before you crawl down the research rabbit hole, let’s give you two questions to guide your focus.
Question 1: “What does this school do that nobody else does?”
Every university has its distinct identity and strengths. It's your job to identify and showcase these unique aspects that resonate with your academic and personal goals.
Highlight what makes this institution stand out for you personally. Is it their groundbreaking research opportunities, renowned faculty, or commitment to community service? Maybe it's the vibrant campus culture, specific majors, or innovative programs. These unique qualities will form the core of your essay, making it authentic and memorable.
“Finding opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere is a great way to tackle [the Why This College] question,” says Eileen Dougherty, a Former Admissions Officer from UPenn. “You don’t want to say, “I’m excited for internships and studying abroad.” You can find those anywhere, so you’re not making a strong case for fit in those responses.”
Once you answer this question, move on to the second question.
Question 2: “How does that particular thing help me become who I want to be?”
More so than any other school, tell them why this thing is the springboard for the rest of your life. To answer this question, you’ll need to tie in aspects of your own personality and goals. This will help admissions officers see how you fit into the life legacy of the college.
Let’s take a look at the way one student addressed both of the above questions in her “Why Yale” Essay:
“My challenges are what fuel my identity and at Yale I would be able to challenge myself further through research. Within the computer science department, I want to expand my knowledge on the creation of various artificial intelligence models, and learn more about how they can be utilized for other pressing classification purposes. I believe under the right mentorship at Yale through their STARS (Science, Technology and Research Scholars) research experience, I can improve not only my skills, but potentially gain insight on how they can be applied to solve other major global issues. As a home to discovery, I would live up to Yale's next generation of innovators in order to continue its mission to improve the world.”
Question 1: “What does this school do that nobody else does?”
This student refers to the computer science department. She signals she’s aware of the strong reputation of its opportunities to learn about artificial intelligence. She also mentions a specific research program, STARS. At the end, she nods to Yale’s mission to foster innovation and have a positive impact on the world.
Question 2: “How does that particular thing help me become who I want to be?”
The first 7 words of the essay immediately give the reader a glimpse into who this student is. This student doesn’t shy away from challenges — in fact, they live for challenges. Which is great, because studying computer science at Yale will be challenging!
The student expresses their personal interest in artificial intelligence and shows they’re already thinking about how to apply what they’ll learn (“other classification purposes”). They finish strong by expressing their desire to solve problems and impact the world, which aligns with Yale’s mission.
Thorough research is the cornerstone of writing an effective "Why This College?" essay. Let these two questions guide you in conducting laser-focused research on your chosen school.
Top 3 "Why This School?" Essay Tips
Level 1: Novice Tips
1. College Website: Start with the official college website. You’ll find detailed information about academic programs, faculty, campus facilities, mission statements, and core values. Take notes on what resonates with you. Certainly don’t regurgitate this information word-for-word in your essay — but it can be a good starting point.
2. Tours and Webinars: It’s ideal if you can get to a school to see it in person. If not, take advantage of virtual tours to get insights into campus life, student experiences, and the college's philosophy. Check out:
3. Speaking with Current Students and Alumni: Reach out to current students or alumni if possible. Colleges often have a network of representatives who are happy to talk to prospective students. Check their website or give them a call to ask about these opportunities.
4. Reading Student Reviews: Websites like Niche and College Confidential feature student reviews and discussions. Read these to gauge the sentiment of at least some students. They are opinions, so take them with a grain of salt!
Level 2: Expert Tips
As you gather information, organize your research. Create a system that allows you to access key details quickly when you're ready to start writing. Below are categories you might want to note for each school.
With this organized system, you'll have a clear overview of the colleges you're researching so you can easily craft a compelling "Why This College?" essay.
“Personalized” is the key word here. After conducting thorough research, hopefully you can come up with at least 3 honest reasons why you want to go to this school in particular. (If not, maybe you shouldn’t be applying there!)
List out your personalized reasons for wanting to attend this school. Now you can begin crafting your essay around them.
One of the primary objectives of the "Why This College?" essay is to demonstrate how your academic and personal goals align with what the college has to offer. Admissions officers want to see that you can articulate precisely why you think this college is the ideal place to pursue your ambitions. Discuss specific programs, courses, or opportunities that the college provides and how they directly relate to your goals. Whether it's access to renowned professors, cutting-edge research facilities, or unique extracurricular activities, highlight the aspects of the college that make it the perfect fit for your future.
Here’s a suggestion for the general architecture of the essay:
1. Introduce your reasons for applying to this particular college.
2. Follow this up with facts about the college that attracted you. Include a few reasons why the college is a great fit for your interests and goals.
3. Conclude by expressing why you would be a great addition to the school.
Make sure that your essay is well organized and concise. Provide real reasons why the school is a perfect match for your talent and aspirations. With some thoughtful planning and research, you can craft an impressive essay that will surely help your application stand out.
Admissions officers appreciate essays that engage them from the very beginning. This makes them eager to learn more about the applicant behind the words. Below are some strategies for starting the essay.
1. Anecdote or personal story: Share a brief personal story that relates to your interest in the college. It could be an experience that sparked your curiosity or a moment when you realized the college's unique offerings aligned with your goals.
Example: “One step on Dartmouth’s campus and I knew it was somewhere to be treasured. On that November day, I was far from my California home, but it felt warm, despite the snow.”
2. A relevant quote. Sometimes, a well-chosen quotation or a surprising fact can serve as an excellent opening. Ensure that it's directly related to your reasons for choosing the college, as this sets the stage for what follows.
Example: "Feminism is not a job or a mask you can take off at the end of the day. Feminism is a lifestyle." –Alina Cebotari, Moldovan Intersectional Feminist. I keep remembering the feminists that have raised me, while I immerse myself in Barnard’s trailblazing alumnae community.
3. A thought-provoking question. Engage your readers with a thought-provoking question. Make it relevant to the college and your aspirations. This approach encourages your audience to reflect on the question and seek answers within your essay.
Example: “Have you ever experienced a sense of awe that transcends the ordinary?”
This student goes on to tell the story of the moment she knew she wanted to study architecture and connects with specifics of Cornell’s excellent architecture program.
The “Why This College” Essay is an important part of your application. It’s one of the best places for admissions officers to learn who you are and why you’re dying to go to their school. Although it requires a lot of research and thought, a strong “Why This College” Essay will make a compelling argument for why you would be a great addition to that specific campus.
Going through the research and writing process for this essay might even be a great opportunity for you to figure out what you’re looking for in a school!
By identifying specific resources, crafting detailed descriptions of how they align with your passions and ambitions, and using an authentic writing style, you’ll be on your way to creating a unique, personal, and effective “Why This College” Essay.
If you want to get feedback on your “Why This College” Essay and find out if it's strong enough for the school you're applying to, consider getting it reviewed by a professional using Crimson Education’s Essay Review Service.
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