If you are going through the college application process, more than likely you have encountered supplemental essay questions asking you to elaborate on why you want to attend that institution. The question takes many forms. Why are you a good fit? What will you bring to our campus? What is it about our school that makes you want to attend? But, ultimately, it’s really the same question just asked in a different way.
In my line of work as a college advisor, I’ve read a lot of these essays, and I can say that I’ve seen many weak attempts at answering this question. Students seem to fall into the same “traps” every time. So, in this blog post and my next one, I’m going to cover the do’s and don’ts of writing a great response to the “Why our college?” question . Follow my advice, and it should lead you to an essay that will stand out to admissions offices.
Here is what you should do:
- DO take clues from how the question is asked. Since these questions all fall into the same category of “why do you want to go to our school?”, it’s easy to simply just answer it with that particular question in mind. But, you should READ THE QUESTION because each college will have a slightly different angle on it. You want to be sure that you are answering all aspects of the question that is being asked. Sometimes, colleges will give you clues to what they are looking for in how they phrase the question, and this can help you develop ideas on how to answer it.
- DO explain why you want to spend the next 4 years of your life there being involved in intellectual and academic pursuits. While this tip may sound like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed at how many students forget to mention the academic reasons that attract them to the school. Instead, they focus on all kinds of other things. But, aren’t you going to college to get an education, first and foremost? Think about and research the educational opportunities that are offered at the school. Why are they an academic fit with who you are, how you learn, what you have done and what you are interested in pursuing? You don’t have to know what you want to major in to include this in your essay. In fact, if you are undecided, it’s OK to talk about that, but then consider what does that school have to offer you to help you explore and decide?
- DO discuss how and why you fit at the school. Schools want students on their campus who are going to be happy and successful. Just as every student is different, so is every college, and admissions offices want to be sure that you understand what their school is all about before you land on their campus. After all, if you get there, and you don’t fit, you’re not going to be happy. What do I mean by “fit”? For example, say you are applying to a school with a student body that is known to be significantly involved in community service, and this is something that you yourself have been a part of while in high school. Talk about that. Or, what if you are looking for a school with a lot of spirit because that’s something that you didn’t have in your own high school experience? You can discuss that. Whatever aspect of a school attracts you, be sure to back it up with personal reasons for why it does appeal to you, when you write your essay.
- DO give examples of how you will get involved at college and have an impact on campus. Colleges are all about building an academic community with the key word being “community”. That means that they don’t just want students who are going to go to class, go home and not interact as part of that community. They want your college years to be a give and take where both student and school get something out of the equation. So, tell them what you want to get involved in. If it’s something that you’ve already been involved in, relate it to your current experience. If it’s something new, explain why you want to try it. Let the college know that you will be a contributor and a positive asset to the school.
- DO be specific. I cannot stress this enough. In the previous few bullets, I suggested topics that you should try to cover in your essay. With each of these you must get specific, specific, specific. And did I mention that you have to get specific? So, discuss some classes that intrigue you. Find a professor who focuses on your area of interest and mention her work. Talk about particular clubs and activities where you could see yourself contributing. Highlight things that impressed you when you visited the campus that made you want to go there. Touch on interactions that you may have had with students, staff or alumni of the school. Name names. Let the college know that you are really interested in attending their particular institution by showing them that you know about and are interested in specific things.
- DO do your research. Before you ever start typing your response to this essay question, know what you are talking about. Spend some time on the college’s website so that you truly understand what the school has to offer you and why you really should want to go there. Check out what the college prides itself on. Look at the course offerings. Be clear on how the curriculum works. Educate yourself on the extra-curricular opportunities. The only way you can get specific (see bullet point above!) is to do your research.
Stay tuned for my next post, which will tell you what not to do when answering this question.
Filed Under: Application Tips, College Essays, UncategorizedTagged With: "Why this college?" essay, admissions, application strategy, applying to college, college admissions advisor, college applications, college essay advice, college essay tips, College essays, Cranford NJ college admissions consultant, essay strategy, supplemental essays, Westfield NJ College Admission counselor, Why do you want to go to our college?
Earlier we discussed what to avoid when writing your "Why This College" college application essays. Today, let's get positive and talk about what should be in there by using some examples.
DO: Think of this as a "Why we are perfect for each other" essay.
Imagine you're on a date and the person sitting across from you leans in to ask, "So, why do you like me?" You can't just say, "Because you're hot." You're gonna need to be a little more specific. How do you do this? Here’s how:
DO: Fold a piece of paper in half to create two columns, then at the top label one "What I want" and the other "What they have."
As you're researching the school, bullet-point 10-15 specific, concrete reasons why you and the school are a great match for one another.
So, for example, if the school has a music and medicine program, put that in the right column. Next to it, in the left column, say why that's the perfect program for you. Or maybe you're interested in studying Chinese? Put that it in the left column and then look for something related to learning Chinese that the school offers--either academically or extracurricularly (an actual word but don't use it in your essay)--and put that it in the right column. How does this help? It takes your essay from:
"Michigan's well-known legacy, its fantastic football team and spectacular location in Ann Arbor are just a few reasons why I believe UM is the place for me." #supergeneric
"I look forward to Academic Argumentation (225) and Professional Writing (229), as I believe these courses will provide me with a firm basis in journalistic writing technique and improve my abilities to write analytically and develop well-supported arguments. Furthermore, the Professional Writing course will teach me how to write in a concise, straightforward style, a skill vital to a journalist." #likeaboss
See what he's done there in this Why This College example?
DO: Mention specific classes, professors, clubs and activities that you will actually be excited about being a part of.
And don't BS it. Imagine yourself on campus as a freshman. What are you doing? What conversations are you having? How are you involved? I want to say "You can't get too specific," although I'm sure you could if you try... On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being "I want to be involved in all the campus activities!” and 10 being "There was a particular student's dorm window I looked in during the campus walking tour and I saw her reading a Microecon book and drinking a Strawberries Wild from Jamba Juice--my favorite--and I thought--" (Slow down, creeper. And how did you know what flavor it was??) Anyway, keep it at like a 7 or an 8. And make sure all your details are relevant and appropriate. Here's a good gauge to know what’s relevant and appropriate. Ask:
- Am I showing that I've done my research?
- Am I demonstrating my intelligence?
- Am I connecting what they have to with what I have?
If you’re doing all three, keep it in. If you’re not doing any of these, consider cutting. And I know I said that third thing already, but it's worth repeating: often students only say why the school is awesome. But remember that this essay is not about why the school is awesome. The school knows it’s awesome; the admissions readers spend a lot of their time telling students like you why it's awesome.
DO: Remember this is another chance to show a few more of your skills/talents/interests/passions.
Make a list of 10 things you definitely want the school to know about you. Ask yourself: are all these values/qualities in my main essay or another supplement? If not, the "Why This School" may be a place to include a few more details about who you are. But remember: connect it to some awesome opportunity/program/offering at or near the school.
Okay, I said I was finished but here's one more: If the school doesn't have a particular program/opportunity you're looking for, don't freak out. Look at this not as a dead end, but as an opportunity.