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Every Essay Counts! How To Tackle the “Why This College?” Prompt

November 4th, 2021
The "why" college prompt

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Every Essay Counts! How To Tackle the “Why This College?” Prompt

Many colleges ask a variation on the “Why do you want to attend our college?” question. Their goal is to determine how well you know yourself and their college, if you have interests and ideas about what you want to gain from your college experience, and to see if you are a good fit for the school. Keep these tips in mind as you tackle the “why” college prompt.

In your supplemental essay, consider specific experiences that will help you tell a story and connect with the mission of the college in a unique way.

1. Be interesting.  Students applying to a popular Washington D.C. college often send us a first draft to this type of question with an introduction that looks something like this:

 As someone interested in political science, I cannot think of a better place to study than X University, with its myriad of internship opportunities and real-world professors with experience in the highest levels of government…

So what is wrong with this response? First, the college admissions officer will have seen this kind of answer hundreds if not thousands of times. Second, remember that every essay is an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn something new about the student that may not be evident in the rest of the application. So, while an extracurricular activity that showcases the student’s interest in international affairs might be listed in the application activities section, it probably does not go into detail. The why essay is a perfect place for the student to elaborate on global interests. The excerpt below connects the student to the college by discussing an internship and how what he learned there links to his area of study.

The Brexit vote occurred while I interned at the Smith Financial group. I gained insight into its dramatic impact on global markets and how it affects the way local financial planners pick stocks for their clients. With the financial industry being so dependent on global events, a university that is so rooted in global, societal, and political issues is an ideal place for me to study international business.

2. Keep the College Mission in Mind. You no doubt were attracted to the college, in part, due to what it stands for, its values, and priorities. With that in mind, be sure to visit the website and review the About Us page in detail. While you do not want to repeat back the same language used on this page in your essay, you do want to keep it in mind. If the college values global-minded problem solving then show yourself as a problem solver in your essay. If social justice is a value and that is one of the reasons the college appealed to you, then convey that and connect it to your own social justice advocacy.

3. Tell A Story. Our clients hear us repeatedly remind them to SHOW not TELL in their essays. So when responding to such a question, think of a story or anecdote that illustrates why you find the college in question appealing. Here is an excerpt from an essay that shares a story of the student’s academic interests:

Remember to demonstrate understanding of the college in the supplemental essay.

Although I have not yet decided on a major, I know that I want music to be a part of my education. When I was six years old, I started begging my parents for a drum set. They adamantly refused to live in the same house as a six-year-old drummer, so we compromised with guitar lessons. Playing guitar was an integral part of me until around 6th grade when, to the dismay of my parents, I ditched the rock classics and entered the realm of electronic music. Fascinated by the technicality of the genre, I started learning the ropes of electronic production in middle school and have not stopped since. With the history of jazz in New Orleans, there are so many ways to explore music both in and out of the classroom. This is why I was thrilled to learn about X College’s minor in Music, Science, and Technology. Courses like Advanced Harmony, History of Electronic Music, and Algorithmic and Computer Music will allow me to explore my musical interests as I figure out my major. 

From the response above, we learn about the student’s journey in exploring music and how he has connected that interest to specific course offerings at the college. We also see his sense of humor. He goes on to discuss which majors he will explore in college and how he will contribute to campus life.

4. Be Prepared To Link Your Story To the College’s Offerings. Sometimes the college just wants you to reflect on intellectual engagement or explore your definition of community in this kind of question. At other times, the college wants you to explain how your interests link directly to them. Here is an excerpt from an essay that does this effectively:

…Once I began researching the academic opportunities at X College, I realized that culture is only the beginning of all that X College has to offer. I came across the bachelor of science in public health, as well as the description of a food access project completed by students regarding food deserts in poor urban neighborhoods in (City Name). Before this year, I had never realized that my local grocery store and its fresh, reliable produce was a resource many of my peers in high school didn’t have access to in their communities, compromising the health of their friends, family members, and neighbors.  A class dealing with the vast inequity between Boston neighborhoods shattered my views on the seemingly perfect city of Boston that I was so proud to live in. I couldn’t believe that I had been so blind to these critical issues in my own backyard.  Science and medicine have always interested me, but this particular project opened my eyes to the importance of nutrition to the overall health of our communities and I believe (City Name), and more specifically, X College, would be the perfect place to explore public health and dive deeper into these issues.

Here the student connected an impact of a class project on her world views and how this has spurred a new interest in exploring public health in college.

Your supplemental essays are important and deserve more attention than the main common application essay. So start writing!

Contact us today to make your essays shine.

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