“Why Them?”: Tackling the “Why Us?” Application Essay

University of Tampa, A fForida college

Building a connection between your interests and the college’s offerings will help you stand out in the college admissions process.

One of the seemingly ubiquitous questions found on college applications is the “Why us?” question. This question can take many different forms, such as “What most influenced you to apply to Vassar College?” or “Please compose an essay that will tell us how you will help the university carry out its mission.” At first glance, the answer to this seems as straightforward as Googling the college name and finding out a few key facts about the college in question. However, a successful answer to the “Why us?” question requires a little more thought than simply mentioning “The amazing campus” or “The great study abroad program.” Here are some tips and examples to help you craft a compelling “Why us?” essay.

Make a Clear Connection Between You and the School
Highlight an aspect of yourself such as an academic interest, a talent or extracurricular interest and connect it to an offering at the college that will enable you to take your interest to a new level. In the excerpt below, Max illustrated why Carnegie Mellon would be a good fit for him by explaining his longstanding interest in piano and his new curiosity about physics.

“Since I began piano lessons in the third grade, the piano has only been good to me… However, piano is not my only interest. This year, I have discovered my natural aptitude for physics. Carnegie Mellon University is an ideal school for me because it offers the opportunity to also minor in physics or to pursue a dual major in both physics and music… Whether it is music or physics, Carnegie Mellon offers an outstanding learning environment for me and would enhance my potential to do great things in my life.”

Besides acknowledging the school’s outstanding reputation in terms of academics and the performing arts, he also notes that its flexibility would allow him to pursue his interests in both science and music.

Consider unique experiences that you may have at that college, such as a specific course or field of study.

Find Something Unique About Each College
In addition to showing people in admissions that you have done some research on the college, an effective “Why us?” question requires that you incorporate a few unique characteristics about the college (in a meaningful way) in your answer. For his application to The Cornell School of Hospitality Management in the excerpt below, Oliver discussed specific details from the program that appealed to him and would help him in the future.

“The Institute for Hospitality Management offers a variety of courses that will help facilitate my career goals. I find the description of Professor Giuseppe Pezzotti`s Restaurant Entrepreneurship class especially interesting because it addresses areas that I want to know more about such as marketing, finance, budgeting, and the food and beverage department.”

His description of the class illustrates that he did research about the college. Also, his ability to relate the class to how it will help him achieve his goals shows that he has thought about what this class would mean for his career.

Avoid the Laundry List
Colleges offer a plethora of opportunities that allow students to explore different academic subjects, cultural experiences, and extracurricular activities. While it is fine to mention certain offerings that appeal to you, resist the urge to simply list every facet of the college that you find interesting. Instead, focus on one or two aspects that appeal to you and make connections between these features.

“Northwestern also offers opportunities to do research which would place me at the forefront of the rapidly developing biomedical field. Professor Guillermo Ameer’s research on the controlled delivery of drugs and gene-expression profiling greatly interests me due to its potential to provide treatments for problems such as a damaged meniscus, a small tissue that acts as a cushion, absorbing the force generated by any type of movement.”

In the example above, Derek offered insight into why Northwestern University’s biomedical engineering program was a good fit. His choice to limit his explanation to a very specific topic, rather than listing every aspect of the program, allows him to not only discuss his familiarity with the school’s research but also gives him the opportunity to showcase his understanding about the topic at hand.

The main thing to remember when tackling the “Why us?” essay is that it allows you to illustrate exactly why a particular college is right for you (and why you are right for it). By establishing a connection between you and the school, doing your homework on the college, and focusing on some specific aspects that interest you, you will be able to craft a successful essay that highlights your understanding of the university and how you will be able to contribute to the school community.

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