Mastering the “Why this College?” Essay

  Dave Bergman   Dec 02, 2016   College Essay   0 Comment

writing_deskAfter pouring their heart and soul into the Common App essay, students are sometimes out of gas by the time they encounter any remaining supplemental essays. While supplemental essays may ask you anything from “What makes you happy? (Tufts)” to analyzing a Kermit the Frog quote (Dartmouth…seriously), the most important question in this section will, in some form, ask you to explain why this school is the perfect fit for you. Quite often, we observe that the “Why this college?” essay, in whatever permutation, lulls students into spewing clichés, empty hyperbolic proclamations, and other vapid, “let me just fill up this space” commentary.

To help you avoid this fate, we offer three simple tips for composing an answer to this question that will actually help your admissions prospects:

1. Avoid empty superlatives

Imagine an admissions officer, at the end of a long day’s work, getting ready to digest his or her 37th “why this college?” answer of the day. Picking up your essay, the officer learns that you want to attend their school because it is “great” and “has a stellar reputation.” Yawns ensue.  After being reminded for the 37th time today of their school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking, they take another sip of coffee and move on to the next file.

Heaping generic praise on your school is not going to sway anyone. If you’re going to shower a college with flattery, make it as specific and genuine as you possibly can.

2. Show that you did your homework

Let’s amend our uninspired example from the previous paragraph: University X is “great” because Professor Anderson’s research on the human genome inspired you to study biology and you are impressed by the “stellar reputation” of their one-of-kind undergraduate research initiatives. You go on to lavish praise on their state-of-the-art laboratories that were completely revamped in 2015, with further renovations scheduled for 2018. In expressing your individual passion for biology, you paint a picture of how attending University X would tie in to your academic and career aims.

Now, you have gotten the admission officer’s attention. Remember, admissions officers want to see that you have done your homework on their institution and have demonstrated serious interest in actually attending their school.

3. Say more about your passions

In addition to highlighting elements of a school that appeal to you, this essay also provides a venue to further explain what makes you tick and why this particular college is the ideal place to cultivate your unique passions. What clubs, activities, or study abroad locales appeal to you? Are there unique degree programs or undergraduate research opportunities that will enhance your learning experience?

If you can’t come up with a sincere answer to this, or either of the previous questions, you might want to rethink why a given school is even on your college list in the first place.

Dave Bergman
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: An New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

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