How to Write a Successful “Why X School?” Essay Without Ever Having Visited the Campus
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Perhaps one of the most difficult essays to write when applying to colleges is the “Why X School?” Essay. Odds are, you don’t have distinct reasons to want to attend X and you haven’t even set foot on the campus. How can you possibly convince a college you want to attend when you yourself don’t even know? The first thing to note is that you’re not answering why you want to attend a school; rather, you are answering why you are a good fit for the school (and by implication if you’re a good fit then likely you should want to attend). The specific way to tackle the prompt varies with the word limit essay:
Essays Shorter Than 250 Words
If you only have 250 or fewer words to work with, you have to be short and to the point. One way to write your essay is to find a unique characteristic or essence of the school that sets it apart from others. For example: UChicago has a market-oriented economics curriculum, NYU has one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, and Tufts is extremely artsy with an eclectic range of activities. Then, your task is to show how your personality matches the unique characteristics of the school. For example: you may vociferously devour The Economist in your free time, have lived in 20 different countries, or are unable to choose between your cultural cooking classes and the debate club.
Alternatively, you may focus on a certain school’s customs or a particular theme that the school emphasizes continuously and discuss how the theme aligns with your particular academic or extracurricular interests. For example, Penn stresses the importance of an interdisciplinary education, so a great response would focus on one’s desire to study both management and international relations and the intersection between the two.
Keys for Short Responses: Do simply not name-drop professors or research unless you have demonstrated significant and impressive accomplishments in the same field as that of the research. You must also explain how you plan on working with/learning from the professor or conducting research in a particular field.
Essays Longer Than 250 Words
For longer essays, you can first expand upon any technique used in a shorter essay. For example, in a short essay you may only be able to convey that NYU’s diversity aligns with your background and career interests. However in a longer essay, you can expand upon that idea and further describe how you plan to engage with NYU’s diversity, how you will fit in the school. Draw more specifically on what you’ve done or experienced so far in high school as support.
Alternatively, you can respond to a longer essay by using a vehicle as a base for your response. An example of this is to describe a particular scene or characteristic part of a school to frame a discussion about fitting in with the institution. You don’t even need to have visited a school to correctly do this. For example: For Penn, you could use observations of students walking down Locust Walk as a vehicle for discussing some academic or social aspect of Penn such as Penn students being “more social” than those at other schools. Of course, it’s always good to qualify your observations and perhaps reflect on more sides of a school. With the Penn example, you should also note that Penn students strike a balance between being academic and social (lest you become construed as misrepresenting the school).
Keys for Long Responses: Don’t get caught up in describing some particular aspect of a school to stretch out the essay. The admissions officers don’t need you to educate them about their own institution. Instead, your goal is to focus on your fit with that aspect, something the admissions officers have not yet experienced.