How to Write a Stellar “Why This College?” Essay + Examples
- Sample “Why This College?” Prompts
- FAQs About the “Why This College?” Essay
- Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Good “Why This College?” Essay Examples
- Brainstorming for this Essay
- Outlining Your Essay
- Where to Get Your Essay Edited
One of the most common college essay supplements will ask you to answer the question: “Why This College?”. These essays are looking to see whether you’re a good fit for the campus community, and whether the college is a good fit for you and your goals.
In this post, we’ll show you a couple examples of these prompts, go over good and bad sample responses, and break down how to best respond to these.
Sample “Why This College?” Prompts
Let’s start by taking a look at real prompts that fit under the “Why This College?” archetype:
Tufts: Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, ‘Why Tufts?’ (150 words)
Northwestern: Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. Help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you’ll make use of specific resources and opportunities here. (300 words)
As you can see, these prompts are basically asking why you want to attend the school in question. Northwestern spells it out even further, and specifically asks how you’ll use their resources to achieve your goals.
Both prompts have word counts that are much shorter than that of the Common App, which is typical of supplemental essays. These two word counts are pretty representative, and you can expect the “Why This College?” essay length to be 100-400 words on average. That’s not a lot of space for a pretty important question, so it’s especially vital to use the word count wisely.
FAQs About the “Why This College?” Essay
What are colleges looking for in the “Why Us” essay?
Colleges want to admit students who will not only enroll (to protect their yield), but also thrive on their campus. They ask this question to see whether you’re truly interested in the school and whether it’s the right place for you. You can write a strong response by citing specific ways the college can support your goals, as well as demonstrating your enthusiasm.
Which colleges have a “Why This College?” essay?
This is one of the most popular supplements among colleges. Here is a selection of top schools that ask this question:
- Boston University
- University of Michigan
Check out our essay guides for these schools for more in-depth advice on how to write these essays.
What kind of writing style should I use?
This is a straightforward question that generally has a short word count, so you don’t need to use a narrative form at all. You can simply explain what you like about the school and why, but try to use varied sentence structure and organize the essay around your major goals.
You can start your essay with a story if you want, however. For example, if you visited campus and experienced a really interesting course, or sat in on a meeting of a club you liked, this can make for a strong anecdote to begin your essay. Just make sure that whatever story you tell has some substance, and isn’t just a narration of how nice it was to walk around campus.
Can I copy and paste my essay for other schools?
Absolutely not. If your essay is general enough to apply to other schools, you know you need to rewrite it. The resources you mention should be highly-specific to the college you’re writing about.
Common Mistakes When Writing the “Why This College?” Essay
The most common mistake students make is listing generic characteristics that could apply to any school. This negatively impacts your application, since it sends the message that you didn’t do your research, and aren’t truly interested in the school.
Here’s an example of something NOT to list in your “Why this college essay.” We’ll take the example of Tufts since we shared the prompt in the beginning.
What NOT to write: I’m applying to Tufts because of its low student to faculty ratio, the strong math department, and its prime location in Medford, just a hop away from Boston. When I visited campus, the school already felt like home.
This example is bad because many schools have low student to faculty ratios and strong math departments. There are also a ton of schools in or near Boston, many of which have low student to faculty ratios and great math departments too, such as Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern, Boston University, etc. If your statements can apply to other schools, that’s definitely not a good sign (avoid things like location, weather, size, and ranking).
The student also uses an emotional appeal with the line “it felt like home,” which might sound nice, but it has no substance and can be written for any school. You should definitely avoid making any statements like these.
This example shows that the student really hasn’t thought much about their fit with Tufts, and that it probably isn’t their top choice. This will impact your application negatively, especially since Tufts is known for taking applicants’ demonstrated interest more seriously than other schools. So, if you show that you show little interest through your essay, you may end up waitlisted or rejected, even if your stats are amazing.
Another thing that this example gets wrong is that it doesn’t describe the student’s goals or interests at all. It’s important to not only talk about why you picked the school, but also how exactly those aspects will help you grow.
So, to summarize, the main mistakes to avoid are:
- Citing generic aspects of the school (location, weather, size, and ranking)
- Using empty emotional appeals
- Not describing your goals and interests
Good “Why This College?” Essay Examples
Now that we know what a bad example might look like, here’s an example of a rewrite to part of the Tufts essay:
What TO write: As a potential Applied Mathematics major, I hope to gain the tools to model political behavior. I’m especially interested in elections, and am looking forward to taking the course “Mathematics of Social Choice,” as the centerpiece of Social Choice Theory is voting. I would also love to take “Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos,” because it will teach me to use differential equations to predict chaotic behavior.
This is a good example, as the courses listed are highly-specific to Tufts, as well as the student’s professional goals. We not only learned something about Tufts, but also the student. Keep in mind that this wouldn’t be a complete essay—it’s just an example of good, specific resources to list.
If you want an example of a complete essay, here’s this real student response for Boston University’s “Why This College?” prompt.
Prompt: In no more than 250 words, please tell us why BU is a good fit for you and what
specifically has led you to apply for admission.
Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) attracts me because of its support of interdisciplinary study among its wide array of majors. In fact, the CAS now offers a course that combines biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. As I hope to conduct medical research into brain disorders, I plan to pursue all three areas of study. These cross-disciplinary connections at BU will prepare me to do so.
CAS’s undergraduate research program would allow me to work with a mentor, such as Dr. Alice Cronin-Golomb or Dr. Robert M.G. Reinhart related to their research on neurological disorders. With them, I can advance the work I have already completed related to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In a summer class at our local university, my partner and I extracted data from fMRI and PET studies and inputted them into a coding program. We then created an indicator map, which we imported into another software program, AFNI, to display significant activity in the brain regions affected by DID. Seeing the representation of our data thrilled me because I knew it could eventually help people who live with DID. I want to experience that feeling again. Successfully analyzing these fMRI and PET studies and learning to code drives me to pursue more research opportunities, and this desire motivates me to study at a university that offers research opportunities to undergraduates. BU’s interdisciplinary approach to psychology and support for independent undergraduate undergraduate research will optimally prepare me for a career as a neurological researcher.
This student clearly outlines BU-specific resources (the interdisciplinary course and undergrad research program), plus how these resources align with their professional goals (to become a neurological researcher). They do “name-drop” professors, but since their work clearly relates to the student’s interests, it doesn’t look disingenuous, and shows that the student has done research on their fit with BU. The student also provides background on why they want to pursue research, and shows that they already have experience, which makes their interest in the undergrad research program more concrete.
The only thing missing from this essay is the student’s fit with BU in terms of extracurriculars and social life. “Why This College?” essays should also cover extracurriculars, as colleges are also interested in how you’ll contribute to their community. In general, these essays should be academic-leaning (especially if they’re under 250 words), but you should still address some social aspects of the college that appeal to you (we recommend about 70% academics, 30% social, with more or less focus on social aspects depending on the word count). Since the student probably already detailed their previous research in their Common App activities section, they could’ve just summarized their research background in one sentence, and used that space to talk about a specific social aspect of BU that interests them.
Here’s another sample essay, but for UPenn. This essay’s word count was much longer, allowing the student to really hone in on several specific aspects of UPenn.
Prompt: How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying (650 words).
Sister Simone Roach, a theorist of nursing ethics, said, “caring is the human mode of being.” I have long been inspired by Sister Roach’s Five C’s of Caring: commitment, conscience, competence, compassion, and confidence. Penn both embraces and fosters these values through a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum and unmatched access to service and volunteer opportunities.
COMMITMENT. Reading through the activities that Penn Quakers devote their time to (in addition to academics!) felt like drinking from a firehose in the best possible way. As a prospective nursing student with interests outside of my major, I value this level of flexibility. I plan to leverage Penn’s liberal arts curriculum to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges LGBT people face, especially regarding healthcare access. Through courses like “Interactional Processes with LGBT Individuals” and volunteering at the Mazzoni Center for outreach, I hope to learn how to better support the Penn LGBT community as well as my family and friends, including my cousin, who came out as trans last year.
CONSCIENCE. As one of the first people in my family to attend a four-year university, I wanted a school that promoted a sense of moral responsibility among its students. At Penn, professors challenge their students to question and recreate their own set of morals by sparking thought- provoking, open-minded discussions. I can imagine myself advocating for universal healthcare in courses such as “Health Care Reform & Future of American Health System” and debating its merits with my peers. Studying in an environment where students confidently voice their opinions – conservative or liberal – will push me to question and strengthen my value system.
COMPETENCE. Two aspects that drew my attention to Penn’s BSN program were its high-quality research opportunities and hands-on nursing projects. Through its Office of Nursing Research, Penn connects students to faculty members who share similar research interests. As I volunteered at a nursing home in high school, I hope to work with Dr. Carthon to improve the quality of care for senior citizens. Seniors, especially minorities, face serious barriers to healthcare that I want to resolve. Additionally, Penn’s unique use of simulations to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application impressed me. Using computerized manikins that mimic human responses, classes in Penn’s nursing program allow students to apply their emergency medical skills in a mass casualty simulation and monitor their actions afterward through a video system. Participating in this activity will help me identify my strengths and areas for improvement regarding crisis management and medical care in a controlled yet realistic setting. Research opportunities and simulations will develop my skills even before I interact with patients.
COMPASSION. I value giving back through community service, and I have a particular interest in Penn’s Community Champions and Nursing Students For Sexual & Reproductive Health (NSRH). As a four-year volunteer health educator, I hope to continue this work as a Community Champions member. I am excited to collaborate with medical students to teach fourth and fifth graders in the city about cardiology or lead a chair dance class for the elders at the LIFE Center. Furthermore, as a feminist who firmly believes in women’s abortion rights, I’d like to join NSRH in order to advocate for women’s health on campus. At Penn, I can work with like-minded people to make a meaningful difference.
CONFIDENCE. All of the Quakers that I have met possess one defining trait: confidence. Each student summarized their experiences at Penn as challenging but fulfilling. Although I expect my coursework to push me, from my conversations with current Quakers I know it will help me to be far more effective in my career.
The Five C’s of Caring are important heuristics for nursing, but they also provide insight into how I want to approach my time in college. I am eager to engage with these principles both as a nurse and as a Penn Quaker, and I can’t wait to start.
This student takes a creative approach to the essay, using the Five C’s of Caring. This works really well since these qualities relate to the student’s future career in nursing. It’s also a unique way to respond, and the formatting of the longer essay is easier to read, with the Five C’s in all caps at the start of each paragraph.
What really makes the essay stand out is the depth of the student’s fit with UPenn, and how they’re able to also share more about who they are. The student lists specific courses, research opportunities, technology, and student groups. We also learn that they are a first-generation student, are passionate about increasing access to healthcare (particularly for LGBTQ+ people, minorities, and the elderly), care about health education, and are a feminist who staunchly defends abortion rights (this controversial topic could be risky, but since UPenn is a very liberal school, this should be fine).
Overall, this essay paints a vivid picture of how the student would engage academically at Penn, and we also see clearly how the student would pursue their intellectual passions outside the classroom. Since this essay prompt focused on “intellectual and academic interests,” there was no need to address other aspects of UPenn beyond those supporting their various interests in healthcare.
See more “Why This College?” essay examples to understand what makes a strong response.
Brainstorming for the “Why This College?” Essay
Now that we’ve gone through a couple examples, you might be wondering how to get started yourself.
Here are three steps we recommend to get your essay underway:
- Reflect on your academic and career goals
- Research unique opportunities related to your academic and extracurricular interests
- Pick your top academic reasons for applying, and your top extracurricular/social reasons
1. Reflect on your academic and career goals.
The driver behind this essay needs to be you, and not the school itself. Anyone can write nice things about the college, but only you can explain why you would be a good fit for it.
- What do you want to major in, if you know? If you’re undecided, what are the subjects you’re interested in?
- Which career do you want to pursue, or what are the potential options?
- What do you want to get out of college? Any particular skills or experiences?
Once you have a clear idea of your college plan, then you can dig into how the college can support your plan.
2. Research unique opportunities related to your academic, career, and extracurricular interests.
You might be wondering where you can find all these specific courses, clubs, and other resources. The school’s website is a good place to start, or if you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, you can even use Google with the school name in your search, such as “Tufts orchestra.”
Take a look at the website of your department/major and dig into the courses, fellowships, internships, and other resources. For course syllabi, you can visit the website of the professor who’s teaching the course; they’ll often post more detailed information than the online course catalog, including readings and concepts to be covered.
Clubs may have their own websites, but you can also try to find their Facebook groups or Instagram pages, which might show events they’re hosting.
If you can, try to speak with a current student. Your school counselor may be able to connect you with one, or you can also reach out to the admissions office to see if they can connect you. If not, speaking with an admissions officer is also great, or you can try to find day in the life videos on YouTube.
3. Pick your top academic reasons for applying, and your top extracurricular/social reasons.
Once you’ve done your research and found specific opportunities to cite in your essay, pick your top 1-3 academic reasons and top 1-3 extracurricular ones, depending on the word count. Going back to the Tufts essay, the good example we gave actually was already 65 words, and it was only able to mention two courses.
Keep in mind that you not only have to describe resources specific to the school, but also how they’ll contribute to your goals. This personal aspect is just as important as the actual opportunities, so be sure to allot space to describe why exactly these resources make the school a good fit for you.
When it comes to academic reasons, you are free to list anything from special programs to unique majors to specific courses and professors. We want to caution you against “name-dropping” professors, however—unless their work actually fits with your established interests and professional goals really well. Otherwise, it might seem like you’re being disingenuous.
We also want to reiterate that you should be sure to not only talk about academics in your essay, but also extracurriculars (unless the prompt asks you to focus only on academics, or if the word count is short, i.e. 150 words or fewer). College isn’t just about what you do in the classroom. Admissions committees want to be sure that accepted students will also contribute to the college community.
Outlining Your “Why This College?” Essay
Once you’ve identified your goals and the resources to support them, it’s time to start writing. An easy format/outline for your essay would be:
- Introduction to your main goals and the why behind them (great spot for an anecdote).
- Your first goal and how the school can support it.
- Your second goal and how the school can support it.
- Conclusion where you look towards the future and reaffirm how the college can get you there.
You can adjust the length of the essay by adding or subtracting the number of goals you write about.
Remember to include extracurriculars when sharing how the college can support your goals. You should plan to spend about 70% of space on academic reasons, and 30% on extracurricular reasons.
Some students choose to use a more unconventional format, and that works too if you want to show off your creative writing skills. Some examples include a letter to the school or a schedule of your day as a student at the college. These unconventional formats can be harder to pull off though, so only go that route if you’re confident in your writing. The letter format can be especially tricky since it’s easy to sound cheesy and overenthusiastic.
Regardless of the format you choose, remember these two things that your essay should do. It should:
- Reveal more about your goals and interests.
- Describe how the school can help you develop your interests and reach your goals, by naming highly-specific and unique campus resources, both academic and extracurricular.
Where to Get Your “Why This College?” Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your “Why This College?” essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!