‘Why This College’ Essays: Should You Focus on Yourself or the College?
A “Why this school?” essay is essentially just what it sounds like: a prompt on a particular college’s application, often in a supplement to the Common App, that asks you to describe why you’ve chosen to apply to that school.
Admissions committees want people who are genuinely interested in attending their school, both to ensure that you’ll be a good fit for your school and to improve their own yield rate — the proportion of students who accept offers of admission. (Check out How to Express Interest in a College to learn more about why yield matters to schools.) To learn more about approaching “Why This School?” essays, read on.
What is a ‘Why this school’ essay?
A “Why This School?” essay is a common part of applications, so you’re likely to encounter it in the admissions process. The prompt itself may vary in terms of response length, exact wording, and other aspects. For instance, a school might ask you to respond to a quote from a famous alum or describe a tradition unique to the campus.
One upside of having the opportunity to write this essay is that you’ll be able to explain exactly why you’re interested in the school and why you think it’s a good fit for you. This way, colleges can see that you’re genuinely interested and gauge how you’ll fit into the freshman class. A downside is that you won’t be able to reuse the essay for another school, so it will mean more work.
So what should you say in the essay? Should it be more about you or the school?
Is this essay about me or about the school?
The short answer is both. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate that you and the school are a good match.
Think of this essay as an opportunity to show the admissions committee that you’ve done your research about the school and can genuinely see yourself there. Many colleges consider your interest as part of the admissions process, so it’s important to make your enthusiasm clear.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just list the obvious qualities of the college; you’ll be able to find that information in a brochure. Instead, you need to dig deeper.
Your essay should be personal to you as an applicant. For instance, you might describe how your personal and academic journey led you to this school, how the college will help you succeed in your future career, or something else to your unique situation. Whatever you choose to say, it should be about both you and the school and why your characteristics are aligned.
As always, the writing counts, too. Make your essay interesting, personal, and unique — avoid clichés and obvious answers. Remember: The goal of every aspect of your application is to stand out.
For more guidance on writing your essay, check out a few of these dedicated CollegeVine’s blog posts:
Demonstrate That You’ve Done Your Homework
Colleges are looking for students who actually want to attend their school, not just applicants who saw the name on a list of great colleges. Want to attend a specific Ivy? Make sure you have a reason why, not just “because it’s the best.”
Demonstrate that you understand what makes the school special and unique. What types of disciplines does it prioritize? Where does it excel? What does it do better than or differently from any other college?
You should also show that you understand the college’s philosophy. What are they trying to achieve as an institution beyond just being a place that offers courses? How does it approach the task of educating college students? What kinds of graduates are they seeking? What’s the school’s role in the world?
If there seems like a single obvious answer, it’s probably not what you should write. Chances are, there are many ways to answer these questions, and there’s no one “right” response. Take a holistic look at the institution and its defining characteristics, as well as the different aspects. Read the mission statement. Pepper your essay with lots of examples — traditions you admire, specific courses you want to take, places where you could see yourself studying or hanging out with friends, and so on.
As we discuss in How to Write the “Why Us?” College Essay, it’s important to keep your answers specific and avoid generic or surface-level answers. “I’m a fan of Boston College’s hockey team” is not enough of a reason to want to attend BC, unless you’re being recruited on a hockey scholarship. Many other colleges have great hockey teams as well.
Emphasize Your Personal Fit With the School
Fit is an important aspect of choosing a college. That means that you and the college share the same values and priorities. Read What Does It Mean to “Fit” With a College? to learn more about why this is significant.
Demonstrate that you’re actively interested in this particular college and the opportunities it offers to show you’re a mutually good fit. Discuss how the resources, philosophy, and other unique features are aligned to your personal goals. In addition to showing the college that you really want to attend, you’re also showing yourself that this is really the place for you. Identifying the specific aspects of a college that appeal to you is a good exercise to evaluate whether you’re making the right choice.
You don’t need to cover every single aspect of the school; instead, focus on the parts that excite you the most, such as the clubs you’re most looking forward to joining or the programs that particularly interest you.
Ultimately, you want the admissions committee to see you not just as an applicant, but as a student on campus who will take full advantage of all the school’s opportunities, as well as bring something special to help build the kind of community that the school is looking to build.
Looking for help with your college applications? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process.
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