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College Essays

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Did you think you were all done pouring out your blood, sweat, and tears in written form for your personal statement , only to be faced with the "why this college?" supplemental essay? This question might seem simple but is in fact a crucial and potentially tricky part of many college applications. What exactly is the "why us?" essay trying to understand about you? And how do you answer this question without falling into its many pitfalls or making any rookie mistakes?

In this article, I'll explain why colleges want you to be able to explain why you are applying. I'll also discuss how to generate and brainstorm topics for this question and how to make yourself sound sincere and committed. Finally, we'll go over some "why this school?" essay do s and don't s.

This article is pretty detailed, so here's a brief overview of what we'll be covering:

Why Do Colleges Want You to Write a "Why Us?" Essay?

Two types of "why this college" essay prompts, step 1: research the school, step 2: brainstorm potential essay topics, step 3: nail the execution, example of a great "why this college" essay.

College admissions officers have to read an incredible amount of student work to put together a winning class, so trust me when I say that everything they ask you to write is meaningful and important .

The purpose of the "why us?" essay goes two ways. On one hand, seeing how you answer this question gives admissions officers a sense of whether you know and value their school .

On the other hand, having to verbalize why you are applying gives you the chance to think about what you want to get out of your college experience  and whether your target schools fit your goals and aspirations.

What Colleges Get Out Of Reading Your "Why This College?" Essay

Colleges want to check three things when they read this essay.

First, they want to see that you have a sense of what makes this college different and special.

  • Do you know something about the school's mission, history, or values?
  • Have you thought about the school's specific approach to learning?
  • Are you comfortable with the school's traditions and the overall feel of student life here?

Second, they want proof that you will be a good fit for the school.

  • Where do your interests lie? Do they correspond to this school's strengths?
  • Is there something about you that meshes well with some aspect of the school?
  • How will you contribute to college life? How will you make your mark on campus?

And third, they want to see that this school will, in turn, be a good fit for you.

  • What do you want to get out of college? Will this college be able to provide that? Will this school contribute to your future success?
  • What will you take advantage of on campus (e.g., academic programs, volunteer or travel opportunities, internships, or student organizations)?
  • Will you succeed academically? Does this school provide the right rigor and pace for your ideal learning environment?

What You Get Out Of Writing Your "Why This College?" Essay

Throughout this process of articulating your answers to the questions above, you will also benefit in a couple of key ways:

It Lets You Build Excitement about the School

Finding specific programs and opportunities at schools you are already happy about will give you a grounded sense of direction for when you start school . At the same time, by describing what is great about schools that are low on your list, you'll likely boost your enthusiasm for these colleges and keep yourself from feeling that they're nothing more than lackluster fallbacks.

It Helps You Ensure That You're Making the Right Choice

Writing the "why us?" essay can act as a moment of clarity. It's possible that you won't be able to come up with any reasons for applying to a particular school. If further research fails to reveal any appealing characteristics that fit with your goals and interests, this school is likely not for you.

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At the end of your four years, you want to feel like this, so take your "Why This College?" essay to heart.

how to write a why college essay

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Craft Your Perfect College Essay

The "why this college?" essay is best thought of as a back-and-forth between you and the college . This means that your essay will really be answering two separate, albeit related, questions:

  • "Why us?":  This is where you explain what makes the school special in your eyes, what attracted you to it, and what you think you'll get out of your experience there.
  • "Why you?":  This is the part where you talk about why you'll fit in at the school; what qualities, skills, talents, or abilities you'll contribute to student life; and how your future will be impacted by the school and its opportunities.

Colleges usually use one of these approaches to frame this essay , meaning that your essay will lean heavier toward whichever question is favored in the prompt. For example, if the prompt is all about "why us?" you'll want to put your main focus on praising the school. If the prompt instead is mostly configured as "why you?" you'll want to dwell at length on your fit and potential.

It's good to remember that these two prompts are simply two sides of the same coin. Your reasons for wanting to apply to a particular school can be made to fit either of these questions.

For instance, say you really want the chance to learn from the world-famous Professor X. A "why us?" essay might dwell on how amazing an opportunity studying with him would be for you, and how he anchors the Telepathy department.

Meanwhile, a "why you?" essay would point out that your own academic telepathy credentials and future career goals make you an ideal student to learn from Professor X, a renowned master of the field.

Next up, I'll show you some real-life examples of what these two different approaches to the same prompt look like.

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Clarifying why you want to study with a particular professor in a specific department can demonstrate to college admissions staff that you've done your research on the school.

"Why Us?" Prompts

  • Why [this college]?
  • Why are you interested in [this college]?
  • Why is [this college] a good choice for you?
  • What do you like best about [this college]?
  • Why do you want to attend [this college]?

Below are some examples of actual "why us?" college essay prompts:

  • Colorado College :  "Describe how your personal experiences with a particular community make you a student who would benefit from Colorado College’s Block Plan."
  • Tufts University : " I am applying to Tufts because… "
  • Tulane University : "Describe why you are interested in joining the Tulane community. Consider your experiences, talents, and values to illustrate what you would contribute to the Tulane community if admitted." (via the Common App )
  • University of Michigan : "Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?"
  • Wellesley College : " When choosing a college, you are choosing an intellectual community and a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but it's a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and select two items that attract, inspire, or celebrate what you would bring to our community. Have fun! Use this opportunity to reflect personally on what items appeal to you most and why. "

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In a "why us?" essay, focus on the specific aspects of the school that appeal to you and how you will flourish because of those offerings.

"Why You?" Prompts

  • Why are you a good match or fit for us?
  • What are your interests, and how will you pursue them at [this college]?
  • What do you want to study, and how will that correspond to our program?
  • What or how will you contribute?
  • Why you at [this college]?
  • Why are you applying to [this college]?

Here are some examples of the "why you?" version of the college essay:

  • Babson College : " A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community. "
  • Bowdoin College : "Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin's 'The Offer of the College.' ... Which line from the Offer resonates most with you? Optional: The Offer represents Bowdoin's values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you." (via the Common App )

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In a "why you?" essay, focus on how your values, interests, and motivations align with the school's offerings and how you'll contribute to campus life.

No matter how the prompt is worded, this essay is a give-and-take of what you and the college have to offer each other. Your job is to quickly zoom in on your main points and use both precision and detail to sound sincere, excited, and authentic.

How do you effectively explain the benefits you see this particular school providing for you and the contributions you will bring to the table as a student there? And how can you do this best using the small amount of space that you have (usually just one to two paragraphs)?

In this section, we'll go through the process of writing the "Why This College?" essay, step-by-step. First, I'll talk about the prep work you'll need to do. Next, we'll go through how to brainstorm good topics (and touch on what topics to avoid). I'll give you some tips on transforming your ideas and research into an actual essay. Finally, I'll take apart an actual "why us?" essay to show you why and how it works.

Before you can write about a school, you'll need to know specific things that make it stand out and appeal to you and your interests . So where do you look for these? And how do you find the details that will speak to you? Here are some ways you can learn more about a school.

In-Person Campus Visits

If you're going on college tours , you've got the perfect opportunity to gather information about the school. Bring a notepad and write down the following:

  • Your tour guide's name
  • One to two funny, surprising, or enthusiastic things your guide said about the school
  • Any unusual features of the campus, such as buildings, sculptures, layout, history, or traditions

Try to also connect with students or faculty while you're there. If you visit a class, note which class it is and who teaches it. See whether you can briefly chat with a student (e.g., in the class you visit, around campus, or in a dining hall), and ask what they like most about the school or what has been most surprising about being there.

Don't forget to write down the answer! Trust me, you'll forget it otherwise—especially if you do this on multiple college visits.

Virtual Campus Visits

If you can't visit a campus in person, the next best thing is an online tour , either from the school's own website or from other websites, such as YOUniversityTV , CampusTours , or YouTube (search "[School Name] + tour").

You can also connect with students without visiting the campus in person . Some admissions websites list contact information for currently enrolled students you can email to ask one or two questions about what their experience of the school has been like.

Or if you know what department, sport, or activity you're interested in, you can ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a student who is involved with that particular interest.

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If you can't visit a campus in person, request a video chat with admissions staff, a current student, or a faculty member to get a better sense of specific topics you might write about in your essay.

Alumni Interview

If you have an interview , ask your interviewer questions about their experience at the school and about what going to that school has done for them since graduation. As always, take notes!

College Fairs

If you have a chance to go to a college fair where your ideal college has representatives, don't just attend and pick up a brochure. Instead, e ngage the representatives in conversation, and ask them about what they think makes the school unique .  Jot down notes on any interesting details they tell you.

The College's Own Materials

Colleges publish lots and lots of different admissions materials—and all of these will be useful for your research. Here are some suggestions for what you can use. (You should be able to find all of the following resources online.)

Brochures and Course Catalogs

Read the mission statement of the school; does its educational philosophy align with yours? You should also read through its catalogs. Are there any programs, classes, departments, or activities that seem tailor-made for you in some way?

Pro Tip: These interesting features you find should be unusual in some way or different from what other schools offer. For example, being fascinated with the English department isn't going to cut it unless you can discuss its unusual focus, its world-renowned professors, or the different way it structures the major that appeals to you specifically.

Alumni Magazine

Are any professors highlighted? Does their research speak to you or connect with a project you did in high school or for an extracurricular?

Sometimes alumni magazines will highlight a college's new focus or new expansion. Does the construction of a new engineering school relate to your intended major? There might also be some columns or letters written by alumni who talk about what going to this particular school has meant to them. What stands out about their experiences?

School or Campus Newspaper

Students write about the hot issues of the day, which means that the articles will be about the best and worst things on campus . It'll also give you insight into student life, opportunities that are available to students, activities you can do off campus, and so on.

The College's Social Media

Your ideal school is most likely on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. Follow the school to see what it's posting about.  Are there any exciting new campus developments? Professors in the news? Interesting events, clubs, or activities?

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The Internet

Wikipedia is a great resource for learning basic details about a college's history, traditions, and values. I also recommend looking for forums on College Confidential that specifically deal with the school you're researching.

Another option is to search on Google for interesting phrases, such as "What students really think about [School Name]" or "[School Name] student forum." This will help you get detailed points of view, comments about specific programs or courses, and insight into real student life.

So what should you do now that you've completed a bunch of research? Answer: use it to develop connection points between you and your dream school. These connections will be the skeleton of your "why this college?" essay.

Find the Gems in Your Research

You have on hand all kinds of information, from your own personal experiences on campus and your conversations with people affiliated with your ideal school to what you've learned from campus publications and tidbits gleaned from the web.

Now, it's time to sift through all of your notes to find the three to five things that really speak to you. Link what you've learned about the school to how you can plug into this school's life, approach, and environment. That way, no matter whether your school's prompt is more heavily focused on the "why us?" or "why you?" part of the give-and-take, you'll have an entry point into the essay.

But what should these three to five things be? What should you keep in mind when you're looking for the gem that will become your topic?

Here are some words of wisdom from Calvin Wise , director of recruitment and former associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University (emphasis mine):

" Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you. Do your research, and articulate a multidimensional connection to the specific college or university. We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum). All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences. "

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Time to find that diamond, amethyst, opal, tourmaline, or amber in the rough.

Check Your Gems for Color and Clarity

When I say "check your gems," I mean make sure that each of the three to five things you've found is something your ideal school has that other schools don't have.

This something should be seen from your own perspective. The point isn't to generically praise the school but instead to go into detail about why it's so great for you that they have this thing.

This something you find should be meaningful to the school and specific to you. For example, if you focus on academics (e.g., courses, instructors, opportunities, or educational philosophy), find a way to link them either to your previous work or to your future aspirations.

This something should not be shallow and nonspecific. Want to live in a city? Every city has more than one college in it. Find a way to explain why this specific college in this specific city calls to you. Like pretty architecture? Many schools are beautiful, so dwell on why this particular place feels unlike any other. Like good weather, beach, skiing, or some other geographical attribute? There are many schools located near these places, and they know that people enjoy sunbathing. Either build a deeper connection or skip these as reasons.

Convert Your Gems into Essay Topics

Every "why this college?" essay is going to answer both the "why us?" and the "why you?" parts of the back-and-forth equation. But depending on which way your target school has worded its prompt, you'll lean more heavily on that part . This is why I'm going to split this brainstorming into two parts—to go with the "why us?" and "why you?" types of questions.

Of course, since they are both sides of the same coin, you can always easily flip each of these ideas around to have it work well for the other type of prompt . For example, a "why us?" essay might talk about how interesting the XYZ interdisciplinary project is and how it fits well with your senior project.

By contrast, a "why you?" essay would take the same idea but flip it to say that you've learned through your senior project how you deeply value an interdisciplinary approach to academics, making you a great fit for this school and its commitment to such work, as evidenced by project XYZ.

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Describing how project XYZ demonstrates your investment in a particular course of study that then happens to align with a specific program at the university is an effective approach to the "why you?" essay.

Possible "Why Us?" Topics

  • How a particular program of study, internship requirement, or volunteer connection will help further your specific career goals .
  • The school's interesting approach to your future major (if you know what that will be) or a major that combines several disciplines that appeal to you and fit with your current academic work and interests.
  • How the school handles financial aid and the infrastructure setup for low-income students and what that means for you in terms of opening doors.
  • A story about how you became interested in the school (if you learned about it in an interesting way). For example, did the institution host a high school contest you took part in? Did you attend an art exhibit or stage performance there that you enjoyed and that your own artistic work aligns with?
  • How you overcame an initial disinterest in the school (be sure to minimize this first negative impression). Did you do more research? Interact with someone on campus? Learn about the school's commitment to the community? Learn about interesting research being done there?
  • A positive interaction you had with current students, faculty, or staff, as long as this is more than just, "Everyone I met was really nice."
  • An experience you had while on a campus tour. Was there a super-passionate tour guide? Any information that surprised you? Did something happen to transform your idea about the school or campus life (in a good way)?
  • Interesting interdisciplinary work going on at the university and how that connects with your academic interests, career goals, or previous high school work.
  • The history of the school —but only if it's meaningful to you in some way. Has the school always been committed to fostering minority, first-generation, or immigrant students? Was it founded by someone you admire? Did it take an unpopular (but, to you, morally correct) stance at some crucial moment in history?
  • An amazing professor you can't wait to learn from. Is there a chemistry professor whose current research meshes with a science fair project you did? A professor who's a renowned scholar on your favorite literary or artistic period or genre? A professor whose book on economics finally made you understand the most recent financial crisis?
  • A class that sounds fascinating , especially if it's in a field you want to major in.
  • A facility or piece of equipment you can't wait to work in or with  and that doesn't exist in many other places. Is there a specialty library with rare medieval manuscripts? Is there an observatory?
  • A required curriculum that appeals to you because it provides a solid grounding in the classics, shakes up the traditional canon, connects all the students on campus in one intellectual project, or is taught in a unique way.

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If the school can boast a cutting-edge laboratory where you dream of conducting research, that would be a strong focus for a "Why Us?" essay.

Possible "Why You?" Topics

  • Do you want to continue a project you worked on in high school? Talk about how or where in the current course, club, and program offerings this work would fit in. Why will you be a good addition to the team?
  • Have you always been involved in a community service project that's already being done on campus? Write about integrating life on campus with events in the surrounding community.
  • Do you plan to keep performing in the arts, playing music, working on the newspaper, or engaging in something else you were seriously committed to in high school? Discuss how excited you are to join that existing organization.
  • Are you the perfect person to take advantage of an internship program (e.g., because you have already worked in this field, were exposed to it through your parents, or have completed academic work that gives you some experience with it)?
  • Are you the ideal candidate for a study abroad opportunity (e.g., because you can speak the language of the country, it's a place where you've worked or studied before, or your career goals are international in some respect)?
  • Are you a stand-out match for an undergraduate research project (e.g., because you'll major in this field, you've always wanted to work with this professor, or you want to pursue research as a career option)?
  • Is there something you were deeply involved with that doesn't currently exist on campus? Offer to start a club for it. And I mean a club; you aren't going to magically create a new academic department or even a new academic course, so don't try offering that. If you do write about this, make double (and even triple) sure that the school doesn't already have a club, course, or program for this interest.
  • What are some of the programs or activities you plan to get involved with on campus , and what unique qualities will you bring to them?
  • Make this a mini version of a personal statement you never wrote.  Use this essay as another chance to show a few more of the skills, talents, or passions that don't appear in your actual college essay. What's the runner-up interest that you didn't write about? What opportunity, program, or offering at the school lines up with it?

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One way to impress admissions staff in a "Why You?" essay is to discuss your fascination with a particular topic in a specific discipline, such as kinetic sculpture, and how you want to pursue that passion (e.g., as a studio art major).

Possible Topics for a College That's Not Your First Choice

  • If you're writing about a school you're not completely psyched about, one way to sidestep the issue is to focus on what getting this degree will do for you in the future . How do you see yourself changing existing systems, helping others, or otherwise succeeding?
  • Alternatively, discuss what the school values academically, socially, environmentally, or philosophically and how this connects with what you also care about . Does it have a vegan, organic, and cruelty-free cafeteria? A relationship with a local farm or garden? De-emphasized fraternity involvement? Strong commitment to environmental issues? Lots of opportunities to contribute to the community surrounding the school? Active inclusion and a sense of belonging for various underrepresented groups?
  • Try to find at least one or two features you're excited about for each of the schools on your list. If you can't think of a single reason why this would be a good place for you to go, maybe you shouldn't be applying there!

Topics to Avoid in Your Essay

  • Don't write about general characteristics, such as a school's location (or the weather in that location), reputation, or student body size. For example, anyone applying to the Webb Institute , which has just about 100 students , should by all means talk about having a preference for tiny, close-knit communities. By contrast, schools in sunny climates know that people enjoy good weather, but if you can't connect the outdoors with the college itself, think of something else to say.
  • Don't talk about your sports fandom. Saying, "I can see myself in crimson and white/blue and orange/[some color] and [some other color]" is both overused and not a persuasive reason for wanting to go to a particular college. After all, you could cheer for a team without going to the school! Unless you're an athlete, you're an aspiring mascot performer, or you have a truly one-of-a-kind story to tell about your link to the team, opt for a different track.
  • Don't copy descriptions from the college's website to tell admissions officers how great their institution is. They don't want to hear praise; they want to hear how you connect with their school. So if something on the college brochure speaks to you, explain why this specific detail matters to you and how your past experiences, academic work, extracurricular interests, or hobbies relate to that detail.
  • Don't use college rankings as a reason you want to go to a school. Of course prestige matters, but schools that are ranked right next to each other on the list are at about the same level of prestige. What makes you choose one over the other?
  • If you decide to write about a future major, don't just talk about what you want to study and why . Make sure that you also explain why you want to study this thing at this particular school . What do they do differently from other colleges?
  • Don't wax poetic about the school's pretty campus. "From the moment I stepped on your campus, I knew it was the place for me" is another cliché—and another way to say basically nothing about why you actually want to go to this particular school. Lots of schools are pretty, and many are pretty in the exact same way.

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Pop quiz: This pretty gothic building is on what college campus? Yes, that's right—it could be anywhere.

how to write a why college essay

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Get Into Your Top Choice School

When you've put together the ideas that will make up your answer to the "why us?" question, it's time to build them into a memorable essay. Here are some tips for doing that successfully:

  • Jump right in. The essay is short, so there's no need for an introduction or conclusion. Spend the first paragraph delving into your best one or two reasons for applying. Then, use the second paragraph to go into slightly less detail about reasons 2 (or 3) through 5.
  • To thine own self be true. Write in your own voice, and be sincere about what you're saying. Believe me—the reader can tell when you mean it and when you're just blathering!
  • Details, details, details. Show the school that you've done your research. Are there any classes, professors, clubs, or activities you're excited about at the school? Be specific (e.g., "I'm fascinated by the work Dr. Jenny Johnson has done with interactive sound installations").
  • If you plan on attending if admitted, say so. Colleges care about the numbers of acceptances deeply, so it might help to know you're a sure thing. But don't write this if you don't mean it!
  • Don't cut and paste the same essay for every school. At least once, you'll most likely forget to change the school name or some other telling detail. You also don't want to have too much vague, cookie-cutter reasoning, or else you'll start to sound bland and forgettable.

For more tips, check out our step-by-step essay-writing advice .

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Avoid cookie-cutter responses to "why this college?" essay prompts. Instead, provide an essay that's personalized to that particular institution.

At this point, it'll be helpful to take a look at a "why us?" essay that works and figure out what the author did to create a meaningful answer to this challenging question.

Here is a "Why Tufts?" essay from James Gregoire '19 for Tufts University :

It was on my official visit with the cross country team that I realized Tufts was the perfect school for me. Our topics of conversation ranged from Asian geography to efficient movement patterns, and everyone spoke enthusiastically about what they were involved in on campus. I really related with the guys I met, and I think they represent the passion that Tufts' students have. I can pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur by joining the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, pursuing an Entrepreneurial Leadership minor, and taking part in an up-and-coming computer science program.

Here are some of the main reasons this essay is so effective:

  • Interaction with current students. James writes about hanging out with the cross-country team and sounds excited about meeting them.
  • "I'm a great fit." He uses the conversation with the cross-country team members to talk about his own good fit here ("I really related with the guys I met").
  • Why the school is special. James also uses the conversation as a way to show that he enjoys the variety of opportunities Tufts offers (their fun conversation covers Asian geography, movement patterns, and other things they "were involved with on campus").
  • Taking advantage of this specialness. James doesn't just list things Tufts offers but also explains which of them are of specific value to him. He's interested in being an entrepreneur, so the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses appeal to him.
  • Awareness of what the school is up to. Finally, James shows that he's aware of the latest Tufts developments when he mentions the new computer science program.

The Bottom Line: Writing a Great "Why This College?" Essay

  • Proof that you understand what makes this college different and special
  • Evidence that you'll be a good fit at this school
  • Evidence that this college will, in turn, be a good fit for you

The prompt may be phrased in one of two ways: "Why us?" or "Why you?" But these are sides of the same coin and will be addressed in your essay regardless of the prompt style.

Writing the perfect "why this school?" essay requires you to first research the specific qualities and characteristics of this school that appeal to you. You can find this information by doing any or all of the following:

  • Visiting campuses in person or virtually to interact with current students and faculty
  • Posing questions to your college interviewer or to representatives at college fairs
  • Reading the college's own materials , such as its brochures, official website, alumni magazine, campus newspaper, and social media
  • Looking at other websites that talk about the school

To find a topic to write about for your essay, find the three to five things that really speak to you about the school , and then link each of them to yourself, your interests, your goals, or your strengths.

Avoid using clichés that could be true for any school, such as architecture, geography, weather, or sports fandom. Instead, focus on the details that differentiate your intended school from all the others .

What's Next?

Are you also working on your personal statement? If you're using the Common App, check out our complete breakdown of the Common App prompts and learn how to pick the best prompt for you .

If you're applying to a University of California school, we've got an in-depth article on how to write effective UC personal statements .

And if you're submitting ApplyTexas applications, read our helpful guide on how to approach the many different ApplyTexas essay prompts .

Struggling with the college application process as a whole? Our expert guides teach you how to ask for recommendations , how to write about extracurriculars , and how to research colleges .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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How to Write the “Why This College” Essay (With an Example!)

how to write a why college essay

Applying to college is a big decision that brings a lot of excitement and stress. This is especially true when it comes to answering the “why this college” prompt asked by so many colleges. However daunting these prompts might seem, you got this. Keep reading to learn tips and tricks to write your “why this college” essay, and take a look at an example essay!

“Why this college?” essay prompts 

The “Why this college?” essay is probably one of the most common essays you’ll come across during your application process. This is partially because admissions committees want students that’re as interested and passionate about their institution. Some popular colleges that offer “why this college?” prompts include:

  • Columbia University : “Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)
  • Duke University : “What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there is something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (max. 250 words)”
  • University of Michigan : “Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?” (Minimum: 100 words/Maximum: 550 words)

As you can see, all three of the prompts are a variation of the basic “why this college” question. Let’s take a look at a sample response essay written for Columbia University. 

“Why this college?” sample essay

Dear Columbia University, 

This is probably the hundredth essay you’ve read in the sea of applicants, and as you’re likely expecting, I could tell you that I’m different from them all. Though in some ways, I’m the same. Like them, I want to stand on the corner of Broadway and 116th St. and know I chose the perfect school to study literary arts with a focus on fiction writing. 

Even more so, I strive to be one of the Columbia Greats that inspired me to pick up a pen. Though, you shouldn’t want me because I might be the next Allen Ginsberg, but because I plan on being a writer that captures the virtue found in the rye of J.D. Salinger, the watchful gaze of Zora Neale Hurston, and the freshness of my own style. Amongst your walls and tutelage, these literary greats blossomed, as I hope to.

Applicant Name

Why this essay works:

  • Starts with a compelling statement to interest the audience
  • Answers the “why this college?” question by discussing notable alumni and the arts program
  • Uses a unique approach to the prompt question that reflects interest in the major of choice
  • Explains why the admissions committee should choose this applicant
  • Stays within the word count limit

Also see: How to respond to this year’s Common App essay prompts

Mistakes to avoid when writing a “why this college” essay

Generalizing.

When writing any essay, generalizing usually isn’t the way to go. Readers want to get invested in the story or argument you’re presenting, and the admissions office is no different. Details are a key component of making your essay stand out. 

The admissions committee wants to get to know you and assess how you’ll fit into their institution. No two applicants are the same, and you should strive to prove that through your unique essay. 

Placating the admissions office

It can be easy to fall back on simply telling your college’s admissions committee what they want to hear. However, you shouldn’t just pull facts and figures from the website or quote the college’s brochure. Individualize your essay not only to capture the attention of your reader, but to display interest in your college of choice.

Anyone can put general information in their application, but it takes effort to explain why you want to attend a particular school, how admission would affect your life, and what the school has to gain from your attendance. Think of it as a persuasive essay where you have to back up your argument with details. 

Also see: An insider’s perspective into what goes on in college admissions offices

Tips for writing your essay

Find a connection.

Even before you start writing your essay, figure out the connection between you and your college of choice. 

Is there a particular professor you want to study under? Are you a legacy applicant? Is it the campus of your dreams? Are you excited for a particular program? 

Asking yourself questions like this can help pinpoint what’s motivating you to apply to a university and why they should admit you. Explaining your connection to your school of choice can show the admissions committee that you belong on their campus. 

It will strengthen your application and help you individualize your application. Create an interesting or anecdotal story out of your connection in order to set yourself apart.

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

Outline and edit

College essays usually range from around 200 – 500 words, which can go by much quicker than you might think. This is why it’s ideal to outline your essay once you’ve decided what to write about. It can be easy to get distracted by the little details, but emphasize the main points that are essential to the story you’re trying to tell the admissions office. 

It’s also a good idea to thoroughly read and edit your essay multiple times. You’ll want to submit the complete and final version of your essay, not something that reads like a rough draft. 

Remember, your parents, advisors, teachers, and peers can be helpful resources during revision. Feedback is an important aspect of the editing process.

Additional resources

Congratulations on starting your applications to college and working so diligently on them! Fortunately, Scholarships360 has even more resources to offer that can help propel your college journey in the right direction. 

  • Start choosing your major
  • Find the supplemental essay guide for your college
  • Learn what “demonstrated interest” means for your application

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How To Write The “Why This College” Essay

A student sitting outside on a ledge taking notes on a notepad.

College admissions officers aren’t just looking for straight As, glowing recommendations , and a slew of extracurricular activities. They are seeking students who want to be on their campus and will start clubs, eat in the quad, and engage with professors.

Before applying to any school, you should be confident that the school has the academic options, co-curricular opportunities, and social climate to make your next four years magical. If you can give a few examples of these things for each of the schools on your list, you are ready to start your “why this college” essay.  

“Why this college” essays are designed for students to demonstrate their interest and passion for the school community they are applying to. It allows admission officers to picture the student on campus.

Colleges have many different ways of asking why you believe their institution is a fit for you. This can range from asking how the college can help you succeed, why you are interested in studying your academic interests at the college, or what most excites you about the school.

Provide specific examples of why you belong there

The best way to answer any form of these questions is through specific, unique examples that clarify your interests in the school. You want to stay away from things that could be found on a school’s brochure or fun facts told on a college tour. Give examples that indicate you have done research on the school and have confidence that it is a fit for you. 

One way to tackle this is by taking detailed looks at a school’s academic options. If you have a niche academic interest that is only offered at a few schools, make sure you let the school know you can’t find this option in other places.

If you are a science student who enjoys a liberal arts approach to education, point out your interest in earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in a subject such as biology or chemistry. You should strive to find unique parts of the school’s academic offering that are for you.

If you have taken previous coursework at the school or attended open lectures, this is a great time to talk about your love of the things you have already seen from the school. These can be things such as discussion-based science classes or opportunities for students to teach as a substitute for traditional elective credits.

For one of my essays, I talked about the offering of an interdisciplinary minor in medicine, literature, and culture taught by graduate school professors to undergraduate students. I discussed my interest in strengthening my writing skills as a pre-med student through assignments outside of lab reports and the benefits of understanding illness from a cultural perspective. I discussed an online class I had taken previously that was similar to the courses offered under the minor to further demonstrate my interest in pursuing it. 

Discuss extracurricular activities you would be involved in

Examining a school’s co-curricular offerings is the next stop for “why this college” essays. Although academics are the main priority for any college student, your co-curricular experiences are what can build your resume and prepare you for a job or graduate school application.

This can be a space to talk about clubs, volunteering opportunities , or on-campus jobs at the school that interest you. This is also a subtle way to show that you are ready to be involved on campus.

My best example of this was discussing the presence of pre-health clubs for minority students run by alumni. Not only was this club a great place for mentoring and networking, but it also could help students find like-minded people on campus with similar backgrounds.

This was important to me since clubs like that were not available at my high school and was something I wanted as a part of my support team throughout college.

Paint the picture 

Lastly, discussing the social climate of a school can be an untraditional approach to explaining why the school is great for you. These can be observations you’ve made such as how the collaborative floors of the library are always filled indicating the presence of teamwork on campus or how you’ve noticed professors eating pizza with students outside the dining hall.

An essay that reflects on these parts of the school’s atmosphere can be just as meaningful as talking about any major or club offered at the school. When visiting a friend of mine who had already started college, one of her professors saw us walking in the quad and asked if I would want to sit in on a class since it fit my academic interest.

After the class, I got to talk to the professor about my passions and hear more about his research. I was amazed by his friendliness and excitement for incoming students. Stories like that can stand out from the typical stories about football games and other school traditions. 

Hopefully this offers you some guidance on tackling your “why this college” essay. Remember, make it specific and link it back to you. Best of luck!

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Author: Lauryn Taylor

Hi everyone! I am Lauryn Taylor, a second year student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying economics and public policy with a media and journalism minor. I am on the pre-law track with interest in health, education, and media. At school, I am involved with a couple different things including being Vice President of a mental health club and the Student Director of Institutional Research and Assessment. I also work for our Campus Health marketing and engagement team and am the student representative for the Policy Review Committee. I look forward to sharing my journey and being a guide through the your college admissions journey!

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“Why This University?” How to Ace a “Why Us?” Admissions Essay

Last Updated: February 16, 2024 Fact Checked

What is a why this college essay?

  • Choosing an Essay Topic

Structuring and Writing Your Essay

What not to do in your essay.

This article was co-authored by Alicia Cook and by wikiHow staff writer, Raven Minyard, BA . Alicia Cook is a Professional Writer based in Newark, New Jersey. With over 12 years of experience, Alicia specializes in poetry and uses her platform to advocate for families affected by addiction and to fight for breaking the stigma against addiction and mental illness. She holds a BA in English and Journalism from Georgian Court University and an MBA from Saint Peter’s University. Alicia is a bestselling poet with Andrews McMeel Publishing and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets including the NY Post, CNN, USA Today, the HuffPost, the LA Times, American Songwriter Magazine, and Bustle. She was named by Teen Vogue as one of the 10 social media poets to know and her poetry mixtape, “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” was a finalist in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 3,357 times.

Many colleges require a “Why this college?” essay to help determine if students would be a good fit for their campus. This essay allows you to explain why you want to attend a specific college or university and persuade their admissions team you’d be a valuable addition to their student body. If you want to ensure your essay is the best it can be, look no further. We’ll walk you through researching, outlining, and writing your “Why this college?” essay, plus give you tips on what NOT to do, so you can wow your dream college.

Things You Should Know

  • When writing a “Why this college?” essay, research the college and its unique courses and programs to provide specific details.
  • Don’t write about generalizations like the college’s rank, location, or size. Focus on how it supports your academic goals.
  • Write about yourself, not just the college. Explain your strengths and interests and how you’re a good fit for the school.

This essay allows you to explain why you want to attend a certain college.

  • These essays typically have a short word count, though the exact length depends on the school you’re applying to. In general, they fall between 250 and 650 words.

Choosing a Topic for Your Essay

Step 1 Learn as much as you can about the college.

  • To get a student’s perspective, read student reviews of the school and the overall campus vibe on college review sites, or reach out to current or former students and ask if they’re open to answering some questions.
  • Find expert reviews by reading sources like The Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske, Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, or The Best 376 Colleges from Princeton University.
  • If possible, find a syllabus for a course you’re interested in. This way, you can list specific examples of how taking classes at that college would benefit you when you write your essay.

Step 2 Choose your angle based on the specific prompt.

  • Columbia University: “What are your reasons for applying to this particular university? Elaborate on the most significant and compelling aspects of Columbia that resonate with you.”
  • University of Michigan: “What are the distinctive qualities that make a certain school or college attractive for you to apply to? How does the curriculum submitted correlate with your interests and plans for the future?”
  • University of Pennsylvania: “With regard to the undergraduate school you have chosen, we are curious about how you plan to develop your intellectual interests at our university. Please tell us about your approach to exploring these interests within the university’s environment.”
  • University of Central Florida: “What is the main reason for your decision to join UCF? What particular characteristics and qualities would enable you to contribute to our academic community?”

Step 3 Reflect on your educational and career goals.

  • Write your reasons down in 3 separate columns: what you seek from the college, what the college will give you, and what you bring to its community.
  • In general, 70% of your essay should focus on academics, while 30% can focus on extracurriculars.

Step 2 Choose an appropriate structure.

  • The basic strategy: provide 10-15 reasons about why you want to attend the college. Organize them into a few main categories and list specific reasons and details within them.
  • The unique reasons strategy: write about 3-5 opportunities that are exclusive to that college and explain how they relate to you personally. Make sure to do your research for this strategy since it requires you to understand the institution’s unique factors.
  • The one value strategy: explore 1 core value that you and the college share and expand on that story. This is the most risky approach, as it relies on 1 topic and must be engaging.

Step 3 Outline and draft your essay.

  • Introduction: Introduce your main goals and the reason behind them. To personalize your essay, include an anecdote about your interests or an experience at the college. Remember to include a thesis statement .
  • Body paragraph 1: Write about your first goal and how the college can support it. For example, if you’re interested in math, include details about their math department and specific courses. Be sure to supply supporting evidence.
  • Body paragraph 2: Write about your second goal and how the college can support it. For example, if you want to be a journalist, write about their student newspaper or any relevant internship opportunities they offer.
  • Body paragraph 3: Write about your third goal and how the college can support it. For example, if community service is important to you, write about specific opportunities and events the college organizes.
  • Conclusion: Conclude your essay by reaffirming where you see yourself in the future and how the college can help you get there.

Step 4 Get feedback and edit your essay.

  • While you may be interested in a college’s sports teams or traditions, avoid writing about them if they’re well-known and easily researched.

Step 2 Don’t rely on emotional language.

  • It’s okay to use the same themes across essays. Just make sure those themes fit the college’s specific prompt and be genuine about why you’re interested in that college.
  • Writing a unique essay for each school you apply to helps you avoid unnecessary mistakes like mixing up mascots or accidentally including another college’s name.

Step 4 Don’t only compliment the school.

  • When the prompt asks “why us?”, don’t think of “us” as just the college. Instead, think of it as you AND the college.

Step 5 Avoid repetition from your main application or essay.

Expert Q&A

  • When proofreading your essay, scan it for capital letters. Capitalization often signifies you’ve included something specific that the college offers. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Read your essay aloud to see if any sections sound clunky or confusing. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to write a why college essay

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  • ↑ https://www.apguru.com/blog/step-by-step-guide-to-write-a-great-why-this-college-essay
  • ↑ https://afsa.org/why-college-essay
  • ↑ https://scholarships360.org/college-admissions/why-this-college-essay/
  • ↑ https://summer.harvard.edu/blog/12-strategies-to-writing-the-perfect-college-essay/
  • ↑ https://greatcollegeadvice.com/blog/how-should-i-write-the-why-do-you-want-to-go-to-our-college-supplemental-essay-the-dos/

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How to Write a "Why This College" Essay + Examples that Worked for the Ivy League

How to write a “why this college” essay + examples that worked for the ivy league.

Bonus Material: Download 30 Real College Essays that Got Students Into Princeton

College admissions have never been more competitive. With acceptance percentages for top colleges in the low teens (or lower for Ivies!), you need to take every opportunity to stand out from other applicants. 

We all know the importance of grades, test scores, and the personal statement. But there’s one part of the process that students all too often underestimate: the supplemental essays.

 In this post, we’ll take you through how to approach one of the most common supplemental prompts: the “Why this college?” essay. 

Jump to section:

Why do colleges ask this question? Types of “Why this college?” prompts Step 1: Research unique offerings! Step 2: Link to your story! Step 3: Create a frame for your essay A list of Don’ts Rules to remember Next steps

Download 30 Successful College Essays

Why do colleges ask this question?

This is one of the most common supplemental questions asked by colleges, especially by some of the most competitive ones! For example, six of the eight Ivies have an essay that basically asks you to answer that simple-sounding question: “Why us?”

Princeton University

You might be tempted to think these questions are silly or unimportant. But the truth is that they matter a whole lot. What colleges are looking for in these essays is, at heart, two things: proof that you’re a good fit, and proof that you’re actually committed to attending. 

Think about these essays as conveying to the college two fundamental things: that you’re interest ing , and that you’re interest ed . 

Why does that matter? Well, think about it from the college’s perspective. Elite colleges are committed to admitting only a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of applications they receive yearly. 

Because of that, it’s massively important that those lucky and exceptional few they do accept will actually contribute to the community. They want the best!

At the same time, these colleges don’t want to “waste” an acceptance on a student who then goes on to enroll somewhere else. They want to be reasonably confident that, if they accept you, you’ll take them up on their offer.

It’s a little like dating: they want to be sure you’re good relationship material, but they also don’t want to ask you out if it doesn’t seem like you’re interested. 

Types of “Why this college?” prompts

Sometimes, the prompt will really be as simple as “Why Dartmouth?” Other times, though, these prompts will highlight some particular aspect they want you to focus on. Take a look at the below prompts, and see if you can spot the difference:

Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? (150-200 words)

How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)*

In 300 words or less, help us understand how you might engage specific resources, opportunities, and/or communities here. We are curious about what these specifics are, as well as how they may enrich your time at Northwestern and beyond.

These are all “Why us?” essays. But UPenn splits this question into two separate prompts: the first is specifically about “intellectual and academic interests,” while the second is specifically about “community.” The third prompt, from Northwestern, is more general: it’s really about any aspects of the university that draw you in. 

how to write a why college essay

Colleges will generally ask the “Why us?” question in one of three ways:

  • An overall question asking you to focus on anything that appeals to you about the school.
  • A specific question asking how you’ll use the school’s resources to pursue your academic interests. 
  • A specific question asking how you’ll engage with non-academic elements of the school, often framed around community.

Though these questions are all being asked for the same purpose, they’ll require you to discuss different aspects of the school and of yourself. 

Now that you know what these prompts look like and what they’re for, let’s take a look at how you should start answering them. 

Download 30 College Essays That Got Students Into Princeton

Step 1: Research unique offerings!

It might sound obvious, but you cannot write one of these essays without first doing serious research into the school’s offerings. Get on the computer, go through the school’s website, and note down specific offerings that interest you. For academics, some things to look into might be:

  • Whether the school has a unique approach to the core curriculum (e.g., Brown or Barnard).
  • Research opportunities for undergraduates. 
  • Unique service learning or study abroad opportunities. 
  • Unique work opportunities (e.g., Northeastern’s CoOp program)
  • Opportunities within your planned major (unique tracks, specializations, etc.)

You might notice I used the word “unique” a lot there. It may sound repetitive, but it does stress the point: you need to focus on aspects that are unique to the school you’re applying to!

Brown University

Anyone who’s worked with college essays has seen a fair share that say something like:

Part of what I’m excited about at School X is the robust Economics department, where I’ll be able to take classes like Introduction to Microeconomics and International Economics .

What’s the problem there? Well, every school with an economics department is going to offer those classes! It’s not unique, and it suggests that the author of that sentence didn’t do their research or, even worse, doesn’t really have any specific reason for choosing School X. 

If you’re looking to discuss community aspects, you should do the same kind of research, perhaps focusing on:

  • Unique college-wide initiatives (e.g., Dartmouth’s Sophomore Summer)
  • Student clubs/organizations
  • Anything specific the college stresses as a point of pride in terms of values, diversity, etc.

Researching unique offerings from these schools can be difficult: how do you know what’s unique enough to mention? Or what a particular school really prides itself on?

If you’re struggling with this first key step, reach out to one of experienced college essay coaches , who can help you through the process so you know what to write about before you start.

Step 2: Link to your story!

But that research is only half the battle. Schools don’t just want a list of what they do well. Remember our two guiding principles for these essays: prove you’ll be a good fit, and prove you’re interested. 

To do that, you’ll have to connect any specific opportunities you mention with your own narrative. What about you —your experiences, passions, values, successes, failures—has led you to be interested in these specific opportunities presented by the school? 

Remember that all college essays are stories. When these “Why us?” essays are perfect, it should make the admissions committee feel that your journey up to this point has naturally led you to apply to their school. 

So, don’t think of this as an essay about the school itself. It is, like all these college essays, an essay about you as a person . The only difference is you have to show how your story intersects with what this particular college can do for you . 

how to write a why college essay

As an initial brainstorming exercise, make two columns. In the first, list all of those specifics you researched in step one. In the second column, put what connects you to each of those specific offerings. Activities you’ve been involved with, important moments in your life, values you hold dear. Wherever you have the strongest connections, that’s what you’ll write about. 

Thinking strategically, you can especially focus on strong connections that also tie in to your most impressive achievements, whether academic or extracurricular, because you’ll get another chance to reference them in your supplemental essays.

For inspiration, check out 30 examples of real college essays by some of the most successful applicants in the world, who told their stories in interesting and unique ways.

Step 3: Create a frame for your essay

Each of these essays should be personalized to the school you’re applying to. But , because this is at heart an essay about yourself, you can create an introduction and conclusion (a “frame”) that you tweak only slightly for multiple schools. 

The first paragraph, whenever possible, should be eye-catching and specific to you. Often, the best way to do this is with some small anecdote or mini-story from your life that contextualizes the rest of the essay. 

Are you going to apply to these schools as a Math major? Well, then you might want to start the essays with a short description of the moment you fell in love with math, or with what burning questions drive you to pursue it in college. 

Your last paragraph (which should be very short) can return to this story or to some other key element of yourself that explains your goals within the context of the essay. With the first and last paragraph, you should have a deeply personal frame that gives context for what you say in the body of your essay.

student success

This frame doesn’t have to change much: if it fits for the prompt, reuse it! But do change the body paragraphs. Since those paragraphs are all about the specifics for the school you’re applying to, each of those needs to be written from scratch. 

A list of Don’ts:

Writing these essays can get pretty complicated. There’s a lot of nuance, a lot of potential pitfalls, and a lot on the line (which is why you should look into working with one of our experts). But one good place to start is with what you shouldn’t do:

  • Avoid all generalizations about the strength of the program, the prestige of the faculty, or the rigor of the academics. 
  • Avoid talking too much about the location of the school, especially for schools in major cities like NYC. 
  • Exception: if your application can show a demonstrated interest in a particular field (e.g., if you’ve already done research with a professor, or published something in a relevant journal), then it will seem much more believable when you reference a professor or coursework. 
  • Similarly, avoid name-dropping specific buildings or locations at the school as if you’ve already been there. Generally, don’t say things like “I can already see myself walking through the doors of Firestone Library.”
  • Do your best to avoid stock/cliche sentences like, “I am passionate about […]” or “[…] really stands out to me as an incredible opportunity.” It’s more than likely some of these will sneak into your writing, but cut as much of them as you can.
  • Don’t spend too much time describing the college’s program/club/etc. without tying it specifically to you . The admissions officers already know that their school is great, and they don’t need you to explain their special community-building outdoor adventure program! What they want to know is what is specifically attractive about that adventure program to you and how it ties into your past accomplishments and future plans.  

student writing college essay

Rules to remember

By far the best way to excel on these essays is to work with a qualified college essay coach . There’s nothing like a second set of eyes to give you perspective and guidance on your work! But regardless of whether you get assistance or set out on your own, keep the below rules in mind:

  • There are no “optional” essays ! If a school offers you a prompt, always write a response.
  • Balance school specifics with your own narrative. Always show how what you like about the college connects back to your experiences . 
  • Every sentence should be specific to you and/or the school : if you read a sentence and it could have been written by someone else or about some other school, you need a better sentence. 
  • Avoid generalizations; focus on specifics . 

So, now that you’ve read this post and gotten a better idea of what colleges want, how do you start writing?

Download 30 College Essays That Worked

Our college essay coaches can help you through every step of the process, from that initial research to final proofreading for clarity and polish. Not only have our coaches helped students gain admission into some of the top colleges in the country, but they’ve successfully navigated that process themselves. 

Princeton University

In the meantime, take a look at the examples we collected from 30 students admitted to Princeton so you can get a sense of what’s been successful in the past. 

Related articles

11 College Essays That Worked 7 Qualities of a Successful College Essay 5 Ways to Structure Your College Essay The 6 Princeton Supplemental Essays: How to Respond How to Answer the Harvard Supplemental Essay Prompts How Colleges Read Your Application: A 4 Step Process What College Admissions Officers Look For: Your Data-Backed Guide 14 Best College Essay Services for 2022 (40 Services Reviewed)

how to write a why college essay

Emily graduated  summa cum laude  from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 

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How to write a “why this college” essay: examples included.

Why this how-to college essay header image with Quad education logo

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/15/23

Worried about writing your “why this college” essay? Unsure of how to make it stand out? Read on to learn how to write a "why this college” essay that’s sure to impress the admissions committee!

With thousands of students applying for limited spots in competitive colleges, admissions committees want to know why you’ve chosen them and, by extension, why they should choose you! 

The name of this essay can be a little deceiving. While the admissions committee will want to know the specific reasons you want to attend their college, they will also expect your essay to reflect on how you would make a good fit in their community and why they should accept you into it over their other candidates!

Balancing both aspects can be difficult, but with the right guidance, you should be able to write a winning essay that will blow the judges away! 

How to Write a “Why This College” Essay: Step-By-Step

A person thinking

We’ve all been there, staring at a blank page with a mix of frustration and dread, hoping a masterpiece will somehow just appear out of thin air. And as we struggle to navigate the maze of words and ideas in our head that we just can’t articulate into words, an overwhelming sense of gloom creeps up.

The good news is it’s not all gloom and doom. You can conquer your writer’s block and turn those elusive thoughts into compelling words to write a stellar “why this college” essay by following these steps:

Step One: Do Your Research

This first step is self-explanatory. If you’re writing an essay explaining why you want to attend Harvard , you should know exactly what draws you to the school. 

This means going beyond recounting Harvard’s rankings and prestige and how it can open endless doors of opportunity for you. Dig deeper! Look further than the school’s homepage and reflect on what excites you most about the college you’re applying to.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What program are you applying to? What makes this program unique?
  • What courses are you looking forward to joining?
  • What makes this college different from the other colleges you’re applying to?
  • What is their campus culture like? 
  • What have they accomplished outside of their rankings?
  • What research efforts are they involved in that you would like to join?
  • What are their principles and values?
  • What is their mission?
  • What is their motto or mantra, and how does it resonate with you?
  • Do they have distinguished faculty you’re excited to learn from?

Not all “why this college” essay prompts will be the same; some will be more specific depending on the program you’re applying to. For instance, Cornell asks its aspiring engineering majors to concentrate on one or two aspects that draw them to the program.

Ensure you tailor the scope of your research based on the essay prompt.

Step Two: Reflect On Your Own Interests

As we stated, this essay will explain why you think the college you’re applying to is a right fit for you and how you’re a right fit for it. As such, you need to reflect on your interests and goals before you begin writing your essay. 

You’ll want to come up with genuine reasons that you’re interested in attending the college that reflect your personal interests. This will help ensure your essay is unique and shows off your personality!

Step Three: Make the Connections

Once you’ve researched the college and considered your own interests, you should be able to make connections between the two. See where your interests overlap with your college’s offerings. Find aspects of your college that truly resonate with your interests.

Perhaps you’re a passionate women’s rights activist and are excited by a couple of unique courses offered by your school's Women’s Studies department. Or, you enjoy being intellectually challenged and appreciate the rigor of your college’s programs. Whatever it may be, find these connections and use them to guide your essay.

Step Four: Keep It Simple

"Keep it simple"

Once you’ve found your connections, zone in on the few that stand out the most to you and can create the most compelling essay. You don’t want your essay to be a laundry list of all of the reasons you decided to apply to college. 

Realistically, even if you choose unique courses or faculty members to discuss, chances are there are at least a dozen other applicants who have had similar ideas. The part of your essay that will make you stand out is how you develop these interests and tie them to your own aspirations and passions!

As such, you’ll want to only choose a few interests to focus on so that you can thoroughly explain them.

Step Five: Highlight Your Fit

As you share your reasons for applying to the specific college, explain how you can contribute to its community and how you see yourself and others benefiting from what the college has to offer. 

You don’t have to make any promises about how you’ll be a stellar student, join dozens of school clubs, or make significant changes on the student council. Discuss how your skills, experiences, and values align with the college's values and how you plan on using their resources to benefit your field or others.

Step Six: Revise and Rework

Once you’ve completed your first draft of your “why this college” essay, you can take a breather. Give your eyes and brain a break, and then get ready to revise your work.

It will likely take several drafts, frustrating editing sessions, and even complete rewrites until you’re completely satisfied with your work. This is all part of the writing process and will ensure you confidently submit work you’re proud of! 

Step Seven: Get Feedback

Once you’re happy with your essay, ask someone to look it over before submission. They may catch awkward phrases, misused words, or areas that require further explanation. Sometimes, when you look at your own work for too long, it can be difficult to consider how your reader will receive your writing.

“Why Us” Essay Structure

It’s important to follow a solid essay structure when writing. Let’s take a closer look at what makes a good outline for a “Why This College” essay. 

How To Start A “Why Us” Essay

Learning how to begin your “why us” essay isn’t as hard as it seems! You’ll want to engage your readers from your first word, so begin your essay with an intriguing hook. Many students choose one experience that explains their motivation to pursue a particular passion. 

Then, they explain how the college they’re applying to will allow them to further develop this passion through its specific offerings. Here are some common hooks students use:

  • The description : The essay starts with a vivid description of what the reader saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and/or felt during the experience they’re centering their narrative around.
  • The climax : The essay starts in medias res at the climax of the experience they’ll share more context about later on.
  • The quote : This one can be tricky, as we don’t mean to quote Gandhi or another famous leader. We mean a quote said by you, someone close to you, or perhaps a character from your favorite book or TV show that isn’t generic.
  • The once upon a time : You can begin your essay as you would a story, explaining your anecdote from beginning to end in chronological order.

Any of these hooks will work, but ensure you seamlessly connect it back to what interests you about the college! Do not simply share an anecdote because it’ll catch the reader’s attention. Choose the experience you share wisely and ensure it is meaningful not only to you but also to the context of the “why us” essay.

What to Write in Body Paragraph(s)

Your body paragraphs should all relate back to the thesis of your essay, which is essentially the “point.” If you’re writing a “why this college” essay, your thesis statement should concisely summarize why you want to attend a certain college. Then, the rest of your essay will expand on that point. 

Here is where you can use the research you did earlier. Be specific about the aspects of the college that resonate with you. Remember to keep it concise--don’t just list reason after reason. Narrow your focus and tell one cohesive story with your essay. 

Also, pay close attention to the word count of your essay and don’t go over it. Make sure each word matters and carries weight. 

How To Finish a “Why Us” Essay

Since you want your readers to be hooked up until the last word, it’s essential you put equal effort into your conclusion as the rest of your essay. Do not overlook these final few sentences! Use your conclusion to leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Talk about the lessons you learned through the experience you shared in your essay, circle back to your hook, address the college you’re applying to and recap your reasons for joining it, and highlight what’s next for you. 

Here are a few common endings for college essays: 

  • The full circle: This essay ties the ending back to the beginning in a simple, straightforward way. Avoid overexplaining or summarizing; simply recall how you began the story.
  • The lesson learned: You can use your conclusion to reflect on what your experiences have taught you and how you have grown and changed. This shows self-awareness, humility, and a desire to learn.
  • In-the-action: You can go out with a bang by ending your essay in a moment of action. This could be a piece of dialogue or an action sentence that leaves the reader intrigued about what may have happened next.

Remember to keep your conclusion energetic and impactful. Don’t re-state what you’ve already said. Instead, find a way to nod at the future and keep your reader engaged.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing “Why This College” Essays

A frustrated person

Now that we’ve gone over how to write a “why this college” essay, let’s go over what to avoid !

  • Being generic : Avoid using generic statements that could apply to any college. Instead, focus on specific aspects of the college that genuinely resonate with you and ensure you do your research. 
  • Being cliche : Do not use overused quotes or sayings in your essay, and do not make bold and vague claims such as “I want to change the world,” or “I want to revolutionize medicine;” have clear, specific, and attainable goals.
  • Not being authentic : Be genuine; avoid exaggerating or fabricating your interest in the college. Admissions officers can often sense insincerity, so remain true to yourself!
  • Focusing on prestige : While you can appreciate a college's reputation, avoid solely focusing on its prestige or ranking. Instead, highlight the specific qualities of the college that attract you and how they align with your aspirations.
  • Guilt tripping the committee : Do not share an anecdote about adversity you faced to evoke pity in your readers in hopes it will push them to accept you into their school—it won’t work and will call your sincerity into question.
  • Not editing your work : An otherwise excellent essay can be reduced to a mediocre one if it’s riddled with grammar mistakes or typos.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can craft a compelling "why this college" essay that showcases your genuine interest, research, and fit with the institution!

“Why This College” Essay Examples

Learning how to write a “why this college” essay step-by-step is certainly helpful and can get you started on the right foot, but seeing real “why this college” essay examples will enhance your understanding of what a great essay looks like!

Cornell “Why Us” Example Essay 1

“Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.” (650 words)
"It was a warm and sunny summer day as I made my way across the bustling Thurston Avenue Bridge towards the Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center. I stopped for a moment to gaze at the nearby Triphammer Falls, and I heard the marching band as they walked past. Throughout my campus tour, I was impressed with all the opportunities the College of Arts & Sciences can offer, and I was stunned by Cornell’s beautiful campus. Overall, Cornell will provide me with the resources and opportunities to pursue my interest in science.
In recent years, I have heard of more bizarre weather events as a result of climate change and global warming, such as snowstorms in Texas, wildfires in California, and more severe hurricanes. I have always been invested in our planet and environment; observing these events, my interest has peaked with learning about several smaller issues that may contribute to climate change overall, as well as potential solutions or alternatives. For instance, I have recently become fascinated by the negative impact of carbon emissions from cars. Drawing from my previous experiences in other countries such as China and Italy, I have investigated alternate modes of transportation such as buses or high-speed rail, which could reduce the amount of cars on the road and therefore the amount of emissions per person.
However, while researching these topics, I have become aware that not everyone has equal access to these solutions or alternatives due to various factors and aspects of one’s life. For example, some areas may not have many developed alternatives to driving a car, and not everyone can afford access to cleaner energy sources or products made of more environmentally friendly materials. Additionally, some people may be restricted in living and housing options, whether due to circumstance or by policy, and these people could be more negatively affected by natural disasters that arise as a result of climate change. 
These issues are all extremely relevant today and I feel obligated to help find solutions to them in the future. To solve these environmental and social issues, I was not only drawn towards the natural sciences but also the humanities and social sciences. The College of Arts & Sciences’ commitment to a liberal arts education would allow me to explore all of my academic passions while taking part in interdisciplinary studies, gaining new perspectives from peers that have various academic interests and come from many different backgrounds, while learning how I can apply my knowledge to solve crucial problems. Courses in the Environment and Sustainability program such as ENVS 4443 Global Climate Science and Policy and ENVS 4444 Climate Smart Communities: State and Local Climate Change Science, could lend me the chance to learn and discuss many issues that are relevant at this moment, particularly climate change and global warming, as well as potential solutions to these problems.
Other than environmental science, I am also invested in several other science-related subjects such as physics and biology, allowing me to learn the fundamental concepts of how the world works. The College of Arts & Sciences’ Biological Physics program is particularly intriguing, as it offers interdisciplinary flexibility, allowing me to study physics and biology simultaneously while exploring possible ways to apply my newfound knowledge to solve environmental issues. Additionally, the college provides research opportunities around the nation and the world, and I could dive deeper into specific subjects by participating in research programs such as Professor Michelle Wang’s LASSP’s Single Molecule Biophysics Lab.
With additional interdisciplinary programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, I could gain knowledge on a variety of topics and then apply it to help others and the environment. The myriad of academic programs, resources, and opportunities that the Cornell College of Arts & Sciences offers would be a valuable component in my college pursuits."

Why It Works

This is an impressive “why us” essay for the following reasons:

  • The hook : From the beginning of the essay, readers are intrigued to learn more
  • Personal connection : The vivid and engaging description of the author’s surroundings and emotional response adds a personal touch and allows the reader to step into their shoes to connect with them better.
  • Demonstrates they did their research : The essay showcases the author's thorough research about the college and highlights specific academic programs, such as the Environment and Sustainability program and the Biological Physics program, to demonstrate their genuine interest in Cornell.
  • Keeps it simple : The author only chooses a few main interests to highlight but effectively expands on them to discuss their importance.
  • Demonstrated fit : The essay clearly articulates how the resources, research opportunities, and academic programs at the College of Arts & Sciences align with the student’s passions and goals. 
  • Commitment to making a difference : The essay highlights the author's commitment to addressing environmental and social issues and how they believe the College of Arts & Sciences can provide them with the knowledge and skills to contribute to finding solutions—an admiral aspiration that any college would value.

Overall, this essay effectively combines the student’s personal experiences, research, and demonstrated fit with the college's offerings to convey their enthusiasm and potential contributions to the academic community! 

Cornell “Why Us” Example Essay 2

Here’s a similar prompt that Cornell’s engineering majors must respond to:

“How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about.” (250 word limit)
"As the sun emerges from behind the mountains, my grandfather and I remain fixated on the onigiri atop the dining table. We aren’t engrossed in the onigiri, per se, but rather their wrappers–the canvas where we sketch gadget designs.
Grandpa inspires me to follow his footsteps by designing contraptions to benefit humanity. We both place a large emphasis on the importance of transportation to the environment’s well-being. His patent for a [PRODUCT] was the biggest project I’ve contributed to. Consequently, I aspire to work with Dr. Francis M. Vanek, whose research interests involve the environmental impact of transportation systems. I imagine working together on a shared passion, alternative energy-powered cars (and maybe even convincing my family to buy them in the process).
Cornell’s engineering program places a significant emphasis on building a conscious future. Understanding the intricacies of societies and the demands of global warming is a key component of becoming an environmental engineer. Professor Zinda’s Environmental Sociology course educates students to engineer solutions with an astute understanding of the communities involved, not just knowledge of principles. When reflecting on two communities I’ve experienced intimately–[COUNTRY] and [STATE]–I understand the nuanced scenarios brought upon by different environmental concerns. I always seek to be sensitive and aware in my approach to projects.
My grandfather’s humanitarian mindset defines my own engineering process. Learning from Cornell faculty with aligned ideologies would be a dream come true. At Cornell, I believe I can carry on my grandfather’s legacy with a holistic engineering viewpoint."

Right off the bat, there’s no denying this prompt is short but sweet. Despite only being 250 words, it hits the mark in multiple ways:

  • It tells a compelling personal story : The essay begins with an intriguing scene involving the applicant and their grandfather, which adds depth and emotional resonance to the essay to capture the reader’s attention.
  • It makes connections : The student clearly articulates their passion for alternative energy-powered cars and connects it to their interest in working with a specific professor, Dr. Francis M. Vanek, whose research aligns with these interests.
  • Effectively incorporates their research : The student highlights how Cornell's emphasis on building a conscious future and their interdisciplinary approach aligns with their own values and aspirations. Mentioning Professor Zinda's course also showcases their understanding of the program's curriculum.
  • Demonstrates global perspective : This student showcases their awareness of environmental concerns in different communities and their desire to approach engineering with sensitivity and a holistic viewpoint.
  • Shows their ambition : By emphasizing their desire to design environmentally-conscious transportation, this student portrays their maturity, critical thinking skills, and readiness to contribute meaningfully to the field.
  • Has a powerful ending : The student comes full circle to their grandfather's legacy and their desire to carry it on while also addressing Cornell’s role in this goal. This adds a personal element and reinforces the applicant's genuine passion for engineering and their commitment to making a positive impact. 

This is an excellent essay to use to draw inspiration to write your own persuasive narrative! You can write a similar one by thinking about whose legacy you want to carry on or who has had a similar, profound impact on your life and career path. 

Columbia “Why Us” Example Essay 1

" Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer) "
"I tend to view the brain in the same way one would do any other muscle, and the fact that I choose to do so explains how I’ve recently gone about challenging myself intellectually. Simply put, I take my brain to the gym; I analyze its power through its capability to ‘lift’ (fully comprehend) intellectual weights of varying mass, and attempt to broaden the reach of its abilities by repeatedly pushing it just past its limits until it's capable of handling the load of even heavier weights. And, if the brain can be treated like a muscle, then it's only logical to view attending university as the process undertaken to make said muscle as strong as possible.
The desire I feel to brain-train with maximum intensity in higher education has led me to apply to Columbia – the academic equivalent of an Olympic-level gymnasium. How exactly I plan on using the resources such a ‘gym’ would offer is something I’ve spent months pondering: courses such as “Gender and Applied Economics” taught by Professor Lena Edlund, for instance, would expand my limits of intellectual agility, as would the diversity of NYC’s melting pot mentality, which closely parallels my own upbringing and education."

Here’s why this “Why Columbia” essay works:

  • It uses a unique analogy : The essay begins with a unique analogy that compares the brain to a muscle and the process of intellectual growth to going to the gym. It is very creative and immediately captures the reader’s attention.
  • It makes good use of the “show, don’t tell” rule : Instead of simply saying Columbia is known for its challenging curriculum that pushes students to their academic brinks, they liken Columbia to an Olympic-level gymnasium, which shows their understanding of Columbia’s academic excellence in a unique way.
  • It makes specific references : The essay mentions a specific course, "Gender and Applied Economics,” as an example of how they plan to utilize the resources at Columbia. This shows they conducted thorough research on the university and identified specific academic opportunities that align with their interests.
  • Alignment with the environment : The essay highlights the applicant's appreciation for the diversity and multicultural mentality of New York City, which closely parallels their own upbringing. This illustrates a strong sense of fit with Columbia's diverse community and indicates that the applicant would thrive in it.
  • Demonstrates their well-thought-out approach : The essay shares that the applicant spent months pondering how to maximize their intellectual growth at Columbia, which proves their dedication and proactive approach to education.

This essay just goes to show how creative you can get with your writing! Don't be afraid to think outside the box, as it can result in a fantastic, unique, and unforgettable essay!

Columbia “Why Us” Example Essay 2

"Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application.” (200 words or fewer)
"It wasn’t until I arrived at [NAME OF TRAIN STATION] on a cold November morning for my first ‘shift’ with [NAME OF ORGANIZATION] that I truly grasped the significance and breadth of economics’ human impact. 
For context, [NAME OF ORGANIZATION] is a non-profit organization whose volunteers take to [CITY] streets and distribute essential supplies to the city's homeless population – or, as we called it, ‘giving a shift.’ I don’t recall exactly how many ‘shifts’ I gave with [NAME OF ORGANIZATION], but the 7-month period I spent working with the organization proved to have a profound impact on my life, character, and perspective. 
What stuck with me most from the experience was coming to admire the sheer grit and unwavering perseverance of those I met during my ‘shifts’; never before had I experienced such fulfilling and uplifting interactions with complete strangers, whose gleaming personalities and senses of humor contrasted starkly with the dire nature of their socioeconomic situations. 
It’s from these selfsame interactions that my inspiration to study economics grew; more specifically, by my pragmatic application of knowledge regarding policy studies and poverty economics that I aspire to gain through higher education, I hope to ‘give an even bigger shift’ for the world of tomorrow."

The majority of this essay is spent explaining how the student’s interest in economics began. They thoroughly explain their experience and demonstrate some key traits, such as a strong sense of social responsibility, a commitment to helping others, empathy, and understanding, without explicitly stating them. 

This student showcases traits that they know Columbia appreciates and ends by stating their specific reason for choosing their major, which is what the prompt asks. This is why it’s important to fully understand each prompt before you answer it, as it does not ask the student to list their interests in attending Columbia.

Instead, it asks about their interest in the areas of study they noted in their application. As such, they do not necessarily have to spend valuable time listing the professors or courses they’re interested in! This prompt calls for a more broad response about the major they chose.

Columbia “Why This College” Example Essay 3

"Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.” (200 words or fewer)
"Watching Spider-Man fighting bad guys in New York made me want to do the same. I can be a superhero through my work as an architect by designing spaces that improve communities and the well-being of others. Opportunities to research the connection between systemic issues and architecture compels me to Columbia.
I am drawn to Professor Galán's lecture "Architecture and Migration in New York" with his focus on politics, nationalism, and colonialism corresponding to architecture. Growing up with grandparents who lived through British occupation, I developed an appreciation for how design affects relationships and communities. 
In particular, I was most proud of my resilient grandparents who fought to keep their traditional [ETHNICITY] homes against colonialism. Realizing architecture has a transformative power and historical significance, I aim to incorporate a thoughtful approach to my design philosophy. I would also join Columbia's Urban Experience to expand my perspectives by learning about the community of New York and experiencing how Columbia creates initiatives for students to improve the surrounding neighborhoods. 
Although I can not climb walls or shoot webs, Columbia offers endless opportunities for me to grow and make a positive impact - like everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!"

Why This Works

This "why this college" essay effectively highlights the applicant's passion for architecture and their desire to make a positive impact on communities. Here's why it works well:

  • It offers a personal connection : The essay starts with a personal anecdote about watching Spider-Man in New York, which captures the reader's attention and demonstrates the applicant's inspiration to become a "superhero" architect, a unique way to explain their career goal.
  • Demonstrates clear motivation : The applicant explains how their work as an architect can improve communities and the well-being of others, showing a strong sense of purpose and commitment.
  • Clear desire to contribute to their field : The essay mentions the applicant's interest in researching the connection between systemic issues and architecture, indicating a desire to delve deeper into the field and contribute to it.
  • Includes faculty interests : The mention of Professor Galán's lecture on "Architecture and Migration in New York" demonstrates the applicant's specific interest in a particular area of study and their alignment with the program’s focus.
  • Personal touches : The essay highlights the applicant's personal background, particularly their grandparents' resilience against colonialism, and how it has shaped their perspective on design and community relationships, which evokes more emotion and allows readers to connect with the student deeper.
  • It takes a thoughtful approach : The applicant emphasizes the transformative power and historical significance of architecture, which may offer a unique perspective on this field that the committee does not see often. 
  • Clear eagerness to contribute to the campus : The student explains their intention to join Columbia's Urban Experience, showcasing their eagerness to actively participate in the community and fit in.
  • Impactful ending : The ending is humorous, relates back to their anecdote, and reiterates the applicant’s desire to make a positive impact in their field.

This applicant chose an anecdote that, at first glance, seems unrelated to the topic at hand. However, they tactfully relate it to their career aspirations, and you can do the same! 

Yale “Why This College” Example Essay 1

“What is it about Yale that has led you to apply?” (125 words or fewer)
"As someone who takes an immediate interest in new experiences, hearing about Yale’s “AND” approach to education was like hearing the Cubs won the World Series: shocking! 
The powerful research opportunities and resources found at the Jackson School of Global Affairs combined with Yale’s cozy but free liberal arts atmosphere make it an exhilarating place for me to explore the inner workings of US foreign policy. However, the flexibility of Yale’s curriculum will also allow me to continue my work with young children and pursue my interest in theater by taking a course like “Creating Theater for Young Audiences”.
With its modern 21st-century philosophy and 300+ years of experience, Yale’s curriculum invites me to immerse myself and thrive in ventures both familiar and novel alike."

This essay prompt is very short, so it would be difficult to include a narrative in it. For these kinds of answers, it’s best to just stick to the prompt and share your interests straight away, as this student has. Pay attention to the following features of this essay:

  • Its opening : While the essay does not start with an anecdote like the others, it still provides its readers with an interesting introduction by comparing Yale’s AND approach with the Cubs winning the World Series, adding some personality to their essay.
  • Its use of space : The student doesn’t dwell on one interest for too long. They mention several different interests, including Yale’s research opportunities, atmosphere, flexible curriculum, theater course, and more. They’re able to keep these ideas simple and connect them so it doesn’t feel overkill. 
  • Its conclusion : Despite the limited space, this student writes a quick conclusion to give their final thoughts on Yale in a succinct yet effective way that also mentions their ability to immerse themselves in the community and thrive in it!

This essay is able to accomplish what other 250+ word ones have in only 125 words, and the admissions committee was just as impressed as you!

Yale “Why Us” Example Essay 2

"Coming from [COUNTRY] and having traveled globally, I recognize the resource disparity in different parts of the world, particularly in the STEM fields. That’s why I also recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity attending Yale affords: to work in labs and with resources to which not even [ETHNICITY] professionals have access. 
This opportunity, alongside the possibility to dive further into my academic interests that lay outside my major, specifically the classics, is an incredible chance that I cannot chase in many universities in my country. The ability to intertwine several areas of study in an institution where I can meet and learn from even more unique people from even more eclectic places with diverse and adverse backgrounds alike sounds like the best possible education I could fathom."

Like the previous example, this “why us” essay packs a punch despite its short word count! Here’s how:

  • Demonstrates global perspective : The essay begins by acknowledging the applicant's experience of resource disparity in different parts of the world, demonstrating their awareness of global challenges and the importance of access to resources, particularly in the STEM fields.
  • Highlights Yale's unique opportunities : The student discusses Yale’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in well-equipped labs and access resources that may be unavailable even to professionals in the applicant's home country, highlighting the value of Yale's academic environment and facilities.
  • Mentions interdisciplinary interest : Yale is big on its interdisciplinary educational approach, which is why it was a smart move for this student to mention their interests beyond their major. This also showcases their intellectual curiosity and desire to take full advantage of all of Yale's offerings.
  • Emphasizes cultural diversity : The applicant highlights their desire to interact with unique individuals from diverse backgrounds at Yale. This speaks to the applicant's appreciation for diversity and ability to fit in at Yale and benefit from its diverse community.

In summary, this essay effectively communicates the applicant's appreciation for Yale's resources, interdisciplinary opportunities, and diverse community while demonstrating a strong motivation to make the most of their educational experience at Yale!

Dartmouth “Why This College” Example Essay 

“Dartmouth celebrates the ways in which its profound sense of place informs its profound sense of purpose. As you seek admission to Dartmouth’s Class of 2027, what aspects of the College’s academic program, community, or campus environment attract your interest? In short, Why Dartmouth?” (max 100 words) 
"If I had to place my purpose, I’d tuck it right into my power suit on the way into the first day of my new internship that I would’ve obtained through the Entrepreneurial Internship Program or Tuck Business Bridge Program. 
Aside from attempting the black diamond at Dartmouth Skiway and hiking through the Appalachian Trail, I’ll spend most of my time on campus serving the Upper Valley community through Social Impact Non-Profit Consulting (SINC) and Social Impact Practicums (SIP), using my zest for entrepreneurship to support local non-profits that are fostering dynamic social change throughout the Upper Valley and beyond." 

This Dartmouth prompt has the shortest word count yet, but the student still manages to write a compelling “why this college” essay due to the following aspects:

  • It has clear career goals : The essay highlights the applicant's ambition to pursue an internship through the Entrepreneurial Internship Program or Tuck Business Bridge Program, demonstrating a focused career path and knowledge of Dartmouth’s programs.
  • It demonstrates community engagement : The applicant expresses their desire to actively contribute to the Upper Valley community through Social Impact Non-Profit Consulting and Social Impact Practicums. This showcases their ability to contribute to not only Dartmouth but the entire region as well.
  • Their voice is present : the student still lets their personality shine through as they mention their favorite outdoor activities like skiing and hiking.
  • It connects to the college’s values : By expressing their interest in community service, the essay aligns with Dartmouth’s values of civic engagement and making a difference in society, demonstrating a good fit between the applicant's personal goals and the college's mission.

It’s clear this student has put time and effort into their response and researched Dartmouth and all it has to offer! They are able to add personal touches, describe their career goals, and demonstrate how they’ll fit into the Dartmouth community and beyond in only 100 words!

Princeton “Why This College” Example Essay

“As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests?” (Please respond in 250 words or fewer)
"Political science is the academic area that piques my curiosity most, especially with the history of how past power structures shape inequality today. I’m fascinated with the intersection and apparent contradictions of the egalitarian ideals upon which America was built; in the same decade that the Declaration of Independence was written, declaring all men equal, Native Americans were treated as brutes and black indentured servants were shackled into servitude. 
Most of all, I’m intensely curious to learn about the lives of the invisible; currently, I’m reading A Black Woman’s History of the United States, which chronicles black women’s experiences at a time when both legal and societal systems disenfranchised them completely. At Princeton, I’d like to continue this civil rights-based political science work by conducting research with Professor Tali Mendelberg, who focuses on the institutional nuances that invisibly prevent women from holding positions of power. This research is especially important to me because I’ll be running for political office one day and am dedicated to electing more women to political office as a volunteer with [NAME OF ORGANIZATION] and She [NAME OF ORGANIZATION], organizations that support electing young progressive women to political power.
Extracurricularly, I spend my time trying to solve America’s problems through entrepreneurship. Last year, I co-founded [COMPANY], a startup working to make financial literacy available to all Americans. At Princeton, I’d immerse in the eLab startup incubator, the entrepreneurship minor’s workshops, and the Princeton Startup Immersion Program to further explore my entrepreneurial interests and scale [COMPANY]."

Here’s why this essay works:

  • Connection to personal experiences : The essay references the applicant's current reading of "A Black Woman's History of the United States" and their dedication to understanding the experiences of marginalized groups. This personal connection adds depth and authenticity to the essay.
  • Shares their future goals and impact : The student reveals their long-term goal of running for political office and their dedication to electing more women to positions of power. This demonstrates a sense of purpose and a desire to create meaningful change in the political landscape.
  • Integration of personal and academic interests : The essay effectively intertwines the applicant's passion for political science with their entrepreneurial endeavors. It showcases how they seek to apply their knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship to address societal issues. 
  • Fit with Princeton's values : The essay aligns the applicant's values and interests with Princeton's emphasis on academic excellence, research, social justice, and entrepreneurship. By proving their goals resonate with the college's values, the essay highlights a strong fit between the applicant and the institution.
  • Connection to extracurricular opportunities : The essay highlights the applicant's interest in participating in Princeton's eLab startup incubator, entrepreneurship workshops, and the Princeton Startup Immersion Program to their desire to fully immerse themselves in the college community.

Overall, this essay stands out by showcasing the applicant's intellectual curiosity, commitment to social justice, entrepreneurial spirit, emphasis on diversity, and alignment with Princeton's academic programs and values. It even mentions extracurriculars, which students often overlook!

NYU “Why Us” Example Essay 

“We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. We are particularly interested in knowing what motivated you to apply to NYU and more specifically, why you have applied or expressed interest in a particular school, college, program, and/or area of study? We would like to understand why NYU?” (2500 character maximum)
"Though the brain, in all actuality, is not like any other muscle in the human body, the fact that I tend to view my brain as one would view any other muscle is something that must be acknowledged before analogizing how I’ve recently gone about challenging myself intellectually. 
Simply put, I take my brain to the gym; I analyze its power through its capability to ‘lift’ (fully comprehend) intellectual weights of varying mass and attempt to broaden the reach of its abilities by consistently exercising it, repeatedly pushing it just past its limits until it grows stronger and is thus ready to load on even heavier weights. While I’m by no means claiming here to be some sort of bodybuilding guru – in fact, I weigh roughly the same as most large dogs – this particular process of meticulous brain-training is something I’ve found myself doing in an endless quest to satisfy my insatiable thirst for an understanding of the bigger picture. 
Although attending my current institution has provided me with a stimulating academic experience, and one where I’ve jumped at the opportunity to more deeply explore my interests in both familiar and unfamiliar subjects alike, I find myself at a level of intellectual strength and vitality today where I’m confident in my capacity to take another step forwards – or better yet, a quantum leap into the academic equivalent of an Olympic-level gymnasium that is NYU.
How exactly I plan to utilize the variety of resources such a 'gym’ would provide is a question I’ve spent years eagerly pondering: for one, continuing on my path of pursuing degrees in economics and philosophy at a school ranked 11th and 1st in those subjects respectively would be an absolute honor, as would the experience of studying beneath Professor Alberto Bisin, whose HCEO lecture on Cultural Inequality I’ve now watched countless times. 
Tantamount to my commitment towards fully exhausting NYU’s academic resources is the level to which I aim to immerse myself in the school’s diverse community, whether it be by driving Tandon’s Formula SAE racecar in competition or volunteering for the noble Change the Imbalance Initiative, I want to ensure that my character undergoes as much development as my intellect in being an NYU student. What stands above all, though, is my desire to give back to the Violet garden of intellectual growth by putting my voice into play within NYU’s academic arena, both inside and outside the classroom."

This essay may sound familiar, as it follows a similar analogy to one of the Columbia essay examples. This is bound to happen, and it’s okay if your great essay idea is similar to one you find online, so long as you make it your own. Here are some key takeaways to note in this essay:

  • It uses a personalized analogy : Although the analogy of the brain as a muscle may have been used before, the applicant adds a personal touch by describing their own intellectual journey and the specific ways in which they seek to challenge themselves and grow to add individuality to the essay.
  • It adds tasteful humor : Humor can be risky when it comes to essays because you don’t know how well your jokes will be received. However, this student uses what we consider “safe humor” to add personality to their essay (their joke about weighing as much as large dogs).
  • It tactfully mentions prestige : As previously mentioned, you should not focus on prestige in your essay, but you can mention it, which is what this student does by briefly discussing NYU’s ranking but not dwelling on it.
  • It Integrates extracurricular interests : The essay goes beyond academic pursuits and highlights the applicant's interest in extracurricular activities at NYU. This demonstrates a well-rounded approach to college life and a commitment to making a positive impact beyond the classroom.
  • It mentions their desire to contribute to NYU’s academic arena : The essay ends by expressing the applicant's eagerness to contribute their voice to NYU's academic environment, which demonstrates their eagerness to engage in meaningful discussions and enrich the intellectual community at NYU.

So, while we’ve seen the analogy before, this essay effectively conveys the applicant's intellectual curiosity, ambition, and fit with NYU's academic resources and community in a distinct way!

Duke “Why This College” Example Essay 1

“Why Duke?”
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, my family and I volunteered at the [NAME OF HOSPITAL] in [CITY] to make cotton masks for those experiencing the mask shortage. I want to continue combatting similar medical crises in the future. I am confident Duke has the opportunities available to help me achieve my goal of providing and ensuring health care to improve the quality of life for people in my community.
While combining my Biochemistry major with a Health Policy Certificate, I also wish to contribute to the Duke community through research in Dr. Lorena Sue Beese’s lab. I want to analyze biological structures to create new therapeutic agents and diagnostics for a variety of diseases. By pairing my interest in research and participating in initiatives like Duke One Health, or with the Duke Center for Community and Population Health Improvement, I will receive a foundation in how to create and advance a unifying system of population health.
Aside from academic interest at Duke, I will seek community with individuals who share part of my common history to create a family away from [CITY]. By joining the [NAME OF GROUP], I will delve deeper into amplifying minority voices on health disparities specific to the [RACE] America, [ETHNICITY], and [ETHNICITY] communities. By participating in the Duke University Chorale, I will continue to pursue my love for beautiful and meaningful music in a community just as enchanted by it as I am."

If you’re planning on applying to Duke , consider drawing inspiration from this compelling “why this college” essay, and make note of the following parts that make it stand out:

  • Opens with a meaningful experience : The essay begins by highlighting the applicant's volunteer work during the COVID-19 pandemic, which shows their commitment to public health and their desire to address medical crises.
  • Makes specific reference to Duke’s opportunities : The essay makes reference to the student’s interest in conducting research in Dr. Lorena Sue Beese's lab. Their mention of initiatives like Duke One Health also shows their awareness of the university's resources.
  • Mentions their appreciation for diversity : diversity is an important value at Duke. This student showcases their desire to work with diverse communities and express their interest in joining a group that amplifies minority voices on health disparities, proving their commitment to inclusivity.
  • Has clear academic and career goals : The student shares their passion for combating medical crises and improving people's quality of life. They express their intention to pursue a Biochemistry major and a Health Policy Certificate at Duke, displaying a well-defined academic path.

If you want to write a laser-focused essay like this, it’s important you know what you want! Have clear, defined goals and a plan to get you there. Know which resources Duke offers will help you the most and incorporate them into your essay. 

Duke “Why This College” Example Essay 2

“What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there's something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well.” (250-word limit)
"At Duke, college is a verb whose definition is a collage of countless experiences and endeavors prospective students aim to undertake as Blue Devils. Though 250 words isn’t enough to encapsulate the whole collage comprehensively, I can at least venture to provide snapshots of what my own collage would look like… in other words, what it’d look like for me “to Duke.” 
For me, “to Duke” means living beyond the confines of one’s comfort zone. I’ve already started “to Duke” via high school DECA and aim to continue duking it out in different arenas - intellectually, entrepreneurially, and otherwise - as I hone my accrued high school skills on the collegiate chopping block. One way to really test myself when it comes to my dreams of becoming an entrepreneurial hotelier is by pursuing Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Undergrad Certificate, because “to Duke” also means following one’s dreams and building credibility the right way en route. 
In other words, “to Duke” means taking no shortcuts and measuring twice but cutting once, as the age-old contractor’s adage goes. Thus, it’s with the best intent and utmost intention that I apply to Duke because my research has confirmed what I already felt to be true: “to Duke” is to be me, and also to be you, in a place where we can both be helping each other, too. “To Duke” is to collaborate, so it’s truly this collaboration at the core of teaching and learning at Duke that ultimately does it for me."

This final “why this college” essay works for the following reasons:

  • It uses repetition well : Throughout the essay, the student repeats the phrase “to Duke” and gives various definitions of what this means and how they’ve already done it, and what they plan on doing in the future “to Duke,” which adds cohesion to the essay and demonstrates their commitment to the college.
  • It’s specific : The essay makes specific reference to the certificate this student would like to pursue at Duke and the numerous ways they plan on stepping out of their comfort zone using Duke’s resources.
  • They quote Duke : Sometimes quoting the school’s mission can be cliche, but this student has chosen unique quotes and seamlessly integrated them into her essay while explaining what these words mean to her. This demonstrates she’s done her research and truly resonates with Duke’s motto.
  • It’s focused : This response is all about Duke; it doesn’t use anecdotes but still includes a powerful and personal message about this student’s aspirations, experiences, interests, and values.

This essay effectively communicates the writer’s passion, ambition, and alignment with Duke's values. You can feel their enthusiasm and excitement to attend Duke throughout, and it’s clear they plan on contributing to its community!

While we’ve provided you with some excellent examples to help you start your “why this college” essay, there are over 175 more essay examples you can look through before you feel confident enough to start step one of the process!

FAQs: “Why This College” Essays

In case you still have questions about how to write a “why this college” essay, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this application material:

1. What Is the Purpose of a “Why This College” Essay?

With limited spots in each program, colleges want to know you’re dedicated to their school and its values. The purpose of a "why this college" statement is to convince the admissions committee that you have carefully considered your college choice and that you’re genuinely excited about the prospect of attending that particular institution.

2. How Do You Write a “Why This College” Essay?

To write a “why this college” essay, follow the comprehensive steps listed above. Here’s a brief summary of them:

  • Step one : Do your research on the college you’re writing your essay for
  • Step two : Reflect on your own interests and goals
  • Step three : Connect the dots between your interests and goals and the college’s offerings
  • Step four : Keep it simple by only mentioning a few of these connections
  • Step five : Explain how you’ll fit in and how your values align with the college’s values
  • Step six : Revise and rework your essay until it’s perfect
  • Step seven : Have someone look your essay over for additional feedback before submitting it

By following these steps, you should be able to write an authentic, focused, and compelling “why this college” essay!

3. Which Colleges Require a “Why Us” Essay?

Here are some colleges that typically require a “why us” essay or a variation of it: 

  • Harvard University
  • Yale University
  • Princeton University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • New York University (NYU)
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • California Institute of Technology 
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brown University
  • Northwestern University
  • Swarthmore College
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Virginia
  • University of California
  • University of Pennsylvania

It's best to check the admission requirements of the colleges you’re interested in during your intended application cycle to get the most updated information on the required supplemental essays .

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose to write about a life-changing experience that influenced you to become a nurse and join Duke’s renowned nursing program, or you simply want to explore various disciplines through Harvard’s interdisciplinary curriculums, you can write a captivating “why this college” essay that will help get you into your dream college.

Regardless of the direction you take, so long as you follow the steps above, avoid the mistakes discussed, and use the examples in this guide for inspiration, you should be golden!

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February 7, 2023

How to Write a ‘Why Do You Want to Go to This College’ Essay

how to write a why college essay

Sometimes the prompt is as short as two words: “ Why Tufts? ” Other times, the prompt, like that of Cornell’s , is rather wordy: “Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s ‘any person…any study’ founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.”

Yet both of these prompts — and so many other college essay prompts — pose the same question: Why do you want to go to this college?

The Top Colleges That Ask “Why College” Essay Prompts

The following top 25 national universities in the 2023  US News & World Report ranking pose “Why College” essays:

  • Princeton University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • Yale University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Duke University
  • Northwestern University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Brown University
  • Rice University
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Georgetown University
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Southern California

The following top 25 liberal arts colleges in the 2023  US News & World Report ranking pose “Why College” essays:

  • Swarthmore College
  • Wellesley College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Davidson College
  • Hamilton College
  • Barnard College
  • Colgate University (for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, essay prompts only appeared after students submitted applications — it was very sneaky of Colgate!)
  • Haverford College

The Specific “Why College” Essay Prompts for the Top Colleges

Of the top 25 national universities in the 2023  US News & World Report ranking, the following is a breakdown of the specific wording of their “ Why College ” essays, along with the respective word counts:

Of the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the 2023  US News & World Report  ranking, the following is a breakdown of the specific wording of their “Why College” essays, along with the respective word counts:

What Colleges Want to See in “Why College” Essay Responses

Admissions officers at America’s elite universities want to see that students have done their homework on the institution they’re applying to. They want to see that the student isn’t just submitting another application for the sake of submitting another application. In fact, so many universities ask “Why College” essay questions because admissions officers seek to admit students who they believe will matriculate. After all, their yield, or the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll, matters to them.

The Importance of Demonstrated Interest

A great way to shape the yield is by admitting students they think are likely to enroll — or quantifying a student’s Demonstrated Interest . And what’s a good indicator of a student’s Demonstrated Interest? An applicant who cites specific after specific in their “Why College” essay. Likewise, a good indicator that a student has no intention of enrolling or that the college is a backup for the student is a “Why College” essay devoid of specifics.

How to Find Specifics for “Why College” Essays

Students searching for specifics to include in “Why College” essays should zero in on the school’s student newspaper (especially if the newspaper has archives dating back many years), Facebook, Instagram, Google Earth, and more.

If there’s a lecture series a student wishes to write about, chances are there are photos of the talk available on Facebook or Instagram. Students should comb through those photos as well as the captions. By doing so, they’ll be able to include small details, like the fact that it took place in Lowell Lecture Hall.

How to Write a “Why College” Essay

Some students worry that painting a portrait of themselves on the school’s campus is presumptuous since they may not earn admission. But admissions officers know the drill. They know students are painting a portrait of their dream, and admissions officers need to be able to envision you at their school, getting involved in the college’s community.

In addition to citing specific after specific, it’s also important that students write this essay in a conversational tone. College essays should not be formal — they’ll read as too dry. As such, students should aim to avoid beginning sentences with words like “however,” “nevertheless,” and “thus” as much as possible. It’s all about writing colloquially!

The “Why College” essay exercise is ultimately all about showing rather than telling. Telling a college that it’s a student’s first choice isn’t credible since that college knows the student can write that sentence for every school they apply to. But by including specific after specific, by showing rather than telling, they have a better chance of convincing admissions officers of their message.

5 Things Applicants Must Do in “Why College” Essays

  • Tailor most sentences to the school they’re applying to.  If a student can read the sentence aloud and replace the school’s name with another school, and the sentence still works, the student should delete it!
  • Write about themselves actively engaged on the school’s campus.  It’s not an essay just about the student. And it’s not an essay just about the school. It’s the student plus the school.
  • Cite enduring specifics about a school , like programs, institutes, the school’s culture, traditions, and so much more.
  • Write only about the school in question.  While it may seem obvious, many students compare the school to other institutions. Yikes!
  • Double-check the accuracy of the specifics cited.  Programs end. Activities get eliminated. Make sure all of the specifics mentioned remain timely.

5 Most Common Mistakes in “Why College” Essays

  • Students cut and paste their “Why College” essays for multiple universities.  It’s transparent to admissions officers when students are not tailoring their “Why College” essay to the school they’re applying to. For instance, when a student writes that they want to attend a school because of it’s beautiful campus and engaged student body, admissions officers know full well that they likely used this same sentence for the other schools to which they applied. Instead, every sentence should contain a specific reference that applies only to the school. In a “Why Columbia” essay, if one can replace Columbia with Harvard and the sentence still works, delete it!
  • Students name-drop professors and classes , thinking those count as specifics. Admissions officers are unlikely to believe a student wishes to attend a university because a specific person works there. Besides, no one likes a name-dropper. And they know students can easily cut and paste class names from one university’s course catalog to the next. In any case, classes change from year to year. Instead, students should endeavor to capture enduring specifics about a university.
  • Students write about only themselves  for vast chunks of “Why College” essays, forgetting to write about the college. The “Why College” essay should be considered a date. If someone speaks about themselves endlessly on a date without asking about the other person, it’s unlikely to end well.
  • Students cite incorrect specifics  about a university. Maybe it’s a leftover from another school’s “Why College” essay, or the student didn’t do their homework. Either way, writing about the D-Plan for Duke or the gorges for Penn will not bode well for a student’s candidacy at these schools.
  • Students cite specifics in laundry lists.  While “Why College” essays should be brimming with specific after specific, it’s important not to include these specifics in a laundry list. Instead of naming one activity after another that a student hopes to participate in, applicants should let each activity breathe. They can do so by citing more minor specifics about the individual activity they’re referencing. In short, don’t just name the activity, but go into detail about that activity.

FAQs About the “Why This College?” Essay

Do applicants need to consult with students at a school to find specifics.

It’s not necessary. All the information you’ll need to find the specifics is available online. You just have to know where to look. For example, if you’re researching the Cornell Speech & Debate Society , go on the group’s Facebook page. Do you see how they recently competed at the Hell Froze Over Tournament in Austin? It’s these very kinds of specifics that showcase a student has done their homework.

Should applicants take extensive notes on college tours and information sessions to use this information in “Why College” essays?

No, because those aren’t the kinds of specifics worthy of including in “Why College” essays. That’s general information about universities offered on tours and info sessions. Instead, students should endeavor to teach admissions officers things they don’t know about their school — not regurgitate the school’s already-existing marketing material.

Is it impossible to find genuine specifics for “Why College” essays?

No, it’s pretty easy. Students simply need to know where to look. Did you know the archives for  The Cornell Daily Sun   date back to 1880? The stuff one can find out about Cornell in such articles — and the search function makes it relatively easy to navigate!

Does every university care about Demonstrated Interest?

Some universities claim not to care about Demonstrated Interest. For example, Emory University writes on its website, “Demonstrated interest” is  not  a factor in our application review process. Things have no impact on the evaluation of your application.”

But Emory is the university that  created  Demonstrated Interest. No matter how loudly or how vociferously Emory tries to argue that they don’t care about Demonstrated Interest, we urge students and parents not to believe Emory’s marketing material . Emory, like all highly selective universities, wants students to apply. As such, they don’t want to do anything to discourage students from applying — like creating barriers such as making it seem like students need to visit the campus to improve their case for admission.

So when a college tells applicants they don’t measure Demonstrated Interest, we urge that message to go in one ear and out the other. Arguably, the only school that doesn’t care about Demonstrated Interest is Harvard College — because Harvard knows students want to go there over just about every other school. Most other universities are insecure, and, as such, they want students to prove they want to go there.

Ivy Coach Helps Students Craft Compelling “Why College” Essays

Helping students craft powerful “Why College” essays that not only wow admissions officers but teach them intel they don’t even know about their school is a big part of what we do. If you’re interested in Ivy Coach ‘s assistance, fill out our free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch.

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How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples

The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.

A standout essay has a few key ingredients:

  • A unique, personal topic
  • A compelling, well-structured narrative
  • A clear, creative writing style
  • Evidence of self-reflection and insight

To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.

Table of contents

Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.

While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.

Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

What do colleges look for in an essay?

Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :

  • Demonstrated values and qualities
  • Vulnerability and authenticity
  • Self-reflection and insight
  • Creative, clear, and concise writing skills

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.

While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.

Create an essay tracker sheet

If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:

  • Deadlines and number of essays needed
  • Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts

You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.

College essay tracker template

Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.

If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.

What makes a good topic?

  • Meaningful and personal to you
  • Uncommon or has an unusual angle
  • Reveals something different from the rest of your application

Brainstorming questions

You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:

  • What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
  • What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
  • What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
  • What makes you different from your classmates?
  • What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
  • Whom do you admire most? Why?
  • What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?

How to identify your topic

Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:

  • Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
  • Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.

After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.

Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.

Vignettes structure

The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.

This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.

Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences

  • Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
  • Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
  • Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
  • Story: Broadway musical interests
  • Lesson: Finding my voice
  • Story: Smells from family dinner table
  • Lesson: Appreciating home and family
  • Story: Washing dishes
  • Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
  • Story: Biking with Ava
  • Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
  • Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.

Single story structure

The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.

Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.

Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person

  • Situation: Football injury
  • Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
  • Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
  • My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
  • Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game

Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs

Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.

Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.

Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..

Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).

While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.

Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.

Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook

Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.

Option 2: Start with vivid imagery

Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.

A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .

Show, don’t tell

“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”

First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.

  • What are the most prominent images?
  • Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
  • What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?

Be vulnerable to create an emotional response

You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.

Use appropriate style and tone

Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:

  • Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
  • Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
  • Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
  • Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
  • Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).

You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:

  • Summarizing what you already wrote
  • Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
  • Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”

Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.

Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure

The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.

In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.

Option 2: Revealing your insight

You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.

Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.

It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.

Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.

Respect the word count

Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.

Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Check your content, style, and grammar

  • First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
  • Then, check for style and tone issues.
  • Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Get feedback

Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.

  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
  • Friends and family can check for authenticity.
  • An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.

The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.

College admissions essay checklist

I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.

I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.

I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.

I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.

I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.

I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.

I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.

I’ve used appropriate style and tone .

I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.

I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Congratulations!

It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

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  • College Application

How to Ace the "Why This College?" Essay

With examples.

Why This College Essay

Are you wondering how to tackle the “why this college” essay? You're not the only one. Many colleges, including some of the  Ivy League schools  like  Columbia University , have at least one  supplemental college essay  prompt asking you to explain why you've chosen that particular college. Your response to this question is supposed to help the admissions committee determine whether you truly know and are interested in their school and whether you'll be a good fit for the school in question. In other words, you want this essay to be as strong as possible. In this blog, we'll give you the tips, strategies, and examples to help you write a compelling “why this college” essay.    

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 9 min read

What is the “why this college” essay.

As you have probably figured out from the name, this type of college essay requires you to explain why you have chosen to apply to a specific college. It is also sometimes referred to as the “why us” essay.

If you have started looking at college-specific essay questions, you have most likely come across one or two schools that ask applicants to write this essay. It is a part of the admissions process for many colleges including Cornell and UPenn , to name a couple. The prompt for this essay may look a little different from one school to another, but it is essentially asking you for the same thing. 

For example, if you are applying to  Yale University , you will be asked, "What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? ". If you are applying to  Dartmouth , you will need to answer the following question: "While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: "It is, sir,…a small college, and yet there are those who love it!" As you seek admission to the Class of 20xx, what aspects of the College's program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?". In your essay responding to both of these questions, you would be expected to tell the admissions committee what aspects of the school's academic and social programs and community made you want to apply. 

The "Why this college" essay is one of the most important college essays that you will write. Colleges accept a limited number of students every year, so they want to ensure that admitted students have a genuine interest in their school. Of course, the fact that you're filling out an application form and writing all of the admission essays tells them that you want to attend the school, but this essay is supposed to tell them why.

Many students apply to colleges because of name recognition, ranking lists, or pressure from friends and family. While others apply to specific colleges because they are genuinely interested in particular programs or courses offered by the institution or values that the school and the student both share. The admissions committee wants to make sure that you fit into the latter category because it means that you are more likely to thrive socially and academically.

Learn how to write a college essay:

As with most supplemental college essays, this essay follows the format of a regular essay, but it comes in a vast range of sizes. You should expect to write between 200 and 350 words, but that can vary significantly between schools. For example,  Columbia supplemental essays  are limited to 200 words or less, while Yale asks students to answer this question in 125 words. It is important that you verify the word count that is specified by the school you're applying to and that you follow those instructions. This essay is typically relatively short, but it needs to be very informative.

Keep in mind that colleges are getting more competitive. In fact, some top colleges like  Stanford  have an acceptance rate lower than 5%. So, if you want to beat the competition and get in, you need to convince the admissions board that you are genuinely interested in their institution and that you are a good fit for it. This is especially true if you are trying to  get into college with a low GPA.

For your "why this college" essay to be strong, it needs to show the admissions board that you understand the school's values, culture, curriculum, and the opportunities or experiences that it has to offer. The person reading your letter should feel like you have already spent time picturing yourself on their campus or in the classroom, and they should feel that you are excited about that possibility. 

Do research

Writing a “why this college” essay is quite similar to answering the  “What Would You Contribute to Your Future College Campus Community” College Interview Question.  To provide a strong answer, you need to know as much as possible about the school in question. 

We recommend that you spend some time on the school’s website. Do not limit yourself to the admissions and undergraduate programs page. Instead, take a look at their online catalog, social programs, and even course schedule, if available. The aim is to find out what sets this school apart from the others you’ve applied to.  Your essay should discuss precise details about at least one of the following:

If you have questions about the programs or if you feel that the website has not provided you with enough information, you can reach out to the admissions office or a local representative. You can also put the word out on social media or in student forums that you want to speak with a current student. Current students can give you specific information about the school, help with your essay, and help with other aspects of the admissions process - like  college admissions interviews , for example. 

Don't be vague/generic

It's important to remember that the person reading your essay knows very little about you and your experiences. This means that you need to be as specific as possible when you are explaining why you have chosen to apply to this particular college.

For example, you may be a big fan of Victorian architecture, and you find the buildings of a specific campus interesting. In that case, you can't simply write "the campus is beautiful, I love the architecture." That sentence is not only generic and forgettable, but it also doesn't give the reader any new information. Instead, you should look into those buildings' history and talk about that. You can write an essay about the rich history of the beautiful campus buildings and how and why they appeal to you.

This is just one of many examples, but the idea is that you should avoid vague sentences that do not say anything new about your interests and that do not apply specifically to the school.

As mentioned earlier, you want to make sure that you're using specific details and examples in this essay. This applies to the school's information but also you. In order to tell the admissions board why you've chosen this college, you need to tell them what you were looking for or what appealed to you.

One way to make sure your "why this college" essay stands out is to show instead of tell. This means that you should use anecdotes, examples, and specific experiences to back up any claims you make about yourself and demonstrate your interest in a particular topic.

For example, if we continue with the same student, we were talking about earlier who likes Victorian architecture. Let's assume that they are applying to a history program. They can compare the campus buildings on campus to those they saw on a trip to London, where they visited the Royal Albert Hall and other famous Victorian buildings. This would show the admissions board that they genuinely have an interest in the Victorian era, thus strengthening the overall essay.

Don't focus on the school's location, reputation, or ranking.

While the school's size, location, reputation, and ranking can undoubtedly be important factors in your decision to apply there, they should not be the main focus of your essay. This is primarily because thousands of students will be talking about these factors. There are so many essays that focus on these things that certain schools make it a point to tell students not to talk about them. Take a look at this prompt from Georgia tech, for example: "Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech?"

Furthermore, you want to make sure that your reasons for applying to this college are unique to the institution. If your essay says that you applied to a college because of its high ranking, that implies that you applied to multiple high-ranking colleges without much care for what they offer.

Or, if you are applying to Columbia, for example, and your essay revolves around the fact that the city of New York is exciting and has a lot to offer, the admissions committee will wonder if you might end up going to NYU instead of Columbia if they offer you admission.

So instead of focusing on external factors like ranking, location, and size, look for school-specific details such as extracurricular programs, courses, unique or exciting aspects of the curriculum, school traditions, etc.

Do connect it to you

You should think of the "why this college" essay as if it were really asking, "why is this college right for you?"

In other words, you want to use your essay to tell the admissions committee what you like about the school and how it relates to you. The reality is that they already know how great their school is, that is why they want to make sure that only the right candidates get to attend it next year.

Be honest with yourself when writing this essay. While researching the school, write down the things that interest you or that you find particularly appealing. Then, think back to your own background and experiences, and connect the two.

For example, the student who is applying to a history program and likes Victorian architecture. That student could talk about how they discovered this passion for history and architecture and what they have done to pursue that interest. This would show the admissions committee that this is something that the student cares about and actively engages with.

Now that you know what a “why this college” essay is and what it takes to write a compelling one, let’s take a look at a couple of examples so that you can get some context.

Prompt: What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)

Puccini's "O Mio Babino Caro" was my childhood soundtrack. My mother played it so often that it was the first song I learned to sing. It introduced me to music and history- two fields I am passionate about. I couldn't imagine giving up history to pursue music or vice versa, and until last summer, I thought I'd have to.

To learn more about the Yale school of music, I met with an alumn who told me how they studied Roman and Greek literature to specialize in baroque opera. My research then showed that Yale offers courses in Italian studies, which I could take in addition to my core music classes. Thus, allowing me to explore my interests in a way that no other school can.  ( 125 words)

Wondering how to get into an Ivy League college?

Prompt: Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, "Why Tufts?" (100-150 words)

Tuft's curriculum is uniquely designed to help me achieve my dreams. I have been working towards a career in the Humanitarian sector ever since I understood what the United Nations is. The best way for me to achieve that is to have a strong understanding of international relations and developmental economics.

Tuft not only offers one of the best economics programs in the country, but it also has a unique international relations program that collaborates with 18 other departments. Furthermore, Tuft believes in approaching the same problem from different angles, and it teaches its students how to do that through interdisciplinary education. I am confident that this approach will best prepare me for the career I am working toward.

Additionally, I find Tuft's focus on civil engagement particularly appealing, and I hope to participate in programs such as the Jumbovote or be a part of Tuft's chapter of Jumpstart. (149 words)

It is a type of college essay that asks applicants to elaborate on their reasons for choosing a particular college. Essentially, it is the school asking, "why us?"

Colleges ask applicants to answer this question because it helps them determine which students are genuinely interested in attending their school.

In short, very common! The question is often phrased differently, but most universities and colleges have at least one supplemental essay prompts that asks you to elaborate on your reasons for wanting to attend that specific school.

This will depend on the school you are applying to. Most of the time, the school will give you a specific word count like in the examples above. If there is no specific word count stated in the prompt, you should stick to the length of the regular common app essay - 250 and 650 words.

A strong why this college essay will have an attention-grabbing opening statement, use specific examples, and refer to detailed information about the school that you're applying to.

Except for college admission interviews, college essays are your only chance to talk to the admissions board directly in your own words. You should, therefore, not underestimate their importance.

This means using specific examples like anecdotes or experiences to show the admissions committee that you have a certain skill or trait instead of simply telling them about it. It will make you a more memorable candidate, thus strengthening your application.

You can take the time to research the school you're applying to; this will help ensure that you are referring to specific information about the school in your essay. We recommend working with a  college essay review service  to maximize your chances of acing this tricky application component.

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Ask Admissions Mom: I'm Not Sure What to Say In My "Why College" Essay

i don't have anything to say in my Why College essay (1)

"I have to write several essays explaining why I have chosen particular colleges on my list, even the ones that I haven’t been able to visit. I can't think of anything to say that would sound genuine and show that I clearly have a specific reason for wanting to go to those schools! Even after thinking long and hard, I haven't been able to come up with any decent reason for wanting to go to specific colleges. I don't want my essays to sound as if they came straight from the website or brochure. I really hate writing these essays and need some suggestions on how to approach them." –Anonymous H.S. Senior

As if writing the personal essay for college apps wasn't enough, many colleges also like to see supplemental essays! You might be asking yourself: what’s the point of all these supplements? It’s a valid question. Colleges aren’t trying to torture you though. The point of the “Why this College” essay is to paint a picture of you on their college campus .

These essays can be short, but they are really important! This is your opportunity to reflect on what’s important to you, dig deeper into your research for each school, and then explain exactly why you want to attend a particular school and what you specifically will bring to the community.

Colleges want to see who you are, what you’ve done and how you are going to bring that youness to their specific campus. Each of these essays involves digging in and learning more about yourself and what’s important to you and then how that you-who-you-are fits with what they offer on their campus. These essays help the admissions committee get to know you better, but they’re also a great way for you to make sure you’re clear on why you choose the schools you’re applying to.

Often, “Why College Essays” (and other supplements) are more important than the Personal Essay. Colleges ask these questions for a reason – and it’s usually to make sure they learn more about you as a HUMAN (not a test-taking, grade-making, EC-doing machine) and how you will bring that human (you) to THEIR specific campus. Many colleges also want you to show them some love and demonstrate that you’ve done the work (the research!) to know why you want to be there.

The most important thing to remember about a “Why College” essay is that it’s really a “Why You on our College Campus Essay.” This essay is just as much about you as the college. Why do they need you on their campus? What will you bring? So, in essence this should be an essay that only you could write about only this school. If any sentence could apply to any other school or applicant, scratch it. Make sure you include SPECIFICS in your essay. Do your research, and make sure the admissions committee can tell that you have.

Here’s what Trenton Manns, Undergraduate Admissions Counselor at Tufts said in an Instagram post last fall,

“If you ever feel like what you are learning [about colleges] is starting to blend together, carve out some time to browse through college publications and channels. Often times, these platforms help to illustrate the experiences of students and faculty who make the school truly unique.”

In another Instagram post from Tufts , Todd Denning, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions shares:

“The Why Tufts supplemental essay question, may seem pretty straightforward, but be sure to put plenty of thought into it. A “good” answer to this question will, of course, depend on you and what draws you to Tufts. A quick piece of advice: avoid the “features” trap. Yes, it’s ok and perfectly normal to be drawn to the amenities of a college or university, but we (The Admissions Committee) want to better understand why you think Tufts is a good fit for you. Rather than focusing on the features (residence halls, bucolic campus, professors), point to some of the “feels” (an eye-opening conversation you had with a current student, the university’s Liberal Arts identity, the deep civic and political engagement on campus, and so on.) A university is more than just a collection of buildings, clubs, and classes, so get creative and be thoughtful with our Why Tufts!”

Here’s an idea I really like from College Essay Guy : take a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle. On one side list all the awesome stuff about you. On the other side list all the amazing stuff about the college. Where do you see overlaps? That’s the substance of your essay.

Still stuck? I suggest that you make a chart about each school that includes:

  • School mission statement
  • Favorite point on website or from school visit
  • Classes that look interesting
  • Research you’d like to be involved in
  • A news article or social media post that catches your interest

When researching colleges, be sure to:

  • Take notes after your campus tour or virtual visit. Jot down a few things you saw and liked and why they appeal to you.
  • Follow the admissions department on social media.Take note of upcoming events for prospective students, and save posts with interesting news or announcements to refer to when writing your essay.
  • Read the student newspaper online and save interesting articles. When you’re writing your essay, mention something they’ve profiled recently and why it’s specifically interesting to you.
  • Read the website, especially the admissions website, carefully. Most college websites tell you exactly what they’re looking for. Are you that person? If so, demonstrate to them why. If not, well, maybe this school isn’t a great fit for you.
  • Read the college’s mission statement. Does their mission mesh with your personal mission? Explain how.
  • Research campus traditions and culture. Do you find them exciting and interesting and see yourself taking part?
  • Look at course lists and descriptions on the website. Do you find classes that you can see yourself attending? Tell them why this would be a great class for you. What will you get out of it? What can you contribute?
  • Find professors who appeal to you. Maybe even reach out to them and learn about their programs or research.
  • Again, devour college websites. Are there any clubs and activities that you’re currently involved in that are also offered on campus? Or, are there new-to-you activities that you’re excited to try? How do you see yourself getting involved on campus?

A note here: colleges don’t want just a rundown of clubs offered or classes in your major–they know why these appeal to you. It’s important to draw the connection between what they offer and what you’re seeking — so mention a specific class or activity if it meshes with your interests or values.

I love this example from u/Ninotchka :

"Look closely at the school website and find an aspect - a club, a particular course, a slogan, a tradition perhaps - that fits into your personality and write about that particular thing. i.e. “I was really excited when I saw that you had a course on the Roman conquest of Britain - I dressed up as Boudicca one year for Halloween and I look forward to arguing about Roman imperialism."

Once you’ve finished your research, you should have a lot of material to work with to write your essay. But remember, “Why This College” essays don’t have to be long. The strongest essays focus on a few well-chosen, specific and relevant reasons that show you’ve done your research and can really picture yourself as a student there. Every word counts.

If you’re still struggling to answer the "Why College" essay question after you’ve done your research, you may want to pause and ask yourself: why ARE you applying to this school? Even safety schools are only safeties if you’d actually be happy to attend. There are thousands of colleges and universities out there. Instead of spending your time struggling to find reasons why you want to go to a college, consider casting a wider net and looking for a few more schools that make it fun and easy to explain why you see yourself there.

Watch the webinar below for more great advice on the "Why College" essay and other supplemental essays.

More College Essay Questions?

Visit the CC College Essay Hub and connect with our community about all things college essay s.

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Carolyn Allison Caplan (she/her)

Carolyn Allison Caplan (aka AdmissionsMom) is an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) focused on using mindfulness in the college admissions journey. She is also a mother of three college graduates ( Vanderbilt , Harvard , and Tufts ) and a sought-after voice on topics related to the college admissions process. She earned a College Counseling Certificate (w/Distinction) from UCLA and is a member of HECA | IECA | TACAC | NACAC.

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How to Write the Why This Major Essay + Example

April 26, 2023

why this major essay

Writing the supplemental “Why this major” essay sounds like a cakewalk for approximately 4% of high school seniors—those lucky few who’ve known their purpose since kindergarten. For most, it feels more like a desperate stab at fortune-telling. How should anyone know what major they’ll choose at a school they haven’t yet been invited to attend? (Let alone what career they’d choose after graduating from said unknown institution.) In fact, if these students could flash forward two years, they’d see that a large number of sophomores will still be considering the question a week before they must pick their major.

The reality is, choosing a major often involves a lot more on-site research: visiting the offices of professors, talking to college advisors, testing out intro classes, etc. The “Why this major essay”, on the other hand, is rarely a commitment to a particular major. Rather, it’s a way for admissions officers to determine a) what subject(s) the student is interested in, b) how they’ve pursued this interest already, and c) how they would take advantage of the college’s resources while further developing in their field. Like the why this college essay, the why this major essay ultimately shows admissions officers if the student will be a good fit at their college. Yet here the scope of the essay is more focused. This makes the essay easier to tackle, so long as the student has done their research.

Researching the Why This Major Essay

Whether or not the student has already picked their intended major, it’s essential to do some preliminary research. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised to hear how many students dash off a why this major essay without ever visiting the college website. Most college websites will be neatly laid out, with an “Academics” page linking to the various majors and minors on offer.

For undecided students, this list of majors will spark ideas. Often, subjects not offered at the high school level simply aren’t on a high schooler’s radar. Less typical liberal arts majors might include Food Studies, Fashion, and Neuroscience. A larger university may have a whole school dedicated to Engineering, with engineering majors ranging from Biomedical Engineering to Civil Engineering. (Students applying to a particular school like this will want to read up on additional guides, such as Preparing for a Top Engineering College .)

Furthermore, students may find that a particular college combines several of their interests into one major. A major in Sustainable Development will require courses on environmental science, economics, and architecture. Some colleges even offer an independent study option, allowing students to combine several disciplines of their choice as they work on a specific senior project.

Once the student has narrowed down their interests to around 1 – 3 majors, they should take notes on any aspects of the programs that appeal to them. These can include the curriculum and courses offered, research taking place in the department, study abroad options, labs, etc. Department websites also provide insight into current and previous students’ thesis work. These notes will make drafting the why this major essay a lot easier, and will provide real evidence that the student is genuinely interested in the program.

Structuring the Why This Major Essay, Part A

Structurally, the “Why this major?” essay hinges on two complementary parts. These two halves don’t need to be equally weighted in words. Yet, they are equally valuable in forming a cohesive argument.

In part A, students describe their history with the specific subject they’ve chosen. Anecdotes provide an easy way in. A why this major engineering essay may begin with a student describing the time they fixed the science class aquarium by restructuring valves connecting to the water tank.

Next, the student should show how this interest turned into a full-fledged passion. Examples here could include specific units in high school classes, books they’ve read, internships, etc. Try to choose moments and details that together shape a journey.

Structuring the Why This Major Essay, Part B

This second part of the “Why this major?” essay is all about the future. The student must link their developed interest to their chosen major. Then, returning to their research notes, the student will show why the school they’re applying to will be unique in providing a relevant and resourceful education in that arena. Though most aspects of a program are worth mentioning, it’s best to avoid naming specific professors. Faculty can vary annually, and even tenured professors go on sabbatical.

A natural final step in Part B involves describing how the chosen major will lead to the student’s desired career. It’s normal for students to feel a bit baffled here. But remember, this essay is not a promise. Rather, talking about potential career paths will demonstrate that the student has some awareness and practical knowledge of the field, as well as some idealism about what they might accomplish in it. Look again at the department website for articles and links to alumni news for inspiration.

Make it personal, and passionate. No matter what major a student chooses, admissions officers will be impressed by a student who has taken their education into their own hands in order to pursue their interest to its fullest.

Focus in on specificity. Admissions officers will remember a student interested in mutations in indigenous tropical plants, though they may forget a student who’s simply interested in botany. Detail will also make the essay more articulate.

Common Mistakes and Lingering Questions

As mentioned above, not doing the research before writing a “Why this major?” essay can lead to serious mistakes. Imagine submitting an essay about why you intend to major in International Politics, only to learn that the college’s major is called Global Politics and Economics. Here are some other common mistakes:

1) Not committing fully to any idea. Students who shy away from definitively selecting a major may do so out of a sense of honesty. Perhaps they don’t feel it’s right to wax on about Medieval Studies when they’re also interested in Historical Preservation. While trying to give both subjects a fair chance, the student can come across as only lukewarm for both. Colleges may pass over an applicant they see as apathetic. (Plus, colleges see students’ evolution as being in their best interest, and won’t hold it against you if you change your mind.) So, throw yourself fully into one major, or both, just make sure the excitement comes through. And, consider mentioning how your second or third interest may become your minor.

2) Parroting the website. Admissions officers know what their website says. That’s their job. Students who find themselves copying or paraphrasing the website can adapt this information to themselves by answering the question, how would I take advantage of this particular feature?

3) Picking the wrong major. Students may feel pressured to pick a major that is perceived to be lucrative, or one that is less popular because they believe it gives them a statistically higher chance of getting accepted. While an applicant’s desired field of study is weighed in the admission process , attempting to “game the system” very rarely ends in success. Ultimately, choosing a major that genuinely aligns with one’s interests and accomplishments is almost always the way to go. (For more on this question, check out Should I Declare a Major on My College Application ?)

Sample Why This Major Essay Prompts

While the Common App Prompts ask for fairly lengthy responses, the why this major essay works to complement the main essay, and can be pretty short. Short essays around 100 words will require a cursory nod to each eventful moment in the student’s life that has led them to choose their major. Medium-sized essays (250-400 words) will allow the student to sharpen each experience with more detail.

Let’s take a look at several examples:

Purdue University asks students to “Respond in 100 words or fewer. Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected.” The brevity of the prompt invites the writer to be straightforward and concise in kind.

Students applying to Princeton as B.S.E. degree applicants will find that the “why this major” engineering prompt is equally straightforward. However, it asks for more specificity. It reads: “Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (Please respond in 250 words or fewer.)”

Why This Major Essay Example

Lastly, let’s see how one engineering student answered both Purdue and Princeton’s why this major essay/why this major essay engineering prompts. You’ll notice that the student recycled various information, but condensed and adapted the essay the second time around.

Why This Major Essay Engineering: Princeton

I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig while learning to drive. Afterward, I hoped my mom’s Volvo would break down so I could put the engine back together, as I had with a lawn mower. I love rebuilding things to understand each part. In Electronics, I wrote code to make a robot move, yet was left dissatisfied.

I’d begun to see how our climate crisis is caused by greenhouse gases, a byproduct of technology. I felt deceived by misconceived notions of “progress,” by cars and engines. Only when building an Arduino-based automated watering system to measure moisture in our school garden did I realize how technology might fix our mistakes. A complex watering system might reforest our planet, though it would be an immense undertaking. As Pirsig wrote: “Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not.”

I wish to major in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Princeton University to develop the skills necessary to design technologies that will restore our planet’s balance. I’m inspired by the recent laser-based sensing drone developed by Princeton researchers, which can pinpoint greenhouse gas leaks. With a concentration in Energy and the Environment, I would learn about remote methane sensors using chirped laser dispersion spectroscopy. I plan to develop an independent project on vapor isotope analyzers. After obtaining my B.S.E., I hope to improve the water cycles in urban environments.

Why This Major Essay Engineering: Purdue

While building an Arduino-based automated watering system for my school garden to measure moisture, I realized that human technology does not only destroy environments, but can work to reverse the effects of climate change. Majoring in Multidisciplinary Engineering with a Humanitarian Engineering Concentration at Purdue University would enable me to explore and combine various engineering disciplines in order to design technology that engenders sustainable living solutions for our species while supporting biodiversity on the planet. I plan to construct my own vapor isotope analyzer as my thesis to study and ultimately improve the water cycle of urban environments.

Why this Major Essay – Additional Resources

Looking for advice on other aspects of the college essay writing process? You may also find the following blogs to be of interest:

  • How to Write the Overcoming Challenges Essay
  • 2023-24 Common App Essay Prompts
  • Check out over 50 school-specific supplemental prompts and tips
  • College Essay

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How Do I Write a Great College Essay?

How Do I Write a Great College Essay? image 1 (name IMG How Do I write a Great College Essay)

College Prep

Published November 15, 2023

Have you ever applied for something and wished you could just say how much you want to be selected and why you’d be the best fit? I had that feeling when I applied to my top-choice college. And thankfully, I got the chance when I wrote my college essay—and I got in.

When you apply for college, you’ll be asked to write an essay or a personal statement that you’ll submit as part of your application. This is your chance to tell the college admissions team who you are as a person—outside of your academic accomplishments. You may be given a specific prompt to respond to or have more freedom in your writing, but above all else, here is what you should work to accomplish with your essay:

  • Share your unique story . Depending on the essay prompt, you’ll get the chance to discuss your personal experiences, what you’re passionate about, and what your academic and career goals are.
  • Stand out from the crowd. Be compelling, engaging, and honest in your writing. Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year—show why you’re a unique and valuable applicant through your story.
  • Show you ’ re a good fit for the student population. What are your interests and aspirations, and why are you interested in this college? By sharing this, you can demonstrate how well you will fit into their community.

You may be wondering how to approach writing an essay that accomplishes all of this. With thoughtful planning, you can craft a well-written piece that touches on all the important and engaging points you want to make. Here are some helpful tips for you as you approach the writing process:

  • Start early so that you have plenty of time to brainstorm, write, and revise your message.
  • Choose an interesting topic or story that is meaningful to you. It should showcase your personality, interests, aspirations, and writing ability.
  • Carefully read and follow the directions and make sure your essay follows the prompt.
  • Show, don’t tell, by using specific examples and anecdotes that demonstrate your points.
  • Be authentic and write a story that reflects who you are and not who you think the admissions team wants you to be.
  • Thoroughly proofread your essay for any errors or contradictions and ask someone else to give it a readthrough as well.
  • Pay attention to the specified length for your essay. Colleges typically provide a word or page range, so it’s crucial to adhere to these guidelines.
  • Ask a teacher, counselor, or mentor for feedback on your topic and the examples you’ve provided. They can offer valuable insights and suggestions for improvement—use them!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or concerned about writing your college essay, know that you are not alone. The written portion of your application can have a big impact on the overall strength of your application, but with careful planning and thoughtful brainstorming, you can create a masterpiece that captivates the admissions officer who gets to read your story.

Home — Application Essay — National Universities — Why Do I Want to Attend College

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Why Do I Want to Attend College

  • University: University of California, Berkeley

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Words: 519 |

Published: Feb 15, 2024

Words: 519 | Pages: 1 | 3 min read

As a young adult on the verge of embarking on the next chapter of my life, the decision to attend college carries significant weight. Many individuals pursue higher education to obtain a degree that will open doors to a successful career. While this is undoubtedly a valuable aspect of attending college, my motivation extends beyond the mere acquisition of a degree. I am driven by a deep desire to expand my knowledge, cultivate critical thinking skills, and foster personal growth in a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment.

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First and foremost, college provides an unparalleled opportunity for intellectual growth. Over the years, I have developed a thirst for knowledge that cannot be quenched within the confines of high school. The idea of delving into disciplines that captivate my curiosity, such as psychology, philosophy, and literature, is both enticing and exhilarating. College offers a diverse range of courses taught by experts in their respective fields, allowing me to explore these subjects in great depth. Engaging in thoughtful discussions with professors and peers who share a similar passion for knowledge will undoubtedly broaden my horizons and challenge my existing perspectives.

Moreover, attending college presents a unique chance to develop critical thinking skills. In today's rapidly changing world, the ability to analyze information objectively and think critically has become increasingly crucial. College courses often involve complex problem-solving tasks and assignments that demand rigorous thinking. By engaging with these challenges, I can refine my ability to think critically, analyze situations from different angles, and arrive at well-reasoned conclusions. These skills will not only be valuable throughout my academic journey but also in various aspects of my future career.

Furthermore, college offers an environment conducive to personal growth and self-discovery. It provides a platform to meet diverse individuals from various backgrounds who have unique experiences and perspectives. Interacting with such a diverse community will expose me to new ideas, beliefs, and cultures, enabling me to broaden my understanding of the world. Additionally, college facilitates personal development by encouraging independence, self-discipline, and time management. Living away from home, I will have the opportunity to take responsibility for my own choices, learn from successes and failures, and develop into a mature and self-sufficient individual.

Lastly, attending college is essential in achieving my long-term career aspirations. While it is true that not all careers require a college degree, the benefits that higher education provides are undeniable. A college education equips individuals with specialized knowledge, skills, and credentials that can significantly enhance career prospects and earning potential. Furthermore, college exposes students to career opportunities and internships, allowing them to gain practical experience and establish valuable connections within their chosen field.

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In conclusion, my desire to attend college extends far beyond the acquisition of a degree. College represents an opportunity for intellectual growth, the development of critical thinking skills, personal growth, and the pursuit of long-term career aspirations. I am eager to immerse myself in an environment that fosters curiosity, challenges existing beliefs, and offers diverse perspectives. By pursuing higher education, I hope to embark on a transformative journey that will shape not only my future career but also my identity as a lifelong learner.

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how to write a why college essay

So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.

The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.

To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection,  Dubliners , with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
  • Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like  60 Minutes .
  • Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise of dehumanization "; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
  • Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel  Ambiguous Adventure , by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.

Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:

  • Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
  • Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."

Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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The Loss of Things I Took for Granted

Ten years into my college teaching career, students stopped being able to read effectively..

Recent years have seen successive waves of book bans in Republican-controlled states, aimed at pulling any text with “woke” themes from classrooms and library shelves. Though the results sometimes seem farcical, as with the banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus due to its inclusion of “cuss words” and explicit rodent nudity, the book-banning agenda is no laughing matter. Motivated by bigotry, it has already done demonstrable harm and promises to do more. But at the same time, the appropriate response is, in principle, simple. Named individuals have advanced explicit policies with clear goals and outcomes, and we can replace those individuals with people who want to reverse those policies. That is already beginning to happen in many places, and I hope those successes will continue until every banned book is restored.

If and when that happens, however, we will not be able to declare victory quite yet. Defeating the open conspiracy to deprive students of physical access to books will do little to counteract the more diffuse confluence of forces that are depriving students of the skills needed to meaningfully engage with those books in the first place. As a college educator, I am confronted daily with the results of that conspiracy-without-conspirators. I have been teaching in small liberal arts colleges for over 15 years now, and in the past five years, it’s as though someone flipped a switch. For most of my career, I assigned around 30 pages of reading per class meeting as a baseline expectation—sometimes scaling up for purely expository readings or pulling back for more difficult texts. (No human being can read 30 pages of Hegel in one sitting, for example.) Now students are intimidated by anything over 10 pages and seem to walk away from readings of as little as 20 pages with no real understanding. Even smart and motivated students struggle to do more with written texts than extract decontextualized take-aways. Considerable class time is taken up simply establishing what happened in a story or the basic steps of an argument—skills I used to be able to take for granted.

Since this development very directly affects my ability to do my job as I understand it, I talk about it a lot. And when I talk about it with nonacademics, certain predictable responses inevitably arise, all questioning the reality of the trend I describe. Hasn’t every generation felt that the younger cohort is going to hell in a handbasket? Haven’t professors always complained that educators at earlier levels are not adequately equipping their students? And haven’t students from time immemorial skipped the readings?

The response of my fellow academics, however, reassures me that I’m not simply indulging in intergenerational grousing. Anecdotally, I have literally never met a professor who did not share my experience. Professors are also discussing the issue in academic trade publications , from a variety of perspectives. What we almost all seem to agree on is that we are facing new obstacles in structuring and delivering our courses, requiring us to ratchet down expectations in the face of a ratcheting down of preparation. Yes, there were always students who skipped the readings, but we are in new territory when even highly motivated honors students struggle to grasp the basic argument of a 20-page article. Yes, professors never feel satisfied that high school teachers have done enough, but not every generation of professors has had to deal with the fallout of No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Finally, yes, every generation thinks the younger generation is failing to make the grade— except for the current cohort of professors, who are by and large more invested in their students’ success and mental health and more responsive to student needs than any group of educators in human history. We are not complaining about our students. We are complaining about what has been taken from them.

If we ask what has caused this change, there are some obvious culprits. The first is the same thing that has taken away almost everyone’s ability to focus—the ubiquitous smartphone. Even as a career academic who studies the Quran in Arabic for fun, I have noticed my reading endurance flagging. I once found myself boasting at a faculty meeting that I had read through my entire hourlong train ride without looking at my phone. My colleagues agreed this was a major feat, one they had not achieved recently. Even if I rarely attain that high level of focus, though, I am able to “turn it on” when demanded, for instance to plow through a big novel during a holiday break. That’s because I was able to develop and practice those skills of extended concentration and attentive reading before the intervention of the smartphone. For children who were raised with smartphones, by contrast, that foundation is missing. It is probably no coincidence that the iPhone itself, originally released in 2007, is approaching college age, meaning that professors are increasingly dealing with students who would have become addicted to the dopamine hit of the omnipresent screen long before they were introduced to the more subtle pleasures of the page.

The second go-to explanation is the massive disruption of school closures during COVID-19. There is still some debate about the necessity of those measures, but what is not up for debate any longer is the very real learning loss that students suffered at every level. The impact will inevitably continue to be felt for the next decade or more, until the last cohort affected by the mass “pivot to online” finally graduates. I doubt that the pandemic closures were the decisive factor in themselves, however. Not only did the marked decline in reading resilience start before the pandemic, but the students I am seeing would have already been in high school during the school closures. Hence they would be better equipped to get something out of the online format and, more importantly, their basic reading competence would have already been established.

Less discussed than these broader cultural trends over which educators have little control are the major changes in reading pedagogy that have occurred in recent decades—some motivated by the ever-increasing demand to “teach to the test” and some by fads coming out of schools of education. In the latter category is the widely discussed decline in phonics education in favor of the “balanced literacy” approach advocated by education expert Lucy Calkins (who has more recently come to accept the need for more phonics instruction). I started to see the results of this ill-advised change several years ago, when students abruptly stopped attempting to sound out unfamiliar words and instead paused until they recognized the whole word as a unit. (In a recent class session, a smart, capable student was caught short by the word circumstances when reading a text out loud.) The result of this vibes-based literacy is that students never attain genuine fluency in reading. Even aside from the impact of smartphones, their experience of reading is constantly interrupted by their intentionally cultivated inability to process unfamiliar words.

For all the flaws of the balanced literacy method, it was presumably implemented by people who thought it would help. It is hard to see a similar motivation in the growing trend toward assigning students only the kind of short passages that can be included in a standardized test. Due in part to changes driven by the infamous Common Core standards , teachers now have to fight to assign their students longer readings, much less entire books, because those activities won’t feed directly into students getting higher test scores, which leads to schools getting more funding. The emphasis on standardized tests was always a distraction at best, but we have reached the point where it is actively cannibalizing students’ educational experience—an outcome no one intended or planned, and for which there is no possible justification.

We can’t go back in time and do the pandemic differently at this point, nor is there any realistic path to putting the smartphone genie back in the bottle. (Though I will note that we as a society do at least attempt to keep other addictive products out of the hands of children.) But I have to think that we can, at the very least, stop actively preventing young people from developing the ability to follow extended narratives and arguments in the classroom. Regardless of their profession or ultimate educational level, they will need those skills. The world is a complicated place. People—their histories and identities, their institutions and work processes, their fears and desires—are simply too complex to be captured in a worksheet with a paragraph and some reading comprehension questions. Large-scale prose writing is the best medium we have for capturing that complexity, and the education system should not be in the business of keeping students from learning how to engage effectively with it.

This is a matter not of snobbery, but of basic justice. I recognize that not everyone centers their lives on books as much as a humanities professor does. I think they’re missing out, but they’re adults and they can choose how to spend their time. What’s happening with the current generation is not that they are simply choosing TikTok over Jane Austen. They are being deprived of the ability to choose—for no real reason or benefit. We can and must stop perpetrating this crime on our young people.

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how to write a why college essay

How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Getting ready to start your college essay? Your essay is very important to your application — especially if you’re applying to selective colleges.

Become a stronger writer by reviewing your peers’ essays and get your essay reviewed as well for free.

We have regular livestreams during which we walk you through how to write your college essay and review essays live.

College Essay Basics

Just getting started on college essays? This section will guide you through how you should think about your college essays before you start.

  • Why do essays matter in the college application process?
  • What is a college application theme and how do you come up with one?
  • How to format and structure your college essay

Before you move to the next section, make sure you understand:

How a college essay fits into your application

What a strong essay does for your chances

How to create an application theme

Learn the Types of College Essays

Next, let’s make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You’ll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types. Understanding the types will help you better answer the prompt and structure your essay.

  • How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
  • Personal Statement Essay Examples
  • How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity Essay
  • Extracurricular Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
  • Diversity Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Standout Community Service Essay
  • How to Write the “Why This Major” Essay
  • How to Write a “Why This Major” Essay if You’re Undecided
  • How to write the “Why This College” Essay
  • How to Research a College to Write the “Why This College” Essay
  • Why This College Essay Examples
  • How to Write The Overcoming Challenges Essay
  • Overcoming Challenges Essay Examples

Identify how each prompt fits into an essay type

What each type of essay is really asking of you

How to write each essay effectively

The Common App essay

Almost every student will write a Common App essay, which is why it’s important you get this right.

  • How to Write the Common App Essay
  • Successful Common App Essay Examples
  • 5 Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays
  • 11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

How to choose which Common App prompts to answer

How to write a successful Common App essay

What to avoid to stand out to admissions officers

Supplemental Essay Guides

Many schools, especially competitive ones, will ask you to write one or more supplemental essays. This allows a school to learn more about you and how you might fit into their culture.

These essays are extremely important in standing out. We’ve written guides for all the top schools. Follow the link below to find your school and read last year’s essay guides to give you a sense of the essay prompts. We’ll update these in August when schools release their prompts.

See last year’s supplemental essay guides to get a sense of the prompts for your schools.

Essay brainstorming and composition

Now that you’re starting to write your essay, let’s dive into the writing process. Below you’ll find our top articles on the craft of writing an amazing college essay.

  • Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises
  • Creating the First Draft of Your College Application Essay
  • How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay
  • What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
  • 8 Do’s and Don’t for Crafting Your College Essay
  • Stuck on Your College Essay? 8 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Understand how to write a great hook for your essay

Complete the first drafts of your essay

Editing and polishing your essay

Have a first draft ready? See our top editing tips below. Also, you may want to submit your essay to our free Essay Peer Review to get quick feedback and join a community of other students working on their essays.

  • 11 Tips for Proofreading and Editing Your College Essay
  • Getting Help with Your College Essay
  • 5 DIY Tips for Editing Your College Essay
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Essential Grammar Rules for Your College Apps
  • College Essay Checklist: Are You Ready to Submit?

Proofread and edited your essay.

Had someone else look through your essay — we recommend submitting it for a peer review.

Make sure your essay meets all requirements — consider signing up for a free account to view our per-prompt checklists to help you understand when you’re really ready to submit.

Advanced College Essay Techniques

Let’s take it one step further and see how we can make your college essay really stand out! We recommend reading through these posts when you have a draft to work with.

  • 10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays
  • How to Use Literary Devices to Enhance Your Essay
  • How to Develop a Personalized Metaphor for Your College Applications

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COMMENTS

  1. Why This College Essay Guide + Examples

    Learn how to demonstrate your fit with a particular school through specific details and examples. Avoid common mistakes and follow a step-by-step guide with tips and examples for different approaches.

  2. How to Write a Perfect "Why This College?" Essay

    Learn why colleges want you to explain why you are applying and how to generate topics and write a compelling essay. Follow the steps and examples to show your fit and interest in your target schools.

  3. How to Write a Stellar "Why This College?" Essay + Examples

    What's Covered: 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?".

  4. How to Research and Write a "Why This College?" Essay

    The process of writing a "Why this college?" essay should look something like this: Thoroughly research the college Connect what you've learned through your research to yourself Outline and write the essay Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text Be assured that you'll submit flawless writing.

  5. 12 Effective "Why This College?" Essay Examples

    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.

  6. How to Write the "Why This College" Essay (With an Example!)

    Updated: February 12th, 2024 Applying to college is a big decision that brings a lot of excitement and stress. This is especially true when it comes to answering the "why this college" prompt asked by so many colleges. However daunting these prompts might seem, you got this.

  7. How to Write a "Why This College" Essay

    Learn more about our editorial process "Why this college" essays allow applicants to describe why they should gain admission. Writing a successful "why this school" essay involves doing research about the college. Applicants should also be as specific as possible when crafting their essays.

  8. How To Write The "Why This College" Essay

    Discuss extracurricular activities you would be involved in Examining a school's co-curricular offerings is the next stop for "why this college" essays. Although academics are the main priority for any college student, your co-curricular experiences are what can build your resume and prepare you for a job or graduate school application.

  9. How to Write the "Why this Major" College Essay + Example

    Examples of "Why This Major?" Essay Prompts Before we dive in, let's first take a look at some real-life examples of these prompts. For example, Yale requests that students write a supplemental essay based on the following prompt:

  10. How To Write a "Why This College" Essay in 6 Steps

    Here are the steps to follow for writing a "Why us" college essay: 1. Research the school Conduct thorough research on the school that you want to attend. Begin by reviewing the school's website. Learn about their offerings, such as: Academic programs Activities Course catalog Majors Minors Professional opportunities

  11. How to Write a "Why This College?" Essay: Tips & Tricks

    Body paragraph 1: Write about your first goal and how the college can support it. For example, if you're interested in math, include details about their math department and specific courses. Be sure to supply supporting evidence. Body paragraph 2: Write about your second goal and how the college can support it.

  12. How to Write a "Why This College" Essay

    Step 1: Research unique offerings! Step 2: Link to your story! Step 3: Create a frame for your essay A list of Don'ts Rules to remember Next steps Download 30 Successful College Essays Why do colleges ask this question? This is one of the most common supplemental questions asked by colleges, especially by some of the most competitive ones!

  13. Mastering the "Why Us" Essay: A Comprehensive Guide

    Researching the college is a crucial step in crafting a compelling "Why Us" essay, as it allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the institution's values, programs, and culture, while also highlighting your interest. Begin your research by visiting the college's website, where you can explore its mission statement, values, and ...

  14. How to Write a "Why This College" Essay (With 12 Samples)

    Step One: Do Your Research This first step is self-explanatory. If you're writing an essay explaining why you want to attend Harvard, you should know exactly what draws you to the school. This means going beyond recounting Harvard's rankings and prestige and how it can open endless doors of opportunity for you. Dig deeper!

  15. How to Write "Why This College" Essay Guide

    Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College." Yet both of these prompts — and so many other college essay prompts — pose the same question: Why do you want to go to this college? The Top Colleges That Ask "Why College" Essay Prompts

  16. How to Write a College Essay

    How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples The college essay can make or break your application. It's your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students. A standout essay has a few key ingredients: A unique, personal topic A compelling, well-structured narrative

  17. How to ace the "Why This College?" essay

    Writing a "why this college" essay is quite similar to answering the "What Would You Contribute to Your Future College Campus Community" College Interview Question. To provide a strong answer, you need to know as much as possible about the school in question. We recommend that you spend some time on the school's website.

  18. How To Write a "Why This" College Essay in 2022-23

    Why do they need you on their campus? What will you bring? So, in essence this should be an essay that only you could write about only this school. If any sentence could apply to any other school or applicant, scratch it. Make sure you include SPECIFICS in your essay. Do your research, and make sure the admissions committee can tell that you have.

  19. How to Write an Awesome "Why This College?" Essay

    The "Why us" or "Why this college" essay is a chance for you to demonstrate why you're a great match for a particular school. In this college essay guide, I'...

  20. How to Write the Why This Major Essay + Example

    With a BA in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, and a Master's in Translation from Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Kaylen has been working with students on their writing for over five years. Previously, Kaylen taught a fiction course for high school students as part of Columbia ...

  21. How Do I Write a Great College Essay?

    Start early so that you have plenty of time to brainstorm, write, and revise your message. Choose an interesting topic or story that is meaningful to you. It should showcase your personality, interests, aspirations, and writing ability. Carefully read and follow the directions and make sure your essay follows the prompt.

  22. How to Research a School for the "Why This College" Essay

    Here are some tips for researching schools for the "Why This College" essay, especially if you can't go visit the college. 1. Make a list of the reasons you decided to apply. This is a great starting point for your school research. After all, you can't try and learn everything there is to know about a school, hoping you'll find some ...

  23. Why Do I Want to Attend College [Admission Essay Example]

    Get custom essay. In conclusion, my desire to attend college extends far beyond the acquisition of a degree. College represents an opportunity for intellectual growth, the development of critical thinking skills, personal growth, and the pursuit of long-term career aspirations.

  24. Ending the Essay: Conclusions

    Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay: Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas. Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up ...

  25. Literacy crisis in college students: Essay from a professor on students

    Ten years into my college teaching career, students stopped being able to read effectively. Recent years have seen successive waves of book bans in Republican-controlled states, aimed at pulling ...

  26. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Unit 1 College Essay Basics Unit 2 Types of College Essays Unit 3 Writing Your Common App Essay Unit 4 Supplemental Essays Unit 5 Essay Brainstorming and Composition Unit 6 Editing and Polishing Your Essay Unit 7 Advanced College Essay Techniques Unit 1 College Essay Basics Just getting started on college essays?

  27. Harvard Summer School on Instagram: "#TipTuesday: Crafting your essays

    627 likes, 0 comments - harvard_summer on January 23, 2024: "#TipTuesday: Crafting your essays for Harvard Summer School is more than a task—it's an opportu..." Harvard Summer School on Instagram: "#TipTuesday: Crafting your essays for Harvard Summer School is more than a task—it's an opportunity!