How to answer the “Why this college?” essay question

Lee Shulman Bierer

Photo by UNC Asheville

Why is the “Why this college?” essay so important? Colleges care why students put their college on their list, and many colleges incorporate the “why?” question into their applications.

While most students find themselves having to write a variety of essays for different colleges, typical students will focus almost exclusively on the Common Application essay or a college’s Personal Statement. Frequently they think they’re done with their applications, and then they go to hit “submit” and find out that colleges want them to write another essay telling them why they want to attend.

These are usually the worst essays imaginable. Students don’t know how to distinguish themselves and consequently end up writing about football, greek life and the weather.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington got so tired of students saying they wanted to come to Wilmington for the sunny climate that a few years ago their prompt was: “Tell us why you want to come to UNC Wilmington, besides the beach!” This year, Georgia Tech’s prompt got even more specific when they asked students to respond to: “Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech?”

I suggest that students imagine themselves on the other side of the admissions desk. If you were a director of admissions at a college and were choosing who to accept and who to deny, what would you want to read about in a “Why this college?” essay? Once you are looking at the prompt from that perspective, it’s easy to see why droning on and on about the sense of spirit in the stadium won’t set you apart.

Colleges want students who want to be there for the academics. Students need to demonstrate that they’ve done their homework on the college website. How does this specific college differ from others on your list? Are their multi-disciplinary majors unique? Are the study abroad opportunities especially appealing? If so, why? Is their commitment to an Honor Code something that speaks to you?

What are some things that colleges don’t want to read about?

Students often fall prey to regurgitating college facts and trivia that they read in guidebooks or heard on their campus tour. Don’t tell colleges what they already know about themselves, such as the number of books in their library or the fact that they have dining halls open 24 hours a day.

Colleges really don’t like it when students suggest that they can make a lot of money after they graduate because their school did well on some college ranking. I think they like it even less when a student writes that with an undergraduate degree from their school they’ll be able to get into a top-notch graduate school.

Make sure your final “Why this college?” essay is not an essay that you can multi-purpose and use for other colleges. Personalize it, and be specific about identifying why each college is a good fit for you. It’s very easy for a college to determine which students have put in the effort on this essay.

 

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com