As summer comes to an end, rising seniors are thinking more and more about their college applications. One of the most common school application essay questions is some version of “Why do you want to go to this school?” Through the answer, a school can learn if a student is truly interested in it, whether the student is a good fit with the school’s values and offerings, and whether a student will be able to contribute on campus and ultimately graduate.
For students this means avoiding answers like wanting to go to New York University because of a love for the city or wanting to study psychology at a college in order to help people. An applicant needs to say something that’s different. It’s important for a student to tell the college what he or she can offer that no other applicant can.
Some tips from International College Counselors include
Be specific. Hone in on a couple of reasons for wanting to attend the desired school. The best reasons will be meaningful and resonate with a student’s background, experiences, and goals. A laundry list of all the reasons a school is loved should be avoided.
Don’t rehash the school’s website info. The school does not need to know that it offers “65 majors and 80 minors.” They already know that the college’s “beautiful campus sits on 300 acres and has 50 buildings.” Rehashing the website does not explain why a student wants to attend.
Research the classes/programs/activities. Schools want to know that applicants have intellectual curiosity and that their classes/programs/activities will help quench and expand that desire for knowledge. Peruse the school websites and syllabi for particular classes of interest. Find any particular programs that would be interesting to join. Then mention them in the essay. If there isn’t a particular club or program of interest, it would be worthwhile for a student to demonstrate his or her ability to possibly develop that activity on campus.
Research the faculty. Schools don’t want to read that they have “top-notch professors.” They want to know that the student researched more than the first page of the website. Via online research, students should find a particular professor that impresses them. If that professor has a particular body of work that is interesting and connects to the student’s educational and-or career goals then it is worth mentioning. Students will get extra bonus points if they can come up with a smart and relevant way that they can help that professor’s innovative research.
Cite faculty or alumni. Students who met with an admissions officer who visited their school, went on a school visit or fair, took a summer class at the school, or spoke with a faculty member on the phone, should reference back to this personal experience and how it changed any feelings about the school. Students should mention what was learned, and how the meeting made them more strongly believe they’d be a good fit. It also doesn’t hurt to mention alumni and their words of wisdom.
Avoid broad, generic statements. Do not give broad statements about other applicants, about other groups of people, or about the school. Do not say something about being the busiest, hardest worker able to multi-task academics and extracurricular activities. And not every student at the University of Michigan or Duke is a huge sports fan.
Reinforce interest. Make the school feel that it’s the #1 choice. They want to know that if admitted, the student will attend.
Other tips. Students who are applying to several schools with the same essay question, must make sure to change the name of the school in each essay. Also students need to make sure that the school has the offerings they are listing. If a student says he or she wants to major in pre-med or join the chorus and the school does not offer these options, the application will likely go no further. Always, always proofread.
Remember, the “Why X college” essay gives students a unique opportunity to show that they have done their research, that they understand the school, and that they can offer something that no one else can. Take advantage of this!