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How to Write the “Why [insert school name]” Essay

One of the most common school essays asks some version of “Why do you want to go to this school?” By answering this essay, schools get to learn if you truly are interested in the school, whether you’re a good fit with their values and offerings, and whether you’ll be able to contribute on campus and ultimately graduate from their institution.

Imagine you’re an admissions officer reading another essay about a student wanting to go to Tulane or NYU because they love the city; or a student wanting to go to Brown because of their open curriculum; or a girl wanting to study psychology at X school in order to help people.

What can an applicant say that’s different? What can you offer the college that no other applicant can?

Be specific. Hone in on a couple of reasons why you want to attend your desired school. Do not laundry list all the reasons why you love the school. A few really meaningful reasons that resonate with your background, experiences, and goals will go much longer in showing your understanding of the school.

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 doesn’t explain why you want to attend.

Research the classes/programs/activities. Schools want to know that you have intellectual curiosity and that their classes/programs/activities will help quench and expand your knowledge. Peruse the school websites and syllabi – are there particular classes that interest you? Is there a particular program that you want to join? Or if there isn’t a particular club or program, can you demonstrate your ability to possibly develop that activity on campus?

Research the faculty. Schools don’t want to read, “you have top-notch professors.” Via online research, is there a particular professor that impresses you? Did that professor have a particular body of work that interests you and, just as importantly, is there a way you can help that professor’s innovative research?

Cite faculty or alumni. If an admissions officer visited your school, you went on a school visit or fair, you took a summer class at the school, or you spoke with a faculty member on the phone, reference back to your experience with this person and how it changed your feelings about the school, what you learned, and how it’ll be a good fit. You can also 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. You’re not the busiest, hardest worker able to multi-task academics and extracurricular activities and that’s why the school should want you. Not every student at the University of Michigan or Duke is a huge sports fan. Write about yourself; not everyone else.

Reinforce interest. You always want to make the school feel that it’s your #1 choice. They want to know that if admitted, you will attend.

Other tips. If you’re applying to several schools with the same essay question, make sure to change the name of the school in which you’re applying. Make sure that the school has the offerings you’re listing. If you write that you want to major in pre-med, you’re going to be out of luck. And, always proofread.

Remember, the “Why X college” essay gives you a unique opportunity to show that you’ve done your research, that you understand the school, and that you can offer something that no one else can. We know you have a gem of an essay in you!