Many colleges, especially well-known or highly-selective colleges, request several different essays from applicants. Of those, one of the most important you will have to write is an essay that asks: “Why do you want to go to our college?”

Highly-selective colleges are popular and receive a lot of applications from students who are unquestionably qualified to be admitted according to their grades, test scores, and overall academic achievements.

Therefore, in order to assess which students are not just academically qualified but would really thrive at their university and take advantage of what it has to offer, these highly-selective colleges utilize the “Why us?” essay as a type of test. The applicant’s answer helps the school to make sure that the student not only has researched the college but that the student can also tell them about one or more specific things at that school that would benefit them.

For that very reason, this essay can make a real difference for a college applicant.

Meeting the Challenge of Writing a Great “Why Us?” Essay

Aside from being one of the most important essays you will have to write, the “Why us?” essay is also one of the most difficult writing challenges. To truly say something sincere and specific about a college, you have to go beyond the cliche statement, “because your school is a good school.”

Here are some tips on how to meet that challenge and make writing the “Why us?” essay easier:

Tip #1: Avoid the biggest mistake—writing like a college brochure

Do not start the essay like this: “This university is world-famous and located on a beautiful campus. It is a highly-regarded school with the smartest professors, students with high SAT scores, great study programs, and a wide variety of majors. Overall, it is a great school because it is so hard to get into.”

By writing in this way, you end up sounding like a college brochure. You do not need to try to sell them on themselves. Colleges already know how great they are, and they are usually very proud of their achievements. Neither do you need to tell them that you want to go to their school (they already know you want to go since you have applied.) What they do need to hear is why you think you are a great fit for their school.

Tip #2: Begin the essay by talking about YOU

While it may seem a little counterintuitive, you should start the “Why us?” essay talking about yourself. You do not need to repeat information you have already said in other essays (such as your personal statement), nor do you need to make this a long biography. But what you do need to tell the college are the answers to:

  • What are your priorities?
  • What are your values?
  • What are you looking for in your college search?

It might be a specific major, a specific career goal, or some preferences you have with how you learn (small vs large classrooms). You may have a research interest that you have been passionate about for a long time, would like to pursue. Or it might just be something that is a reflection of what is important to you and your family.

There is no formula. But you will have to do some deep thinking, and you will have to be honest.

Tip #3: Make the connection to how your goals fit with the school

In the second part of the essay, you turn the corner, so to speak. You stop talking about yourself and start talking about how your goals fit in with what is available at this particular university or college.

This is the moment you can talk about all the great things the college offers. But you must connect them precisely to what you have listed in the first part, to what is important to you.

If you are looking for a specific major, you can explain that you researched that particular major at this college, and it looks outstanding to you. If you have attended a large high school, but you know learning in smaller classrooms will help you learn better, elaborate on why the smaller class sizes at this specific college matter to you.

Throughout this whole second part, make the main idea very clear: Why this school is a good fit for YOU!

And you cannot do that unless you tell the college who you are and what is important to you. Therefore, be as specific as possible… however…

Tip #4: Be cautious about how to approach “specifics”

Don’t rush your research. As mentioned above, you want to be as specific as you can, which requires research and familiarity with the college. What it boils down to is getting online, reading about the college, and even talking to admission officers when you visit the school.

However, you have to take your time. Research does not come quickly. If you are trying to write about a college, but you do not do the research, and the essay ends up sounding like something you could write for hundreds of other colleges, the admission officer will know that you are not familiar with their school.

Don’t regurgitate information. On the other hand, let’s say you go online and look at the college’s website. You find three classes in the major you are thinking about, the name of the professor who is teaching one of the classes, and a club for those same interests and you simply repeat that information over and over. That approach does not automatically make a great essay.

Yes. Those are specifics that may very well respond to the essay topic or fit in with your priorities. But they are not sincere statements. You have to be very careful with these types of “specifics” because anyone can go online, find a few statistics, and slap them into an essay.

For that reason, working with a college counselor can really help you make some decisions about the kind of specifics you want to include or even ones you want to exclude.

If you are interested in taking advantage of my years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant, please learn more about the services I provide for writing college application essays.