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.<<
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.
What is the purpose of the “Why This College?” essay?
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:
The format and content of a “Why This 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.
How to write a strong “Why This College?” essay: Do’s and Don’ts.
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.
Do show, not tell
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.
“Why This College?” essay examples
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)
1. What is a "Why This College?" essay?
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?"
2. Why do colleges ask students to write the "Why This College?" essay?
Colleges ask applicants to answer this question because it helps them determine which students are genuinely interested in attending their school.
3. How common is the "Why This College?" essay?
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.
4. How long should my "Why This College?" essay be?
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.
5. What makes a strong "Why This College?" essay?
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.
6. How important are college essays in the admission process?
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.
7. What does 'show, don't tell' mean anyway?
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.
8. What can I do to make my "Why This College?" essay stand out?
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.
Like our blog? Write for us! >>
Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!