The “Why This College?” essay may be a supplement, but it’s really important!
After you finish your main personal statement, having to write the “Why This College?” essay can trigger your impulse to exaggerate, bullshit, or regurgitate– three common pitfalls.
Don’t. Instead, aim to do your best writing, thinking and match-making on the “Why This College” essay. Here’s how.
First, understand the “Why This College?” essay as another golden opportunity to show who you are and why you are a fit for this school. Show some enthusiasm, and build up confidence in your college list.
Remember, no question on the application is really a waste of space or time; each should be treated as an opportunity to add to the picture of yourself you are creating for colleges. Each written supplement is a chance to be convincing, make your case, and land a sweet date.
Here are three common pitfalls to avoid, and what to do instead for your best “Why This College” essay:
“Why This College?” essay Exaggeration:
If you eat a meal at my house and then tell me I am the best cook ever, I might grow shy (Who, me?), then a little worried about your judgment (Are you sure you think that?), then move on to disbelief (That’s not true!), then dismissal (You don’t know anything about good cooking).
If you spend time (and precious word count) on superlatives and hyperbole, the admissions team may go through that same thought sequence as well, and it probably won’t end in your favor.
They KNOW they are not THE BEST IN THE WORLD AT EVERYTHING.
But what if you instead say to me, “Wow, I have never had kale with garlic that tastes this good, and I should know, because I am a green vegetable junkie!”? Then I might believe you. You’ve given me a highly specific and accurate compliment. You’ve shown me why you are qualified to make this assessment. And you’ve contextualized it in a bigger picture of your tastes and preferences. We’re cool!
Can you think of a parallel example for something you might say to a college that would register for your reader as specific, accurate, qualified, and contextualized?
“Why this College?” essay Bullshit:
Need I say more? But I will.
If you’re not really interested in the school, but you think you know how to sound like you’re interested, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Considering the admissions committee reads thousands of these essays, they will know what you think you are skillfully masking– that you don’t really care. The question for you is: why is this school even on your list, if you can’t actually find things to love, things that are a fit?
If you write that “This school is what I dreamt about since I was three years old, because your hallowed archaic trees and robust book-filled library and unbelievable precedence of esteemed learning is what I always imagined in my future,”– well, well, well. I might think, but every school has a precedence of learning, that’s why it’s a school, no? So what are you really saying?
Can you spot all the stuffing here, in that BS?
What if you write instead, “I was really taken by the varieties of trees on your campus (hey, you ACTUALLY VISITED?) and spent time in the impressively diverse biography section of your library (Oh, you like biographies?), preparing for the informative Dead Presidents seminar I would sit in on later that day? (Oh, you took a class here? You are interested in American history, or dead people?).”
That’s not bullshit. It’s a bunch of facts. Maybe it even seems too straightforward to you. The essay is not done yet, but it’s a solid start, free of BS.
What you wrote tells me you actually visited the campus (colleges keep track, this is a plus), that you went to a library by choice, and that you sat in on a class in an area of interest. So specific it makes me swoon. I kind of want to meet you.
“Why this College?” essay Regurgitation:
It’s very likely every college spends a lot of money putting together their websites. They feature very carefully which words, phrases and images would advertise their school best. To attract you.
If all you do in your approximately 150-250 word-count “Why This College?” essay is regurgitate the web content right back, you’ve done nothing to stand out. You’ve acted like a very good mirror. Anyone can copy-paste from a website. Anyone can ingest information and repeat it.
Instead of regurgitating the words and phrases the college uses to describe themselves, take time to think about what those words mean to you. How do you interpret the mission? It’s great that you read the mission– sure. But how is the school fulfilling that mission, and why do you care? How would you answer this question if you were talking to your best friend or a mentor?
For example, why would it matter to you that a school be dedicated to inclusivity in their curriculum? And what do you think this school means by that? How do they show it?
A good rule of thumb is to ask, “How?” and go ONE CLICK FURTHER on their site.
You’re a history buff, a tree-fanatic? Great, what does this school offer in terms of advanced studies in Americana, or in environmental stewardship?
The Bottom Line
Every part of your college essay that you control– your writing– should demonstrate your insights, your maturity, your personality, and your conscientiousness.
That includes the “Why This College?” essay. Writing a good one of these makes you stand out for sure. Spending all your mojo on your personal statement can leave you suckered on the “Why This College?” essay by one of the all-too common pitfalls listed here.
Be accurate, honest and specific. Imagine this college is a person you will be dating for the next four years, and you will significantly impact one another’s lives. Why would you want to feign compatibility?
Approached in the right spirit, the “Why This College?” essay tells you if the school you are writing about should even be on your list!
If you find out, because you just can’t avoid the pitfalls here, that the school should not, you can be overjoyed! That’s valuable information.
If you discover it belongs on your list after all, be overjoyed!
Overjoyed because you really know why you are applying, and that “why” is pointing you towards your own unfolding future.
Not sure about your “Why This College?” Essay?
Listen to your gut, screening the essay carefully for the three pitfalls above. See if you can apply the solutions here. If you’re still struggling, or want readers with great BS detectors, contact us. We’ll be more than happy to give you fast feedback and help you say what you mean and mean why you say on your “Why This College?” Essay.