How to answer “Why this college?” supplemental essays
“Why this college?” seems like a simple question, but it usually proves to be the most difficult of supplemental essays for students.
Everyone’s natural inclination is to regurgitate facts about the school. Students tend to write sentences that have little insight, such as, “You have a gorgeous campus” or “I love that you are located in the city.” Admissions counselors aren’t interested in learning about their school—they already know all about it.
The key to answering this question effectively is to prove your interest in the college.
The key to answering this question effectively is to prove your interest in the college. That means taking what you’ve done in the past and applying it to the future in a specific way that indicates you’ve done your research. Your point could be as simple as, “I want to build on my passion for engineering at UCLA, and I would relish the opportunity to work with professor John Smith because of his groundbreaking research in the field.” Or you could write, “I was heavily involved in Fremd’s student council, serving as secretary my junior year. Part of my interest in Kenyon College stems from the school’s robust student government.” You get the idea.
I recommend starting most sentences with “I” clauses. For example: “I was a four-year starter in softball at Glenbard West, and one of my goals is to continue playing at DePauw because it has such a noted program.” There’s a caveat, though: Don’t overdo the starting-sentences-with-an-“I” approach. You want to vary the structure of your sentences so that the essay reads with zest. Mainly, your goal simply should be to write in an action-oriented manner that utilizes positive language.
More than anything, specificity separates the excellent from the mediocre essays.
At Partners for Achievement, we have a guide, “School of Choice Research Organizer,” (now titled the Confident College Choice Worksheet) which helps our students drill down to specific achievements and goals that can be matched to particular colleges. More than anything, specificity separates the excellent from the mediocre essays. Our guide takes kids through a series of pointed questions, such as, “What classes would you have taken if you had been a college freshman this year?” or “What are two extracurricular activities that you want to be part of in college?”
The “Why this college?” supplemental essay is often poorly executed, and that provides you with a golden opportunity. If you can nail this one, it will be a differentiator, something that will really set you apart from other applicants.
Kendall Hayes is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Hayes and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.