One of the most popular questions in the Common Application and the Coalition for College Application is some variation as to why a student wants to attend a particular college. The answer to the Why This School question is looked at closely by admissions staff who want to know if an applicant really “gets” the school and is a good fit.
EIGHT STEPS TO TACKLING AND WRITING THE WHY THIS SCHOOL ESSAY
Make Sure You Understand the Question
Is the question asking you to talk about academics and research or is it more expansive, asking you to talk about extracurricular opportunities and/or community service?
Think About What You Want in a College and What the College Offers
The operative word is fit. Is the college the right fit for you? There are all sorts of factors, some more important to you than others. Those factors may include but are not limited to the college’s mission, size and location, the student body, majors and minors, joint programs, athletics, community service, study abroad, internships and research…..
Mine the Website
- If you want to know how the college views itself and its philosophy of education, read its mission statement or the letter from its president.
- Make sure you can answer these questions:
- What is the school curriculum?
- What are its key features?
- Are there core or required classes that all students must take?
- What are the research opportunities? Internships?
- Is there a professor doing research in an area in which you want to study?
- Is there a club you want to join?
- What are the study abroad programs? Are there any that relate to your area of interest?
- If you want to study a particular subject, what are the high points of the program? Are there related programs – dual majors, accelerated majors, minors and other majors of interest? Check to see if there are any related areas of study or concentrations within the major that will give you even more options or narrow the focus. In math, for example, the college may offer pure math, applied math, mathematical economics, business, etc. If history, see if the college offers international relations or international studies or American studies in addition to history.
- If you do not know what you want to study, talk about the possibilities. Do you want to explore the sciences or delve into new areas of the social sciences, such as anthropology or sociology, or do you want to explore communication or creative writing?
Start Out with a Story that Helps Admissions Staff Understand What is Driving Your College Search
- Is there an anecdote you can tell in a few sentences?
- Talk about your background. It should relate to what you want to study or why you want to attend a certain college.
Grab the Reader’s Interest with Your First Sentence
And extend that interest into the rest of the first paragraph. That first paragraph should be short, which entices the reader to keep on reading.
Separate Your Essay into Paragraphs
Even a short answer of 150 words should be in paragraph form. Separating your essay into paragraphs helps the reader focus on the points you are making in your essay.
Describe How You Will Pursue Your Academic Interests at the College
- Write about what you discovered on the website or on a visit.
- Be Specific. If the essay is too general and what you write could apply to another college or it looks like you just changed the college name in the essay, you have not been specific enough. Although the template can stay more or less the same, the mission, specific courses, research projects, clubs, etc. are special to each college.
- There is a fine line between sounding like the school brochure and sounding like you know the school, so be careful not to cross it.
If You’ve Visited the School in Person or Virtually or If You Have Spoken to Students, Admissions Representatives or Professors, You Can Refer to Your Experience in Your Essay
Just make sure that what you write is more than that your tour guide was energetic and loved the college.