“It is beautiful, and I cannot wait to enjoy the palm trees when I look out my window.”

You can do that in lots of schools.

“The city is one of the most vibrant in the world.” Duh…

“When I stepped on campus, I felt at home.” Boring.

“Why do you want to attend this university?” is the question, and the answer is not easy. It takes research, and that may be the best thing you can do for yourself- know before you go. Many times this question may be hidden within another question so make sure you are answering the prompt, directly, without a floral introduction to the meat of your answer.  Your essays help colleges evaluate your interest in their school. They want to know why you decided to apply to their particular school and if what they offer matches what you want. They are assessing whether you’re a good fit for their community and whether you’ll be able to contribute to and enrich the school’s learning environment inside and outside of the classroom. Will you attend, get involved, be engaged, graduate in 4 years, and be an active alumnus?

“I like to do the thumb test. If you can put your thumb over the name of the school and read the essay, can you tell which school it is? If the answer is NO, then you have not done your due diligence.”

Lee Norwood, Annapolis College Consulting

What sets you apart? What can you offer the college that no other applicant can? If you know the answers to these questions, try to tie in the ways the particular university will help you be the best possible you.

Essays are stories, but they highlight you! Talk about an experience related to what you plan to study.  If you plan to major in engineering, start off describing a project or work experience or a leadership role you had in this area. What did that experience teach you about yourself and your undergraduate and career goals? What happened? What did you learn? Why does it matter? And, for the “why this college” essay, what about that school is in alignment with you and your story?

Research what you plan to study. Are you taking a major because it sounds good or because it is a stepping stone to your intended career.? If you are going to mention specific majors, you want to go even deeper and talk about why and how that will be unique at this particular school.  If you are applying undecided, it’s still a good idea to mention specific areas of study you might like to explore. RESEARCH is the key – are there specific classes or professors that interest you? Is there a way you can participate in a specific professor’s research? Google alumni in certain fields, follow professors on Twitter. Know why you want THAT school, program, education.

College is a full career for 4 years. How will you engage with their extracurriculars and clubs? Schools want to know that you are going to participate in their community on many levels. Programs/ activities/ organizations will help expand your knowledge about what is available for you when you are not in class. Read through the school’s websites – are there particular programs that you want to join? Turtle racing? Check. Nature Club? Check. We suggest following the college and the clubs of interest on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

Be specific. Don’t back up and unload the whole truck. Choose a few meaningful reasons why the school “speaks” to you. Do they have artwork throughout the campus, and therefore you know they have a strong commitment to celebrating their artists? Do not make a laundry list of all the great things about the school. Use your background and demonstrate in a concrete way how and why you should become a part of the school community. Be specific.

Avoid statistics and rankings from the website. Rankings can be played and bought. So, please don’t tell them that you like them because they rank top 10…they know that. More info HERE.

Cite faculty or alumni you’ve encountered. It has been a tough year for visits, but if an admissions officer visited your school, you went on a campus tour, you took a summer class at the school, or you spoke with a faculty member on the phone, mention that experience, and let them know how it shaped your feelings about their school. Did your great aunt attend? Does she share amazing stories every year over the holidays about her college life? Go ahead and mention alumni and their words of wisdom.

Avoid generic statements. Do not give broad statements about the school’s “beautiful campus,” “supportive career center,” or “amazing study abroad programs.” If you’re going to discuss these statements, provide specifics. They know it’s pretty, they know the temperature, they know their city is amazing…

Mention their values. Tulane emphasizes the importance of community service, while the University of Pennsylvania values an interdisciplinary education. Part of a good college list is that it includes schools that share your values. Show this connection in the essay.

Reinforce interest. Tell them they are your #1 choice.

Proofread. Write the right essay for the right school. Please.

Remember, the “Why this college” essay gives you an opportunity to show that you’ve done your research, that you know about the school’s opportunities, and that you can offer something unique. You got this.