Demonstrating to admissions officers why you’re a good fit for the college
When you apply to schools during your senior year, you’ll likely write several supplemental essays for your applications in addition to your personal statement. Supplemental essays are an opportunity for you to further demonstrate who you are and your interest in a particular school. One of the most common types of supplemental essays is the “Why This College?” prompt. This prompt seeks to get at the core reason(s) why you want to attend the given school to which you are applying. College admissions officers want to know what you admire about the school and how you see yourself fitting into its culture and academic environment. To answer this prompt well, you must demonstrate how the school is a good fit for you (and how you are a good fit for the school) by drawing on specific details and examples. The key to answering this prompt and knowing what college admissions officers look for in an applicant is to do your research.
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The “why this college?” prompt in action
To start, let’s take a look at some iterations of the “why this college?” essay prompt. Some schools ask the simplest version of the prompt:
“Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, ‘Why Tufts?’ “ (100-150 words)
“Why are you interested in American University?” (150 words)
“Why Bard?” (250 words)
“We invite you to share any additional information about why you would like to attend Bently.” (250 words)
These four example prompts are pretty open! You are free to talk about academic, social, professional, cultural, and/or personal reasons why you wish to attend the school.
Other schools ask variations of the prompt that focus on a particular aspect of life at the college/university and why you want to experience it:
The University of Michigan
“Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?” (minimum 100 words /maximum 550 words)
This prompt asks you to focus specifically on why you want to study within a given school and/or a given subject at the University of Michigan. It wants to know what makes UMichigan stand out to you when deciding where and how to pursue your academic and professional interests.
“Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar.” (200-250 words)
This prompt asks you to focus on how you will leverage Brown’s course offerings and curriculum structure to pursue your academic interests. It wants to know why Brown is the place where you could satisfy your intellectual curiosity.
“Why do you wish to attend Colorado College and how would the Block Plan serve your educational goals?” (no more than 200 words)
Colorado College offers a unique schedule known as the “Block Plan.” Students enroll in one intensive class at a time, devoting all of their time to one subject for three and a half weeks. (This is particularly helpful for classes with lots of field trips of scientific fieldwork). There are four “blocks” (or classes) per semester or eight blocks per year. This prompt asks you to consider this unique schedule and how you would use it to the best of your advantage.
“There are just under 4,000 4-year colleges and universities in the United States. Being as specific as possible, what interests you most about Davidson College.” (300 words)
Davidson College raises a valid point. There are thousands of colleges you could have chosen to apply to so why did you choose to apply to Davidson? This prompt asks you to be as specific as possible, while also focusing on something that excites you the most. Choose an essay topic where you can easily expand on your reasoning while remaining on topic. Be sure to include plenty of research and thoughtful details.
“As you know, the academic programs at Emerson College are focused on communication and the arts. Please tell us what influenced you to select your major. If you’re undecided about your major, what attracted you to Emerson’s programs?” (100-200 words)
For this essay, focus solely on your academic interests, specifically your major, and how Emerson is uniquely qualified to help you reach your academic and professional goals. You likely have plenty of reasons why you’ve selected Emerson College but stay focused! Research specific course offerings, faculty members, and other academic offerings and be sure to share your findings in your essay in a way that clearly demonstrates your passion and excitement.
How to research colleges
The best “why this college” essays are highly-detailed and well-researched. Initially, researching colleges may seem difficult. In this section, we will review how to start researching colleges, what to look for when researching colleges, and ultimately, how to decide between colleges.
The best way to know how to choose a college that’s right for you is to research each school on your college list thoroughly. When you’re first getting started, you’ll want to start narrowing down your options by asking yourself questions such as: Do you want to go to a 2-year or 4-year college? Do you prefer smaller or larger classes? What are you interested in studying? Do you prefer rural or urban settings? Then you’ll want to start conducting more thorough research.
Once you have begun applying to schools, you will likely have to write several supplemental “why this college” essays. Approach this essay prompt as an opportunity to deepen your research so that when the time comes for you to make your final decision, you will know how to choose a college or university that’s right for you.
The best way to know how to research colleges and universities is to start at the college’s website. Familiarize yourself with the admissions and prospective students’ webpages. Find the school’s list of academic majors and minors and see what appeals to you. Then visit the faculty page and read the bios listed under your prospective department. You may even choose to read some of the faculty’s published works. Flip through the course catalog and see what appeals to you; depending on the school, you may even be able to find the course’s syllabus. If you can view syllabuses, review the assigned texts.
You will also want to research other academic opportunities that may be available to you, such as internships or study abroad programs. If the school you’re interested in is located in an urban setting, find out if they have any partnerships with nearby companies or organizations. Find out what opportunities may be available to you.
Ways to conduct further research
There are lots of ways to learn more about a specific college, its campus culture, and its academic offerings. If you are serious about attending a particular college, ask the admissions office to connect you with a current student. Once you’ve connected with a student, ask them about their classes, the campus culture, clubs, sports teams, and more. This is a great way to confirm whether or not the school is a good fit for you. It can also help you brainstorm for the “why this college” supplemental essay.
Remember, whenever you contact someone from your prospective college, be sure to write clear, purposeful, grammatically-correct messages. Review the proper way to format a college admissions office email before drafting any of your messages. Always be respectful of the correspondent’s time and thank them for their help. After all, you want to make a good impression!
The do’s and don’ts of responding to the “why this college?” essay
There is no one right way to answer the “Why This College?” prompt. You can approach the prompt in a mathematical, analytical manner, or in a more creative, artistic manner. What matters most is that you answer the question in a way that best illustrates who you are, what you have to offer to the school, and what you hope to gain as a student. After all, these factors are at the core of holistic college admissions standards.
Consider the following criteria below when writing your response and be sure to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes:
Do: Mention specifics
If the school offers a program/course/major that interests you, mention it! This will show that you’ve done extensive research and can relate your interests to what the school has to offer. Be sure to note what makes this school’s offering unique relative to other schools. If you could change the name of the college in your response to another college and your response still works, you are not being specific enough! Additionally, being able to speak about specific buildings/resources/opportunities around campus or perhaps a professor you’d like to meet will make your essay stand out. Utilize the school’s websites and academic department pages to investigate what courses and professors pique your interest. And, if you’re unable to make a campus visit, consider a virtual tour. Virtual tours can be accessed directly on Youvisit.com. This website has access to over 1,000 colleges and university campuses. If a college you’re looking for isn’t on the website, you can always search on the school’s website for virtual tours.
Do: Connect back to yourself
When listing specifics about a school, make sure it is clear why you value that the school has a particular opportunity, value, or characteristic. It is not enough to state unique qualities about a school. You must qualify why such things are important based on your particular interests, past experiences, and future ambitions.
Do: Explain how you’ll contribute to the school
Colleges are looking for students who can make an impact on their campus and its surrounding community. Research their clubs, organizations, and how you can make a difference by being a part of communities and groups on and off-campus. Mention extracurricular activities you’ve previously been involved with and hope to continue while in college.
Do: Illustrate fit both ways
Talk about how you are a good fit for the school. It is not only important that you mention what you like about the school, but what the school will appreciate about you as a student there. Review the components of a strong personal statement to determine how to best communicate who you are and what you are passionate about.
Do: Talk about the school’s culture
If any of the school’s values align with your own, the school will want to know! Schools may be invested in social justice and activism. For example, Brown University has a rich history of students participating in on-campus protests to push for university-level changes, as well as students participating in off-campus protests to push for change at the state and national levels. Oberlin College is also known for its liberal politics and social activism, as well as its passion for gender equality and inclusivity. Other schools are committed to serving their communities. Georgetown University, for example, is grounded in the Jesuit ideal of service to others and has more than 100 university-sponsored service opportunities working within the DC area and beyond.
Don’t: Mention the school’s prestige, size, reputation, or location
The school doesn’t want to hear that they are highly competitive or well-liked. They know this. The school also doesn’t want to hear random facts about its history, geographic placement, or demographics. If you do mention any of these things, there should be a personal and important reason why. For example, you might mention location if you’ve grown up in the area and want to foster partnerships between the university and local organizations you currently work with. Your supplemental essay would include plenty of research but not include generic facts. Every detail you choose to include should be purposeful.
Don’t: Misstate people, places, or things unique to the school
When making factual statements about a school, do not confuse their course titles, faculty, mascot, or facilities on campus with that of another school. Fact-check everything. College admissions officers will not view these types of mistakes kindly.
Don’t: Use emotional language to justify fit
You will not convince an admissions officer that you are a good fit for their school by telling them that you just “feel” like you are or that you could tell the first moment you stepped on campus. Give them concrete reasons why their school is a good fit. Don’t focus on your general impressions of the campus and student body after attending a college tour.
Don’t: Reuse language from the website
Use your own words to make your own points. Do not copy language from the website, blog posts, brochures, or anywhere else. Supplemental essays are meant to further personalize the admissions process. College admissions officers want to see who you are beyond your GPA and standardized test scores. They are looking for unique essays and unique voices.
Don’t: State the obvious.
When explaining the reasons why a school is a good fit for you, you may assume that the admissions officer is familiar with the general history, offerings, and traditions of the school. You do not, for example, need to explain to UChicago what Scav Hunt is. You could, however, explain why you appreciate the ethos of the tradition or why you want it to be part of your college experience. Use your words wisely. There is no need to be overly verbose.
Writing your “why this college?” essay
Now that you know more about what content to include and avoid in your response to the prompt, you should determine how you’d like to structure your response. Much of your structure will be determined by word count restrictions. As you may have noticed, word count restrictions ranged from 100 to 500 words for the prompts we looked at in the beginning. The amount of space you have will determine how many specific reasons you can list for wanting to attend the school. In light of this, let’s consider a few different approaches for structuring and writing your essay.
One approach to writing your response is to gather a list of 8-15 specific, unique characteristics, offerings, and opportunities offered by the school and then group them into categories. For example, you might have 3 categories–academic, professional, and volunteer–that you list 3-5 specifics under.
This approach allows you to jump around in your response a lot to provide a brief survey of what draws you to the school. This could be a good option for you if you have lots of reasons why the school excites you but no clear focus.
A Few Reasons
Another approach is to focus on 3-5 specifics unique to the school and connect each of these back to you. You might connect a specific back to you by asking: How do these specifics fit into what you’ve already done and your established interests? How do these specifics fit into what you hope to accomplish in college and/or what you want to do after college?
By focusing on a handful of reasons or less, this approach allows you to share more about yourself. It gives you the space to emphasize why you are a good fit for the school.
This approach builds your response around one core value or reason why you would like to attend the school and then tells a story about it. This approach is particularly valuable when you want to provide some depth to your response and feel restricted by the maximum word count limit. If you choose to focus on the sole reason why a school is a good fit for you, be sure to focus on something truly unique to the school. You do not want to write an essay that could theoretically be submitted to another school.
Concluding thoughts on writing the “why this college?” essay
The college application process and its many essays may feel at times like a series of hoops you have to jump through to secure what you’ll be doing next year. Yet, you should think of the essays as offering an opportunity for you to seriously think about what you want to do with the next few years of your life and where you want to do it. Deciding where to attend college is one of the biggest decisions of your life and the “Why This College?” prompt is one of the best tools for making an informed decision about which college you should go attend. So, enjoy the research process, discover what excites you about the prospect of attending a given school, and share that excitement and your vision for the next few years of your life in your essay.
Moving forward with your college applications
From designing an SAT study plan to making an informed decision about Early Action and Early Decision, applying to college can feel overwhelming at times. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance, regardless of where you are in the college application process. reach out to learn more about our services. Here at Prepory, we have the resources to help you reach your full potential, by helping you craft a compelling and competitive college application.