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Articles / Applying to College / Can I Recycle My "Why This School" Essay?

Can I Recycle My "Why This School" Essay?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 9, 2018
Can I Recycle My "Why This School" Essay?

I am writing supplemental essays and three of them ask the same question: "Why do you want to go to (school name)?" Is it okay to basically copy and paste the exact same essay answer for all three? They mention my tour of the school, how I was drawn to the esteemed English program and how it's my first choice. Will they know (or care) if I said the same thing to other schools?

“The Dean" has written about this thorny issue before. Here you'll find some advice on handling these irksome supplemental essays. They're largely irksome because pretty much any extra essay is going to be annoying to a busy high school senior. But they're also irksome because students often feel pressured to tell every college, “You're my first choice." Clearly you feel this pressure, too, but it's a lousy idea. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, let me explain why your copy-and-paste plan is a lousy idea as well.

Selective colleges receive far more applications than they have spaces to offer, and some students who are ultimately rejected may be just as strong as those who are admitted. So college officials must make tough choices among seemingly qualified ... and seemingly similar ... candidates. And this is why many schools stick seniors with those vexing, “Why us?" essays. They're looking for students who will be well suited to their institution and who are likely to enroll.

So if you try to kill three birds with one stone, your essays are going to convey a lack of interest and effort, and you won't convince the admission folks that their school is where you're meant to be. It's fine to have a basic structure in place (e.g., you can write about the tour and the English department as you've already suggested), but you need to be very specific about each. What, exactly, did the tour guide say that especially captivated you? Did she tell you about a unique college holiday and an unusual internship option? Describe them!

Steer clear of the easy generic answers (“The tour guide told us about several campus traditions and about the great professors and classes.") You've got to make your essay sound as if it were written for one college alone. And when it comes to touting the virtues of an English major, you'll have your work cut out for you. It's a lot easier to effuse about an uncommon program than it is about a major that is nearly ubiquitous and where the majority of courses are the same everywhere. So you'll have to dig deep into each college's online catalog to see if there are English classes (or related research opportunities, summer programs, etc.) that seem atypical and that you can mention in your essay.

As you'll read in the “Ask the Dean" column cited above, use comments on websites like College Confidential to search for details about your target schools or make contact with a current student. Above all, once you've gathered this information, explain why it pertains to you ... e.g., how a particular professor's newest book meshes with a term paper you wrote last winter or how you can't wait to join the Kale and Hearty Vegan Supper Club that hosts weekly potlucks after paddleboard yoga classes.

Finally, definitely don't say, “This is my first choice" more than once. Although the odds are slim that an admission official from one of your “first-choice" schools will be comparing notes over margaritas with an admission official from another, you're still risking bad luck (and the even more enduring bad karma) with such dishonesty. Instead, you can end your essay with something like, “I'd be honored to become a Bobcat" (or a Boilermaker or a Banana Slug ... ). This will underscore your enthusiasm without implying that you've already ordered the sweatshirt.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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