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Articles / Applying to College / Ask Admissions Mom: I'm Not Sure What Say In My "Why College" Essay

Ask Admissions Mom: I'm Not Sure What Say In My "Why College" Essay

C Written by Carolyn Allison Caplan (she/her) | Sept. 28, 2022
i don't have anything to say in my Why College essay (1)
"I have to write several essays explaining why I have chosen particular colleges on my list, even the ones that I haven’t been able to visit. I can't think of anything to say that would sound genuine and show that I clearly have a specific reason for wanting to go to those schools! Even after thinking long and hard, I haven't been able to come up with any decent reason for wanting to go to specific colleges. I don't want my essays to sound as if they came straight from the website or brochure. I really hate writing these essays and need some suggestions on how to approach them." –Anonymous H.S. Senior

As if writing the personal essay for college apps wasn't enough, many colleges also like to see supplemental essays! You might be asking yourself: what’s the point of all these supplements? It’s a valid question. Colleges aren’t trying to torture you though. The point of the “Why this College” essay is to paint a picture of you on their college campus.

These essays can be short, but they are really important! This is your opportunity to reflect on what’s important to you, dig deeper into your research for each school, and then explain exactly why you want to attend a particular school and what you specifically will bring to the community.

Colleges want to see who you are, what you’ve done and how you are going to bring that youness to their specific campus. Each of these essays involves digging in and learning more about yourself and what’s important to you and then how that you-who-you-are fits with what they offer on their campus. These essays help the admissions committee get to know you better, but they’re also a great way for you to make sure you’re clear on why you choose the schools you’re applying to.

Often, “Why College Essays” (and other supplements) are more important than the Personal Essay. Colleges ask these questions for a reason – and it’s usually to make sure they learn more about you as a HUMAN (not a test-taking, grade-making, EC-doing machine) and how you will bring that human (you) to THEIR specific campus. Many colleges also want you to show them some love and demonstrate that you’ve done the work (the research!) to know why you want to be there.

The most important thing to remember about a “Why College” essay is that it’s really a “Why You on our College Campus Essay.” This essay is just as much about you as the college. Why do they need you on their campus? What will you bring? So, in essence this should be an essay that only you could write about only this school. If any sentence could apply to any other school or applicant, scratch it. Make sure you include SPECIFICS in your essay. Do your research, and make sure the admissions committee can tell that you have.

Text of a quote from Admissions Mom, which reads "Colleges ask these questions for a reasons-and it's usually to make sure they more about you as a human (not a test-taking, grade-making, EC-doing machine) and how you will bring that human (you) to their specific campus.

Here’s what Trenton Manns, Undergraduate Admissions Counselor at Tufts said in an Instagram post last fall,

“If you ever feel like what you are learning [about colleges] is starting to blend together, carve out some time to browse through college publications and channels. Often times, these platforms help to illustrate the experiences of students and faculty who make the school truly unique.”

In another Instagram post from Tufts, Todd Denning, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions shares:

“The Why Tufts supplemental essay question, may seem pretty straightforward, but be sure to put plenty of thought into it. A “good” answer to this question will, of course, depend on you and what draws you to Tufts. A quick piece of advice: avoid the “features” trap. Yes, it’s ok and perfectly normal to be drawn to the amenities of a college or university, but we (The Admissions Committee) want to better understand why you think Tufts is a good fit for you. Rather than focusing on the features (residence halls, bucolic campus, professors), point to some of the “feels” (an eye-opening conversation you had with a current student, the university’s Liberal Arts identity, the deep civic and political engagement on campus, and so on.) A university is more than just a collection of buildings, clubs, and classes, so get creative and be thoughtful with our Why Tufts!”

Here’s an idea I really like from College Essay Guy: take a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle. On one side list all the awesome stuff about you. On the other side list all the amazing stuff about the college. Where do you see overlaps? That’s the substance of your essay.

Still stuck? I suggest that you make a chart about each school that includes:

  • School mission statement
  • Favorite point on website or from school visit
  • Classes that look interesting
  • Research you’d like to be involved in
  • A news article or social media post that catches your interest

When researching colleges, be sure to:

  • Take notes after your campus tour or virtual visit. Jot down a few things you saw and liked and why they appeal to you.
  • Follow the admissions department on social media.Take note of upcoming events for prospective students, and save posts with interesting news or announcements to refer to when writing your essay.
  • Read the student newspaper online and save interesting articles. When you’re writing your essay, mention something they’ve profiled recently and why it’s specifically interesting to you.
  • Read the website, especially the admissions website, carefully. Most college websites tell you exactly what they’re looking for. Are you that person? If so, demonstrate to them why. If not, well, maybe this school isn’t a great fit for you.
  • Read the college’s mission statement. Does their mission mesh with your personal mission? Explain how.
  • Research campus traditions and culture. Do you find them exciting and interesting and see yourself taking part?
  • Look at course lists and descriptions on the website. Do you find classes that you can see yourself attending? Tell them why this would be a great class for you. What will you get out of it? What can you contribute?
  • Find professors who appeal to you. Maybe even reach out to them and learn about their programs or research.
  • Again, devour college websites. Are there any clubs and activities that you’re currently involved in that are also offered on campus? Or, are there new-to-you activities that you’re excited to try? How do you see yourself getting involved on campus?

A note here: colleges don’t want just a rundown of clubs offered or classes in your major–they know why these appeal to you. It’s important to draw the connection between what they offer and what you’re seeking — so mention a specific class or activity if it meshes with your interests or values.

I love this example from u/Ninotchka:

"Look closely at the school website and find an aspect - a club, a particular course, a slogan, a tradition perhaps - that fits into your personality and write about that particular thing. i.e. “I was really excited when I saw that you had a course on the Roman conquest of Britain - I dressed up as Boudicca one year for Halloween and I look forward to arguing about Roman imperialism."

Once you’ve finished your research, you should have a lot of material to work with to write your essay. But remember, “Why This College” essays don’t have to be long. The strongest essays focus on a few well-chosen, specific and relevant reasons that show you’ve done your research and can really picture yourself as a student there. Every word counts.

If you’re still struggling to answer the "Why College" essay question after you’ve done your research, you may want to pause and ask yourself: why ARE you applying to this school? Even safety schools are only safeties if you’d actually be happy to attend. There are thousands of colleges and universities out there. Instead of spending your time struggling to find reasons why you want to go to a college, consider casting a wider net and looking for a few more schools that make it fun and easy to explain why you see yourself there.

Watch the webinar below for more great advice on the "Why College" essay and other supplemental essays.

More College Essay Questions?

Visit the CC College Essay Hub and connect with our community about all things college essays.

Ask Admissions Mom

Email your most pressing college admissions questions to editorial@collegeconfidential.org and you may receive a personal response from an admissions professional on College Confidential.

Written by

C

Carolyn Allison Caplan (she/her)

Carolyn Allison Caplan (aka AdmissionsMom) is an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) focused on using mindfulness in the college admissions journey. She is also a mother of three college graduates (Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Tufts) and a sought-after voice on topics related to the college admissions process. She earned a College Counseling Certificate (w/Distinction) from UCLA and is a member of HECA | IECA | TACAC | NACAC.

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