College Application Tips: The “Why This College” Essay

College admissions has become more competitive than ever at the same time that a college education is becoming more ubiquitous than ever. As a result, students, hoping to get into a top college or university, are applying to more colleges than ever before. But should students simply look up college rankings and apply to the best programs without knowing WHY they want to go to the colleges in question? When you’re applying to 10 to 15 colleges, how can you articulate WHY you want to go to one specific college rather than hundreds of others? A common component of college application is the “Why This college” essay, which asks students to do just that. Without some careful thought and some easy but important research, students answering the “Why This College” essay for 10 to 15 schools run the risk of merely going through the motions or appearing unoriginal and formulaic in their responses. Today, we’ll take a look at some strategies to help you answer the “Why This College” essay in a compelling, original, and personal fashion. When reading your response, the college admissions committee will be impressed at the time you took to research the college and think about why its distinctive features make it a great fit for you.

Things to Research and Think About for the “Why This College” Essay

Before drafting your “Why This College” essay, it’s important to consider a variety of factors that are unique to the college in question. Some factors to consider, which we’ll soon discuss in a more detailed manner, include the following:

  • Specific majors and programs the college or university offers and their distinctive features
  • Faculty members whose work you admire
  • Location of the college and university and why it appeals to you
  • Study-abroad programs or experiential learning opportunities
  • Research opportunities, grants, and fellowships
  • Clubs and organizations that appeal to you
  • Housing offerings and opportunities
  • Unique, distinctive, or quirky elements of campus culture

Majors, Fields of Study, and Programs

Before you begin your “Why This College” essay, take a look at the college’s list of majors and minors. Pay special attention to any special programs the college has for students with those majors or minors. It’ll be wise to mention them. If you’re interested in majoring in a field that not every college or university has majors in, or if you’re interested in participating in a program at that college or university that other colleges and universities don’t offer, be sure to mention that fact in your “Why This College” essay.

It’s also wise to browse course offerings. Take a look at courses for the upcoming year, or take a look at some recent course offerings in your major or minor field of study. What’s unique or exciting about those courses? Mention one or two courses that fascinate you, and use those courses as an example of the fact that you’ve done your research.

Faculty Members Whose Work You Admire

One of the best things to include in your “Why This College” Essay is a reference to specific faculty members in your major or minor field of study whose work you admire. Be sure to look up whether that faculty member actually teaches at the college or university, and if so, how often he or she teaches. Familiarize yourself with that faculty member’s CV and course offerings, as well as any books or articles he or she may he have published. Mention that you’re excited to have the opportunity to work with So-And-So because his or her work on Such-and-Such is fascinating, and his or her course on Such-and-Such looks unique and interesting to you.

Taking the time and energy to look into potential faculty members’ achievements and research interests shows that you’ve gone through the trouble of learning more information about the school to which you’re applying, and that effort will be sure to help your “Why This College” essay stand out amid more generalized responses by your competition.

Location of the College or University and Why It Appeals to You

Colleges and universities often gain the reputation of being “bubbles” or “Ivory towers,” places of learning that are isolated from the world around them. Colleges and universities, however, pride themselves on the role they play within the local, state, and national communities. It’s important to take the time to do your due diligence when it comes to gaining a sense of the college or university’s location. What about the physical or social landscape in which the college or university is situated is appealing to you? Perhaps you’re interesting in marine biology, and the coastal location of a specific college or university might afford you unique opportunities to study the marine ecology nearby. Perhaps you’re interesting in urban planning and management, and a college’s location within the heart of a thriving, masterfully-built metropolis will afford you unique experiences in city planning. Perhaps you’re interested in environmental issues and conservation, and a college or university’s reputation as being “green” and its location in a rural or underdeveloped area is appealing to you. What is there to see and do nearby? Why this physical place?

Study-Abroad Opportunities

If you’re hoping to study abroad for any length of time, a bit of research in the study-abroad offerings and programs of your prospective colleges and universities can help you find an interesting thing to mention in your “Why This College” essay. Not all study-abroad programs and opportunities are created equal. What about this specific college’s study-abroad offerings is appealing to you? Where are some places you might like to study abroad, and how can the college or university in question, through off-campus programs or partnerships with foreign colleges and universities, perhaps, help you achieve those goals?

Research Opportunities, Grants, and Fellowships

A truly exciting element of college and university education is the possibility for undergraduate students to be awarded grants and fellowships to conduct research or creative projects of their own. Not all colleges and universities offer such exciting opportunities, but if your prospective colleges and universities do, it’s a wise idea to seek out information on those research opportunities, grants, and fellowships and mention how they appeal to your in your “Why This College” essay. Essentially, these grants and fellowships are free money that you can use to conduct your own research projects or creative works. A girl I knew in college got a grant to travel to Europe for the express purpose of painitng the Northern Lights. It was essentially a free trip to Europe for her. She did end up painting the Northern Lights–well after she was home. Mention your academic and creative interests, and explain how the research opportunities, grants, and fellowships of the college and university are exciting resources that you’d love to take advantage of.

Clubs and Organizations That Appeal to You

Most students applying for college these days have a laundry-list of clubs and organizations on their résumés, and that trend will certainly continue when they’re in college. In college, however, you’ll find that there are often hundreds of clubs and organizations for you to choose from. Think about your interests and passions and social occupations. Are there any clubs or organizations offered at your prospective colleges and universities that appeal to you on this basis? If so, mention them! If these clubs or organizations have had any special or exciting events you’d like to take part in, mention those as well! College admissions officers love to see students who engage within the campus community and beyond.

Housing Offerings and Opportunities

When you’re in college or university, sometimes you live on campus and sometimes you don’t. Take the time to research the housing offerings and opportunities unique to your prospective campuses. Is there themed housing? Fraternities? Sororities? Single dorms? Shared homes? What about your potential living situation at a college or university will make it an exciting place for you to be?

Unique, Distinctive, or Quirky Elements of Campus Culture

Every college and university has its unique, distinctive, or quirky elements of campus culture. What’s the vibe on campus? Why does it appeal to you? Are there any traditions or annual events that you’d like to become a part of? What about the college’s ethos resonates with you? Even if it seems silly, choosing something specific to the college or university in question will help demonstrate that you’ve done your research about the college or university in question.

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That’s it! By the time you’ve done your research, it should be easy to write the “Why This College” essay. Good luck! For more college advice, as well as a plethora of SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring to help you with the college application process? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!  We’re perfect-scoring tutors with years of experience helping students achieve the SAT and ACT scores they need to make their dreams a reality!

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