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Helpful tips for the ‘why us?’ college admissions essay

Many colleges are beautiful, have amazing sports teams and are located in great locations. However, when writing the "Why us" essay, students should focus on unique and specific features the college offers.
Many colleges are beautiful, have amazing sports teams and are located in great locations. However, when writing the "Why us" essay, students should focus on unique and specific features the college offers.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Many colleges ask the question, “Why us?” as part of the college admissions process. The question is asked differently by the colleges, but the idea behind the question is always the same: why us?

Here are a few examples of “why us?” essays:

  • Columbia University: “Tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why.”
  • Northwestern University: “What are the unique qualities of Northwestern – and of the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying – that make you want to attend the University?"
  • St. John’s College: “Explain in detail why you wish to attend St. John’s College.”
  • University of Notre Dame: “Why Note Dame?”
  • University of Pennsylvania: “The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals."

Colleges are asking “why us” because they are trying to learn how serious students are about their college. Admissions officers do not want to admit students who are not serious about attending their college, especially at competitive institutions. Unfortunately, many students do not answer this question in the way admissions officers would like to see. General responses that could be used at other colleges suggest that the student is not serious about attending the institution. Admissions officers are looking for serious interest in the institution and a passion for wanting to attend. Therefore, students must do their research about each college and be very specific about why they want to attend the institution.

Students must research the programs, resources and activities of interest at the college before submitting the essay. Writing “I want to attend ‘X’ University because it feel right,” is not enough. Instead, students should go into detail about the unique offerings the college offers and why it would be beneficial for the student. For students who have visited the campus, they should use this information in the essay. Students should talk about the activities they attended, the classes they visited and the professors they met during their visit.

Other tips for “Why us?” essays:

  • Recycling college admissions essays is common. However, students must proofread to ensure it is specific to the college. Do not send an essay that says, “I want to attend ‘X’ university” when applying to ‘Y’ university.
  • Check the facts. Do not use the wrong information when talking about a university. If mentioning city, state, professor name, team colors, etc., make sure the correct information is included.
  • Do not regurgitate information that is listed on the website or publications. The average class size, for example, may be great, but many other colleges have the same statistics.
  • The main reason for attending a college should not be location, prestige, size or weather. Do not list these reasons in the essay because they can apply to many other colleges. This information should only be included if it is supporting other reasons listed in the essay.
  • Read each sentence of the essay and see if it could apply to another college. If it can be for another college, it might not be specific enough for the “why us” essay.
  • The “Why us?” essay is the perfect time to use names. Students should mention names of professors, students, student organizations and other items that are drawing the student to the university.
  • Although many of the essay prompts do not ask this, students should also include what they will contribute to the college campus. Colleges want to admit students who will be active on campus.

If students are having a hard time writing specific reasons they want to attend a college, it might suggest the college is not the best fit for the student. Alternatively, it might suggest the student needs to dedicate more time to researching the college to learn about the unique opportunities the college offers.

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