If you’re on this page, then you have probably encountered a prompt or two on your supplemental essay safari that we at College Essay Advisors call “The Why Essay”. The school you’re applying to is essentially asking: Why do you really want to go here?
This shape-shifting question can come in many forms as it attempts to solicit information like: What will you do when you get here? How will you take advantage of all the resources our school has to offer? How will the school support your academic or professional goals? And how do your past experiences or future goals support these claims? It’s likely that many schools to which you apply will as the why question in slightly different ways (and with a WIDE range of word limits).
Why essays can be tricky because they can quickly veer into incredibly generic territory. No matter what, there are two essential components to a successful why essay: in-depth knowledge of a school and a convincing demonstration of personal interest. Both of these elements require that you actually know what any given institution has to offer. And you know what that means. Research.
Spend an hour or two immersed in their website. Is there something specific in the curriculum that calls out to you? A professor’s name that you recognize? Are you excited that there is a super active volunteering community? Maybe you want to join the school’s A-class a cappella group or equestrian club.
And for those of you lucky enough to visit the schools to which you are applying in advance of writing your essays – take full advantage! Hop on a campus tour and ask your tour guide questions! Notice how the campus makes you feel and try to reflect on why you are feeling those feelings. What does campus look and smell like? What did you eat there? (A hamburger?) Was there an exciting lab you discovered or a mock newsroom you would love to have access to?
Once you have a solid map of your school-specific interests, it’s time to turn the lens back on your experiences. It is one thing to say you want to join the elite marine biology program, but it’s much more convincing if you also mention that you spent a summer on Cape Cod studying the migration patterns of humpback whales or that you write a blog about your favorite deep sea “current” events (see what we did there). Don’t expect admissions to make the connection between your transcript, activity list and your interest in their school – build the bridge for them.