A common admission essay question that universities ask is “Why do you want to attend our school?” The question seems like a no-brainer--at least, from the university’s perspective. For students, however, a challenge often arises in how to exactly respond. Universities to some degree all offer the same things. They have good professors, good classes, good resources, and good just about everything else. So how does one differentiate? That’s what I’ll talk about in this blog post: how to make the best response to a “Why our school?” college admission essay prompt.
1) Do some research.
It will take some time, but it is important that you visit the university’s website, talk to friends or relatives who attended or currently attend, or visit the campus yourself. It will be most likely that you can only browse information online, but that is okay. University websites are usually pretty descriptive about what the university offers students in terms of classes, professors, resources, and extracurricular opportunities. There is really no excuse for writing a poor response when so much information is available. Most students, however, see this step as time-consuming and think that skipping it will not be much of an issue. Trust me; it’s very obvious when a student is padding out a “Why our school?” essay with generic and vague reasoning. If you can really capture how a particular school matches your major and career goals, then your college admission essay will be very impressive.
2) Write about specific professors with whom you’ll seek to work.
So you’ve done some research, but you aren’t quite sure what exactly to focus on in your response. Well, one key part to any school is its faculty. You should try to identify a professor or two by name and explain how working with them would be helpful for your academic goals. You may not find an absolute best fit, and may end up changing your goals once you get to college, but showing that you have thought about it to the point of naming a professor makes a strong impression on admissions committees. You show that you have really envisioned yourself as part of the campus. That’s a huge plus!
3) Write about classes that are aligned with your career goals.
Choose a few classes that you can find listed on the university’s website. Usually the ones for the current semester are posted with a blurb about the course content. You don’t need to go crazy and list several different class names, but identify a couple that you think illustrate what makes the university great. Maybe you want to mix business and science and the university has a “Business Foundations for Science Majors” course. You could talk about how this class embodies the interdisciplinary focus of your desired major.
4) Write about the university’s mission and campus culture.
Sometimes a university will pose the “Why us?” question but then want to know something different from the tried-and-true responses. In other words, the admissions committee knows the common tropes of these college admission essays--such as talking about professors, classes, and resources--so it wants students to write beyond the obvious. For example, Caltech states, “Beyond our 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio and our intense focus on research opportunities, how do you believe Caltech will best fuel your intellectual curiosity and help you meet your goals?” Caltech deflects common responses and forces students to dig deeper into their reasoning. If you find yourself answering a question like Caltech’s, turn to the university’s mission statement as a guide. Think how its mission parallels your own. Also, consider the nature of campus culture; maybe the school inspires wildly imaginative student activities and helps facilitate quirkiness. Maybe, too, these qualities are what makes for a great research institution. Be creative in how you connect the mission and culture to your academic goals.
5) Write about student activities, clubs, and extracurricular opportunities.
Faculty, classes, and research make up only part of your college experience. Many wonderful things that happen at university occur in extracurricular activities, and universities facilitate these activities to varying degrees. Highlight the clubs or other extracurricular opportunities--such as internships and study abroads--that attract you to the school. Do note that many schools share similar clubs and opportunities, so this should not be your most compelling reason for applying.
6) Avoid superficial reasons.
So maybe you just want to live in New York City, or maybe your best friend also goes to the school to which you’re applying. Whatever are your real reasons (and hopefully academics still take precedence), be advised that you should not focus on location or friendships in these college admission essays. There can be a good way to incorporate New York City if, say, you are applying to a business school; NYU or Columbia would be perfect for studying and working with various businesses in the city. Another problem is that you may state reasons that can be used for any school. If you find that your response is so vague that only changing the school name will make it different, then you have a problem. Do the work; research!
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