Advice for Writing the "Why us?" EssayPosted on Tue, 11/19/2013 - 10:47
Kim Lifton, President of Wow Writing Workshop, joins us today to address the often misunderstood "Why us?" essay. The "Why us?" essay is a unique opportunity in the college application. Colleges want to know you are a good fit for their school and have a real understanding of it. Read on to learn more about how to do a good job demonstrating what colleges really want to know.
Many schools ask students to respond to a prompt like one of the following:
University of Michigan: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
Tulane University: Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane.
New York University: Whether you are undecided or you have a definitive plan of study in mind, what are your academic interests and how do you plan to explore them at NYU?
Tufts University: Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, “Why Tufts?”
I just read a beautiful story from a student answering the “Why College X?” prompt for a Big 10 university.
Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the story painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the school in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This boy was clear he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps; he was comfortable inside of the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.
Unfortunately, this story did not answer the prompt.
Every year, Wow Writing Workshop’s college application essay experts review many stories just like this one. We send these stories back to our students with tips to help them answer the question, and also stand out in the crowd.
For some reason, this is one of the most difficult prompts for students to answer, even though it is specific.
To get our students started on this prompt, we tell them to consider what they want the college to know about them that is not evident from the rest of the application package. After that, think about what colleges might want to know about their prospective students. How do College X’s curriculum, clubs and campus life support your interests? Why are you a good fit?
Our friend and colleague, Dr. Rebecca Joseph, a professor at California State University and founder of the mobile app, All College Application Essays, likes to put it this way: “This essay is your date with the college. They know how great they are; tell them why they should date you.”
We understand that this task can be difficult -- even for students who spent their childhoods wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with their parents’ favorite college logos. Most students have no idea what a school may offer academically, socially or culturally. The prompt is also challenging for students who want to tell admissions officers how much they love the big city, how badly they want to escape their small towns, or how much they love the old buildings on campus.
Unfortunately, this is not what admissions officers want – or need – to know. They want to know why you are a good fit on campus, whether you have the chops to succeed academically, if there are clubs and activities to support your interests, and if you are likely to graduate from this institution.
“Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you,” said Calvin Wise, the Associate Director of Admissions for Johns Hopkins University. “Do your research, and articulate a multi-dimensional connection to the specific college or university.
“We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum),” Wise added. “All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences.”
We regularly check in with admissions officers from small liberal arts colleges, elite universities and state institutions. We’ve found that regardless of size, status or essay prompt, they all offer similar tips on all college essays:
- Don’t over-think it.
- Tell us what you want us to know about you; not what you think we want to hear.
- Answer the prompt honestly with a story about you.
- Make sure your story is focused and written in your own words and your own voice.
You’ll find all sorts of advice online about writing admissions essays; much of it inaccurate or confusing. As you near the end of your college application process and put the finishing touches on your essays, be careful whose advice you follow, and make sure you know your sources.
Wow’s 6 Tips for writing the “Why College X” supplement
1. Answer the question.
2. Write about what interests you.
3. Make sure you get the name of the school right in your essay.
4. Copy descriptions from the college website.
5. Tell the school you bleed its colors or have been attending football games there since you were a toddler.
6. Tell them how great they are; they already know.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop. You can read Kim’s blogs and get useful writing tips by signing up for Wow’s newsletter. Wow is also on Facebook and Twitter. Check their schedule to sign up for webinars and workshops on college admissions essays. Remember this: The college essay subject is YOU; the topic is secondary.