Below you will find the Class of 2018 essay prompts for the Common App and the Coalition App. In addition, supplemental essays will be added as they are released.
Common Application Essays 2018
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Coalition Application Essays 2018
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
- What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
- What factors influenced your decision to apply to Barnard College and why do you think the College would be a good match for you? (100-250 words)
- Pick one woman in history or fiction to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. What would you talk about? (100-250 words)
- Barnard women seek to make a difference in their community, whether through the residence hall, classes, clubs, volunteer work or a part-time job they hold. Describe how you make a difference in your community and what you have learned from that experience. In what ways do you see yourself contributing to the community at Barnard, inside or outside of the classroom?
Prompt 1- Why are you interested in Babson College (200 word maximum)?
Prompt 2- Life is a collection of moments, some random, some significant. Right now, you are applying to Babson College. What moment led you here? (500 words maximum)
We invite you to submit your answer in either essay OR video format. If you choose to submit a video, please limit your response to a 1-minute video, which can be submitted via a shared link to YouTube or another video hosting website.
We would like to get a better sense of you. Please respond to one of the following prompts. (400 word limit)
1. Human beings have a creative side that tends to shine most when we are truly invested in the world around us. Describe a situation when you responded effectively to a particular need and found yourself at your creative best.
2. Experience teaches us the importance of being reflective when making major decisions. Share an example from a recent event when a leader or an average person faced a difficult choice. What were the consequences of the decision? Would you have done the same?
3. Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?
4. Jesuit education stresses the importance of the liberal arts and sciences, character formation, commitment to the common good, and living a meaningful life. How do you think your personal goals and academic interests will help you grow both intellectually and personally during college?
What about being a student at Boston University most excites you? 250 Words Max.
1) Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)
2) Why Brown, and why the Brown Curriculum? (200 word limit)
3) Tell us where you have lived – and for how long – since you were born; whether you’ve always lived in the same place, or perhaps in a variety of places. (100 word limit)
4) We all exist within communities or groups of various sizes, origins, and purposes; pick one and tell us why it is important to you, and how it has shaped you. (100 word limit)
Carnegie Mellon University
1) Please submit a one page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen Carnegie Mellon and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s). This essay should include the reasons why you’ve chosen the major(s), any goals or relevant work plans and any other information you would like us to know. For freshmen applying to more than one college or program, please mention each college or program to which you are applying. Because our admission committees review applicants by college and program, your essay can impact our final decision. Candidates applying for early decision or transfer may apply to only one college and department.
2) List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. Choose one and in a sentence describe its impact on you.
3) If there was an interruption during your secondary school or collegiate experience or between your secondary school and collegiate experience (gap year(s)) when you were not enrolled and as a result, not making normal academic progress, please explain the reason for the interruption.
4) While not a requirement, have you been interviewed by an alumni or on campus representative prior to applying for admission? If so, indicate the name of your interviewer and tell us how it impacted your decision to apply. (500 word maximum.)
- List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.(150 words or less)
- List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
- List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
- List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)
- List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
- Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)
Supplemental essay prompts specific to school of choice:
Arts and Sciences: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
Agriculture and Life Sciences: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
Architecture, Art, and Planning: Describe two or three of your intellectual interests and why you are excited to pursue them within your chosen major in AAP. What personal experiences, background, or future goals will you bring to your scholarly and artistic pursuits at Cornell? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
Engineering: Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in. (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
Ecology: How have your experiences influenced you to apply to the College of Human Ecology. How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
Industrial and Labor Relations: Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests. (Please limit your response to 650 words.)
1) Please respond in 100 words or less:
While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, uttered this memorable line: ”It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2022, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?
2) Choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:
-In Love Medicine, author Louise Erdrich ’76 writes, ”Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.” Describe your ”hand” and reflect on how you have played it.
-From songs and film to formulae and computer code, human expression and discovery take many forms. How do you express your creativity? What ideas or values do you explore and celebrate when your imagination wanders?
-During the 2016 Olympic Games, American runner Abbey D’Agostino ’14 collided with another athlete in the first round of the 5,000-meter event. Both fell to the track. Although injured, Abbey’s first instinct was to help the other fallen athlete so they could continue the race together. Their selflessness was widely praised as the embodiment of the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship. Share a moment when kindness guided your actions.
-Twenty years ago, the world met Harry Potter and his companions. One of the more memorable lines from the J.K. Rowling series was spoken by Albus Dumbledore: ”Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” What ideas or experiences bring you joy?
-”I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. ”I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your intellectual curiosity.
-”Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams,” television producer Shonda Rhimes ’91 told graduating seniors during her 2014 Commencement address. ”It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” What inspires your hard work? What matters to you and how do you “make things happen” to create change?
Please respond in 250-300 words.
Please choose two (2) of the short answer prompts below. Be thoughtful in your responses, but don’t stress about what the right answer might be. We just want to get to know you a bit better. Each response should be no more than 150 words.
- What is your favorite fiction or non-fiction work (film, book, TV show, album, poem, or play)? Why?
- What motivates you to learn?
- What will you miss the most about your current community when you leave for college?
- In the age of social media, what does engaging with integrity look like for you?
Don’t stress about what the “right answer” might be to any of these—because there is no singular “right answer”! We want to get to know you better through your responses.
Briefly discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved. (approximately one-half page
Compose two brief essays (approximately one page single-spaced each) on the topics given below.
ALL APPLICANTS: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
APPLICANTS TO GEORGETOWN COLLEGE: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please specifically address those interests.)
APPLICANTS TO THE SCHOOL OF NURSING & HEALTH STUDIES: Describe the factors that have influenced your interest in studying health care at Georgetown University. Please specifically address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
APPLICANTS TO THE WALSH SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
APPLICANTS TO THE MCDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.
George Washington University
George Washington University encourages students to extend learning beyond the traditional classroom by taking advantage of hands-on learning through service, research, internships, and studying abroad. Describe an experience that transformed the way you view the world and how this perspective prepares you for GW.
Please respond to the following essay question in 250 words or fewer.
- Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (max 150 words)
- Please choose ONE of the following questions and provide an answer in 150 words or less.
- Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. We find that students who ultimately have a broad impact first had a significant one at home. What is your role in your immediate or extended family? And how have you seen evidence of your impact on them?
- Georgia Tech is always looking for innovative undergraduates. Have you had any experience as an entrepreneur? What would you like Georgia Tech to provide to further your entrepreneurial interests?
- We challenge our students to “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. Tell us about a time in high school that you felt outside of your comfort zone and the resolution.
You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:
– Unusual circumstances in your life
– Travel or living experiences in other countries
– What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
– An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
– How you hope to use your college education
– A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
– The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
– The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?
In 200–400 words, you’ll be asked to describe your academic and career plans and any special interest (for example, undergraduate research, academic interests, leadership opportunities, etc.) that you are eager to pursue as an undergraduate at Indiana University. Also, if you encountered any unusual circumstances, challenges, or obstacles in pursuit of your education, you may share those experiences and how you overcame them. Please note that this essay may be used for scholarship consideration.
Successful students at Johns Hopkins make the biggest impact by collaborating with others, including peers, mentors, and professors. Talk about a time, in or outside the classroom, when you worked with others and what you learned from the experience. (Up to 400 words).
Please select one of the following prompts and respond with 250 to 300 words.
- What about Lehigh piques your intellectual curiosity?
- What does the idea of the “Lehigh Family” mean to you?
- Lehigh values inclusive leadership, where students make decisions, take action, and contribute positively to their communities in ways that are purposeful, socially just, and built on integrity. What does this mean to you?
Please read the three statements, which all relate to the mission and the values of Loyola Marymount University. Choose the one you find most interesting and thought provoking; then, answer the question which accompanies the statement you select. This essay, usually around 500 words, is your chance to display your critical and creative thinking.
In his 2015 Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’, in which he addresses climate change and our collective responsibility to care for our “common home,” Pope Francis , S.J., observes that, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods.”
Prompt 1 question:
Much has been written about the environmental implications of climate change, but less about the distribution of goods or the social, economic, and political implications. Which one of these less studied aspects of climate change seems to you most worrisome for our “common home,” and why?
Speaking about education, Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.’’
Prompt 2 question:
Critical thinking is a central goal of Jesuit education, and at LMU you’ll be asked to think critically and intensively in every class. Dr. King suggests that critical thinking results in our ability to inform intelligence with character, and strengthen character with intelligence. Please talk about a situation that demanded critical thinking from you, and how your choices or decisions integrated intelligence and character.
A motto often associated with Jesuit and Marymount schools is ‘‘Educating men and women for others.’’ Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former head of the Jesuits, once said that ‘‘our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God which does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.’’
Prompt 3 question:
What do you think Fr. Arrupe meant when he said this? Please give an example of someone you know, other than your teachers and parents, who works for justice for the least of their neighbors.
New York University
We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. We are particularly interested in knowing what motivated you to apply to NYU and more specifically, why you have applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please tell us why you are interested in each of the campuses, schools, colleges, or programs to which you have applied. You may be focused or undecided, or simply open to the options within NYU’s global network; regardless, we want to understand – Why NYU? (400 word maximum)
In the Northwestern Writing Supplement, we ask students to explain why they would like to attend Northwestern. This question is intentionally open-ended. You may choose one or several aspects of Northwestern to focus your writing, though the majority of the essay’s content should relate to your own interests or experiences.
The University of Notre Dame Writing Supplement consists of one (1) essay response to a required question and two (2) essay responses to questions you select from the options provided. In total, you will write three (3) essay responses. In honor of our University’s 175th anniversary, the recommended word count is around 175 words per essay.
Please provide a response to the following question: What excites you about the University of Notre Dame that makes it stand out from other institutions?
Please provide a response to two (2) of the following questions:
- The University of Notre Dame is a Holy Cross institution whose educational philosophy has been formed around five core principles inspired by Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. These principles, or pillars, of a Holy Cross education are Mind, Heart, Zeal, Family, and Hope, and they continue to shape our students today. Which pillar or pillars resonate most with you? Why?
- For whom are you responsible?
- What is one thing that you know for a fact? Why are you certain?
- Tell us about something significant that recently occurred in your community. Why does it matter to you?
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)
A Few Details
- Your favorite book and its author
- Your favorite website
- Your favorite recording
- Your favorite source of inspiration
- Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title
- Your favorite movie
- Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you
- Your favorite keepsake or memento
- Your favorite word
Essay: Your Voice
In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application or Universal College Application.
- Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
- “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and pointless straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
- “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.
- Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.
If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.
*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.
1) How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (Respond in 100 words or fewer.)
2) Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (Respond in 100 words or fewer.)
- Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)
- With the understanding that the choice of academic school you indicated is not binding, explain why you are applying to that particular school of study. (150 word limit)
- How did you first learn about Rice University, and what motivated you to apply? (250 word limit)
In keeping with Rice’s long-standing tradition (known as “The Box”), please share an image of something that appeals to you. See the Help Section for more information.
- What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)
- How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)
- What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)
- What five words best describe you?
- When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit)
- Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)
- Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit).
- The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100 to 250 words)
- Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — know you better. (100 to 250 words)
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100 to 250 words)
1) Who or what influenced you to apply to Syracuse University? (Maximum: 250 words)
2) Who is the person you dream of becoming and how do you believe Syracuse University can help you achieve this? (Maximum: 250 words)
Student may choose to submit an optional essay (250-650 words) that focuses on your specific interest in Trinity College:
- We live in an urban-global age with more than half of the planet’s people living in cities. Trinity College is an urban liberal arts college deeply engaged with the local community and committed to making an impact across the world. How do you aspire to use your education to impact local and global communities?
- Our mission states: “Engage. Connect. Transform. As the preeminent liberal arts college in an urban setting, Trinity College prepares students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives.” Keeping the three pillars of the mission in mind, how do you see yourself contributing to the Trinity community?
Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane University (optional) (50-800 words)
Short Responses (Required of all Applicants)
Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.
- Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)
- There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)
- Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words). Students applying to the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering should select from prompts A-E. Students applying to the SMFA at Tufts’ BFA program or the Five-Year BFA + BA/BS Combined Degree program must answer prompt F:A) It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.B) In a time when we’re always plugged in (and sometimes tuned out), tell us about a time when you listened, truly listened, to a person or a cause. How did that moment change you?C) Celebrate the role of sports in your life.
D) Whether you’ve built blanket forts or circuit boards, produced community theater or mixed media art installations, tell us: what have you invented, engineered, created, or designed? Or what do you hope to?
E) What makes you happy? Why?
F) Artist Bruce Nauman once said: “One of the factors that still keeps me in the studio is that every so often I have to more or less start all over.” Everyone deals with failure differently; for most artists failure is an opportunity to start something new. Tell us about a time when you have failed and how that has influenced your art practice.
UNC Chapel Hill
The admissions committee has selected the UNC-specific short answer prompts for the 2018 application! While the Fall 2018 application will not be live until August 2017, we hope you will have the opportunity to consider your responses. Remember, your responses will be evaluated not only for admission, but also for possible selection for merit-based scholarships and other opportunities available to First-Year Applicants, including Excel@Carolina.
First-Year & Transfer Applicants
Carolina’s supplement will provide you with four prompts, and you will choose two. Each response will be limited to 200-250 words.
- Tell us about a peer who has made a difference in your life.
- What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
- What is one thing that we don’t know about you that you want us to know?
- What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?
University of California Essays
- You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
- Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
- Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.
- Remember, the personal questions are just that — personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?
Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?
- Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?
How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
Things to consider: If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?
Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few.
If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?
- Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?
If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?”
- Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement.
Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place — like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?
Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?
- Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
Things to consider: If there’s anything you want us to know about you, but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?
From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.
University of Chicago
Question 1 (Required):
How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.
Question 2 (Optional):
Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.
Extended Essay Questions: (Required; Choose one)
1) “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert
Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed? -Anonymous Suggestion
2) Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018
3) Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world. -Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017
4) The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” Tell us about your “armor.”-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020
5) Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections. -Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021
6) In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.
University of Colorado / Boulder
Writing Supplement (required, 250–650 words): In addition to the Common Application essay, you are required to submit a CU Boulder writing supplement.
As a vibrant community of learners dedicated to inclusive excellence, the students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado Boulder seek to be open and respectful of contrasting beliefs and opinions. Every student has a unique life experience and a set of circumstances by which they are shaped and influenced. Your background may have been shaped by family history, cultural traditions, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, income, ideology, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Reflect on your unique background and tell us about a time when you had to relate to someone whose life experience was very different from your own. How did you approach the difference? If put in a similar situation again today, would you respond differently? If so, how?
University of Georgia
- (Required) The college admissions process can create anxiety. In an attempt to make it less stressful, please tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself that you have not already shared in your application. (200-300 words)
Choose one of the following four (200-300 words):
- UGA’s 2017 Commencement speaker Ernie Johnson (Class of ’79) told a story from his youth about what he refers to as blackberry moments. He has described these as “the sweet moments that are right there to be had but we’re just too focused on what we’re doing …, and we see things that are right there within our reach and we neglect them. Blackberry moments can be anything that makes somebody else’s day, that makes your day, that are just sweet moments that you always remember.” Tell us about one of your “blackberry moments” from the past five years.
- Creativity is found in many forms including artistic avenues, intellectual pursuits, social interactions, innovative solutions, etcetera. Tell us how you express your creativity.
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a problem, possibly related to your area of study, which you would like to solve. Explain its importance to you and what actions you would take to solve this issue.
University of Illinois
- Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. Limit your response to 300-400 words.
- If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. Again, limit your response to 300-400 words.
University of Michigan
Essay #1 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
Essay #2 (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.) FRESHMEN APPLICANTS
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?
University of Pennsylvania
How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying (College of Arts and Sciences,School of Nursing,The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering).
The essay should be between 400-650 words.
Students applying to Digital Media Design and Computer and Cognitive Science should address both the specialized program and single-degree choice in their response. For students applying to the other coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice; Your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essays.
University of Richmond
Pick only one (650 words):
- Sometimes asking the right question makes all the difference. If you were a college admission counselor, what essay question would you ask? Please craft and answer your own essay prompt – in your response, reflect on what your chosen question reveals about you.
- How will you use your Richmond Guarantee?
University of Virginia
- We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- College of Arts and Sciences– What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences– If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design?
- School of Architecture– Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
- School of Nursing – School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.
- Kinesiology Program – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- What’s your favorite word and why?
- We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
- Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
- UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
All applicants must submit an essay responding to Topic A.
What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.
Topic N (Required for Nursing)
Considering nursing as your first-choice major, discuss how your current and future academic activities, extracurricular pursuits and life experiences will help you achieve your goals.
Short Answer Prompts
All applicants must submit three short answers responding to prompts in ApplyTexas. Answers are limited to no more than 40 lines, or about 250 – 300 words.
Short Answer 1: Career Plans
If you could have any career, what would it be? Why? Describe any activities you are involved in, life experiences you’ve had, or even classes you’ve taken that have helped you identify this professional path.
Tips to consider: This is an opportunity to describe your academic and future professional interests. You may not yet be 100% certain about what you want to do, but is there a particular field that you think you want to work in, or a certain path you want to pursue after college? How have your interests and experiences influenced your choice of majors or your plans to explore in college?
Short Answer 2: Academics
Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provide an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?
Tips to consider: Feel free to address anything you want the Office of Admissions to know about your academic record so that we can consider this information when we review your application. You can discuss your academic work, class rank, GPA, individual course grades, test scores, and/or the classes that you took or the classes that were available to you. You can also describe how special circumstances and/or your school, community, and family environments impacted your high school performance.
Short Answer 3: Leadership
How do you show leadership in your life? How do you see yourself being a leader at UT Austin?
Tips to consider: Leadership can be demonstrated by positions you hold as an officer in a club or organization, but other types of leadership are important too. Leaders can emerge in various situations at any given time, including outside of the school experience. Please share a brief description of the type of leadership qualities you possess, from school and non-school related experiences, including demonstrations of leadership in your job, your community, or within your family responsibilities, and then share how you hope to demonstrate leadership as a member of our campus community.
Short Answer: Art and Art History Applicants
Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?
Short Answer: Social Work Applicants
Discuss the reasons you chose social work as your first-choice major and how a social work degree from UT Austin will prepare you for the future.
University of Wisconsin Madison
1) Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, share with us the academic, extracurricular, or research opportunities you would take advantage of as a student. If applicable, provide details of any circumstance that could have had an impact on your academic performance and/or extracurricular involvement (you may enter up to 650 words).
2) Briefly explain (in 50-100 words) which activity you entered in the Common App Activities section is the most important to you.
Choose one of the following (250-1000 words):
- At Villanova, we believe that it is our similarities that make us strong, but our differences that make us stronger. Please tell us about a relationship that you have with someone who is different from you and how that has changed who you are today.
- “Become what you are not yet” – Saint Augustine
When you daydream, who do you hope to become in the future?
- Describe a book, movie, song or other work of art that has been significant to you since you were young and how its meaning has changed for you as you have grown.
You may respond to up to three of the essay prompts below (choose one, two, or three) as you feel they support your individual application. In general, concise, straightforward writing is often the best for college essays, and good essays are often approximately 300 words in length.
Note: Your application for admission is also your application to the Virginia Tech Honors College. Therefore, any responses to the following essay prompts will be shared with the Honors College.
- What are the top five reasons you want to be a Hokie?
- If there is something you think would be beneficial for the Admissions Committee to know as we review your academic history, please take this opportunity to explain.
- Our motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). How is service to others important in your life?
- We believe strongly in the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and the value of human diversity affirmed therein. Share a perspective or experience related to your culture, age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status that might explain how you will enrich the climate of mutual respect and understanding here.
- Virginia Tech is one of six senior military institutions in the country. How will this setting contribute to your college experience?
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
- Discuss the work of fiction you have read which has helped you most to understand the complexity of the world. (250 words)
- While division in American politics suggests that the art of persuasion has lost value, dialogue and debate helps define the Wake Forest community. On what issue do you wish to persuade others? What is your argument? (150 words)
- 59% of Wake Forest’s Class of 2017 received academic credit for faculty-directed research across academic disciplines. Describe a specific academic assignment that sparked an academic curiosity you hope to explore further in college. (150 words)
- What have you learned about yourself from engaging with someone different from you? (150 words)
- Give us your top ten list.
- You have a popular podcast. What’s the title? What’s the topic? (85 characters)
- On a separate page, use the following essay to give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and intellect:
Wake Forest Application via their website: During the 2017-2018 academic year, Wake Forest University is launching a year-long Rethinking Community initiative. Use your imagination to rethink your school community and your place in it. (unlimited)
The required Wellesley “Writing Supplement,” asks you to respond to the following topic in two well-developed paragraphs.
When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 (www.wellesley.edu/admission/100) and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (PS: “Why” matters to us.)
Please note: the Williams Writing Supplement is optional.
At Williams we believe that bringing together students and professors in small groups produces extraordinary academic outcomes. Our distinctive Oxford-style tutorial classes—in which two students are guided by a professor in deep exploration of a single topic—are a prime example. Each week the students take turns developing independent work—an essay, a problem set, a piece of art—and critiquing their partner’s work. Focused on close reading, writing, and oral defense of ideas, more than 60 tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum, with titles like “Aesthetic Outrage,” “Financial Crises: Causes and Cures,” and “Genome Sciences: At the Cutting Edge.”
Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why? (Please limit your response to 300 words.)
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application, Common Application, or QuestBridge Application are asked to respond to the following short answer questions:
- Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided.
- Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer)
- What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
Did you think you were all done pouring out your blood, sweat, and tears in written form for your personal statement, only to be faced with the “why this college” supplemental essay? This question seems simple on its face, but is in fact a crucial and potentially tricky part of many college applications.
What exactly is the “why us” essay trying to understand about you? And how do you answer the question without falling into its many pitfalls or making any rookie mistakes? In this article, I’ll explain why colleges want you to be able to explain why you are applying. I'll also talk about how to generate and brainstorm topics for this question, and how to make yourself sound sincere and committed. Finally, I’ll throw in some “why this school” essay dos and don’ts.
Table of Contents
Why Do Colleges Want You to Write a "Why Us" Essay?
The Two Different Kinds of “Why This College” Essay Prompts
How to Write a Perfect “Why This College” Essay
Step 1: Research
Step 2: Brainstorming Topics
Step 3: Nailing the Execution
Example of a Great "Why This College" Essay
The Bottom Line
Why Do Colleges Want You To Write a “Why Us” Essay?
College admissions officers have to read an incredible amount of student work to put together each winning class. So trust me when I say that everything they ask you to write is meaningful and important.
The purpose of this essay goes two ways. On the one hand, seeing how you answer this question gives admissions officers a sense of whether you know and value their school. On the other hand, having to verbalize why you are applying is a chance for you to ponder what you want to get out of your college experience, and whether your target schools fit your goals and aspirations.
What Colleges Get Out of Reading Your "Why This College" Essay
Colleges want to check three things.
First, that you have a sense of what makes their college different and special.
- Do you know something about the school’s mission, history, and values?
- Have you thought about their specific approach to learning?
- Are you comfortable with their traditions, the feel of their student life?
Second, that you will be a good fit for the institution.
- Where do your interests lie? Do they correspond to this school’s strengths?
- Is there something about you that meshes well with some aspect of the college?
- How will you contribute to college life? How will you make your mark on campus?
And third, that this institution will, in turn, be a good fit for you.
- What do you want to get out of college? Will this college be able to provide that? Will this school contribute to your future success?
- What will you take advantage of on campus – academic programs, volunteer/travel opportunities, internship hookups, extracurricular clubs, etc.?
- Will you succeed academically? Is this school at the right rigor and pace for your ideal learning?
What You Get Out of Writing Your "Why This College" Essay
Luckily, in the process of articulating these answers, you will also benefit in several ways.
Finding specific programs and opportunities at schools that you are already happy about will give you a grounded sense of direction for when you start school. At the same time, by describing what is great about schools that are low on your list, you'll boost your enthusiasm rather than feeling these colleges are lackluster fallbacks.
Ensuring You're Making the Right Choice
At the same time, writing the "why us" essay can be a moment of clarity. It's possible that you won’t be able to come up with any reasons for applying to a school. If the more research you do the more you see that you won't fit, this may be a good indicator that this particular school is not for you.
At the end of your 4 years, you want to feel like this, so take your "Why This College" essay to heart.
The Two Different Kinds of “Why This College” Essay Prompts
The "why this college" essay is best thought of as a back and forth between you and the college. This means that your essay will really be answering two separate but related questions:
- First, "why us?" This is where you'll explain what makes the school special in your eyes, what attracted you to it, and what you will get out of the experience of going there.
- Second, "why you?" This is where you'll talk about why you’ll fit right in on campus, what qualities/skills/talents/abilities you’ll contribute to campus life, and how your future will be impacted by the school and its opportunities.
Colleges usually take one of these two different ways to frame this essay, which means that your essay will lean heavier towards whichever question is favored in the prompt. So if the prompt is all about "why us?", you'll focus more on waxing rhapsodic about the school. If the prompt instead is mostly configured as "why you?", you'll dwell at length on your fit and potential.
It's good to remember that these two prompts are simply two sides of the same coin. Your reasons for wanting to apply to a particular school can be made to fit either of these questions.
For instance, say you really want the chance to learn from the world-famous Professor X. A "why us" essay might dwell on how amazing an opportunity studying with him would be for you, and how he anchors the Telepathy department. Meanwhile, a "why you" essay would point out that your own extracurricular and academic telepathy credentials and future career goals make you an ideal student to learn from Professor X, a renowned master of the field.
Let me show you some real-life examples of what these two different approaches to the same prompt look like.
I hear the Rings of Power Department is really strong at that school too. Check out the Gandalf seminar on repelling Balrogs - super easy A.
(Image: T-Jacques via Wikimedia Commons)
“Why Us” PromptsYou can recognize this version of the prompt from wording like:
- Why [this college]?
- Why are you interested in our school?
- Why is this college a good choice for you?
- What is it that you like the best about our university?
- Why do you want to go to our college?
- 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?
- Tufts University: Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, “Why Tufts?”
Wellesley College: When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (PS: “Why” matters to us.)
- Brown University: Why Brown?
Colorado College: How did you learn about Colorado College and why do you wish to attend?
- Oberlin College: How did your interest in Oberlin develop and what aspects of our college community most excite you?
- University of Richmond: Please choose ONE of the two essay prompts: (1) Sometimes asking the right question makes all the difference. If you were a college admission counselor, what essay question would you ask? Please craft and answer your own essay prompt – in your response, reflect on what your chosen question reveals about you.; OR (2) Tell us about Spiders.
Tell me all about... me.
“Why You?” PromptsThis type of prompt turns the tables slightly, asking something along the lines of:
- Why are you a good match or fit for us?
- What are you interests and how will you pursue them here?
- What do you want to study and how will that correspond to our program?
- What or how will you contribute?
- Why you at our college?
- Why are you applying to our school?
- Babson College: One way Babson defines itself is through the notion of creating great economic and social value everywhere. How do you define yourself and what is it about Babson that excites you?
- 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?
- Bowdoin College: Bowdoin students and alumni often cite world-class faculty and opportunities for intellectual engagement, the College’s commitment to the Common Good, and the special quality of life on the coast of Maine as important aspects of the Bowdoin experience. Reflecting on your own interests and experiences, please comment on one of the following: 1.) Intellectual engagement, 2.) The Common Good, or 3.) Connection to place.
- Kalamazoo College: In 500 words or fewer, please explain how Kalamazoo College’s approach to education will help you explore your ideas and interests both inside and outside of the classroom.
- Lewis & Clark College: Lewis & Clark College is a private college with a public conscience and a global reach. We celebrate our strengths in collaborative scholarship, international engagement, environmental understanding and entrepreneurial thinking. As we evaluate applications, we look for students who understand what we offer and are eager to contribute to our community. In one paragraph, please tell us why you are interested in attending Lewis & Clark and how you will impact our campus.
- Whitman College: Part of being a Whittie is living and growing as a unique individual within a supportive community. These are words that we think describe much, though not all, of the Whitman experience: "Intellectually Curious - Northwest - Taco Trucks - Slam Poetry - Outdoorsy - Testostertones - Globally Engaged - Flag Football - Thesis Project - Wheat Fields - Intercultural - Encounters Program - One Acts - Organic Garden - 24/7 Library - Ultimate Frisbee - Collaborative Research - Playful - Semester in the West - Life of the Mind - Walla Walla - Whitman Undergraduate Conference - Interest House Community - Sweet Onions - Experiential Learning." Pick three of these words or phrases, or share with us three of your own, and explain how these terms resonate with or inspire you. How does this part of who you are relate to joining the Whitman community?
Sure, Ultimate Frisbee is cool, Whitman College. But when I get to campus, I'm starting a quidditch league.
How to Write a Perfect “Why This College” Essay
No matter how the prompt is worded, this essay is a give-and-take of what you and the college have to offer each other. Your job is to zoom in quickly to your main points, and to use precision and detail to sound sincere, excited, and authentic.
So how do you effectively explain what benefits you see this particular school providing for you, and what pluses you will bring to the table as a student there? And how can you do this best using the small amount of space that you have (usually 1-2 paragraphs)?
Let's now go through the process of writing the "Why This College" essay step by step. First, I'll talk about the prep work you'll need to do. Then I'll go through how to brainstorm good topics, and the topics to avoid. I'll give you some tips on transforming your ideas and research into an actual essay. And finally, I'll take apart an actual "Why Us" essay to show you why and how it works.
Step 1: Research
Before you can write about a school, you need to know specific things about what makes it stand out and appeal to you and your interests. So where do you look for these? And how do you find the detail that will speak to you?
In-Person Campus Visits
If you’re going on college tours, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to gather info. Bring a notepad with you, and write down:
- your tour guide’s name
- 1-2 funny, surprising, or enthusiastic things they say about the school
- any unusual features of the campus, like buildings, sculptures, layout, history, or traditions
Also, try to connect with students or faculty while you’re there. If you visit a class, write down which class and the professor’s name. See if you can briefly chat up a student (in the class you visit, around campus, or in the cafeteria) and ask what they like most about the school, or what has most surprised them about being there. Write down the answer! Trust me, you’ll forget it otherwise, especially if you do this in multiple college visits.
Virtual Campus Visits
If you can’t get to the campus of your target school in real life, the next best thing is an online tour either from the school’s own website, or from places like youniversitytv, campustours, or youtube (search "[school name] + tour").
You can also connect with students without visiting campus in person. Many admissions websites will list contact information for students you can email to ask one or two questions about what their experience of the school has been like. Or, if you know what department, sport, or activity you’re interested in, you can ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a student who is involved with that interest.
Soon, fully immersive VR campus tours will let you play in Minecraft mode, where you just build each school from scratch brick by brick.
Your Alumni Interview
If you have an interview, ask your interviewer questions about their experience at the school, and also about what going to that school has done for them since they graduated. As always, take notes.
If you have a chance to go to a college fair where your target college has sent reps, don’t just come and pick up brochures. Engage the reps in conversation and ask them questions about what they think makes the school unique, so you can jot down notes about any interesting details they tell you.
The College’s Own Materials
Colleges publish lots and lots of different kinds of things, any of which is useful for research. Here are some suggestions, all of which you should be able to find online.
Brochures and course catalogs. Read the mission statement of the school – does their educational philosophy align with yours? Read through college catalogs. Are there any programs, classes, departments, or activities that seem tailor-made for you in some way?
Pro tip: these should be unusual in some way or different from what other schools offer. For example, being fascinated with the English department isn’t going to cut it unless you can discuss its unusual focus, 1-2 exceptional professors, or the different way they structure the major that appeals to you specifically.
The alumni magazine. Are any professors highlighted? Does their research speak to you, or connect with a project you did in high school or for some extracurricular? Sometimes alumni magazines will highlight a college’s new focus or new expansion. Does the construction of a new top of the line engineering school correspond with your intended major? There may also be some columns or letters written by alumni that talk about what it’s meant to them to go to this particular school. What stands out about their experiences?
The campus newspaper. Students write about the hot issues of the day, which means that the articles will be about the best and worst things on campus. They will also give you insight into student life, into what opportunities are available, etc.
The college’s social media. Your target school is most likely on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media. Follow them to see what they are posting about. Exciting new campus development? Some professors in the news? Interesting events, clubs, or activities?
Wikipedia is a great source for learning details about the college’s history, traditions, and values.
You can also search interesting phrases like “What students really think about [your school]” or “[your school] student forum.” This will let you find for detail-heavy points of view, comments about specific programs or courses, and insight into student life.
Step 2: Brainstorming Topics
So what should you do now that you've done a bunch of research? Use it to develop connection points between you and your target school. These connections will be the skeleton of your essay.
Find the Gems in Your Research
You now have on hand all kinds of information, from your own personal experiences on campus, to your conversations with people affiliated with your target school, to what you learned from campus publications, to tidbits gleaned from the web.
Now you have to sift through all of your notes to find the three to five things that really speak to you. Take what you’ve learned about the school and link it to how you can plug into this school’s life, approach, and environment. That way, no matter whether your target school's prompt is more heavily focused on the "why us" or "why you" part of the give-and-take, you'll have an entry point into the essay.
What should these three to five things be? What should you keep in mind when you're looking for the gem that will become your topic? Here are some words of wisdom from Calvin Wise, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions for Johns Hopkins University:
Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you. 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). All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences.
Time to find that diamond, amethyst, opal, tourmaline, or amber in the rough.
Check Your Gems for Color and Clarity
In other words, make sure that each of your three to five found things is something that your target school has that other schools don’t.
This something should be seen from your own perspective. The point isn't to generically praise the school, but instead to go into detail about why it’s so great for you that they have this thing.
This something you find should be meaningful to the school and specific to you. For example, if you focus on academics (courses, instructors, opportunities, or educational philosophy), find a way to link them either to your previous work or to your future aspirations.
This something should not be shallow and non-specific. Want to live in a city? Every city has more than one college in it. Find a way to explain why this specific college in this specific city calls to you. Like pretty architecture? Many schools are beautiful, so dwell on why this particular place feels unlike any other. Like good weather, beach, skiing, some other geographical thing? There are many schools located near these places, and they know that people enjoy sunbathing. Either build a deeper connection or skip these as reasons.
Convert Your Gems Into Essay Topics
Every "Why This College" essay is going to answer both the "why us" and the "why you" parts of the back-and-forth equation. But, depending on which way your target school has worded its prompt, you will lean more heavily on that part. This is why I’m going to split this brainstorming up in two, to go with the “why us” and “why you” types of questions.
Of course, since they are both sides of the same coin, you can always easily flip each of these ideas around in order to have it work well for the other type of prompt. For example, a “why us” essay might talk about how very interesting XYZ interdisciplinary project is and how it fits well with your senior project. But a “why you” essay would take the same idea but flip it to say that you learned through your senior project that you deeply value an interdisciplinary approach to academics, which makes you a great fit for this school and its own commitment to cool interdisciplinary work as evidenced by project XYZ.
Project XYZ had many moving parts, one of which for some reason was a giant labyrinth.
Possible “Why Us” Topics
- How a particular program of study/internship requirement/volunteer connection will help further your specific career goals.
- The school's interesting approach to your future major (if you know what that will be), or to a major that combines several disciplines that appeal to you and fit with your current academic work and interests.
- How the school handles financial aid and the infrastructure setup for low-income students, and what that means for you in terms of opening doors.
- A story about how you became interested in the school (if you learned about it in an interesting way). Did it host a high school contest you took part it? Feature a visual or performing art that you enjoyed and that you also do?
- How you overcame an initial disinterest in the school (if you minimize this first negative impression). Did you do more research? Interact with someone on campus? Learn about the school’s commitment to the community in some way? Learn about interesting research being done there?
- A positive interaction you had with current students, faculty, or staff, as long as this is more than just "Everyone I met was really nice."
- An experience you had on the campus tour. Super passionate tour guide? Interesting information that surprised you? Did something happen to transform your idea about the school or campus life (in a good way)?
- Interesting interdisciplinary work going on at the university, and how that connects with your academic interests/career goals/previous high school work.
- The history of the school, but only if it’s meaningful to you in some way. Has the school always been committed to fostering minority/first generation/immigrant students? Was it founded by someone you admire? Did it take an unpopular, but, to you, morally correct stance at some crucial moment in history?
- An amazing professor that you can’t wait to learn from. Is there a chemistry professor whose current research meshes with a science fair project you did? A professor who’s a renowned scholar on your favorite author/genre? A professor whose book on economics finally made you understand the most recent financial crisis?
- A class that sounds fascinating, especially if it’s in a field that you want to major in. Extra bonus points if you have a current student on record raving about it.
- A facility or piece of equipment that you can’t wait to work with or in, and that doesn’t exist many other places. A specialty library that has rare medieval manuscripts? An observatory? A fleet of boats?
- A required curriculum that appeals to you because it provides a solid grounding in the classics, it shakes up the traditional canon, connects all the students on campus in one intellectual project, or is taught in a unique way.
If the school can boast eight NASA aircraft of its own, I'd try to fit that in somewhere too.
Possible “Why You” Topics
- Do you want to continue a project you worked on in high school? Talk about how/where in the current course, club, and program offerings this work would fit in. Why will you be a good addition to the team?
- Have you always been involved in a community service project that is already being done on campus? Write about integrating life on campus with events in the surrounding community.
- Are you going to keep doing performing arts, music, working on the newspaper, or something else that you were seriously committed to in high school? Discuss how excited you are to join that existing organization.
- Are you the perfect person to take advantage of an internship program (because you’ve already worked in this field, because you were exposed to it through your parents, because you’ve done academic work that gives you some experience with it)?
- Are you the ideal candidate for a study abroad opportunity (because you speak the language of the country, because it’s a place where you’ve worked or studied before, because your career goals are international in some respect)
- Are you a standout match for an undergraduate research project (because you will major in this field, because you’ve always wanted to work with this professor, because you want to pursue research as a career option)?
- Is there something you were deeply involved with that doesn’t currently exist on campus? Offer to start a club for that thing. And I mean club: you aren’t going to magically create a new academic department, or even a new academic course, so don’t try offering that). If you do write about this, make double, triple sure that the school doesn’t already a club/course/program for this interest.
- What are some of the programs and/or activities you would plan to get involved with on either campus, and what unique qualities will you bring to them?
- Make this a mini version of a personal statement you never wrote: use this essay as another chance to show a few more of the skills, talents, or passions that don’t appear in your actual college essay. What’s the runner-up interest that you didn’t write about? What opportunity, program, or offering at the school lines up with?
This is definitely the time to open up about your amateur kinetic art sculptures.
Possible Topics For a College That’s Not Your First Choice
- If you're writing about a school that you’re not completely psyched about, one way to sidestep the issue is to focus on what getting this degree will do for you in the future. How do you see yourself changing existing systems, helping others, or otherwise succeeding?
- Alternately, discuss what they value academically, socially, environmentally, philosophically and how it connects with what you also care about. A vegan, organic, and cruelty-free cafeteria? A relationship with a local farm or garden? De-emphasized fraternity involvement? Strong commitment to environmental issues? Lots of opportunities to contribute to the community surrounding the school? Active tolerance and inclusion for various minority groups?
- Try to find at least one or two things that you’re excited about for all the schools on your list. If you can’t think of a single reason why this would be a good place for you to go, maybe you shouldn’t be applying there.
Topics to Avoid
- Don’t write about the school's size, location, reputation, or the weather, unless it is the only one of its kind. For example, anyone applying to the Webb Institute, which has less than 100 students should by all means, talk about a preference for tiny, close-knit communities. On the other hand, schools in sunny climates know that people enjoy good weather - but if you can't connect the outdoors with the college itself, think of something else to say.
- Don’t talk about your sports fandom. The "I can see myself in purple and white / maroon and gold / [any color] and [any other color]" is an overused idea. After all, you could cheer for the team without going to the school. So unless you are an athlete or an aspiring mascot performer, or have a truly one of a kind story to tell about your link to the team, try a different tack.
- Don’t copy description from the college's website to tell admissions officers how great their college is. They don’t want to hear praise; they want to hear how you connect with their school. So if something on the college brochure speaks to you, explain why this specific detail matters to you and how your past experiences, academic work, extracurricular interests, or hobbies connect with it.
- Don’t use college rankings as a reason for why you want to go to a school. Of course prestige matters, but schools that are ranked right next to each other on the list are at about the same level of prestige. What makes you choose one over the other?
- If you decide to write about a future major, don’t just talk about what you want to study and why. Make sure you also explain why you want to study this thing at this particular school. What do they do differently that other colleges don’t?
- Don’t wax poetic about the school’s pretty campus. “From the moment I stepped on your campus, I knew it was the place for me” is another cliché – and another way to say basically nothing about why you actually want to go to this particular school. Lots of schools are pretty, and many are pretty in the exact same way.
Pop quiz: this pretty Gothic building is on what college campus? Yup, that's right - could be anywhere.
Step 3: Nailing the Execution
When you've put together the ideas that will make up your answer to the "why us" question, it's time to build them into a memorable essay. Here are some tips for doing that successfully:
Jump right in. The essay is short, so there's no need for an introduction or conclusion. Spend the first paragraph delving into your best one or two reasons for applying. Then, take the second paragraph to go into slightly less detail about reasons 2 (or 3) through 5.
To thine own self be true. Write in your own voice and be sincere about what you’re saying. Believe me, the reader can tell when you mean it and when you’re just blathering.
Details, details, details. Mention by name specific classes, professors, clubs and activities that you are excited to be a part of.
If you plan on attending if admitted, say so. Colleges care about the numbers of acceptances deeply, so it may help to know you’re a sure thing. But don’t write this if you don’t mean it!
Don’t cut and paste the same essay for every school. Either al least once you’ll forget to change the school name or some telling detail, or else your vague and cookie-cutter reasoning will sound bland and forgettable.
You can also check out our more general step-by-step essay-writing advice.
Cookie cutters: great for dough, terrible for college applications.
Example of a Great “Why This College” Essay
At this point, it'll be helpful to take a look at a “why us” essay that works and figure out what the author did to create a meaningful answer to this challenging question.
Here is a "Why Tufts" Essay from James Gregoire '19 for Tufts University.
It was on my official visit with the cross country team that I realized Tufts was the perfect school for me. Our topics of conversation ranged from Asian geography to efficient movement patterns, and everyone spoke enthusiastically about what they were involved in on campus. I really related with the guys I met, and I think they represent the passion that Tufts' students have. I can pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur by joining the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, pursuing an Entrepreneurial Leadership minor, and taking part in an up-and-coming computer science program.
Why Does This Essay Work?
Interaction with current students. James writes about hanging out with the cross country team and sounds excited about meeting them.
“I’m a great fit.” He uses the conversation with the cross country guys to talk about his own good fit here (“I really related with the guys I met”).
Why the school is special. James also uses the conversation as a way to show that he enjoys the variety of opportunities Tufts offers (their fun conversation covers Asian geography, movement patterns, other things they “were involved with on campus”).
Taking advantage of this specialness. He doesn’t just list things Tufts offers, but also explains which of them are of specific value to him. He’s interested in being an entrepreneur, so the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses appeal to him.
Awareness of what the school is up to. Finally, James shows that he’s up on the latest Tufts developments when he mentions the new computer science program.
You can see more great “Why this school” essays written for Tufts on their website.
The Bottom Line
- The “why this college essay” is looking for three things:
- To make sure you understand what makes their college different and special
- To make sure you will be a good fit in their college
- To make that this college will be a good fit for you
- The prompt may be phrased in one of two ways, “why us?” or “why you?”, but these are sides of the same coin and will be addressed in your essay regardless of the prompt style.
- Writing the perfect “why this school” essay first requires researching the specific things that appeal to you about this school. You can find this information by:
- Visiting campuses in person or virtually to interact with current students and faculty
- Asking questions from your college interviewer or from reps at college fairs
- The college’s own materials like their brochures and website, their alumni magazine, campus newspaper, or their social media
- Other sites on the internet
- To find a topic to write about, find the three to five things that really speak to you about the school and then link each of them yourself, your interests, your goals, and your strengths.
- Avoid writing about clichés that could be true for any school, like architecture, geography, weather, or sports fandom. Instead, focus on the details that differentiate your target school from all the others.
Are you also working on your personal statement? If you're using the Common App, check out completely breakdown of the Common App prompts and our guide to picking the best prompt for you.
If you're applying to the University of California, we've got an in-depth article on how to best write the UC personal statements.
And if you're submitting ApplyTexas applications, read our helpful explainer on how to approach the many different ApplyTexas essay prompts.
In the middle of the rest of the college application process? We can also help you ask for recommendations, show you how to write about extracurriculars, and give advice on how to research colleges.
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