College Admissions

The “Why Us” Essay

By Tonya DuBois

You JUST finished your application and your personal statement, and come to learn that there is a supplemental essay – AUGH! It’s the infamous “why us” essay, right? This one is a little time consuming because you genuinely need to personalize it for each college. Here are some tips to make writing it a little easier:

1. Before you even begin, make a list of all the things you remember liking about this school.

2. Do lots of research on those features you liked and figure out how to make them more specific. What is unique about the school that appeals to you? Is there a specific professor doing really cool research that interests you? Maybe a brand-new program that they are trying to build?

3. Be VERY specific. Pick a class from their course catalog that you’d love to take, or name a specific activity in which you’d like to participate. Mention a program that they have that you haven’t found anywhere else, or a really neat piece of state-of-the-art equipment that you might get to work with there.

4. Consider referring to the school’s history, mission, or core values. If there is something unique that really fits your own upbringing, values, or beliefs, it is worth mentioning.

5. Talk about the differences, not the similarities. Location, size, weather, study abroad programs, exciting sports culture – these things apply to hundreds of schools.

6. Mention that moment when you first realized this college was perfect to you. What sparked that aha moment? Tell a good story and show off your writing style. (But try to stay away from the “I just got that feeling” – that doesn’t provide enough substance.)

7. If you experienced a special moment during your campus visit, talk about it. If it was an encounter with a specific tour guide or professor, mention him or her by name.

8. Bring it back around to you. The admission officers already know their school is awesome. What they don’t know is why YOU are awesome for THEM. If you said you couldn’t wait to take a class in bonsai plants, explain that you’ve been nurturing a bonsai garden since 7th grade. They want to know how you are going to contribute to their school. It’s really more about “why you” than “why us” – it always has to come back around to YOU.

One parting thought…every time you meet a college admission officer – at the campus visit or when they visit your high school or at a virtual information session – always ask them what they feel the differentiating factor is about their school. “I’m drawn to small to medium-sized suburban liberal arts colleges in the northeast. When I go to visit, I hear many of the same things – small class sizes, opportunities for undergraduate research, study abroad programs, etc – what make your college different from every other small to medium-sized liberal arts school?” Ask tour guides and random students you meet this same question. Keep a notebook and write down what they say. This will help you when it comes time for the “Why Us” essay.

Happy writing!