by Whitney Enwemeka

When you apply to college, most schools will ask for your:

  • Transcript
  • Test Scores
  • Personal Statement
  • Resume

Some colleges will also require an extra essay on why you would like to attend their school or, as many college counselors say, a “why us?” essay. In asking this question, admission officers are trying to determine how much research you’ve done on their school, if you’re truly excited about attending their college, what you would contribute to their campus, and ultimately, if you would attend if offered admission. Schools want to know if they’re your #1 top choice or if they’re just another school on your list. They want to know who you are and if you two are the perfect fit to accomplish your goals.

When thinking about the best way to approach these essays, consider the following tips:

1. Make a list of what you want in a college
Maybe this is your first time seriously thinking about what resources and support you’ll need to achieve your goals, and that’s okay. Sometimes students are focused on where their friends are applying and other outside influences and lose sight of their own needs and wants. Remember, you will be at X university for the next several years, and it’s important to think about what you want to get out of your college experience.

When you envision yourself in college, what are some things that come to mind? You should consider if studying a particular major(s) is important to you. Do you see yourself working as a research assistant in a lab with a professor and other students? Do you want to join certain clubs and organizations? Is completing an internship essential for your college journey? Do you care if your college is located in a big city or a small town? Don’t feel limited to these questions, but this is a good place to start.

2. Understand what you bring to the table
Many students feel that the ball is in the university’s court when they submit their college applications. To a certain extent, that is true, but if you’re able to articulate your strengths and what value you would bring to their campus, it creates a more level playing field. Pretend that you’re an admissions counselor for a second. How would you try to determine if you should admit a student to your university? How would you predict future success in a person? As a former admissions counselor, I would say it’s by evaluating their past success and experiences.

So, what do YOU bring to the table? What can you offer the university? What opportunities have you taken advantage of at your school or elsewhere? Admissions committees want to know what you’ve done in the past few years to support your candidacy for college acceptance. They want specific, supporting evidence that tells them why you would be a good fit for their university. You wouldn’t want to say that you want to attend X college because you “feel” that you would really like it there. How do you know this? What are the facts? For example, if you’re applying as a STEM major, you might want to talk about what you’ve enjoyed learning in your math classes, what insight you gained from shadowing a doctor over the summer, or how you’re a member of the Robotics Club. Universities want to understand what type of student you are and who you’ll be on their campus. It’s important to help them visualize you as a part of their community.

3. Research! Research! Research!
Now that you know what you want in a college and what value you’ll add, it’s time to do some research and see if the two of you are the right fit for each other. It’s important to go on the university’s website to become familiar with their research opportunities, major choices, academic support, extra-curricular activities, campus life, professional development and internships, study abroad options, alumni network, etc. In addition to researching the university’s website, it’s a good idea to schedule a campus visit, explore their student blog, and to contact the admissions team to answer any specific questions that you might have.

You might be surprised to realize that some of the schools on your college list don’t align with your short-term and long-term goals. Case in point: I worked with a student whose dream school had been Brown University for years. She ended up not applying because it turned out that they didn’t have the major that she wanted. If the school aligns with what you’re looking for in a college, write about their unique features and opportunities that you would like to take advantage of if offered admission.

In short, a well written “why us?” essay will clearly answer why you and the university are a perfect fit for each other. It should express that you’ve given the essay prompt some thought and were intentional about your response. Always lean towards providing the admissions committee with specific (not generic!) supporting evidence as to why they should pick you in comparison to other applicants. Your essay should be so tailored to their school that they should know that you’re talking about them, and not another university.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to present a strong application that will help you stand out amongst the crowd. Good luck!