Tell Me Why: How to Write WHY College Essays in 5 Essential Steps

You’ve finished your Common Application Essay. You feel as if you’ve arrived at the top of Mount Everest; it’s time for a break. Not so fast….

Many colleges and universities require students to write supplemental, college-specific essays. These essays range from the quirky, like the University of Chicago’s question:

Alice falls down the rabbit hole….Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal,” 

to the seemingly mundane “Why Us?” 

These quirky essays, which must be approached from both a creative and pragmatic perspective, seem overwhelming at first, but give students a chance to tell more of their story. Moreover, the seemingly simpler “Why” essays require the same creativity, but can often take a more formulaic approach. 

The most effective “Why Us?” essays add context to a student’s personality, in addition to demonstrating a sincere and well-thought out interest in a college or university. Research and preparation are key to writing essays that shine, so do not wait until the last minute. 

Here are five essential steps to writing an effective “Why Us?” college essay:

  1. Write a mission statement and compare it to colleges’/universities’ mission statements. If a student writes his/her/their mission statement, he/she/they will have a clear sense of his/her/their goals. The student can subsequently compare his/her/their mission statement to that of any given school. A college/university’s mission statement typically encapsulates the core values and priorities of the school. When a student is looking at a school, he/she/they must have a strong sense regarding what the school is offering and how they fit into this landscape. Consider New York University’s mission, which states that the university thrives “to be a top quality international center of scholarship, teaching, and research.” The school’s mission statement indicates a global interconnectivity. Students applying to New York University must consider whether their missions align with that of New York University and tie this into why they would want to attend this school. 
  1. Research. Colleges/universities want to see that students have invested in getting to know them. Visit campuses and take notes, if possible. Research classes, professors, and campus organizations that interest you. Compile a list of what you like and how it fits into your story. How will these classes and organizations help you to achieve your goals? How will you be able to work with these professors to support your goals? 
  1. Be specific. The admissions committee knows that you are interested in their school simply because you’re applying. Now explain why an urban/suburban/rural campus with a maximum student to faculty ratio of 12:1/35:1 is a good fit for your learning style. Do you thrive in large lectures, enjoy smaller, more conversational classroom environments, or are you more of an experiential learner? Are you attracted to the diversity of certain communities or are you looking to spend four years with more like-minded students? 
  1. Describe ways in which the student will be an impactful contributor to the community. It’s not only about what the college/university can do for students. Colleges/universities want students on their campuses who will be meaningful contributors to their campus community as well as surrounding communities. Will the student help to tutor at a local school in the community? Will the student volunteer at the local fire department? Will the student host a podcast at the student media center? Will the student apply to work in the admissions office, school library, or at a local store? How will the student get involved to make a difference within the college/university community and surrounding communities?
  1. Tie in the student’s personality. Colleges/universities want to get to know you. What didn’t a student discuss in the Common Application Essay that provides additional insight into the student’s personality and goals? Wherever appropriate, weave in information that will add color and context to school-specific goals and interests.

Remember, some schools will say that a supplemental essay is optional. If students are seriously interested in attending a school, the supplemental essays are not optional. They demonstrate interest, provide color to applications, and give additional information that could move a student from the “maybe” to the “yes” pile. 

For more information about writing supplemental essays and for support with the Common Application Essay or any part of the college application process, contact GAMECHANGER PREP to connect to one of our exceptional, seasoned college advising and essay specialists. 


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