3 Tips to Make Your “Why This College” Essay Shine

August 12, 2021
By AdmissionSight

3 Tips to Make Your “Why This College” Essay Shine

Although every university has a unique set of essays applicants must complete as part of the application process, there are more similarities than differences. If you end up applying to more than one college (which you should!), you’ll notice some commonalities between the questions and overlapping themes.

One of the most common essays prompts in the college admissions world is the “why this college?” essay. As the title suggests, these questions are simply asking why students chose this particular university out of literally thousands of other options. While it might seem like a pretty simple question to answer, that’s where many students get it wrong.

A man doing a list on his notebook.

You see, it’s the deceptive simplicity of the question that gets many applicants off on the wrong foot. Whether you’re applying to Dartmouth, Columbia, another Ivy League school, or any other university for that matter, there are two different types of motivation pushing you to attend.

One set of factors is entirely external and objective. This includes the prestige of the school, its traditions, its impressive alumni, and other measurable and obvious factors. The second type of motivation is more personal. It’s what attracts you to the school. Although these are more subjective components, they make for a more unique and interesting response.

At AdmissionSight, we’re well-versed in the common college essay topics. To help give you an advantage when filling out your application, we’ll take a look at some tips you can use for mastering the “Why this College?” essay.

Why the “why this college?” essay matters

Why are you interested in this college sample essay? Well, because it plays a major part in determining whether or not you get into the college to which you’re applying. College essays are an integral part of the college admissions process.

Admissions officers read each answer carefully and diligently to determine whether or not the applicant is a good fit for the university. You should care even more about the “why this college?” essay because it speaks directly to your motivation for applying. This is your chance to tell admissions staff why you should get accepted into the university.

A female student in the library writing on her notebook

Keep in mind that cliche and generic answers aren’t going to get you far. In fact, they’re going to work against you. Everyone knows that the university to which you’re applying offers great educational opportunities. It’s well-understood that it has excellent professors and interesting course offerings.

None of this information is unique to you, which makes admissions officers think you either don’t know much about the university or haven’t done little to any research. Either way, broad answers to this question are only going to make your essay more forgettable and, as a result, your overall application will have a tough time standing out.

Before we dive into the “Why This College?” essay guide, we want to drive home the importance of this essay. It’s an opportunity for you to describe in detail why you – and specifically you – want to attend the university.

This is a chance to show admissions staff how passionate you are to receive a degree from the college. If you’re able to successfully express this desire through you’re essay, you can increase your chances of getting accepted. While your response to the “Why This College?” essay clearly isn’t going to make your college application, a bad answer can definitely break it.

Writing a Stellar “Why This College?” Essay + Examples

Let’s take a look at some tips for how to write a perfect “Why This College” essay. Here’s a quick rundown before we get into the meat and bones of the issue:

  • Start off by making a list of reasons you wanted to apply to the university in the first place.
  • Next, take some time to research various offerings at the university within your subject along with extracurricular activities you’d be interested in
  • From the total number of intriguing opportunities, you could find, pick your top academic and non-academic reasons for applying.

Now, let’s dive a little bit deeper so you can feel well-equipped to answer the famous “why this college” essay confidently and successfully.

1. Create a list of reasons you wanted to apply.

When you were first choosing places to apply for college, there’s a good chance you weren’t just doing it at random. There was some thought process behind the universities you decided to invest time and money into sending applications. As a result, it’s a good idea to start off by answering this essay by refreshing your memory on what motivated you to apply in the first place. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What attracted me to this college in the beginning?
  • What kind of characteristics am I searching for in a university in general? Does this school meet those criteria?

Your responses to these questions will most likely overlap in many spots. This is a great sign as it means your decision to apply to this university was well-founded in relation to what you want in a college.

Although some of your motivations might be more general, some common factors include a world-renowned department within your area of interest, the size of the school, its location, its financial aid, its student culture, and more.

Since many of these reasons aren’t specific to one school (i.e. they exist in many universities), they’re not detailed enough to be used in a “why this college” essay. However, making this list can still help you determine which characteristics of the university you should research in greater depth.

2. Find unique offerings within your field of interest.

Now that you know which aspects of the university are the most attractive to you, it’s time to get some specifics you can use in your essay. Admittedly, many students learn the most about a school after deciding to apply there.

While this isn’t necessarily a negative thing, you certainly want to correct this before writing your “why this college” essay. We strongly advise all applicants to start their research at the official website of the university to which they’re applying. There’s a plethora of information on these sites regarding departments, majors, specific classes, extracurricular activities, clubs, sports programs, and much more.

A woman looking at a paper using both of her hands.

If you’re looking for specific information about a particular course, you can browse the professor’s website. Typically, these instructors will offer more detailed descriptions of the course, materials, subjects, and other specifics than you can find on the school’s general website.

When researching clubs or extracurriculars, you might want to check to see if they have their own websites or social media profiles. Feel free to contact professors or club leaders to ask specific questions. The more details you get, the more ammunition you have to nail your “why this college” essay.

3. Select the top academic and extracurricular reasons you’re applying.

After you’ve conducted sufficient research about the academic and extracurricular opportunities that intrigue you the most at the university you’re applying to, you should have a long list of offerings. Now, you have to spend time boiling this list down to the most enticing reasons. With a limited number of words for your response, you won’t have enough room to talk about all of your motivations. Furthermore, listing a bunch of reasons without going into any detail can make it look like you haven’t given the answer much thought.

A female student glancing back while walking and going in for her class.

Referencing fewer motivations with greater detail is always the way to go when answering the common “why this college” essay. We typically recommend students choose around two or three extracurricular motivations and two or three academic motivations for attending the university.

You’ll obviously be limited by the essay’s word count, but these numbers are a good rule of thumb. Make sure you mention more academic reasons for wanting to apply than extracurricular reasons. This will make you come across as more serious academically.

Don’t forget that you’re not only describing the specific offerings that make you want to attend the university. You also need to provide an explanation for how these offerings are going to help you achieve your short and long-term goals at college and beyond.

Without this personal aspect, you’re not offering admissions officers much that can easily differentiate you from other candidates. Make sure you leave sufficient room in your response to go into detail about how these specific offerings align with your goals.

Although we stressed the importance of mentioning academic offerings because that’s the main thrust of attending the university, this doesn’t mean you should ignore extracurriculars altogether. Just the opposite, in fact.

You’ll need to spend a decent amount of time and energy explaining why some non-academic offerings at the school are also in line with your ideal college experience. Admissions officers want to see applicants that are well-rounded with interests and contributions both inside and outside the classroom.

“Why This College” Essay Response Examples

Now that you’ve got some tips for answering this college essay, it’s time to look at some real-life examples. This can give you a good idea about what your final response should look like along with how other students have decided to tackle the question.

Essay Example One

Prompt: In no more than 250 words, please tell us why BU is a good fit for you and what

specifically has led you to apply for admission.

“Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) attracts me because of its support of interdisciplinary study among its wide array of majors. In fact, the CAS now offers a course that combines biology, chemistry, and neuroscience. As I hope to conduct medical research into brain disorders, I plan to pursue all three areas of study. These cross-disciplinary connections at BU will prepare me to do so.

CAS’s undergraduate research program would allow me to work with a mentor, such as Dr. Alice Cronin-Golomb or Dr. Robert M.G. Reinhart related to their research on neurological disorders. With them, I can advance the work I have already completed related to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In a summer class at our local university, my partner and I extracted data from fMRI and PET studies and inputted them into a coding program. We then created an indicator map, which we imported into another software program, AFNI, to display significant activity in the brain regions affected by DID.

Seeing the representation of our data thrilled me because I knew it could eventually help people who live with DID. I want to experience that feeling again. Successfully analyzing these fMRI and PET studies and learning to code drives me to pursue more research opportunities, and this desire motivates me to study at a university that offers research opportunities to undergraduates. BU’s interdisciplinary approach to psychology and support for independent undergraduate research will optimally prepare me for a career as a neurological researcher.”

Essay Example Two

Prompt: Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into their academic interests, discover new realms of intellectual inquiry, and chart their own path through the College. Tell us why the depth, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum are ideally suited to exploring the areas of study that excite you.

“Whenever I have time on my hands, I hook myself up to my EEG and analyze my brain waves. Or if I am feeling slightly less adventurous, I am reading about the latest neuroscience trends in ScienceDirect or NCBI PubMed. I want to spend my life studying, understanding, and helping to fix the human brain.

I bought my EEG online two years ago for about $150 and have used it to compare the beneficial effects of both circadian and non-circadian sleep on the brain by analyzing the number of clear peaks in a 3-minute interval of a theta wave. But just counting the peaks is not the best way to measure the benefits. I look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of neurophysiology (as well as working with better equipment) in courses like Principles of Neurophysiology. As someone who has long been passionate about neurotechnology, the fact that Cornell is unique in offering classes devoted specifically to the field is very important to me.

I would also like to be able to contribute my experiences with neurotechnology to support the cutting-edge research in Cornell’s brand new NeuroNex Hub. I would love to work with Dr. Chris Xu in expanding the current three-photon microscope to be applied on various animal models. I also look forward to helping Dr. Chris Schaffer, whose research on deep neural activity is not being done anywhere else in the world. I freak out at the possibility of helping him develop a tool to look at multiple brain areas at the same time.

Though I have long aspired to study at Cornell, when I visited and sat in on Neurobiology and Behavior II, it made me all the more determined. I found Professor Christiane Linster’s presentation on synaptic plasticity absolutely riveting. Her animations of neurotransmitters crossing a synapse and new synapses forming in neuron clusters kept her students engaged in a way I have not seen in any other classrooms. I want to go to Cornell because of teachers like her.”

Breaking It Down

These responses to the “why this college” essay was detailed and personal. The applicants gave specific offerings from the university, why they’re intriguing to them, and how these opportunities would help advance their personal and academic goals. Specific programs, professor names, and other details were mentioned. As you can see, a successful “why this college” essay response doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. It provides admissions officers with clear reasoning for why the applicant has decided to attend the school. There aren’t any cliche or generic responses.

A person holding a pencil and reading a book

As you can see, each of these responses to the “why this college” essay was detailed and personal. The applicants gave specific offerings from the university, why they’re intriguing to them, and how these opportunities would help advance their personal and academic goals. Specific programs, professor names, and other details were mentioned. As you can see, a successful “why this college” essay response doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. It provides admissions officers with clear reasoning for why the applicant has decided to attend the school. There aren’t any cliche or generic responses.

Need help getting into top-tier colleges?

AdmissionSight is a leading college admissions specialist with over a decade of experience helping students just like you gain admittance to some of the country’s best universities. Some of the personalized services we offer include:

  • Editing services to help you nail your college essays.
  • Interview preparation so you know exactly what to say during an admission interview.
  • The summer program helps so you can find a meaningful and exciting way to excel in your desired field.
  • And much, much more.

Feel free to contact us to learn more about what we offer.


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