By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
You, Seniors, are busy writing college essays, and many of you are realizing that there is one beast in the mix that you have no choice but to face down: the perennial evil question, “Why are you applying to our school?”
Many colleges ask this application question, and rightly so. It really lets them know who has done their homework and who really belongs on their campus. But what’s a kid to do? Where to start? What to say that would possibly woo them into loving you back? Have no fear, young Jedi. With just a few parameters, you can tackle this beast successfully and get back to being a Senior (WooHoo!).
So what do the colleges want to know? I always tell my students: programs, professors, classes, and clubs. Your goal is facts, which in this essay means NAMES. Go on the website and research the school like it is your job. If you want to get in, it is. More importantly, if you want to end up at the right school, you really want to do this research anyway. In fact, ideally, you want to do this research before you finalize your college list. While you are researching the pros and cons of a college on your list, TAKE NOTES. Write down the things you love and list them by their full names, spelled correctly. Then, take these notes and use them to write your college applications. Use the handy CollegeMapper worksheet for this.
It is always amazing to me that when kids are doing this research they inadvertently cut a few schools from their list because the deeper they dig on the website the better they come to understand that certain schools aren’t good fits; similarly, they also fall even more in love with some schools because they realize that the school is, in fact, perfect for their educational goals. Make no mistake about it, if you can’t articulate convincingly why you absolutely need to pursue your studies at a school, and why no other school will do, then that school is not a place where you absolutely need to be. For schools with few spots, only the students who absolutely need to be there should be allowed in.
Here is a basic guide for how you can write this essay with panache and persuasion, and remember, for all of these you need to be citing NAMES as facts:
Does this college offer your major? If not, move on. State the name of your major clearly, and then research all of the neat things you can do to get involved with your major at college. I would avoid talking about rankings because those are so flawed anyway and you don’t want to seem like someone who is only applying because of the name. Get excited about the achievements of the Department your major is in. If you don’t know your major, discuss what you are likely to major in. This is not a binding decision, but it is better for them and you to have some idea of where you may be headed once you get in. I think knowing your major before you apply is the strongest argument for why you need certain resources, but understandably, not everyone can know this.
Research and discover cool programs on campus that sound intriguing to you. These might be in your major, like independent research or study abroad. It might be a contest on campus or student publication.
See who is teaching in your intended department and read up on their interests and achievements. This takes time, but you can get really excited when you find some people who share your interests. You can state right in your essays that you would like to study with Dr. So-and-So because his groundbreaking research on earthworms is still keeping you up at night with glee, etc.
Look at the classes offered in your department and pick a few that really excite you. Talk in your application about why you would like to take these classes and what you would hope to learn from them. State the classes by name, but no need to use the numbers, that’s dull.
Colleges pride themselves on their club offerings and they want to enroll students who will be active on campus, so scan through the offerings and pick out a few that you would love to join. Then in your application say why these appeal to you.
Perhaps your intended college has a really cool library that appeals to you, or a state of the art anti-gravity simulator that you would love the chance to work with. Maybe the school has an amazing telescope or fleet of boats…the list goes on. Research what your college has to offer and get excited about the opportunities these cool facilities present.
Your college will have fun traditions, so get to know a few and let your excitement about participating in the show. Maybe it’s kissing a frog before finals or painting a giant rock on campus, or jumping into a small scenic pond in all types of weather, but whatever the tradition, you are sure to have fun when you join the inner circle on your campus of those in the know.
8. Local Opportunities
Maybe your college is near a particular hospital, body of water, corporation, theater, or school district where you would like to be able to go to do research. Be sure to say this in your application because that is an important point in your education and your excitement about having access to that opportunity is something your college should certainly be aware of.
These are the sorts of facts that make a campus perfect for you. You can mention the weather briefly, or the fact that you have family nearby, and by all means, if you have a health condition that warrants a certain location, you should tell them about that. If you’ve been talking to the coach, mention that, but focus on what the school offers beyond sports, too. If the school cares about legacy, then telling them that 22 members of your immediate family are alumni will be important. I would refrain from the mention of your child falling in love with a place or the beautiful campus. Instead, focus on facts and get excited about all of the amazing things you can do when you get there!
Remember, for more information about writing the “Why Our College” essay check out our handy handout on CollegeMapper.