Madeline Riley

The Common Application is known and feared by high school seniors across America come college application time. Each part of the Common App is scrutinized by university admissions officers, and thus important, but more than the other portions, the essays are where students can expand on their profile to make a lasting impression. It can be easy to fall into the habit of trying to please the people reading your application essays by writing what you think they want to hear, but this is a dangerous mistake.

The “Why Us?” essay prompt, ubiquitous in college admissions applications, provides opportunities for students to transcend what they think they’re supposed to say, to make a real connection with the admissions officer and the university itself. Too many applicants write generic, unconvincing essays, sometimes not bothering to personalize each one for different schools’ applications. This proves costly for those college hopefuls. It’s easy for the “Why Us?” essay to be boring, to be insincere, and to be just like everyone else’s. Follow our tips to break the mold of the “Why Us?,” exceed expectations, and impress the admissions officers with an exciting and unique essay.

Make it about you

The prompt may ask why you want to go to that specific university. This type of question can lead to students listing the programs, organizations, and facilities, which make that college terrific, but this answer will not shape the reader’s view of the writer. Every word you type should give admissions a better sense of who you are, so avoid wasting your words telling them what they already know about their school. Make your “Why Us?” essay about yourself. Don’t list the great things about the college without also explaining why they’re important to you and how you can contribute to them. It’s best to close your essay with a thought on what you want to accomplish at their school and what you’ll add to the community. This will connect you and your goals inextricably with the college and its goals.

Show you’ve done your research

While you don’t want to bore admissions with a list of programs or courses that they already know, do make sure to show that you’ve researched the college well. Be creative with the ways you integrate your research into your essay by focusing on the two or three aspects that are most important to you. Passionate about journalism? Don’t regurgitate that their program is fifth in the nation. Instead, write about how their student paper handled a presidential debate, or a student protest, or a rivalry football game and explain what that means to you. Did you have the best campus tour at this school? Write about a speaker you heard or about the conversation with a professor whose class you now want to take or talk explicitly about a professor’s research on campus and why it makes you want to go to their school.

Paint them a picture

You want the college admissions officers to finish your “Why Us?” essay and have a clear picture of you as a student on their campus. Express the honest reasons you want to make an impact at their college. The university’s ideology often matters in this endeavor; for each school, you should have differing reasons for wanting to go there and differing goals in your essay. An essay for a liberal arts college will probably be less about the school spirit expressed through athletics or the top research facilities like it might be at a Big Ten university. Focus, then, on the small school environment, the perks of small class sizes, and programs tailored exactly to your interests. In painting a picture of yourself on campus, it’s also good to write about clubs that you’ve heard about that you know you want to join. Giving them examples of where you’ll fit in on campus both academically and socially will convince them that you belong.

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