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The Why College Essay

by Will Geiger, on Jun 24, 2019 12:00:00 PM

I put my coffee cup on my desk and sat down.

I was on a roll. This was on my sixth essay of the day. As an admissions officer, some days of reading applications are easier than others. Today was going well.

My eyes scanned my laptop screen and I went through the application. When I got to the essay section, I read:

“I have wanted to attend Davidosn College ever since I….”

And then stopped.

Davidosn College? I thought. I assumed they meant DAVIDSON, but ugh.

Now, Davidson is a very fine college. However, I was not an admissions officer at Davidson College. This student clearly just hit “control” and “F” on their computer and swapped out references of Davidson College. Unfortunately, this does not work if “Davidson” is not spelled correctly. I continued to read the essay, which was fine, but not terribly specific and could have worked for just about any liberal arts college.

Sure, this mistake is a pretty obvious “no-no” in the “why college” essay. However, how can you make your “why college” essay great? In this post, we are going to discuss three strategies that will allow your essay to stand out:

1. Start with your own traits and experiences

For all of these college applications and essays, you are the common denominator. Don’t forget that even the “why college” is about you. It is easy to talk about why a college is great, but why is it great for you? Make connections between your experiences in high school and connect the dots. Maybe a recent lab project in science got you really excited about doing lab research in college--tell that story!

2. Focus on depth, not breadth

Your “why college” supplement is not a Buzzfeed article listing the 20 reasons why you want to attend the college. Instead, focus on fewer reasons and expand upon them to show that you have thought about them in a meaningful way. For instance, if you are really excited about volunteering, talk about the specific opportunities you are interested and why you are interested in them. For instance, one memorable essay from my time in college admissions discussed the student’s passion for education and interest in volunteering in a rural setting. They want on to discuss how excited they were to volunteer in the local elementary school (our college town was in a very rural place) and how they hoped to apply for a research grant to investigate rural education more extensively. This was really neat because this student hailed from an urban area. Spend some time thinking about the “why” and remember that less is more.

3. Avoid the “Mad Libs” approach

My biggest issue with the essay I talked about at the beginning of this post was not even the typo or the reference to “Davidson College.” My biggest issue was that it was such a generic essay. During my time in admissions, many “why college” essays could have worked for most colleges. Most used something that I call the “Mad Libs” approach. Remember Mad Libs? The game where you could fill in the blank with any noun, adjective, etc.? Students do this in their admissions essays with classes, professors, buildings, and sports teams. This is why we would suggest writing unique essays for each college you are applying to. That approach helps you resist the urge to use the same essay while swapping in different details.

Supplemental essays, including the “why college” essay, are so important in the admissions process and should be given as much (if not more) attention than your personal statement. Check out our StoryBuilder tool to get jump started on all of your admissions and scholarship essays!

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Topics:college admissions


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