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Why This College Essay Guide (With Example)

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

The main purpose of the "why this college" supplemental essay is to show the admissions officer why you are a good fit for their college. This essay is one of the most frequently asked essays and is used by many colleges ranging from NYU to the University of Michigan.

In this guide, you will learn how to write a successful "why this college?" essay for all of the colleges on your list. Specifically, we will be discussing:

  1. How to write a successful "why this college?" essay
  2. Example "why this college?" essay with expert analysis 

Let's get started!

How to write a successful "why this college?" essay

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. Create your free Story2 account to get jump-started on all of your admissions and scholarship essays.

Example "why this college?" essay

Drexel University Supplemental Essay Example

The following essay was written by a Story2 student named Claudia who was applying to Drexel University. The specific prompt that Claudia responded to was:

Please write a short essay describing why you are interested in pursuing your major of choice at Drexel University's Westphal College. What have you done that prepares you to study in your major of choice?

The Hong Kong traffic never used to bother me at night - in fact, it was my lullaby. I loved the feeling of my ears popping in elevators as I zoomed past the sixtieth floor of a skyscraper. As a child, I thought architecture was all about creating the tallest buildings and adding to the urban lifestyle. 

As I walked through the echoey hallways of the Victoria and Albert Museum in England last year, my understanding of architecture began to change. In the grassy courtyard in the middle of the museum, people were sipping coffee and laughing with friends on picnic blankets. The museum's open design created a sincere platform for interaction, rather than an elitist showcase where visitors are only spectators; it encouraged intimate yet casual interaction between humans, art, and nature. 

For my final Architecture project in high school last year, I wanted to bring nature and intimacy to a public space, like the V&A does. As I stood by the raised communal work table in my studio, I redesigned a car-park in downtown Boston into three main parts: An animal hospital, an animal shelter, and an adoption center. I made large glass windows to reduce the use of energy and provide natural light. I dug up the skin of the cardboard to create a courtyard in the center to serve as an open area for humans, animals and nature to come together.

The USC summer program I attended changed the way I approach architecture. After focusing on the fundamentals and learning how to maximize spaces through photographic studies and computer programs, I explored how unnatural shapes can connect to create structures that resemble organic forms. Now, instead of creating complex designs from the first draft, I work with fundamental shapes first and incorporate more innovative ideas as I go along. A theme that I have developed in my work is connecting basic shapes into new orientations, to encourage people to think of familiar things in a new way. 

Drexel's architecture program would support my passions for sustainability and ethics in design. After reading an interview in Philadelphia Architecture + Design with Professor D.S. Nicholas and learning about her flexible cross-disciplinary design research studies regarding issues like healthcare and agriculture, I am eager to learn about design research in wearables and sustainability. I am also excited about Drexel’s study abroad program, especially after learning that the destinations in the past have included not only European countries, but also Asian countries. As an international student, Drexel's emphasis on expanding students' global perspectives is an important factor to me. 

Drexel Architecture’s 2+4 Option also appeals to me because I would love to gain as much work experience as I can as a student. I anticipate diving into architecture and learning about how it works in the real world. Through the 2+4 Option, I hope to build connections with studios and firms, and to join the global architecture conversation.

Expert Analysis

  • Note how masterfully Claudia's essay makes use of small Moments to reveal how her understanding of design has grown more sophisticated over the years: her anecdote about skyscrapers in Hong Kong, her story about the Victoria and Albert Museum in England, and her description of her final project and time at USC form an arc that reveals growth and development in her chosen field. She is clearly someone who is intellectually curious, able to challenge previously-held ideas, and think of everyday things in new ways, which are essential qualities in a field like architecture. 
  • As Claudia moves readers along this arc, she does so in a way that leaves little doubt about her technical abilities: her word choice shows she can "talk the talk," and the nature of her experiences shows that she can "walk the walk." From her description of her car-park redesign, her reference to the challenge of modeling organic forms on the computer, and her clear engagement with contemporary architectural literature, Claudia successfully communicates her seriousness about this field and builds a bridge between her past experiences and future potential. One can easily imagine her looking quite at home in a Westphal College architecture studio. 
  • Claudia has clearly done her research into Drexel and the Architecture program at Westphal. Sometimes references to professors in a particular program sound like forced "name-dropping;' Claudia avoids this by masterfully connecting an article she read about a professor to her own interest in sustainable, ethical design and cross-disciplinary research. She also deftly weaves in what must have been extensive research into Drexel's study abroad program, taking the time to mention the countries that Drexel students have gone to in the past. Finally, her reference to the "2+4 Option" at Drexel reinforces her seriousness about doing this major at this particular school. 
  • It's impossible to read this essay and think that Claudia isn't serious about this major at this school. It is clear that she will make thoughtful contributions to her community of peers in college and beyond!
Topics:college admission