So many of you are working away at your Supplement Essays or “writing” section of the Questions on the Common App™ under your schools on your dashboard. One particular supplement essay or writing response entails describing why you chose a particular school, and what exactly you plan to do while there. This essay has been presented in a variety of ways over the years, with slightly different paraphrases of the prompt. Many consultants refer to it as the “Why Us,” essay. It is challenge for many to answer this question, just as it is a challenge for consultants to blog about it.
Why? Well, no one wants to make this a formulaic or simple matter, as no college wants this question to be answered as a routine. This question is meant to provoke a bit of thought on the part of the applicant about the intended school. Now, you might have several of these types of essays to write with word limits from 150 to 600! Yes, some schools want a very full and complete statement, whereas others want you to capture the essence and highlight what you have come to see and expect succinctly.
How do you best approach this assignment without sounding repetitive? Well, I have some suggestions. I have always enjoyed working on this assignment with clients, for it truly does give me the opportunity to learn more specifically about what a student is driven by, and what his or her hopes are for college studies. It gives the students the opportunity to truly research and understand the school from its own perspective. In short, you get to feel as if you are already a student there for a mere moment.
You do need to do research about the school; there is no easy or short way to cut through this process. You must really look at your intended school with a critical eye. Notice what the lifestyle on campus is like, and can you see yourself participating in this school’s most prized and treasured traditions? What are the traditions, can you name them? Do you know if the school has specific traditions that make you feel instantly as one of the student body? What do you know about daily life as a student there? These are some questions you need to start to research on the school’s website or during your own campus visits. Learn about the society you want to join and see if you share a similar passion and interest.
Then you really do need to look at the academic programs and think about your own goals. Do you have specific interests in study? Is there a specific program that caters to your passion? Are you unsure of what specifically you want to study, but do want many options before your settle on a major? What kind of expectations are there for you as a student, in terms of classes? Are you expected to contribute right out of the starting gate and share what your perspective is? Does the school have an Honor Code, and are you prepared to agree to it, and abide by it? What kinds of study programs interest you—experiential, purely academic, or combinations of both? What kinds of opportunities for research or foreign study are you seeking? Does the school meet your expectations, in terms of drawing from specific kinds of experts and lecturers? Think about how you want to learn and what you want to learn. Then consider what the school is offering you, and how do you feel about the type of education you might receive while attending. These four years ahead are entirely up to you taking advantage of what you are being offered. So seriously look at what is offered.
Opportunities outside of class and campus, these are often either looked at first or completely ignored by many when doing research about a college. Internships, campus sharing, study abroad, coop programs, actual work/study, research semesters, etc. Many schools offer unique programs outside of the traditional learning that do, indeed, make them stand out as far as learning is concerned. A great variety of colleges offer study abroad, but it is not the offering, it is how that program is set up, and who you will be studying with, etc. Some programs are in conjunction with other schools, some are specific to their own students. Do you want to get the change to broaden your experiences away from school? Do you want a more inclusive and supportive group, comfortable enough to explore and rely on? All of these options are something that you need to examine in relation to your desires and needs.
And finally there is the fun! What do you like to do for fun in terms of school….are you a huge sports enthusiast and want to attend big time NCAA games and so forth? This certainly determines college choices. Do you want to play intramural sports or participate in a community that is driven by service? Tulane is among many universities that have programs that all are required to participate, in Tulane’s, students are required to contribute to the city of New Orleans and learn about the culture that houses their university in a hands-on way. What do you want to do with your time away from studies that is meaningful to you?
Do spend time exploring the schools you want to go to, and when you are ready to write, imagine having a conversation about what you thought was appeal and why. Remember to mention not just what you WANT from your college years there, but also what you will CONTRIBUTE to the college to leave your mark on its community. You are bringing something to the school, what is your gift or contribution that will enhance that atmosphere you just spent some time researching.
So people see an immediate fit when then visit a school, if this was what happened to you, talk to your computer while you write. Have a conversation, this way the writing will be the most genuine it can be from your perspective. Now, I strongly urge you to get several reviews of this essay as well as your resume and personal statement. Sometimes your comments are great, but your grammar is not. Also, for some reason, I have noted this over the years, teens often are attracted to writing in the passive voice; please try not to fall into this habit. If you need a review, you can always contact me! Also, I have always found the best reviewers are not necessarily teachers at school, but people who work in the world. A trusted adult, someone who has a good grasp of language, is always a great resource, and if you ask, I am sure, would be more than happy to take a read through.
Good luck with these interesting and challenging essays! You will learn a great deal.