How to Write a "Why Us" Essay (Part 3 of 3)
All the Resources You Need to Learn About a Particular School
1. Google – Obvious, but true. Search interesting phrases like “What students really think about LMU” or “Grinnell students' forum.” Find students’ perspective. What do alumni say? You’re collecting quotations, ideas and phrases. Don’t be afraid to quote, borrow and re-phrase.
2. Fiske Guide Online – It's long been one of the best resources for info about schools. It’s online, it’s searchable, and it’s worth the $20.
3. Unigo.com – Read real student reviews. They’re great because they’re by actual students who aren’t worried what the school thinks of what they say. (Official publications don’t want to say anything too bad about a school, so most schools seem great.) Go to the Unigo section that asks “What’s the stereotype of the students at your school?” and “Is the stereotype true?” If ten students in a row say the school is “intellectual, Jewish, white,” chances are there’s some truth to it.
TIP: If the “stereotype” comments contradict one another (one student says “hippie school,” another says “nerdy,” and another says “jocks and fratboys,” that could be a sign that it’s actually a pretty diverse school).
4. Books – Remember books? The paper kind? Though much of the info is online, there are still a few good books with good info (available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com):
- The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2013: Students on Campus Tell You What You Really Want to Know
- Colleges That Change Lives (Loren Pope)
- The Best 377 Colleges (Princeton Review)
5. Real and virtual tours – The single best way to get to know a school is to go there. If you can, do it.
If you can’t visit the school in person, go here:
- youniversitytv.com - Tons of online tours.
- campustours.com - More online tours.
- youtube.com - Even more. Type in the name of the school and “online tour.”
TIP: Take at least five online tours (it’ll take you about 30 minutes) so you can compare schools.
And here’s the best/most important step…but before you do it you have to have particular questions in mind:
6. Contact the admissions office and, if possible, talk to your local rep – Most colleges have particular reps for particular regions of the country (and the world). And you can talk to them. And they're really nice!
Three reasons why talking to your admissions rep is a good idea:
a.) It shows them you’re really interested in the school AND willing to do your homework. You’ll be able to write “when I spoke to so-and-so in the Admissions Office, she told me…” Schools love that–it shows you’re willing to take initiative.
b.) It’s the single best way to find out about the school. There are people who get paid to answer your questions. (My best friend was one of them.) Don’t be afraid. They’re not going to be mad at you; they’ll be happy you asked. They want to meet you.
c.) It lets them help you write the essay. What do I mean? Say you have a specific question. You play the santur, for example, and you’re trying to figure out if a school has a santur club. Ask! The college rep may say, “We don’t--you should start one!” (or) “What’s the santur?” (in which case you get to explain/talk about this very interesting part of yourself... see where this is going?) Warning: don’t abuse this! Admissions officers are pretty smart; they can tell when a student is trying to ingratiate him/herself. But having a frank conversation about particulars of the school is great! It’s what these reps do. If that conversation happens to lead to you talking about why you may be an awesome candidate for the school... great!
To close, let me say something I said above in a slightly different way: don't ask the admissions officer anything that you or anyone else could Google in five minutes. Don't ask about the faculty-to-student ratio or if the school has a Biology major (spoiler: it does). Ask instead how easy it is for non-majors to take the advanced musical theater classes (assuming you've already Googled this), if the admissions officer attended that school and, if so, what's one thing s/he wished he'd done differently in undergrad--or one opportunity s/he would have liked to have taken advantage of. Don't be afraid to make it personal, make a connection, and just be a curious human. Your college reps, like me, want the very best for you.
Written by Ethan Sawyer – In addition to being the College Essay Guy, Ethan is a writer, teacher, speaker, and voice actor. He has worked at Elite since 2003 is also the coordinator for the Elite Community Scholars Program, a program very close to his heart. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this blog post are Ethan's and don't necessarily reflect those of Elite Educational Institute.