How to Write the "Why Us?" College Essay
Fall is here, and the college application season has kicked into gear. While many of you are brainstorming ideas and writing drafts for your personal statement, it’s important to devote adequate attention to all aspects of your college applications. Often, students spend so much time and energy writing their personal statements only to burn out and end up writing less-than-stellar supplemental essays. Admissions officers are trained to carefully pore over college applications. If you give them any reason to doubt your candidacy, your chances of admission decrease. Especially in today’s competitive landscape, you need to ace every aspect of the college application, including supplemental essays.
Supplements have gained significance because they provide additional insight that may not be reflected elsewhere in your application. They are prime opportunities to expand the scope of knowledge admissions officers have about you. And while supplemental essays can range from the expected (“Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences” from Harvard) to the more confounding (“What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?” from the University of Chicago), the most important supplement is arguably the “Why Us?” essay.
Remember, admissions offices at competitive schools are flooded with a pool of more than enough qualified applicants to choose from, but the students who rise to the top are often those who demonstrate how they will fit perfectly at a particular institution. The “Why Us” essay is not at all about gushing over a school’s rankings or offerings. The admissions officers already know exactly what their school has to offer. What they don’t know is how you will uniquely take advantage of everything the school has to offer, and therein should lie the focus of this supplement. Imagine you were to arrive on the campus of your dream school tomorrow. What would you immediately seek out? Which courses and professors would feed your intellectual curiosities? Which activities must you absolutely participate in? What resources and opportunities would further your development and allow you to maximize your college experience? These are the key questions to answer.
Your response to the “Why Us” supplement essay should be as original and distinct as your personal statement because the source for all of its content resides within you. And there’s no one else on this planet who can lay claim to your individual life experiences. My favorite analogy for this supplement it to think of it as dating someone. You want to put your best foot forward and communicate your likes and interests. If those likes and interests align with what the school (your date) has to offer, it could be a perfect match. However, there’s only one way to find out. You’ve got to do some research.
We’ve all heard of love at first sight, but doing the initial work of discovering as much as possible about someone or something can save you from heartbreak down the road. You may think a school is perfect for you because of its ranking, its reputation, or its location. Or perhaps your parents or friends attended a school, so you feel the need to do the same. These could be perfectly valid reasons to apply, but they could equally be the absolutely wrong reasons. To protect against potential disappointment, do the legwork necessary to acquaint yourself with as much information about a school as possible. Go on a campus or online tour. Reach out to admissions officers and current students. Conduct and in-depth exploration of their website and the websites of any departments, programs, or clubs that appeal to you—and then do it all again. Search for articles, reviews, events, and more on your school of choice. Become an expert, and then translate that knowledge into your supplement essay.
Tip: Create a detailed list of your top ten college “must-haves.” Think about what you ideally need to be successful in college, and then use your list to guide your research into the schools to which you are applying.
Be specific and as detailed as possible
Match your likes and goals with the school’s offerings
Treat each school as if it’s your #1 option
Be generic (location, ranking, weather, etc.)
Copy and paste the same essay for every school
Mix up/misspell any names or facts
Writing the “Why Us” college essay should be an enjoyable experience! After conducting research on a school, you should approach this supplemental essay with enthusiasm as you communicate why it’s the perfect match. If it feels like a chore or if the enthusiasm isn’t there, perhaps you should reconsider why that school is on your list in the first place. Admissions officers can detect whether you are genuinely excited to apply to their school, so faking or forcing your essay won’t do you any favors. Focus on personalizing your essays so that they reflect your abilities, your passions, and your goals. Give the colleges a crystal clear understanding of exactly how you’ll fit, and you can submit your application with confidence and pride.
Need a hand with college apps? With Elite Prep’s College Application Services, you’ll work with an experienced counselor and mentor to craft a winning college-application package that shines a light on exactly who you are and what you’ve achieved. Schedule a free consultation today!
Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite Prep Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."