How to Write a "Why This College" Essay in 4 Easy Steps!
Updated: Aug 2
In the world of writing supplemental college essays, two topics are particularly frustrating for students. At Virtual College Counselors, we call these two prompts the "Why College" and "Why Major" supplemental essays. Here are a couple of specific examples for each of these prompts:
Many students apply to the College of Charleston based on our location, size, reputation and the beauty of our campus (temperate year-round weather also comes up frequently). While these are all important considerations in choosing a college, why is the College of Charleston a particularly good match for you? - College of Charleston
Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane University? - Tulane University
Please share a bit more about your academic interests. What do you hope to study at CU Boulder? What has inspired your interests in this area? Or if you are undecided, what area(s) of study are you considering? Think about your prior/current coursework, extracurricular activities, work/volunteer experiences, future goals, or anything else that has shaped your interests. - University of Colorado, Boulder
What academic areas are you interested in exploring in college? - Elon University
For this blog post, we're going to be focusing on the "Why College" essay.
Table of Contents
It Starts With College "Fit"
In the past, we've written blogs about defining and finding college "fit" as one of the core principles for an effective and efficient college search. When a student begins exploring colleges, they should be thinking about what "fit" looks like for them. We've written about college "fit" in other blog posts, but here are some questions students should be thinking about as they explore colleges:
How do you learn best? What kind of classroom setting is going to set you up for academic success? Do you like lectures, discussions, experiential learning, etc.? What about the size of a class? How often do the classes meet and for how long?
What kind of campus culture are you looking for? What kind of people do you want to be surrounded by? Are you looking for diversity, like-minded individuals, or a melting pot? Are you an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert? Does the school provide opportunities for you to relax and recharge? How big is the college and how does this affect academics and/or social life?
What are your thoughts on location? Do you want suburban, rural, or urban? What about weather? How far are you willing to go from home and what might the financial burdens of distance look like?
Is the college financially feasible? Is your family concerned about cost or do you have a little more flexibility with funding your education? What kind of scholarships does the school offer? Can you find an equivalent education that costs less?
Students should be asking these kinds of questions as they explore building their college list, but these insights also play a role later in the college process. So, why are we talking about college "fit" in a blog post about writing a "Why College" essay? Well, if a student has actually contemplated what they are looking for in a college, then writing about why they want to go to that college becomes significantly easier.
The "Why College" Formula
Now, some students are going to have highly detailed or deeply personal stories about why they are interested in a college. Let me be the first to alleviate some possible anxiety by letting you know that most students do not have a personal anecdote about why they're applying to a specific college. Most students have landed on a school through a combination of research, referrals, and guidance from a college counselor. Many students aren't even able to visit a college before having to write about why they are so eager to attend the institution. This is where the "Why College" Formula comes in!
With this exercise, any student can create authentic, compelling, and easily repeatable responses to the "Why College" prompt using a simple 4-step process with an Excel or Google Sheet.
Step 1: Define Your "Fit" Formula
As I mentioned towards the beginning of this blog, this process starts with "fit" (see our previous blogs on college fit for more details). For this example, I included Area of Study/Anticipated Major, Location, Finances, School Size, Extracurricular Interests, and Campus Culture in my "Fit" Formula. You should feel comfortable creating your own list of categories to focus on, but if you are lacking ideas, these categories will serve you well.
After establishing the categories of your "Fit" Formula, you'll need to actually qualify and quantify what you are looking for in each category. I filled out the sheet based on what I was looking for in my senior year of high school. You'll notice that some things are very specific while others might be more generic. It's okay to not know all the answers and, if anything, I encourage students to have a mix of specific and generic goals to add a little flexibility to their college search.
Step 2: Build Your College List
At this point, you have thought about what is important to you when defining your personal "Fit" Formula. You can use this exercise earlier in the process to help build a college list, but for this exercise, we're going to assume you already have a rough idea of colleges you're interested in. Each college I list is based on a specific college from my personal high school college list, but I have chosen to de-identify them.
Step 3: Research Your Colleges
Now comes the most important part: research. You will need to visit these college website or look at any of the mailings/emails they send you to collect information. Refer back to your "Fit" Formula and start exploring how each college can support your goals. Personally, I recommend students use this format to take notes on both pros and cons of a college. For the example above, I mostly focused on how these colleges aligned with my goals, but a more complete exercise would also mention how they might fall short on some of my specific interests, goals, or preferences.
Researching this much information might feel intimidating to students, but it shouldn't be for two reasons:
This is an excellent opportunity for you to work on your research and organizational skills. After all, when you enter college, you'll need to learn how to synthesize and organize large amounts of information in a timely manner.
With this exercise and blog post, I'm going to show and tell you exactly where to look for this information and how to find it. All of this information was found on each college's website, Google maps, or via Google with these searches:
[College/University Name] Fast Facts
[College/University Name] Size/Enrollment
[College/University Name] Majors/Minors
[College/University Name] Student Organizations
[College/University Name] Scholarships & Financial Aid
After your research is completed, go through and highlight areas where your goals and the college overlap heavily. This isn't required, but it does provide a nice visual representation of which colleges are a good fit. If you're like I was when I was in high school, you might even want to quantify the fit of each school. If that's the case, feel free to create a point or ranking system to try and quantify your search.
Step 4: Assemble Your Response
Now that you've established your personal "Fit" Formula, assembled your college list, and done your research, it's time to respond to the "Why College" prompt. There are two very important questions that you should keep in mind while you write your response:
What can the school offer you?
What can you offer the school?
The relationship between a school and student should be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. You have goals, desires, and needs (your "Fit" Formula) and the school has offerings (all of those details you researched). At the same time, schools are looking for students who are going to be active, engaged, and successful alumni. A college wants a student to take advantage of all it's offering, it wants you to find your people, and it wants you to be successful. Why? Sure, some of that desire might be altruistic, but it's important to remember that successful students means a successful university. So at the same time you are making sure that a school has everything you need, you need to demonstrate to a school how you are going to be a successful student on their campus. I also recommend you keep these three ideas in mind as you write:
Explain what you are looking for in a school.
Provide an example of how the school will meet that need.
Extrapolate how you will participate in and take advantage of what a school can offer.
If you can answer the first two questions, address the next three statements, and match your "Fit" Formula to a college's offerings, then you have a well-crafted, informative, and insightful "Why College" response.
Other Relevant Blog Posts
With all my support,
Independent College Counselor
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors