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The “Why Us?” Essay

Of all the choices available to you, we would like to know why you want to attend Essentially Awesome Person University. Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study?

One of the schools you apply to will probably ask you to write an essay answering some version of the prompt above. Makes sense. Most schools get far more qualified applicants than they have spaces for every year. A peek into your mind’s reasons for choosing them is a useful tool for sniffing out students who will make the best use of their resources in the long-run. Answering this prompt can be enlightening, challenging, and even fun, but you need to be intentional about getting the most you can out of this essay.

Why Us? vs. Why College?

This is the biggest issue I run into with students. They would be “honored” to go to a school because it has “hundreds of courses, an [insert beloved part of your identity] Students Association, the chance to study abroad, and a mission statement they believe in.” Duh. Most schools have these offerings as of 2021 so you aren’t really explaining why you want to go to Essentially Awesome Person University specifically, just college in general. Writing like this can actually hurt you because it makes you look like you’re willing to make a big decision without doing adequate research.

You want to make the case for why this particular school is one of the ten you chose to apply to out of thousands of options. Use facts that are specific and unique to the school. A helpful framing to keep you focused on this is to invite comparison into your essay. What are you getting from this school that you can’t get from other schools in the area? Or on your list? Or with similar departments for your area of study?

“While other schools have X, EAP University stands out because…”

Research First

It’s important to point out that you should be doing this anyway. You don’t want to waste your senior year applying to schools that are not a great fit for you. You should research all of your choices, including safety schools. There are indeed patterns and weights schools use, but the truth is, the process is still often very subjective and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to be stuck going to a school you know very little about!

You will also need research to provide clear examples of why you are interested in a particular school. In addition to general research, try to find things that make the school unique. Some examples:

  • Particular professors

  • Courses you may not find elsewhere (Not Engineering 101!)

  • Class/Teaching Options (e.g. small class sizes, project-based learning, internship courses, etc.)

  • Location

  • How students interact with one another

  • Traditions

  • Clubs not offered elsewhere or that may be run in a unique way

  • Overall ranking or ranking for your major’s department

Be Honest

This seems like an obvious piece of advice but I always verbally ask students writing a Why Us? essay why they want to go to the school in question, and they often tell me things that aren’t in their essay. You’re better off telling a school a well-written, nuanced version of the truth than a stale version of what you think they want to hear. Trust me when I tell you that it is very very very very very easy for admissions readers to tell the difference.

Tell Your Story

It is important to not only be specific about how the school stands out from others in general, but also about how it is uniquely positioned to help you on your personal journey toward adulthood. How does this particular school help you reach your goals? It is ok if you are not 100% sure about what you want to do for a career (plenty of adults are in this position!) but you can at least think about how the school will help you become the kind of adult you want to see in the mirror ten years from now.


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