4 Easy Hacks to Answering the "Why This College” Essay

When writing your college supplements, you will almost certainly come across the “Why this college?” essay in many forms. For example, Stanford asks you to “Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford” in 50 words, while Columbia asks “Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why” in 300 words.

Colleges ask this questions for two reasons. First, to find out your demonstrated interest, because the more students that enroll after being accepted, the better the college looks. Second, it’s an easy way to weed out unserious candidates. The biggest mistake you can make is copying and pasting the same essay for each college. If you think it’s as easy as substituting College Name 1 with College Name 2, you’re doing it wrong.

The “Why this college?” supplement is one of the hardest essays to answer. Ideally, you would’ve visited the campus, researched the school, and spoken to former alums to really know the answer. But not everyone has the privilege (or money) to travel to see schools, Luckily, I have some shortcuts for you, right this way.

1) The Campus Visit

The college tour is the golden standard to reference in these supplements. It shows the most demonstrated interest (link) and also gives you the best reference if this college is the right fit for you. It might even help you narrow your list - sometimes stepping foot on campus right out of the car is all you need to know to feel nope, not for me. When you’re there, be sure to take notes on everything you see and hear and get business cards too just in case. These notes will be crucial in helping you come up with a more unique answer than just something you’d find on the website. (For more tips on nailing the campus visit, click here.)

2) Speak to Former Alums

Getting the perspective of current or former alums is worth more than any brochure. Maybe you’re too embarrassed to ask your real questions at the campus visit or you think the answer wasn’t real enough. An alum not connected to the admissions team has no reason to lie to you. Ask your counselor to connect you with anyone who went there recently. If that doesn’t work, reach out to your network. Facebook and LinkedIn make this super easy. Or search to see if any reps will be coming to a campus fair near you. 

3) Research The School

Find out the majors, extracurriculars, professors, etc that would excite you about the school and reference them by name, so you’re not just spouting off generic stats. Saying you have the greatest professors is not as meaningful as saying you can’t wait to study Russian literature with Professor Stanton, for example.

4) Stalk The College’s Social Media 

This is key. Remember that each campus has a brand and you need to figure out a way that you fit into that brand. The college’s social media presence is a great way to discover how the college speaks about itself, what it prides about itself to boast on Facebook, and most importantly, the insider slang it uses to refer to itself or its students. Cornell students are Cornellians. Columbia is known for its Core.  University of Michigan students are proud Wolverines. You get the idea!