Help Students Ace the Why This College Essay

I started blogging for Link for Counselors in 2015 after meeting the publication’s publisher, Jason Bullock, at the NACAC conference in San Diego. I’ve written hundreds of blogs and print articles for Link since that first meeting.

Over the past six years, we’ve given their readers a lot of resources and tips about writing personal statements. At the end of the 2021 school year, we offered some sound advice to help professionals guide their students on the one supplement that poses challenges for all sorts of students.

I am talking about the Why This College Essay, Why College X, or Why Us, essay.

Why This College Essay

Several years ago, I moderated a panel discussion about the college essay for high school counselors at the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling annual meeting.
 
I met countless counselors from New York. I also had the honor of presenting to counselors with David Coates, a former high school counselor who is now an IEC in the Buffalo area, plus some amazing admissions representatives from Columbia and Barnard; we spoke at length about supplements, mainly the Why College X essay.  

During the Q and A, Christina Lopez, at the time Barnard College’s Director of Admissions (she is now the Dean), called the Why This College essay “the dating essay.”  

The term stuck. It made so much sense. Still does. Because this essay is the one that can really help colleges determine if your student is a match.  

The Why This College Essay

Lopez offered a lot of great insight that day:

The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant.  

The more you can espouse why you are a match in the short answer question genuinely (without regurgitating our website to us because we wrote it!), the more you will stand out to us.

It is a great place to let a college know if we are the first choice, and why you love us.


No matter how the Why College X prompt is written, colleges want to know why applicants want to be there, and what they plan to do on campus.

The best way to help your students answer this question is to help them understand what the prompt is asking before brainstorming ideas with them.  

Then we assign pre-work, with these types of questions (in writing):

  • What is the prompt really asking?
  • What attracts me to this college or program?
  • What do I want readers to know about me?
  • How does what I know about the program mesh with what I want readers to know about me? How can I illustrate this intersection?

If you want to see how we do it, here’s a sample of our pre-work guide for preparing to write the Why College X essay.

Read Kim’s original blog here

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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