By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop
Many schools ask for supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement; the most common college essay prompt, which we call “Why College X?” is a variation on the question, “Why us?”
This prompt can be one of the most challenging for students. The college essay prompts often look like these, which are taken from 2017-18 applications:
University of North Carolina
What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?
University of Michigan
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
Georgia Tech is always looking for innovative undergraduates. Have you had any experience as an entrepreneur? What would you like Georgia Tech to provide to further your entrepreneurial interests?
Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business
The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.
What factors influenced your decision to apply to Barnard College, and why do you think the College would be a good match for you?
In every case, a student’s answer to this type of college essay prompt should address three important areas:
- The School: What attracts me to this college or program?
- The Student: What do I want readers to know about me?
- The Stories: How does what I know about the program mesh with what I want readers to know about me? How can I illustrate this intersection?
I just read a beautifully-written piece from a student answering the “Why College X?” supplement for a Big 10 university. Unfortunately, the essay completely missed the mark. The prompt specifically asked why students wanted to attend a certain program at the school. Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the essay painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the university in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This young man was clear that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps; he was comfortable inside the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.
Fortunately, we were able to help him revise the essay so he answered the prompt and showed the college why he was a good fit. He got in.
This story is not uncommon. Each year we meet many high schoolers who insist that a school is perfect because the student bleeds the university’s colors, feels at home inside the football stadium and loves listening to stories around the Thanksgiving dinner table from Dad, Aunt Lisa and cousin Diana, all enthusiastic and accomplished alumni.
This is not what admissions officers want to know in the answer to this college essay prompt. While it is okay to tell them you will be comfortable on campus, they are more interested in their school and what the college or program has to offer. Do you have the chops to succeed academically? Are there any clubs and activities to support your outside interests? Why do these factors matter to you? Is it a match?
“The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant,” said Barnard College’s Director of Admissions Christina Lopez. “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.”
This is the one college essay prompt that is most difficult for students, and it is just one type of supplemental prompt students are asked to answer. We talk more about this prompt and other common supplements in Chapter 2 of our new book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – the Inside Scoop for Parents. We also parse all seven of the 2017-18 Common App prompts in Chapter 6. Have you ordered your copy yet? You can buy one here.
Need help on your college essay? No matter where you are in the process, Wow has something for everyone, from free tip sheets and our College Essay Crash Course to Private Essay Coaching services and essay reviews.