Why Do You Want to Go to College X?

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Many schools ask for supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement; the most common supplement, 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 questions often look like these, which are taken from current and past years’ applications:

New York University: NYU’s global network provides students with hundreds of academic areas of interest for students to cultivate their intellectual curiosity and to help achieve their career goals. Whether you are entirely undecided about your academic plans or you have a definitive program of study in mind, what are your own academic interests? Feel free to share any thoughts on any particular programs or how you might explore those interests at NYU on any of our campuses.

Cornell University College of Engineering: Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by — and linked to — specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.

Barnard College: 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 needs to 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?

Many students have very little idea what a school offers academically, socially or culturally. Sometimes students choose a college because of its location or its status. Each year, we meet many high school students 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.

Students, this is not what colleges want to know. While it is okay for you to tell them you will be comfortable in the big city, 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?

Barnard’s Director of Admissions Christina Lopez suggests students ask themselves a series of questions before answering the “Why College X?” essay prompt: Do you prefer small classes with a lot of interaction with professors or large lecture classes? What type of community appeals to you? Are you looking for a diverse environment? Do you prefer to be close to home? Do you want to study abroad, conduct research, do an internship or study in a rigorous academic environment?

“The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant,” Lopez said. “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.”

At Wow, we talk all the time to high school counselors, parents and admissions representatives like Lopez. We write and speak at college industry conferences with senior managers from admissions offices at the nation’s most selective colleges. That’s how we know that at its core, any college essay is about reflection. And that’s how we also know that colleges – no matter how selective – all want the same thing in a personal statement or essay supplement: They want students to respond to the prompts in a meaningful way that shows insight into the student’s character.

You can learn more about the essay’s purpose in Wow’s new eBook, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for Parents. It’s short, focused and easy to follow. We give parents a job to do to help prepare their children for the journey to college, and tips so they know when to step aside. If you’re a student, get a copy for your parents. If you’re a parent, read this before your child starts writing. And if you’re a counselor or consultant, share it with your families. Get your copy for $9.99 on Amazon.com.

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