By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop
Many schools ask students to respond to a prompt like one of the following:
University of Michigan: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
Tulane University: Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane.
New York University: Whether you are undecided or you have a definitive plan of study in mind, what are your academic interests and how do you plan to explore them at NYU?
Tufts University: Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, “Why Tufts?”
I read a beautiful story from a student answering the “Why College X?” prompt for a Big 10 university.
Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the story painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the school in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This boy was clear he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps; he was comfortable inside of the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.
Unfortunately, this story did not answer the prompt. We see this a lot at Wow.
To get them moving in the right direction, we ask our students to consider what they want the college to know about them that is not evident from the rest of the application package. How do College X’s curriculum, clubs and campus life support their interests? Why is this student a good fit?
“A student should never be thinking, “What are they looking for?” There is no monolithic “they,” said Margit Dahl, director of undergraduate admissions for Yale University. “A student is in the drivers seat for this portion of the application and should never relinquish that control. The essay is a chance to decide what to share with admissions officers. A student has the best sense of what to share.”
(To hear more from Yale’s Dahl, register for our webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Applying to the College of Your Dreams, also featuring Universal College Application’s Chris Warner.)
We understand that this task can be difficult — even for students who spent their childhoods wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with their parents’ favorite college logos. Most students have no idea what a school may offer academically, socially or culturally. The prompt is also challenging for students who want to tell admissions officers how much they love the big city, how badly they want to escape their small towns, or how much they love the old buildings on campus.
Be careful! This is not what admissions officers want to know. They want to know why you are a good fit on campus, whether you have the chops to succeed academically, if there are clubs and activities to support your interests, and if you are likely to graduate from this institution.
“We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum),” said Calvin Wise, the Associate Director of Admissions for Johns Hopkins University. “All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences.”
We regularly check in with admissions officers from small liberal arts colleges, elite universities and state institutions. We’ve found that regardless of size, status or essay prompt, they all offer similar tips on all college essays:
- Don’t over-think it.
- Tell us what you want us to know about you; not what you think we want to hear.
- Answer the prompt honestly with a story about you.
- Make sure your story is focused and written in your own words and your own voice.
You’ll find all kinds of advice online about writing admissions essays, and much of it inaccurate or confusing. As you delve into the college application and essay writing process, be careful whose advice you follow, and make sure you know your sources.
For more tips on mastering this and other college application essays, sign up for Wow Writing Workshop. You will receive Wow’s free eBook, Write Your Way Into College. Wow students get into their dream schools year after year. Find out more at www.wowwritingworkshop.com.