“Why Us?” It’s the most common question you’ll be asked to write about as a supplemental essay to your college application.
When you break down this prompt to its most basic form, colleges want to know two things:
- You’ve done your homework, and you know why the school is the best fit for you. You know the school, you know what they stand for, you have researched their academic programs and courses, you are familiar with their student life clubs and activities. You know what sets them apart from all the other colleges.
- You have spent time reflecting on why you’re the best fit for the school, and you can now prove it to them. You know what your values are, what you’re interested in studying, and what goals you are interested in pursuing. While the latter two need not be set in stone (you don’t need to declare your major here or make a deal with the devil that you will be a doctor one day or else he’ll come for your soul), you should know that you’re a STEM student who is excited about the focus on undergraduate research opportunities at College X, or you’re a Humanities person who is excited about the core curriculum and small class sizes at College Y.
Know the School!
There is a symbiosis here that cannot be overlooked. You need to prove that you know as much about the school as you know about yourself, so to speak. You need to show that you’ve researched the school, and you’re not recycling a “Why Us?” template that regurgitates the same boilerplate drivel (“I like the sense of school spirit…you have excellent facilities…I am excited to explore the surrounding city…”) that could pertain to absolutely any school. Similarly, you need to prove that you’re not any candidate; you’re a specific individual with specific talents, skills, and goals that will contribute to the school in the following ways…
Perhaps the biggest challenge to writing a successful “Why Us?” supplement is the word count. You typically get between 100-300 words to prove your thesis. (To recap, your thesis is “I know why College Z is the best fit for me, and I know why I am the best fit for them.”) Just like any thesis you would write for school, you must research your topic well in order to provide evidentiary support. Luckily, in this case it does not require hours spent in a library poring over old manuscripts (we’re in a pandemic, for God’s sake!); all it takes is a critical eye, a pen and paper, and a little deep dive into the school’s web site.
Research the School’s Web Site.
Look at the home page. How do they describe themselves? What are some buzz words that keep popping up over and over again? What is their mission statement? If this is one of your top choice schools, then the content you’re reading will probably come as no surprise to you–you’re just conducting a move calculated, organized study of what drew you to the school in the first place.
Choose 3 Qualities
Now, remembering that your word count is incredibly limited, I would suggest you focus on three qualities/programs/offerings of the college that speak the loudest to you, as an individual. This is where it’s really important to take into account the rest of your application and how you’ve presented yourself. You do not want to repeat anything you have already written about; however, whatever you choose to write about should weave rather seamlessly into the rest of your profile. So, if you present as an English/History major, this is not the time to write about how cool it is that School A has a planetarium on campus. (It is cool, they know it’s cool–and it’s not adding anything to your presentation; in fact; it’s taking away precious real estate when it comes to word count!)
Create a Brief Outline (Bullet Points)
For a case study, let me present the “Why Us?” essay I would write today for my alma mater of many years ago. These three bullet points are what attracted me (not any prospective student, but ME) to this college.
- Humanities/Honors College (more reading)
- Theater (student-led productions)
- Campus (small, beautiful, close-knit community)
Write a Draft
Now, remember: I need to write in the same voice I used for my main essay; I should not suddenly shift into a formal monotone or brochure speak. I need to stay true to myself, my values, and experiences in order to prove how I am the best match for my college.
I’ve been a voracious reader since the age of five; I literally can’t go to sleep at night unless I read some part of a book. When I think about _______ College, I am most excited to take part in the Honors Program. I can’t wait to dive deep into the huge stacks of classic and contemporary texts that span the curriculum, staying up late to read everything from Shakespeare to Morrison. As someone who loves both acting and studying scripts, I also want take classes within the ______Theater Department, a small but extremely devoted group of theater practitioners who share my love of both the stage and the page. I will definitely be auditioning for shows in _______ Theatre, especially the student-run productions, which tackle cutting edge material, like The Vagina Monologues and The Laramie Project. Finally, I genuinely look forward to living and studying on such an extraordinarily beautiful campus; I have seen how students linger on the quad long after their study groups break up, to talk about bigger picture issues, toss a frisbee around, or play some soft tunes on a guitar. I can see myself there, not tossing a frisbee (I’m completely uncoordinated) or making music, but spending hours writing in my journal, hoping to collect moments that will inform my writing in college and well beyond.
It’s 210 words. Let’s say I need it to be 150. Let’s cut out anything that’s extraneous.
When I think about _______ College, I am most excited to take part in the Honors Program. I can’t wait to dive deep into the huge stacks of classic and contemporary texts that span the curriculum, reading everything from Shakespeare to Morrison. I also want take classes within the ______Theater Department, a small but extremely devoted group of theater practitioners who share my love of both acting on stage and writing original plays. I especially want to audition for the student-run productions, which tackle cutting-edge material, like The Vagina Monologues and The Laramie Project. Finally, I genuinely look forward to living and studying on such an extraordinarily beautiful campus; I can see myself lingering on the quad long after my study groups have wrapped, spending hours writing in my journal. At ______, I hope to immerse myself in it all, squeezing each drop out of every experience that I can.
With an editing eye, I have gotten it down to 150, while still preserving my voice, proving my research, and showcasing the three aspects of the school I love most.
Now, it’s your turn. You’ve got this!